Katelyn Massey and Nick DeBlois received a gift on Valentine’s Day whose message will stay with them long after the chocolates are eaten, flowers wilted and cards thrown away.

The engaged couple, 22 and 23, respectively, were attending the 9 a.m. Mass at Notre Dame Catholic Church in Waterville. When it ended around 45 minutes later, a lone, gray-haired woman sitting in the row behind them spoke to DeBlois.

“She grabbed my fiance’s hand and asked him what he was going to do after Mass,” Massey said. “Then, she put money in his hand and insisted he take me out to lunch.”

Massey and DeBlois protested, saying they could not accept the money, but the woman said something that ultimately changed their minds.

“She said, ‘I really, really need to do this,'” Massey recalled. “She said we reminded her of her and her husband and she recently lost him and they had been married 61 years. We were stunned. I was in tears about that part, and she hugged us and we said, ‘Good-bye.’ It was like something you see in a movie. We still don’t know her name.”

The woman disappeared, but Massey and DeBlois couldn’t get her out of their minds. The more they talked about the gift and told others about it, the more they realized the significance of the woman’s gesture. Yes, she had given them money to spend on lunch, but more than that, she was impressing on them the importance of spending time together. Massey and DeBlois say Valentine’s Day gifts such as jewelry, candy and flowers are nice, but being in each other’s presence is what really matters.

And life is fleeting.

“As sweet as her gift was, it was very sad at the same time because she was all alone after 61 years,” Massey said. “It was bittersweet.”

She wishes they had told the woman how much they appreciated her kindness.

“We really took a lot from it. It wasn’t just this little thing. We felt very special. We thought it was a ‘touched by an angel’ kind of thing. It was just this random act that left a big impression on us.”

Massey and DeBlois typically do not attend the 9 a.m. Mass. They usually go to the one at 10:30 a.m., where they know more people, she said. For some reason that day, they chose the earlier Mass.

“It was definitely a twist of fate for some reason that we sat in front of her. She reminded me of my fiance’s grandmother. She was very, very similar in the way she carried herself, just kind of had that maternal, grandmotherly way about her.”

Massey and DeBlois did go out to lunch afterward at the Oakland House of Pizza, where she ate a salad and he had pizza. The whole time they talked about the woman in church. They wished they had asked for her name and phone number.

“We really want to take her out to lunch,” Massey said. “When I think now about how she may have been alone on Valentine’s Day — I really hope that’s not true — but obviously she didn’t have her husband with her anymore. We’d love to give her a thank you or something like that to let her know that it didn’t go unnoticed and it was appreciated.”

The Waterville couple, who have been together six years, plan to be married June 17, 2017.

They met at Waterville Senior High School while both played on the hockey team. Massey earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Maine, Orono, where she is pursuing a master’s in speech pathology. DeBlois, who earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the university, is a sales engineer.

The future stretches wide before this bright young pair.

I suspect that one day, long into it, they will look back and realize that the woman in church gave them perhaps the greatest wedding gift they could ever receive — and it has nothing to do with money or material things.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.