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For Columbia couple, it's never too late to find love

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:14 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Priscilla Bevins and Bob Bartlett got married in August, less than three months after they first met. He is 88, and she is 82.

COLUMBIA— She was leaving her class on how to use Facebook, and he was coming to get help with his new iPad. After a brief but lively conversation, they agreed to go on their first date. It went so well that five more followed the same week.

"We just kept finding more ways we connected," she remembered.

They went to dinner, cooked together, picked flowers and walked the trails in Rock Bridge State Park, all while sharing their interests and stories from past marriages.

Less than three months later, on Aug. 3, Priscilla Bevins and Bob Bartlett were married. He is 88, and she is 82. 

"I think she loves me," he said with a smile. "And that's what I tell her."

Although moving into Bob's home in Lenoir Woods Senior Living has been hectic, their new life together seems to bring them energy and excitement. Their days include exercise classes, volunteering and church— with one difference.

"We always do things together," Bob said.

Ready to start again

After happy, successful marriages of more than 55 years each, Bob and Priscilla lived alone after their spouses died. Priscilla figured she would always remain single, and for at least two years, she was determined to lead a full life.

She traveled to Costa Rica and took a zip-line tour through a dense forest for the first time. She volunteered at Calvary Episcopal and spent plenty of time with her friends. She didn't feel she needed a man to complete her, even though she and Bob had been exchanging pleasantries at church for more than 30 years.

When they met again under different circumstances, it didn't take long for them to realize it was love.

"I've decided that I had my church-lady persona and my out-in-the-world persona," she said, laughing. 

They were engaged within 26 days. At 82 and 88, there was no time to waste.

"We found that it's possible to fall in love again," Bob said as he patted his bride's delicate hand. "When you got a good thing going, you gotta strike when the iron is hot."

In Boone County, 44 couples over the age of 70 have obtained marriage licenses since 2003. Six couples over 70 have applied for marriage licenses this year, and Bob and Priscilla are the most recent to tie the knot.

According to Thomas Meuser, associate professor of gerontology and social work at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, the realities of life expectancy make older men scarcer than older women. Women live on average 81 years while men live 76, according to research by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

This difference produces a ratio in favor of men, and they are more likely to remarry than older women.

"It is not uncommon for an older man in his 70s to remarry as few as six months after a spousal death," Meuser wrote in an email.

It was six months after Bob's wife, Ada, died of Parkinson's disease in October 2012 that he and Priscilla reconnected.

But while companionship is comforting for most older couples, a decision to marry  later in life can also come with challenges.

Some may reject the idea of love because they feel it would dishonor their late spouse. Every situation is different, Meuser said. If couples talk openly and honestly about remarriage before one dies, it can allow a widow or widower to feel more comfortable seeking new companionship.

Priscilla's late husband, also named Bob, told her to remove her ring after he died. His father had successfully married later in life, and he told her she had his blessing to find a new husband.

"I thought it was a nice gift," Priscilla said. "I know some people who have to deal with a lot of guilt before they can say yes to marrying again."

Financial burden

Barbara Marston, 73, has been volunteering at the Columbia Area Senior Center for 10 years. The center is a place for seniors to find friendships, play bridge, eat and take exercise classes during the day.

Marston said she has seen couples not get married for financial reasons, and they end up living together. Sometimes, one will lose government support or other benefits after remarriage.

Gene Perry, 90, and his "lady friend" Jane McQuitty, 89, have been seeing each other for eight years. They moved in together to share expenses.

“It's lonesome living by yourself," Perry said, who walks with a slender wooden staff like Rafiki's from "The Lion King" and likes to play bridge at the center.

He proudly shows off the matching silver sterling ring he and McQuitty bought on a Alaskan cruise.

They had known each other since junior high school, and after their spouses died, they didn't see a reason to get remarried. Each has a family and Social Security benefits, but, like many other couples their age, they wanted to share each other's company.

Laws behind the love

Thad Taylor, an attorney at Midwest Elder Law Firm in Columbia, said couples who choose not to marry at an older age often do so because of the steep cost of long-term care.

