There is no fanciful word to describe it. Some days were just unbearable—plain and simple. Pete Gleason not only had a thriving distributorship, but a loving wife, who had been a tremendous asset helping him with billing, artwork and other administrative duties the promotional products industry requires. Sybil Gleason managed to juggle the balls—on top of being a full-time mom.
Throughout their marriage, both Sybil and Pete were very proactive in planning their futures and practiced forward-thinking. However, the one thing that Sybil used to say—that bugged Pete to no end—was, “If anything ever happens to me, make sure you move on. I want the boys to grow up with a mom.”
It’s as if Sybil knew her fate. When she passed away at the age of forty, Pete was overwhelmed with grief. To find comfort, he joined a bereavement group to help him cope with the loss of his wife and how to best handle raising his two sons alone.
Pete remembers a woman named Chris being in that same group. Consumed handling his own affairs and still trying to get through the everyday grind without Sybil, he didn’t recall much more about Chris other than her name and the fact that they were the only two in the group to have lost a spouse at such a young age. The other attendees were in the seventy to eighty year old age range, making it difficult for Pete to find someone he could relate to regarding his loss and current life situation.
A year later, he tried a different bereavement group for people under the age of sixty-five, which he found to be a much better fit for himself and his sons. “Oddly enough,” Pete says, “I’m sitting there when the meeting started, and Chris walks in and sits down next to me.”
Only this time was different. “The leaders paired us up to talk with each other over the week in between meetings,” Pete said. “Chris and I learned we’d both lost our spouses within four months of each other. I had two boys—one named Sam. Chris had two girls and a son named Sam.
Both had survived that first, painful year without their spouses when those birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions—once celebrated with joy— were met with dread. The grief waves that ambushed them emotionally seemed to have calmed some by the time they had reconnected.
Class homework led to Chris asking Pete, “Are we going to have conversations beyond this group?”
Three to four weeks into dating, sparks flew. The attraction between them was undeniably mutual.
But Chris had questions. The first being, “Pete, do you ski?” Lucky for him, he passed that test.
Her second question was a little different. “I’d say, ‘You make pens and pencils. How do you make any money? I don’t get it.’” Chris shrugs and throws her hands in the air.
Granted, it is hard for a lot of people to wrap their head around how anyone could possibly earn a living selling pens and pencils.
Though the relationship was falling into place, Chris was met with challenges at her employment—to the point that her dad said, “Chris, you’ve got to do something.”
With a medical background as a radiology tech, the hardest part of her job wasn’t reading CT scans and X-rays—that was second nature—it was having to work a 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift or a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, which made it impossible for her to be available for her youngest child, her eight year old Sam.
Using her smarts, Chris combined her medical background along with her physical fitness background, (a/k/a “wellness coordinator”) and created a program in the oncology department for a major medical center that was specifically for women with breast cancer.
Chris says, “So I piloted a program in over seven years and developed it into a full-time position. It was in oncology. And I studied clients for a year. They stayed with me. I educated them. And it just got sad.”
Having experienced enough grief losing Keith, Chris was ready for a career change. “I said to the woman, whom I used to buy my products from for my program at the hospital, ‘You know everybody. You must have a scope for what’s going on in the business world. I’m looking to get out of the medical field.’
“Without hesitation, she said, ‘Come work for me.’ So I did for a short period of time,” Chris says.
How to generate income—in what was once a mind-boggling promotional products profession in her own mind—had become a lot clearer. With some experience in sales, Chris learned the industry is much bigger than pens and pencils. There are unlimited products, the business is fun, fulfilling, and everyone is family.
Plus…there was another perk. With Pete being the vice president of business development and a partner with CPS Keystone Line, Chris shares, “I had Pete to just sort of show me the ropes and explain how things work, and he coached me.”
To set the record straight, Pete makes it clear that Chris, who works for a distributor, gets no preferential treatment on his supplier side.
Though it seemed the stars were all in alignment, Chris had not dated in twenty-six years because she was with her husband all that time. “And then Pete came along,” she says. “And I told him, ‘I’ve got to make sure you’re it.’ While I went on a date, Pete was pacing.”
But that brow-sweat didn’t drip long. Turns out, Chris’s date was a schmuck. The good that came from that awkward evening confirmed for Chris that Pete Gleason was the one for her.
Keeping up the tradition, Pete continued taking his boys to Nantucket Island every summer to vacation, just as he and Sybil had always done. On a weekend getaway, Chris and her children happened to join Pete and his two sons on Nantucket Island.
Walking down a mystical, foggy beach, Pete got down on one knee and proposed. It was no surprise when Chris said yes. They married on August 23rd, 2009.
Not only do the two of them now work in the promotional products industry, Pete adds, “We found early on there are so many things in common that we enjoy. I’m an avid mountain biker, and I kind of dragged her along. And now she bikes with me. We hike. We ski. The children all rallied together.”
“It is pretty cool how they’ve done it,” Pete shares. “There is no stepbrother, no stepsister. I love it when I hear that Sam C has been talking to Sam G about something, and I didn’t even catch wind of it. With the exception of Carissa, I’ve been in all the other kids’ lives longer than Keith has and Chris has been in my sons’ lives longer than Sybil was, so it’s worked out pretty good.”
Both sold their homes and purchased a circa 1850s farm house with a little over nine acres that they have restored for the past ten years together. Pete says, “We are always doing something together or building something. We were laying a stone patio this summer, and Chris was right there pouring cement with me.”
If given a choice, neither Pete nor Chris would have wanted to lose Keith or Sybil. However, the two have made the best from bad situations. As Pete says, “From what Chris tells me, I am very different from Keith—like night and day. And I would say the same about her. So it’s kind of a very interesting thing. I always feel bad saying this because people can read it wrong—but that’s not how it’s intended—it’s like we got a second opportunity to kind of reinvent and make the second chapter of our lives even more.”
Too, Pete makes a very valid point. “I know people struggle their entire life finding the right person. I’ve been lucky enough to have two wonderful women in my life. One of the things that I think has been really good for us with regards to both of us losing our spouses is that there has never been a moment that there is a jealousy or anything like that. We just understand what each other has been through. And almost more importantly, we understand what our kids have been through. So there has never been that question of why are you upset. I kind of know why you are upset or I know what is bothering you. So I think those two mindsets—both the business and having lost spouses—kind of run a parallel.
Not only will Pete and Chris celebrate Christmas together for the rest of their lives, both happen to be December babies. The promotional products family—both from the distributor and supplier sides—extends Happy Birthday wishes to Pete and Chris-Carpenter Gleason along with a very Merry Christmas!
A widower husband and a widowed wife, who met under such pain and strife, are now enjoying a happy life.
Amazing things happen when you find the silver lining; those dark clouds fade into the sunlight.