68 years ago, Fred Paul and Florence Harvey first found each other.
The couple met in Wandsworth, a small town in Newfoundland and Labrador province, Canada. Fred and Florence, who are teenagers back then, spent every moment they could together, taking walks after church, stealing kisses in between classes, and attending concerts.
“She was my first love. My first girlfriend and my first true love,” Paul, now 84, told CNN.
But when Fred turned 18, and Florence was 15, the two went their separate ways. Fred moved to Toronto for work. After a year later, when he came back to look for Florence, she had moved to another town.
Eventually, they both married other people and started families.
In 2017, Florence found herself single again after her husband Len died of cancer. They were happily married for 57 years and had five children together.
Two years later, Fred’s wife of nearly 60 years, Helen, also died from multiple health issues, including dementia. They had two children together.
It was the shared grief over losing their spouses that brought them back together.
When Florence knew that Fred’s wife passed away, she called to reassure him that things would slowly get better.
During that first call, which happened a day after Valentine’s Day, they spoke about their separate lives, their children and grandchildren, and celebrated each other’s happy memories.
“I never thought it would go past that,” Florence, now 81 said. “But we went from talking once a week, to twice, to three times, to every day for hours. We had really reconnected even though we hadn’t seen each other in all those years. I knew this was it.”
After a few months later, on his birthday in July, Florence surprised Fred by coming to Toronto where they were finally reunited.
“When I found out she was in town and was coming to me, it was 10:30 at night. I ran out of bed and got dressed and wrote ‘Welcome Florence’ in chalk on the driveway and when she arrived, I walked to the car, gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and I held her hand and I knew right away that she had taken my heart,” Fred said.
Just three days after reuniting, the duo was ready to get married. Their families questioned why they moved so fast, but Fred and Florence re sure that they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Fred was also one month away from starting treatment for stomach cancer, but Florence was committed to being by his side throughout the good and the bad, no matter what that meant.
On August 8 this year, they exchanged vows in front of family and close friends at Norval United Church in Georgetown, Ontario. Because of the pandemic, they kept the guest list small.
“You were the first young man to walk me home in my teens,” Florence told Fred during the ceremony. “I guess you’ll be the last man to walk me home.”
Their marriage was officiated by Paul Ivany, the church’s lead minister, who conducted more than 500 wedding ceremonies in his career. He said this one was “the most moving, most profound service” he had ever been a part of.
“They both had been married for years and had created families and memories and wonderful lives. They both had truly fulfilled their vows to their first spouse ‘In sickness and in health. In joy and in sorrow. To love and to cherish. As long as we both shall live’,” Ivany said.
“And now, with all the wisdom they had gathered up in life, through all of life’s joys and sorrows, life’s ups and downs, they were ready to say those vows again. Not, with the naive emotionalism of young love but out of the depths of lived experience. They were willing to say those vows again. And mean them, again. It was so powerful.”