If the unthinkable happened to your sister, would you help care for her children? Probably. But would you also marry her husband?
That was the choice that faced Colleen Leary when her 42-year-old sister Jackie DeVita, on her deathbed, handed Colleen her wedding ring and asked her to take her place in her family, according to the AP.
"I want to know that this is the three of us," Colleen says her sister told her, referring to herself, Colleen, and DeVita's husband Richard. "Don't ever leave my kids." A year after Jackie's death, Colleen and Richard fulfilled Jackie's dying wish; the two are now married and living in the home Richard once shared with Jackie, raising the children together.
The sisters grew up in New York state and Colleen was the first to move to Florida in 1988, when she began work at the dental office of endodontist Richard DeVita. Five years later, Jackie joined Colleen in Florida and began working at DeVita’s office.
In April 1994, Richard and Jackie married.
"From the time Jackie and Richard met, we were constantly together, the three of us," Colleen told the AP. "We hung out every week at the beach. I wasn't dating or anything, so I was always the tag-along, but I loved it because I knew Richard and I loved Jackie." The sisters even took the children to Disney World when Richard was working "[The children] knew me like they knew their mother," Colleen says.
In 2005, when Jackie learned that she had a brain tumor, Colleen quit her job with Richard's office and moved into the guest suite in the 101-acre ranch and 19,114-square-foot house in Venice, Florida, that Jackie and Richard shared with their children.
Three months after Jackie's funeral in June of 2008, after asking the approval of the children, Richard and Colleen married. "There was no reason to wait," she says.
Richard told the AP it was in "God's plan" that Colleen remained unmarried and was so close to her sister's family, and Colleen says that she is not concerned about detractors who judge her for marrying Richard: "All that mattered to me was that it would be OK with my sister, and I could hear her talking to me," Colleen said. "This is where she wanted me. She wrote it in a letter. She handed me her wedding band. She talked to both of us," she said.
"I am happy. I loved this man as a boss, a brother-in-law, and now as a husband," Colleen told the AP. "I always say to people, 'Was I in love with him? No. Do I love him now? Yes.' He's a good man."
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