Veteran, widow remembered Couple’s friends, family move beyond their grief

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PORTLAND (AP) – Even in death, Christopher and Lavinia Gelineau are bringing people together.

Christopher, a 23-year-old Maine Army National Guard member, was killed in Iraq two years ago this month. His widow Lavinia, 25, whom he met at the University of Southern Maine, was murdered a year later by her father, who then took his own life.

Family and friends held a small memorial gathering for the young couple last week on the USM campus in Portland. They said it was time to move beyond their grief and focus on the love and meaning that filled Chris’ and Lavinia’s short lives.

“I really want to push on with my life and let the grief out, and be thankful that I knew them for the time that they were here,” said John Gelineau, Chris’ father.

He and other family members said the deep love that Chris and Lavinia felt for each other has inspired them to reshape their lives.

John Gelineau and Lavinia’s mother, Iuliana, found comfort in each other and are now married and living in Vermont. Chris’ mother, Vicki Chicoine, who has been divorced from John for about 20 years, also has remarried.

“I learned a lot from Lavi and Chris . . . and that has changed my life,” Chicoine said. “Every time I get the chance to, I drill into people, Listen, this is what life is about: If you don’t enjoy what you have and don’t tell people what they mean to you right now, you may never get the chance.”‘

John Gelineau has spoken out publicly against the war, twice sharing a platform with activist Cindy Sheehan, who also lost a son in Iraq. Gelineau said he does it for Lavinia, who used to deliver speeches against the war that took her husband.

“Sometimes I almost feel like it’s her within me,” he said.

The gathering Thursday at USM marked the second anniversary of the day that Chris Gelineau was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Lavinia was murdered on April 1, 2005, by her abusive father, who had come from their native Romania to visit her.

The family, Chicoine said, wants to remember not their deaths, but “what they meant to us and to each other.”

Chris, a blond, baby-faced Vermonter, and Lavinia, a dark-haired scholarship student from Romania who spoke five languages, met at the university in 2001. She had a problem with her computer; Chris, an honor student studying computers, fixed it. They fell in love and married in Vermont a year later. They had another wedding ceremony in Romania a year later.

“Sweet Romanian Chocolate’ and Sweet American Pie,”‘ Chicoine recalled. “Those were their formal nicknames (for each other).”

Chris, who had enlisted in the National Guard to pay for college, was sent to Iraq when his unit, the 133rd Engineer Battalion, was called up. On his 47th day there, he was killed in an ambush.

“I remembered getting the phone call the night that Chris died and I was here (in Maine) at 10:30 the next morning and I walked into their apartment and (Lavinia) was just crushed . . . I’ve never seen someone so devastated,” John Gelineau recalled.

By the spring of 2005, Lavinia had just moved into a house she bought in Westbrook and had applied to USM to get a master’s degree to come a French teacher. She was living with her mother, who had come from Romania for Chris’ funeral and decided to stay in order to help her daughter and escape an abusive relationship with Lavinia’s father.

While her mother was safely out of state, Lavinia allowed her father, Nicolae Onitiu, 51, to come for a short visit. A day or two after his arrival, Onitiu beat and strangled his daughter, then hanged himself.

Lavinia is buried beside Chris in Evergreen Cemetery under the red, heart-shaped gravestone that she bought for him in 2004 and had engraved with both their names. Friends and family visit frequently, leaving flowers and notes.

When John Gelineau and Iuliana come up to Maine, he said, the grave “is the first place we go and the last place we go.”

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