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Next Avenue Readers On What Love Looks Like

In honor of Valentine's Day, they share sweet stories of spouses, siblings and pets

By Julie Pfitzinger

Unexpected love, unplanned separation and the caring bonds created by family are just some themes of the love stories shared recently by Next Avenue readers. We received many lovely contributions, more than we are able to spotlight here, so thank you to all for your participation.

What Love Looks LIke
Kathleen Rehl and her late husband, Tom  |  Credit: Compliments of Kathleen Rehl

Our readers have discovered that love can be beautiful, difficult, sweet and often surprising.  As Loretta Martin writes of her happy, late-in-life union, “We still catch each other’s eye… our smiles asking, ‘How did this happen?’”

Love Conquers All 

Weathering the storm has been the hallmark of the 44-year marriage between Elaine Rybczyk of Montgomery, Ala. and her husband, Frank.

“Through many surgeries and illnesses, he has been by my side, caring for me and giving me the will to carry on,” says Rybczyk.

Several years ago, she had the opportunity to reciprocate Frank’s care when he went through a battle with cancer. “It was my time to give some help back to him,” says Rybczyk. “Frank is my rock, my strength and my love.”

Bonnie and Stan Seashore  |  Credit: Compliments of Bonnie Seashore

Although Bonnie Seashore and her husband, Stan, whom she calls her “best friend,” had to live apart due to his illness, they found a sweet and unique way to remain connected, especially during the middle of the night when both experienced loneliness.

“Thanks to the cell phone, I told him to just hit the #1 and phone me anytime he wanted and I’d be there for him. And I was,” says Seashore, of Tar Heel, N.C.

Stan, who was in an assisted living facility, would sometimes call in the middle of the night and ask his wife, “Are you sleeping?” to which she would reply, “No, I was waiting for you to call.”

The two would chat with each other, and Seashore would sing him back to sleep over the phone. “When I heard his heavy breathing, I knew he was okay once again,” she says. “Yes, that was my love and a very small part of my love story with Mr. Wonderful.”

The wedding of Kathleen and Charlie

Love has endured for Kathleen Rehl of St. Petersburg, Fla.; love for both her late husband, Tom, and her current husband, Charlie.

“Before Tom died (12 years ago), he said, ‘Find a new partner when I’m gone. Don’t live the rest of your life alone,’” explains Rehl. “Such a gift he gave me to love again.”

Four years later, Rehl met Charlie, a widower, online and his story was similar to hers.

“When his wife passed, she even recommended a potential new spouse, but Charlie chose me instead,” Rehl says. “Five months ago, in our early 70s, we tied the knot. I will always be Tom’s widow. I’m also Charlie’s wife. True love never dies.”

Putting Family First

Lori and Robert Howard on their wedding day  |  Credit: Compliments of Lori Howard

In 1984, Lori Howard’s husband, Robert, made a powerful commitment to their family: he promised Lori that he had “enough strength and love to sustain them both” as they struggled to raise their mentally and physically handicapped child, Robbie, at home together in Peachtree Corners, Ga. while still both working full-time jobs.

Robbie was denied oxygen when he was born in 1983, and more than 60 percent of his brain was damaged. “Close to 80 percent of marriages where there is a disabled child end in divorce with the father leaving,” says Lori. “My husband was a rock of strength. We managed to raise Robbie as equal partners, alongside his younger brother Scott, born in 1987.”

Robbie and Scott Howard  |  Credit: Compliments of Lori Howard

Today, Lori says, Robbie lives in “a wonderful group home owned and operated by United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia” and also participates in a day program in the Greater Atlanta area. Scott, who produced a film on the special needs population as part of his master’s thesis, now works for a media marketing company.

Recently, Robert and Lori, who retired in 2016, celebrated their 38 wedding anniversary. She says the couple is “enjoying retirement by volunteering in our community and traveling the world.”

Worth the Wait

The relationship between Loretta Martin and Phil, her husband of 20 years, started off in a surprising way. Both in their 50s at the time, Phil answered Loretta's personal ad with a letter instead of a voice message.

