Four years ago, 42-year-old Jackie DeVita was dying of cancer when she made a special request to her unmarried sister Colleen Leary.
Jackie removed her wedding ring and handed it to Colleen, saying : “I want to know that this is the three of us,” referring to Colleen, Jackie and her husband, Richard DeVita. “Don't ever leave my kids.”
Colleen had promised to look after her children but wasn’t in love with her brother-in-law and refused to marry him.
However, three months after Jackie’s funeral, Colleen and Richard fulfilled Jackie's dying wish. The couple are now married and living on a ranch in Venice, Florida, in the home Richard once shared with Jackie.
Raising Richie, now 16, Mikey, 14, who has Down's syndrome, and Gabby, 12, together.
Colleen said: “I know we have her blessing. It mattered more to me that I felt peace for my sister, knowing that this is what was supposed to happen if she couldn’t be here.”
Jackie and Colleen were born only 50 weeks apart, were extremely close and often mistaken for twins.
In family photos, it is hard to tell one from the other. Colleen said: “Even though she had blue eyes and more auburn hair, and I have dark hair and dark eyes, people would mistake us for twins.”
The sisters grew up in New York together until Colleen moved to Florida in 1988, when she began work at Richard DeVita’s dental office. Five years later, Jackie joined Colleen in Florida and began working at DeVita’s office.
Colleen introduced the pair and in April 1994, Richard and Jackie married.
Colleen told the AP: “From the time Jackie and Richard met, we were constantly together, the three of us. 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.”
When Richard was working the sisters would go on family trips, Colleen said: “I wasn’t a stranger to these children. They knew me like they knew their mother.”
Jackie was told by her doctor, in 2005 that she had a brain tumour, Colleen quit her job at Richard’s office and moved into the DeVita family home.
In June 2008, after asking the approval of his children Richard married Colleen. “There was no reason to wait,” she said.
Richard, 55, admitted to begin with that he found his future wife a “pain in the ass” but Jackie’s illness brought them closer together. He believes it was “God’s plan” that Colleen, now 46, remained unmarried.
She added: “I am happy. I loved this man as a boss, a brother-in-law, and now as a husband. 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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