They are called “God winks,” those inexplicable convergences of circumstance that some believe only divine intervention can explain.
Hamilton residents John Meece and Julie Metzger know a thing or two about them.
When John met Julie
It was Sept. 4, 2018. Julie Metzger sat in her car feeling a bit lost as she prepared to try one more round of group grief counseling for people who’d lost their spouses.
She knew what was coming: Gut-wrenching stories people tell they hope would connect them with another soul and help mute the grief. For her, for a variety of reasons, it hadn’t happened yet. Anyone, a friend or potential love, would have some pretty huge shoes to fill.
See, she’d lost her soulmate when John Metzger died of lung cancer April 17, 2018. John’s the sort of man who made her feel beautiful, made her belly laugh. He made her the mother of two sons. The limitless ways he brought her peace also helped her heal from some significant early-life demons.
As heaviness bore down on her, she joined the others and saw a man in his school-teacher clothing sitting diagonally from her. He’d seen her sitting in that vehicle not long before.
When she heard him describe his wife and their marriage, she remembered thinking how blessed he was to find a love like that, much like her own.
His nametag read, “John.” Then she heard his wife’s name. Julie.
John lost the love of his life, Julie, to breast cancer. She – Julie – also lost her John to cancer. She has two grown sons, he has three grown children, all five offspring share the initials “J.M.” God wink No. 1.
They were the last two to leave after every group session they attended thereafter. Texting off and on for a few months, they decided to go to dinner at Snow’s Lakeside Tavern, Nov. 1, 2018.
Earlier that day, Julie, 52, had taken a major step in her grief process. She’d always thought she would keep John Metzger’s cremated remains with her until a friend persuaded her to bury him, to give him back to God.
“The day I had to turn him over to the funeral home, it was raining. It was almost like it was harder handing this box over than the whole funeral. Four hours later, I was meeting (John Meece) to go on our first date,” she said.
John, 56, a math teacher in Talawanda schools for 33 1/2 years until his retirement May 22, read her social media post about it. Writing a blog, Returning the Gift, and communicating through Facebook have been sources of comfort to her.
He asked if she was sure she wanted to go out. She was. It was time.
Their journey as a couple has taken them on many adventures where they felt God wink after God wink reinforced they were heading in the right direction, including a Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, concert in the mountains, and a trip to Clearwater, Florida.
A few days before Christmas, Dec. 22, they declared their love for each other on the SkyStar Wheel in downtown Cincinnati.
“John said it first, but I loved him before that,” she said.
Thanks to the coronavirus, when John proposed May 2, 2020, with her adult sons’ blessing, it wasn’t in a restaurant or out in a public place. It was a quiet dinner he made for her and brought to her apartment.
Plan B is for beautiful
John Meece and his wife, Julie, had made plans. They loved to be together and travel, whether it was to Walgreens or family vacations. It was that way especially after her first go-round with breast cancer in 2009, when a trip to the grocery became date night as her strength allowed.
In fact, when Julie died July 1, 2018, they were supposed to be in Myrtle Beach.
“All of a sudden the trip’s over and she’s gone. Talk about a kick in the gut,” he said. “You don’t plan on being a widow at 54. It’s never part of the plan. Julie Metzger is my Plan B.”
John and Julie find solace in receiving and sharing stories of their late spouses.
“God gave us a Plan B and we’re rolling with it. It’s not easy. I mean we have our challenges but we’ve been so supportive of each other,” Julie said. “It works.”
It works because it truly doesn’t bother the couple to hear about their first loves. They want to know more. It helps them process.
“When Julie has a bad day or has a moment, I understand why she’s having that moment and I know to back off. When I have my moments, she does the same thing,” he said.
“If I’m dating someone who might have been divorced or never married, and I’m constantly talking about Julie, I don’t know how they’d handle that.”
He’s certain that if they’d had bad marriages, they wouldn’t be open to the happiness they now have.
“We both had awesome marriages and we’re not afraid to do it again,” he said. “We’re not replacing, but we’re both young and we want to move on and move forward. Life is too short.”
Julie Metzger said they deserve to love again.
“I’m a firm believer, always have been, love can just fill you up in so many ways. It’s not always easy but that’s ok. It’s part of growth and as long as you are open to it and keep your heart open to it, keep your heart open to the experiences that come with it, oh my God, what a fulfilled life you can have,” she said.
“I feel absolutely 100 percent blessed that I had John Metzger in my life for 23 years and I know he feels the way about Julie Meece, but now we feel like we’ve got this double blessing because we met each other and feel open to the possibility of another beautiful thing in our lives.”
What was and what is
So what’s made this love work for them? How has it evolved into something to last the rest of their lives?
They love the same way they always have. Same flutters, same values.
“I can remember when I was dating Julie (Meece), I would get butterflies when I saw her. I’d smile and be happy. Even to the day she died, when I came from work, I was home and she’d come into the house, there was that feeling of home, that peace,” John said.
While their personalities do not mirror the late spouses (John Meece is outgoing while John Metzger was shy, for example), at the core, they’re the same.
“We have the same values of what we appreciate. Good sense of humor, belly gut laugh, being open to experiences, taking the good with the bad, communication,” Julie said.
“We still do have these moments of some deep, deep conversations, hard conversations, just to be open to listening to those from your significant other and not judge or be mad at them because they think one way and you think another. Finding that level field. He always makes me feel beautiful; my husband always made me feel beautiful. They make me feel loved. It’s always going to be the four of us. We felt the love in the past; we’ll feel the love in the future.”
Rainbows and hummingbirds
John Meece and his wife, Julie, considered the rainbow their special symbol, as it appeared whenever something significant happened for them.
John saw a rainbow on the way home from that initial meeting at the support group, a night where it hadn’t rained and there wasn’t one good reason there’d be one other than a God wink from Julie.
“I feel like she has talked to me and told me it’s OK,” John said.
He had no hesitation about wanting to share the news of their engagement. Julie, however, really grappled with it, but a little birdie whispered encouragement in her ear.
When Julie’s husband, John Metzger, learned his lung cancer was terminal, they talked about what he’d come back as, how she’d know he was with her after he passed.
His choice: A hummingbird. He made her buy a hummingbird feeder, which she put outside their Colerain Township home the summer after his death. They’d constantly come to a window, including whenever she talked to John.
She had purchased another one for her current residence, an apartment in Hamilton, but a bird hadn’t come to the feeder for about a month. Without trees near her second-floor home, it wasn’t surprising. She thought, “He’s never going to find me here. It’s the city; I have a dog.”
On the day she finally decided to publicly share their engagement, a hummingbird flew through her open terrace doors and doubled back to feed. At that moment, she heard John’s voice outside approaching the building.
“You will never believe what just happened,” she told John. “He found me here. Of all days, I’d just posted that writing; he shows up here in a city.”
The bird came back in while she and John sat there, visiting her the next day and a few days since.
The next step for the Meece-Metzger household is to sell his home and find a new place to live together, with their wedding to come sometime next year.
“The apartment is our transition place. No past here; only the present and future. By the end of the year, we can find a home to grow old together.”