GREENFIELD — It was Feb. 10, 2013, when Joe died. Four days before Valentine’s Day.
Four days before he and his wife, Natalie Buyoc, would have gone to Outback Steakhouse to celebrate the holiday.
Not the most romantic place — but their place.
It wasn’t completely unexpected; her husband had been sick for more than two years. He had diabetes. His kidneys had failed.
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But when he was finally gone, Buyoc was devastated. Instead of their signature steakhouse dinner — they’d split the ahi tuna, then the ribeye, cooked medium — she was alone, planning a funeral. Her husband would be laid to rest the day after Valentine’s Day. She couldn’t imagine celebrating ever again.
Scott Woodward knew the feeling. His wife, Jennifer, died just a few weeks earlier that same year. Cancer took her swiftly, just five months after diagnosis. His high school sweetheart was gone.
Buyoc and Woodward, never having met, each prepared to spend the rest of their years alone.
But life is a funny thing. Love, even funnier.
When they signed up for Christian Mingle, an online dating site, neither was seeking a relationship. They were just looking for a friend, someone to support them as they found their new normal.
But something just clicked.
Today, the Indianapolis couple that never expected to find love again will join hands as husband and wife at the Garden Chapel in Greenfield. On Valentine’s Day, the pair will honor the loss that brought them together and celebrate the new beginning ahead.
Buyoc said she was surprised by how much she had in common with Woodward when she first came across his profile. They’re the same age, both have two kids (one boy and one girl) and both had lost their spouses. They complement each other well, too.
He’s the stick in the mud in their relationship, keeping her grounded. She keeps him young at heart.
In May, they were engaged to be married.
“I initially thought I would just have a really good buddy,” Buyoc said. “I love him. He is my absolute best friend.”
He takes good care of her, making or bringing lunch for her every day. Texts let her know that he misses her.
“I just think she’s great,” Woodward said of Buyoc. “She’s caring and loving.”
In September, as the couple began planning the wedding, Buyoc suggested Valentine’s Day nuptials. The holiday didn’t seem so somber anymore, not to two people in love.
She fancied the idea of marrying her best friend on the day dedicated to lovers. The Garden Chapel, where she wanted the wedding to take place, had the day open.
Valentine’s Day and an anniversary all rolled into one? Woodward wasn’t opposed to the idea.
“I’ll only have to buy one gift,” he said with a laugh.
Working with Trina Burk, owner of the Garden Chapel, the couple was able to easily plan all aspects of the big day. The reception will be at the Creative Arts and Events Center on Main Street, within walking distance for anyone willing to brave the snow.
The chapel was just what they were looking for in a ceremony venue — homey, not too big and not too small. And they aren’t alone in getting the warm and fuzzies about have a wedding on Valentine’s Day. Their ceremony is one of four planned at the chapel today.
Burk said February is usually a slow month for the wedding venue, but because Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday this year, it’s fully booked.
“It’s going to be a really fun day,” Burk said. “People are always really happy on wedding days, so when we have four of them going through there, it’s going to be really special.”
For Buyoc and Woodward, choosing to get married today was a way to ensure they’d never again have to spend another Valentine’s Day lonely and sad.
“It’s so funny to think about where I came from. I didn’t have a valentine, and I thought I’d never have a valentine again,” Buyoc said. “To have that companionship again … it’s everything.”
And neither has forgotten the people who, in some way, brought them together.
Buyoc believe both Jennifer and Joe will be at the wedding in spirit.
Pictures of them will be displayed on the altar, and the unity lock Woodward and Buyoc have incorporated into the ceremony has Jennifer’s favorite Bible verse engraved on it.
Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declared the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
It’s an important mantra for Buyoc and Woodward, who said they believe their late spouses — and certainly God — played a part in them finding each other.
“We’ve carried that with us,” Buyoc said of the verse. “We put a lot of faith in God.”
Losing the people they thought they would spend forever with has taught the couple to live in the moment and to value each day they have together.
“I never thought I’d be a widow at 38,” Woodward said. “There’s not always a tomorrow.”
For the ceremony, they wrote their own vows. They’re not traditional wedding vows, Buyoc said. They’ll likely make their guests giggle more than cry.
“That’s just us,” Buyoc said. “We’re funny; we like to have a good time.”
And after today’s wedding celebration, they’ll spend two days at a bed and breakfast in Brown County, celebrating their first days of a new life together.
“This is a new start,” Buyoc said. “We’re going to turn it all around.”