George Bamford had just proposed to his girlfriend Jennifer Bassey when a stranger interrupted them.
The two actors were sitting at Duke’s restaurant in Waikiki, Hawaii and were admiring the sun setting over the pacific ocean as Bamford popped the question. The scene had peaked the curiosity of a nearby diner, who approached their table and asked them “Is this the love of a lifetime or a second chance?”
The truth of the matter, it was both.
Bassey, of All My Children fame, had been married for 30 years to playwright and screenwriter Luther Davis. He died in 2008, and Bassey sought refuge by taking a grief recovery course. There, she learned the importance of surrounding herself with people during a time of loss — a lesson so powerful, it would inspire her to take a training course to help people with grieving.
Years later, a friend would introduce the 73-year-old star to a man who was having a particularly rough time with his own grief: he had lost his wife of 50 years to cancer. Bassey told him not to self isolate, and gave him her phone number so he could reach out for a chat. “We’ll talk through it,” she said. “I’m ahead of you and I’ll try to help you any way I can.”
That man was Bamford. Although neither of the them expected it, it wasn’t long before they fell in love.
“Two and a half years later, here we are,” Bassey tells PEOPLE. “I never dreamed when I met George it would turn into this — that we would [develop] feelings for one another. I thought I had 30 great years with someone else, and maybe I won’t meet anybody again, and that’s okay. But it just happened”
She said there was an instant connection between the two — a similar feeling she had when she met Davis. “When you’re supposed to be with a person, it’s very natural,” Bassey explained. “And from the first minute we met, it was very comfortable. It’s almost like a past life experience — we’ve been together before and this was supposed to be happening.”
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Bamford, 71, feels similarly. Having recently lost his wife, Barbara, he credits Bassey for wrestling him out of it. “I was in a world I didn’t know or understand,” the Law & Order alum said. “She’s very giving and has a good heart. I sensed right away that she’s the kind of person who knows how to fall in love and has been in love, as I had. And once you’re in love and you’ve felt love, you miss it. And you long for it again and try to replicate it.”
It’s been an amazing adventure since they met — much of which they’ve spent in New York, where they love to watch movies, exercise, mediate, and spend time with friends. When they’re not there, they travel. So far they’ve visited Ireland, London, France, Australia, New Zealand, Florida and Los Angeles together, and have plans lined up for trips to Normandy and Corsica.
In addition to their engagement, they’ve also been cast for the first time together in a new pilot about autism and dementia. Each are also working on their theater projects: a play Bamford wrote and a nightclub act for Bassey she’s planning for Feinstein’s 54 Below.
As for the wedding plans, they’re still up in the air, but the couple is considering flying off to Indianapolis — where Bamford’s daughter lives — for their nuptials. “We’ll probably fly there and have a small wedding,” said Bassey. “And then come back to New York and have a party with friends.”
Both Bamford and Bassey hope their love story inspires others.
“I want people to have hope that there is someone else out there,” Bassey said. “Don’t give up. Put yourself out there. Get into a grief group. Try to heal yourself, don’t isolate. And be open. Be open to anything that comes your way. Because there’s no reason you have to be alone the rest of your life no matter how old you are.”
It’s not without it’s challenges, Bamford said, especially when learning to adapt to a new person’s temperament after all those years, but he stresses there’s reward in the change.
“Change is what life is all about,” he said. “If I set my mind to the reality that change is what God intends for all of us, then I’m open to this relationship. If I want things to stay the same — if I want nothing to change – then I’m headed for the grave site very quickly.”
“And now you can see why I fell for him,” Bassey gushed, upon hearing his answer. “He talks from his heart — one of the good guys.”