Living in a nursing home can cost anywhere from $4,500 to $8,000 per month. Patients who are single and can't afford the expense can use Medicaid to make up the difference. If a couple is married, they must spend down their joint resources to $2,000 before Medicaid will step in. If the couple is unmarried, the single person has to spend down their resources to $999.99 before qualifying for Medicaid, but the healthy partner can keep his or her assets without affecting the other person's eligibility for the program.

Taylor said he has worked with a couple who decided to get a divorce because of this dilemma. The wife has dementia, and covering her living costs alone would drain their bank account and retirement investments, leaving her husband with no money to live on.

He does have money invested in an IRA, but putting that into a trust would require a five-year waiting period to avoid a penalty preventing Medicaid eligibility and mean a significant tax hit. So, the couple has decided to divorce to allow her to have Medicaid assistance. Although "single," her ex-husband will be able to help her both physically and financially.

Taylor recommends that older couples carefully consider the financial implications of getting married. They do have options, he said. They can put their money into a trust or sign a prenuptial agreement, as Bob and Priscilla did.

"The people that don't take into account the implications of getting married suffer from it as they age," Taylor said.

The family factor

Another complication Taylor has encountered is the couple's relationship with their respective children. Some children are anxious about the disposition of a parent's estate if there is an unrelated spouse in the picture.

For older couples, trying to adjust to a new family can also be nerve-racking. Priscilla's daughter, Colleen, didn't meet Bob until she flew in for the wedding the night before the rehearsal dinner.

As it turned out, Bob's three sons, eight grandchildren and three stepgrandchildren, as well as Priscilla's two children and a stepgranddaughter, couldn't have been happier for their parents.

"We were thrilled," Colleen Bevins said. "It was just so obvious that she was so pleased, and we all instantaneously supported it."

Priscilla met Bob's children the month before their wedding when the couple traveled to Alabama for a Bartlett family reunion. There were 14 family members there, and Priscilla remembers how nervous she felt.

Bob knew they would love her, and he wasn't surprised with how welcoming they were. 

"It went so well," Priscilla said.

Uprooting

Who sleeps on which side of the bed, how to organize the kitchen and where to park the cars can be trivial matters, compared to the adventure of combining two households when couples remarry.

Priscilla moved into Bob's home at Lenoir Woods, and they have spent their time since the wedding organizing their belongings. At least three generations of silverware, two sets of dining room furniture and countless cardboard boxes are busting out of the seams in their two-bedroom cottage.

"I was surprised at how stressful it became to break up my home," Priscilla said.

Their shared home is full of their possessions, memories and hobbies.

The living room is full of couches and chairs from both of their homes, and they describe the ambiance as "eclectic." The walls are lined with photographs of their families and late spouses.

"My husband had a huge impact on who I am today, and his wife has had a huge impact on who Bob is today, so it's OK,” Priscilla said.

In the kitchen, one wall has photos of birds that Bob has taken on his trips to Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area. Among boxes waiting to be sorted in the guest room is Priscilla’s combined office and sewing area.

The two say they try to be deliberate and tackle one box at a time, but it still can be overwhelming.

"Wanna open up a box tonight, hon?" Bob asked.

Priscilla laughed and said she couldn't even handle one more.

Both said the second time around may bring together couples who are more mature and comfortable about being upfront with their feelings. They also agreed that they have become more tolerant, generous and forgiving.

“I’m wiser,” Priscilla said.

Their appreciation for each other is apparent. For a recent dinner, Priscilla prepared a meal with vegetables from the garden Bob tends. He poured the wine, and as they sat down to dinner, he smirked and reminded her that it was her turn to say grace.

"He loves it when he gets to tell me it's my turn," she said, smiling.

As they bowed their heads, a sense of calm slipped into the room. They held hands, and Priscilla gently ran her thumb over Bob's knuckles as she finished thanking the Lord for their food and their luck in finding one another.

"Amen," they said in unison.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.


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