Beauty for ashes: Connie and Chip Dizárd found new love by recognizing loss

When the founder of Premature Widow met her photographer husband, both realized a second chance could encompass a first love.

The next time you “like” a social media post, it could lead to a love like you’ve never known.

Working in adjacent industries in the DMV (D.C.-Maryland-Virginia) area, Conswella Gilmore Dizárd, a program manager for the federal government who goes by “Connie,” had already been following Damien “Chip” Dizárd on Instagram when she saw a quote posted to his stories in 2020 and felt compelled to respond to its uplifting message. A traveling wedding and event photographer running his business from Maryland, Chip, in turn, saw an opportunity to network; after sending Connie a request, the two began exchanging messages. 

Connie and Chip Dizard, Connie Gilmore Dizard, The Premature Widow, dating a widow, love after widowhood, love after divorce, love and relationships, Black love, What are 3 three things a widow needs, blended families, love and relationships,
Connie and Chip Dizárd (Photo by RJ Paulk of Peculiar Images)

“I knew she knew some people that I knew in the photography industry, and I saw who she followed,” Chip, 51, told theGrio. Having just divorced the year before, he wasn’t looking to enter another relationship. “So it was more of a business transaction at first because I just didn’t know who she was.”

“We chatted for a while just on Instagram,” Connie recalled. “And then one day he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m tired of chatting on here. Just call me, now.”

The two would eventually schedule their first date in February 2021; in January 2024, they married. Now blending their families in Laurel, Md., both Connie and Chip brought three children to the union — her eldest daughter and son are 34 and 28, respectively, and a younger daughter is 16, and Chip has three daughters: a 17-year-old and 15-year-old twins. On the surface, their love story may call to mind a modern-day “Brady Bunch,” but Chip and Connie’s journey to marriage has far greater depths.

Connie and Chip Dizárd (Photo by RJ Paulk of Peculiar Images)

While Chip’s first marriage ended in divorce, Connie was only 40 when her first husband, Todd, died in 2014 after 15 years of marriage and nearly a lifetime of friendship (the two were even prom dates). Bewildered by both the loss and the lack of support and resources available to young widows like herself, Connie founded Premature Widow Ministries to provide fellowship and faith to other young widows grappling with bereavement.

“My husband was only 38. And so, having gone through that at that age, when I looked around, widows didn’t look like me. So I had zero support … and my youngest daughter was 6,” Connie, now 50, recalls. Connecting with another woman her age in her workplace who had been widowed that same year with three children of her own reinforced the need for communal support. 

“God kinda deposited Premature Widow into me,” says Connie. “But what I didn’t realize was what I created for me, what I thought was for me, ended up being for hundreds upon hundreds of other widowed women who had children and who didn’t have a resource.” 

While she built a thriving community of empathy, Connie had been widowed seven years before she considered entering a serious relationship with Chip.

“I dated, but nothing to this extent. … [Dating Chip] was a feeling that I hadn’t felt before because, to be honest, I had come across other individuals that I had either talked to or dated who were extremely intimidated by the organization and the legacy that I was continuing to carry on for my late husband,” she recalled. “And so that was an immediate no for me … [because] this organization literally saved my life. 

Chip, in turn, “began to study widowhood,” Connie shared. “And so consequently, in studying it and then listening to my stories, whether they would be about my late husband, or about the grief or the pain, or my [organization’s] widows, he just became so intentional about getting to know more and more.”

So much so that during their first year of dating, Chip offered newfound support to Connie on the anniversary of Todd’s death. 

“He stopped everything — I mean, I can remember specifically [Chip] having his own family issue that day, and he took care of that and then immediately came to make sure that he took me to the cemetery,” she recalled. Since then, he has become an ardent supporter of Premature Widow, lending his talents to Connie’s events, promoting her initiatives, and bolstering his now-wife in her life’s work in any way he can.

