After two weeks of Tinder and texting, Mary and Mike met at an Ardmore brewpub, where they learned neither really likes beer all that much, but both adore Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. Their professional interests overlap, too: Mary is a labor and delivery nurse at Christiana Care in Delaware, and Mike a molecular scientist who works on vaccine clinical trials for Merck.
They talked so easily and for so long that Mike had to rush off so he didn’t miss the last train home to Downingtown — but not before making plans for the Penn Museum and dinner in Center City. There should have been a kiss, but the weather was so hot that July 2016 day that Mike worried he smelled too bad to get that close. He made up for it on Date Three — wisely planned at an air-conditioned restaurant — and the two have been together ever since.
Having so much in common makes things easy, but Mary fell in love with the way Mike reacted to interests they didn’t share. “He was always willing to explore the things I liked that he didn’t have a passion for, or didn’t know about,” she said. Which is how he ended up visiting Disneyland for the first time.
When Mary returned to nursing school for her master’s degree, Mike was her biggest supporter. And the avid cook even prepares seafood, which he hates, just for Mary.
Whenever Mike is near Mary, he feels “warm, comfortable, and happy,” he said. He loves her personality. He loves her sharp, sarcastic wit, and he really loves it when she can no longer resist laughing at his dad jokes.
In October 2017, Mike, who is now 33, left his place in Downingtown, and Mary, 29, left hers in Clifton Heights to move to their Media apartment.
In October 2018, Mary headed to Longwood Gardens with her mother and sisters. She thought Mike was joining them after work, but Mike was not at work. He was on a Philly mission, gathering almond cake from Swiss Haus, Jawn Bars from Sweet Box, and ice cream from the Franklin Fountain before heading to Longwood.
The group walked together until Mike gave Mary’s fam the signal. The couple walked alone to the Acacia Passage, where he knelt and asked if she would continue their adventures forever and marry him.
“She was utterly surprised, and I was so thrilled,” Mike said. Her family appeared for hugs and cheers, then everyone shared a celebratory buffet of sweet treats.
Late Winter 2020: Denial season
In February and early March, her work at the hospital and his at the lab had reached an unprecedented pace. There were safety protocols to learn or refresh, new projects of top priority, and many preparations related to COVID-19.
Yet, the couple kept right on making preparations for their April 3 wedding. They expected 130 people at a Lancaster City venue that, with elegance upstairs and a catacomb-like space that once stored beer below, was the perfect mix of classy and a little creepy. Welcome bags, table cards, and flip-flops for dancing guests were packed. “We were all ready to go,” Mary said.
“We knew [COVID-19] was out there in the world, but it was not that big of a deal yet here,” said Mike. “We knew from work that something was brewing, but we kind of willfully didn’t think about it,” said Mary.
Denial crashed on March 15 when their wedding venue called about a backup plan. Within four hours, Mary replanned the entire event, rebooking every vendor for June 5 and swapping their big honeymoon adventure in Japan for a smaller trip to Disney. But as the COVID-19 situation worsened, those plans were also canceled.
Their wedding wasn’t even close to their most pressing concern: People were dying, and Mary, Mike, and many whom they love were fighting on different fronts to stop the virus.
Mike worked from home when he could, but many days, he had to go into the lab.
There’s no working from home for nurses, and Mary has a family full of them: herself, her mother, and both of her sisters. Mary and her sisters have all cared for COVID-19 patients. Mary has helped positive mothers deliver their babies.
It was a very dark time, full of worry for everyone, including themselves.
The couple change out of their work scrubs before coming home. Work shoes stay at work. The first stop across their threshold is the “sanitation station” — a small table loaded with hand sanitizer and wipes. Any items brought from outside get wiped down, then hands get washed with soap and water.
But there was just so much they could not control.
“I felt nothing was certain,” Mary said. “Everything was chaotic, and I just wanted something solid and real. Something to celebrate.”
That certain something
Mike and Mary had planned to marry on April 3 for so long that the date had already become sacred to them, he said, so they found a way to keep it.
The couple and Mary’s sisters, Michelle and Morgan, brother-in-law, Michael, and mother, Michelle, met at the Poconos home venue of officiant Alisa Tongg. Ten minutes before go time, Mary’s brother-in-law asked if he should set up a Zoom meeting. After learning what Zoom is, the couple enthusiastically agreed, which allowed Mike’s father, Steve, sister, Stefani, and brother, Andrew — who had decided days before that it was no longer wise for them to travel from Ohio — to watch live.
Mary’s mother walked her down the aisle, joined at their elbows, to the spot where the couple exchanged their vows above a valley of trees. The bride’s original dress was stuck in a closed shop, so she ordered five online and wore the one that fit best unaltered.
On her right hand, Mary wore an emerald ring that was the favorite of Mike’s mother, Pamela. Pamela passed away the year before the couple met, yet Mike knows his mother would have loved Mary, and Mary feels a kinship with her mother-in-law. “She was a nurse, too — a badass nurse who worked in the emergency department and helped people with psychiatric issues.” During the wedding, Mary thanked Pamela for raising such a wonderful son.
The wedding ring Mike put on Mary’s finger has had both of their names inscribed in it since 1959 — when Mary’s Poppy, Michael, gave it to her Grandma Mary.
The couple’s first dance to “You Are the Best Thing” by Ray LaMontagne is one of Mary’s favorite memories “because it felt so normal,” she said. “It was exactly the moment we would have had, had we been able to have our big wedding then. I could take in fully what had just happened.”
No one hugged anyone they don’t live with, but the small group celebrated with cake and champagne. “We were all just standing at the pavilion and enjoying the moment,” Mike said. “I loved the whole post-ceremony high.”
Back at their hotel, the couple ate Italian food from nice plates that Mary brought so they didn’t eat their first meal as marrieds out of takeout containers.
Still to come