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A year after her husband William died, Patricia O’Connor, who hadn’t gone on a date in 40 years, got a computer for Christmas, went on eHarmony.com and found something some people never do, a second chance at love.
Patricia grew up in the Bronx with her three siblings, raised by her widowed mom, a strong Irish woman whose husband died when Patricia was only eight years old. She got her first job at a neighborhood grocery store when she was 16, and it was there that she first laid eyes on William O’Connor. Bill was attending Iona College working on a business degree, and was assistant manager at the store. When Patricia set eyes on him she told her girlfriend, “I’m going to marry him.”
They dated five years and then broke up. She dated some other guys but they didn’t hold her interest like Billy had. She recalls that he dated someone else for several months before he “realized his mistake.”
They married in 1976 when she was 22 years old. Patricia went to nursing school at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing, which began a lifelong career. The couple had three daughters, bought a house and spent much of their life together in Brewster, New York on Peach Lake. It was the perfect place to raise their kids. Bill was very successful as a Wall Street trader but when his company merged with another, 600 people were let go and Billy took a trading position right in Westchester, closer to home.
“I was so proud of him,” says Patricia. “He was a very smart man. He was very, very successful and never missed a day’s work. He was never sick.”
That was true until 2006 when he became ill with kidney and liver problems. He was a social drinker and stopped consuming alcohol at the news of his diagnosis. She never thought of him as an alcoholic, pointing out that they grew up in an age of partying where being with friends meant drinking. Patricia had been a dialysis nurse for 14 years and she thought she knew everything there was to know about kidney trouble. By 2008 he had rebounded and was doing well but in 2009 he had to go on dialysis. He had retired and was enjoying life, playing golf, a favorite pastime. Patricia became his primary caregiver and in June, 2010 he became very sick.
“Even then I didn’t think he was going to die,” said Patricia. “At the hospital he rallied and told me he’d be out of there in a week. He told me he wanted me to meet someone else and not to be alone.” Bill died on June 12th. He said at the end, maybe it was drinking that killed him.
“He got sick so fast after he retired. He just slipped away from us so fast. When he died I went into shock. I couldn’t believe it. I’m a nurse but when it’s your own it’s just hard to believe.”
Patricia took a 12 week leave of absence from work, experiencing terrible grief at the loss of her husband of more than 30 years. “People don’t say the right things. They say, ‘Time will heal’ and ‘You’ll get through this.’ That made me angry. I wanted to tell them, ‘Don’t say that to me.’”
She found consolation in a bereavement group that met twice a week. “They really got me. I got to talk with people who were going through the same thing. I wondered how will I ever get through this? I thought I was alone. I was shocked to find there were 15 other people going through the same thing. The experience made it easier for me to deal with my grief. Without that I don’t know what I would have done.” She attended the bereavement group for six months.
“Everyone rallies around you for about six months and then they think you’re okay.” Her advice to anyone at this place in their life is: “Meet grief head on. A lot of people bury it. But you have to face it head on. The bereavement group was best for me, but it might not be for others. I didn’t know what to do for myself. Brooding and feeling sorry for myself didn’t help. The group got me out of my slump. You’ve got to move on. You’ve got to live.”
As much as her kids loved their father, they saw that she was alone. They gave her the courage to put herself out there. “They knew I didn’t want to be alone the rest of my life,” she says.
About a year after Bill died, she went online and with the help of her daughter and girlfriend, they crafted a profile on eHarmony, a dating website that uses a “scientific” approach, and boasts making matches “with deeply compatible singles that truly understand you.” Who wouldn’t want some of that, right? “I thought, ‘What the heck,’” said Patricia. “It was ridiculous. I was hysterical laughing. It was also awful. But I kept coming across a listing for ‘Don in Ridgefield, CT,’” which was pretty much in her area. Weeks passed and just as she was about to pitch the idea entirely, she reached out to Don, a 55 year old single man who was never married. They had their first date on Valentine’s Day. The maître d’ at the restaurant brought them champagne that was “on the house for lovers” and a dessert shaped like a chocolate heart with two spoons.
At the end of that date Don asked, “Want to do this again?” Patricia couldn’t believe he was still single but he had chosen career over romance. He traveled a lot for work at IBM and although he wanted a big family, he thought he’d never marry. That week they met, the couple had four dates, enjoying each other’s company more each time.
“We hit it off from the day we met,” said Patricia. “My kids said, ‘Mom, you’ve got to move on.’”
Circumstances created romance on that first date but choice makes it continue today. They dated almost four years, and on May 17, 2015 they married. “It was a wonderful day with all the kids involved. Everyone was so happy for us. We honeymooned in Hawaii and are doing great. We are very, very, happy. It’s all about us now.”