Pearl River natives Eileen Bellew and Kevin Houston knew of their shared experiences when they met in 2009.
Each knew the pain of losing a spouse. Bellew's husband of 10 years, John Bellew, died from injuries suffered in the line of duty Jan. 23, 2004 as a New York City Firefighter.
Kevin Houston's wife of 21 years, Elizabeth, passed away in January of 2009 after a long battle with the autoimmune disease Scleroderma.
Both knew the challenge of having to explain what was happening to their children, and what it meant to have to go on as single parents.
What they did not realize when they first got to know one another in late 2009 was that they would eventually choose to share the rest of their lives together.
Houston and Bellew were featured Tuesday morning on the Live! with Kelly show as part of Live's Hawaiian Dream Wedding Giveaway. They are among five finalists whose stories are being shared with a national audience this week. The full text of Houston's letter is below.
The winner will be chosen by online voting, which begins Friday, Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. and ends 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22. One vote per email address is allowed each day. To vote, go to www.livewithkelly.tv.
Below is the text of the letter Houston submitted to the Live! With Kelly show.
To fall in love once and marry your best friend is an amazing feeling, a dream come true. Falling in love a second time, after all of your dreams are tragically shattered, and marrying the love of your life is even more amazing. That is the story of us, Eileen Bellew and Kevin Houston.
In January 2005, Eileen’s world was turned upside down in an instant. Her husband of 10 years, John Bellew, one of New York City’s Bravest, lost his life in a catastrophic fire, which became known as Black Sunday. Married in July 1995, Eileen and John had a life full of love, and four beautiful children who were 6, 3, 2, and 5 months at the time of John’s death. She was on maternity leave from the job she dearly loved as a science teacher in Pearl River, NY. Eileen not only raised her own children as a working mom, but she inspired and encouraged children throughout the community as a teacher, and the positive impact she left on many students is still evident today, even though she has been unable to return to the classroom. Eileen was at home on January 23, 2005, a freezing cold, snowy winter day, when her attention was drawn to a special report on TV broadcasting news of a horrific fire in the Bronx, NY, and serious injuries to firemen who responded to the blaze. She was chilled by what she was hearing, but was unable to get further information on John’s status, who she knew was at the fire. Fearing her worst nightmare, Eileen was soon on her way to St. Barnabas hospital, pictures of her four young children in hand. When she arrived, the terror and uncertainty she feared gripped and shook her to her core. A short time later, John succumbed to his injuries, and their life’s plans and dreams were immediately and irrevocably shattered. In an instant the wonderful world she had known just hours before was thrown into complete chaos. She returned home, devastated and heartbroken, but still had to face another unimaginable hurdle - telling her children that their daddy would not be coming home again. One by one she delivered the message to each of them and began to prepare for the seemingly impossible future that awaited her in that instant. Inspired by her four young children, her little angels, Eileen kept her family moving forward despite the difficulty, sadness, and emptiness that surrounded her on a daily basis. Over the last six years, she has watched her two daughters and her two sons grow and mature into wonderful, well adjusted children, all the while reminding them of John’s courage and bravery, as well as the many great traits he displayed as a father.
In January 2009, Kevin’s world was also toppled. Immediately following his graduation from the United States Military Academy in 1987, Kevin married his high school sweetheart, Elizabeth. Kevin and Liz were married for 21 years, when Liz succumbed to a long term illness, a rare autoimmune disease called Scleroderma that eroded her quality of life over a five year period. Kevin and Liz also lived a charmed life, full of love and happiness, with three fantastic children who were 20, 16, and 13, when their world crumbled. Over the course of five years, prior to her death, Kevin was Liz’s primary care giver as she steadily lost her independence and her ability to do the everyday tasks we all take for granted. He was beside her throughout and offering encouragement even when various medical options failed. But he was not alone; his children were also excellent caregivers. The sacrifices each of them made over that five year period contributed to Liz maintaining a positive attitude and happy disposition despite the limitations Scleroderma placed on her and her family. Liz, too, was also a teacher and worked with children at summer camps for many years, but her illness made it impossible for her to continue doing what she loved, being around children. On January 3, 2009, the physical toll that Scleroderma took on Liz proved too much. Kevin’s worst fears had arrived. He gathered his children at the hospital, and sat on the floor before them – the task – telling them that all medical options were exhausted and the miracle they had wished for all week was not going to be realized. Their mother was dying. A short time later they gathered at her bedside to be with her as she peacefully passed away. Kevin, too, drew inspiration from his children, and collectively they have moved forward in the midst of the same difficulty, sadness, and emptiness that the Bellew family endured. In that time Kevin’s oldest daughter completed college and her master’s degree, while his son earned an athletic scholarship to college, and his youngest daughter is near finishing high school. There are everyday reminders everywhere of Liz’s courage and the great attributes she embodied as a mother.
Although Eileen and Kevin grew up in the same small town, and were only five years apart, they had not previously met. Both knew full well the tragedies each other and their children endured as a result of losing a spouse and a parent. In late 2009, Eileen and Kevin subsequently met and enjoyed each other’s company over a casual dinner, unaware something very special was happening. They soon thereafter fell in love. They have had the overwhelmingly awesome experience of finding in each other, the person they wanted to spend the rest of their lives with, despite the enormous losses each had endured. In each other they found soul mates with whom to build new dreams with, and to spend Happily Ever After with. They also found in each other that the future was once again something to embrace and look forward to with happiness and excitement, instead of something to fear. Their’s is the ultimate love story and they sealed their commitment to each other this past May when they got engaged.
Eileen and Kevin, and their families, frequently look to the skies for mindful and loving signs from John, who sends Rainbows, and Liz, who sends soaring Hawks. Those are the loving signs telling them that John and Liz are always nearby, looking out for all of them, and reminding them of happy times, past – present – and future. They often remind each other, sometimes through tears, how lucky they were to have had John and Liz in their lives, even if it was for too short a time.
Eileen and Kevin are most deserving of a Dream Wedding in Hawaii. Despite the horrible tragedies that befell them and their families, and sent them into emotional free falls, they have rallied, collected themselves, stayed positive, and risen up to dream again. Smile on them and send them soaring in the Rainbow state, Hawaii, for the Wedding of a Lifetime.