“Being a divorcé is a different thing,” Chip explained. “It’s not like a widow [or] a widower. You have a failed marriage, so you feel that you wanna be better.”

Recommended Stories

His intention to “be better” also led the two to relationship counseling and premarital “boot camp,” with guidance from Christian relationship coach David A. Burrus, who Chip also found on Instagram. He’d made the suggestion to seek out counseling together, “just to show [Connie] that I was serious about [the relationship] … and it was tough for me because I had to invite this accountability by a man that I didn’t know,” he explained, adding, “[but] he single-handedly helped me — actually, helped us — it was one of those kinds of things that I don’t think that we would be here without that, at least not now.

“So I think that we have to invite accountability,” Chip continued, crediting Burrus with helping him become more intentional in his relationship with Connie — including putting her first and distancing himself from those in his circle who did not share the same mindset. “It was one of those kind of things I didn’t do in my first marriage, and I said, ‘You know what? [The] second time around, I can’t fumble this.’” 

Led by mutual intention, the two are now each other’s biggest cheerleaders. In addition to motherhood and leading Premature Widow, Connie has stepped back into what she believes to be her purpose as a wife, supporting everything from Chip’s business to the unique needs of his twin daughters, who have autism. Chip says he prioritizes being of service to his wife — “servant leadership,” he calls it — both supporting Connie personally and using his platform to amplify her, including a now-viral post advising others on the nuances of being in a relationship with a widow.

Chip’s consistent thoughtfulness has led Connie to believe their newfound commitment is a divine reflection of her profound and enduring faith, even in the face of incalculable loss. “I always say that he is a promise kept because God promised me beauty for ashes, and when I went through those years and months of grief and darkness and all the things that came along with losing someone that was so dear to me … [Chip is] a promise kept because God promised me that I didn’t have to lower the bar. I didn’t have to settle, and if I did it before, I’ll do it again,” she shared, adding, “God kept his promise to me.”  

While he says Connie “just makes loving her easy,” Chip also cherishes their love as a welcome second chance, noting, “I feel that we have restoration in our relationship and just in everything in life — not only with the widowhood, [but] with my divorce-hood and just [us] being in this — this is a restoration.” 

More than anything, neither takes their second chance at love for granted. 

“You know, I represent hundreds of women who’ve gone to bed a wife and woke up a widow,” explained Connie. “And so it’s just that easy for it to happen — you just assume when you leave home to go to work that he’s gonna be there when you get back, but life doesn’t offer much in the way of assumptions. It does what it wants to do. And so we have to cherish each moment. And so I’m very intentional about cherishing the time that I do have with [Chip] because I don’t wanna waste any of the time that I have to love him on things that don’t matter.” 

Chip agreed, saying, “[It’s] actually having the forethought to know that even if you messed up one time or if you’ve made mistakes, your failures aren’t final; you can always rebound and make it better and don’t listen to other people saying that you’ll never do right or you’ll never find love again.” He added, “It’s just really being intentional and being steadfast.”

As they now embark on a new marriage together, Connie is sharing the love, in hopes that her story will inspire others. 

“What I share with my widows is that opening your heart to love again — to live again, even — doesn’t take anything away from the love that you had with your late husband,” she said. “I still love my late husband; I still miss my late husband. Chip’s not in any way intimidated by that, and in his eyes, for someone to continue the legacy of their late husband and to continue to say his name when he’s gone, [he thinks] ‘What will she do for me in my life and legacy?’ It’s just a wonderful thing,” she continued. “It’s a blessing actually, to have found someone to support me and the things that are important to me. What’s important to me is important to Chip. … that just sums it up.” 

(Editor’s note: Portions of this interview have been condensed for clarity.)

Maiysha Kai is theGrio’s lifestyle editor, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades of experience in fashion and entertainment, great books, and the brilliance of Black culture. She is also the editor-author of Body: Words of Change series and the host of ‘Writing Blackon theGrio Black Podcast Network.

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter