After her husband, Dave, died of multiple myeloma in 2002, Julie Douglas of Seymour didn’t have much to look forward to when Valentine’s Day rolled around each year.
She missed the boxes of chocolates and bouquets of flowers from her love, but most of all, she just missed him.
“I didn’t have a valentine for 10 years,” she said.
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So every Feb. 14, she would get out old cards and letters from Dave and spend time reading the sweet sentiments he had written to her during their 34 years together.
Julie, now 69, never thought she would ever find another man to love and share her life with, not even when she was introduced to Don Heagle at church.
Don lived in North Vernon and had lost his wife, Darlene, to breast cancer in 2009 after 28 years of marriage.
He and Julie both were members of The Point in Seymour, and people at the church had been trying to set Don up on a date with someone else. But it was Jerry and Rhonda Sutherland who suggested he ask out Julie.
So he asked Julie’s daughter, Becky Sanders, who works at The Point, if she thought her mom would like him to ask her out, and Becky said “of course,” Don said.
“He honestly didn’t like people trying to set him up,” Julie said. “But he went right home and called me.”
Julie wasn’t home, so Don left a message. She thought it was strange he was checking up on her and assumed it was because of church.
Not wanting to be rude, Julie called him back, but he didn’t answer, so she was going to leave him a message letting him know that she had been at church the previous Sunday. But before she could finish her message, Don picked up the phone.
“He said that wasn’t why he was calling me, and that kind of threw me off, and we chatted for a little while, and he asked me if I would go to coffee with him,” she said. “I did not know what to say. In 10 years, no one had asked me out to coffee or anything.”
Don suggested they meet at Cracker Barrel, but Julie didn’t want people to see her on a date and start talking. When a couple of friends from church asked them to go to Cracker Barrel with them for coffee, however, Julie acquiesced.
“So we did go, and I was really nervous,” said Julie, who was 61 at the time.
Even without knowing each other, Don and Julie had something in common, the life-altering experience of a spouse’s death, and could relate to what the other was going through.
“We had a lot to chat about just with that,” Don said. “I think whether we knew it or not, I was ready.”
After that, they went on a date to Jeeves and Company restaurant in Scottsburg.
“We went there because we thought no one would see us,” Julie said. “But lo and behold, my mother’s cleaning lady walked in.”
The only reason she didn’t want people to know about her and Don having dinner together was in case he didn’t want to go out with her again, she said. But that didn’t end up being the case.
“I didn’t want to have to explain that to everyone,” Julie said. “It’s really different when you’ve been married and your mates die and when you were married, you’re a happy family and have a good relationship. It’s really different when you start to go out with somebody else.”
Julie said she worried about what people, especially her children and Don’s children, might think about their relationship.
During that first date, the couple found they had no trouble finding things to talk about.
“At one point, I remember saying to Don, ‘Let me talk for a while,’” she said. “But I remember he was very easy to talk to. No matter what he is talking about, he is just kind. I remember leaving there thinking he is such a nice person to talk to and how much I really enjoyed that.”
Don said he learned afterwards that Julie changed outfits 13 times before that date and almost backed out. But her sister had convinced her that Dave would want her to go, have fun and be happy.
What her sister said made Julie recall a dream she had six months after Dave died where he was sitting in the windowsill talking to her.
“I asked him where he had been, and he said he had to go away, but I came to tell you that everything is going to be all right,” she said. “He said, ‘It won’t always be this way. Things will get better, and life will be better for you.’ I remember crying and saying, ‘No it won’t. It’s the most horrible, worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life, and it’s never going to go away.’”
Julie described the pain of her husband’s death as a dagger in her heart.
“There’s that weight inside of you, and nobody can fix it,” she said. “People will say, ‘Time will fix it. God will heal it,’ and I’m sure all of those things are right, but I felt like when I met Don, that dagger began to come out.”
It was a slow process, but that feeling of “great loss” did go away after getting to know Don and spending time with him, she said.
Don said he had similarly strong emotions when Darlene died and had even said he would never get married again. But being with Julie made him feel good and look forward to their dates.
“I think we both knew that God was in this,” Julie said. “He had opened a door that we didn’t pray for.”
Don, 73, said he is now trying to make up for all of the Valentine’s Days they spent without a loved one.
“That’s a lot of candy,” Julie joked.
Five years ago, he decided he wanted to make Valentine’s Day special again.
“We actually got engaged on Valentine’s Day,” Julie said. “It was freezing cold. He told me to dress warm and that he had a surprise for me.”
Don had arranged to take Julie to a romantic concert put on by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and an Italian vocal trio on Feb. 14, 2012.
Before the show, they ate at Pot Belly Sandwich Shop and then went over to the South Bend Chocolate Co. shop and waited for a horse-drawn carriage to pick them up.
“It was so cold that my teeth were chattering,” Julie said. “But the lady took us on a very nice ride, and that’s when Don said, ‘I just wanted to know with the rest of the lives God has given us, could we possibly spend it together?’ I tease him and tell him I said yes just because I was freezing.”
During the concert, someone told the maestro that Don and Julie had just gotten engaged, so a special announcement was made and a song was played for them.
“I just remember thinking how much fun Don was and that he put a lot of time into preparing all of it,” Julie said.
“I was excited and happy,” Don added.
The next day at church, Don told Pastor Steve Greene that Julie and himself had gotten engaged the night before. During the service, Greene stopped and announced the news to the congregation.
“Everyone stood up and clapped, the whole church,” Don said.
“I can honestly say that our church was very happy for us,” Julie added. “And our children were very happy and supportive, too.”
The couple were not replacing the love they had experienced with their previous spouses. They were just thankful to be able to have a second chance to love someone again.
On Oct. 20, 2012, Don and Julie were married outdoors at Rooster Trail Farm in Bartholomew County. Julie had retired as a teacher from Margaret R. Brown Elementary School just five months before.
“I retired and got married the same year, and people thought I was crazy,” she said. “But it was a great day. During the wedding, the sun came out, just as we were saying our vows.”
They honeymooned at Niagara Falls.
“It was a unique trip for both of us,” Don said.
The couple realize that one day, one of them will have to go through loss again when the other dies.
“I said it’s just like Winnie the Pooh said, ‘I’m so lucky to have somebody in my life that is so hard to say goodbye to,’” she said. “I am fortunate to have someone like Don, and I’m fortunate that he made that phone call.”
“And I am, too,” Don said.
For Valentine’s Day this year, the couple are going to a Jim Brickman concert in Cincinnati.
“Don likes to spoil people,” Julie said. “He gets me candy and flowers and a card. He does a lot of nice things for me.”
“I enjoy doing it,” Don said. “I like to surprise her.”