Dr. William Petit Jr. and Christine Petit
01/05/2012 at 06:00 PM EST
No one is happier about Dr. William Petit Jr.'s. engagement
to photographer Christine Paluf than his late wife's family, Cindy Hawke-Renn, the only sibling of Petit's late wife, tells PEOPLE.
"Mom, Dad and I have said to him since early on, 'We want you to look for love again,' " says Hawke-Renn. "We want you to be happy. We want you to find some happiness and joy. I just can't wait to dance at the wedding."
Hawke-Renn says Petit, 55, introduced Paluf, 34, to their family last Sept. 23, when they hosted a birthday dinner for him in Connecticut. She says Petit took her aside in another room and told her he'd been seeing Paluf since the summer and was serious about her.
"He said, 'So what do you think?' " Hawke-Renn, 50, recalls. "I said, 'She seems really nice. She's pretty.' And he said, 'I really like her. I said, 'You should go for it. It's been four-and-a-half years. That's a long time to be by yourself.' "
The situation was a little tougher at first for her father, the Rev. Richard Hawke, she says.
"After everyone left he said, 'I know you all like her and I do too, but that was really hard for me,' " says Hawke-Renn. The next day they went to church. Petit and Paluf sat on the same pew with them, though at different ends.
"My Dad walked over to Christine and hugged her," she says. "He said, 'I just want you to know you have my blessing.' He was crying. She was crying. It was just so beautiful."
The family became better acquainted with Paluf through the course of the trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky
, the second man convicted of killing Petit's wife, Jennifer Hawke-Petit, 48, and two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, in a 2007 home invasion
. Paluf was a steady presence, she says, and also spent time with their family outside the courtroom.
"I really could not find one thing about her that I didn't like," says Hawke-Renn. "She's humble and graceful and beautiful."
Hawke-Renn found out about the engagement on New Year's Eve, when she and Paluf exchanged texts. She thinks her sister, too, would be happy for Petit.
"She would have only wished the best for him," she says. "That's just how she was."