Loretta and Phil celebrate their wedding  |  Credit: Compliments of Loretta Martin

“What kind of man, I wondered, took time to handwrite a five-page, mini biography on lined paper?,” says Martin, of Lombard, Ill. “The tone wasn’t needy or arrogant; it had the right mix of straightforwardness and humility.”


Their first meeting, a lunch date, exceeded three hours “that easily could have gone longer,” she says, adding that she panicked thinking that she shouldn’t be having that much fun, and cut the date short. “I’m not a good liar and, fortunately, he was smarter than I was and didn’t give up.”

According to Martin, the pair brought diverse experiences to the relationship. Phil is a Caucasian man from the Midwest, with German and Welsh roots, and she is an African American woman who grew up in the South during the turbulence of the '60s. His previous union had ended amicably; she had been divorced for nearly 12 years following “an ugly 10-year marriage and an uglier divorce.”

She says, “Before Phil, I’d never known what healthy love feels like, and it took time for me to learn how to accept and give it. Our years together exemplify how love’s power (including friendly frictions) can bind two people, no matter how disparate their backgrounds or experiences.”

Looking back over their happy years together, Martin says, “we still catch each other’s eye in passing or look up from reading at the same time, our smiles asking, ‘How did this happen?”

Super Siblings

The bonds of love between Peggy Anderson of Wise, Va. and her sisters are “the glue that holds us together.” According to Anderson, the love they all share is “deeper and more meaningful because of a commitment to put each other first, communicate from the heart and love without reservation.”

Ann Whitney of Hinsdale, Ill. shared a story about she and her brother — 10 years apart in age — who had a once-in-a-lifetime trip following the death of Whitney’s husband after a long illness.

“My dear brother insisted that just the two of us needed to go anywhere in the U.S. or South America — my choice.  Within three weeks, my passport was renewed, my bags packed and off we went to Costa Rica for two weeks of total rest, healing, and zip lining,” says Whitney.

In addition to having fun, the pair, who had spent little time together in recent years, had the opportunity to really get to know each other, she explains.

“We shared marvelous stories of our childhood and surprised each other with similar likes and dislikes. The uninterrupted time allowed us to wander through discussions about what had affected our paths…and what dreams and hopes were driving us at age 68 and 78,” says Whitney.

Their trip was seven years ago, but Whitney said her brother still “holds a special place in my heart and I will be forever grateful for his love and generosity.”

Puppy Love

A little dog named Rocket blasted into the heart of Anne Keene of Austin, Texas.  According to Keene, the rescue notice read: Don’t even think about taking him to a dog park. Does not like cats, does not like dogs, must be an only dog. Is aggressive with food. Did I mention, don’t take him to a dog park.

But for Keene, it was love at first sight when she saw the photo of what would become her third Corgi, “a five-year-old Pembroke with an overbite, who smiles.”

Keene says she tested the advice about the dog park on their very first day together. “Under a careful watch, he got along just fine, although he still does not like white Labs and never will,” she says. “He just needs to know that he’s protected. It’s that simple.”

Today, Rocket is Keene’s constant companion who loves car rides and electric blankets. On Valentine’s Day, Keene says, she will celebrate with her family, with flowers and dinner, adding that “Rocket will celebrate with a visit to the dog park.”

Edd and his wife Cynthia  |  Credit: Compliments of Edd Staton

A Final Thought for Valentine’s Day

“My wife Cynthia and I fell in love as teenagers and have been happily together for over 50 years,” says Edd Staton, who lives in Cuenca, Ecuador. “I still smile every time she enters the room and my heart melts at her touch. I only wish I could be blessed to spend another lifetime with my forever Valentine.”

Headshot of a woman with curly hair.
Julie Pfitzinger is the managing editor for Next Avenue and senior editor for lifestyle coverage. Her journalism career has included feature writing for the Star-Tribune, as well as several local parenting and lifestyle publications, all in the Twin Cities area. Julie also served as managing editor for nine local community lifestyle magazines. She joined Next Avenue in October 2017. Reach her by email at [email protected]. Read More
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