Weddings: Sharon Dougherty and Stephen Elliott
They exchanged emailed stories about their life experiences, moved to phone calls, and then, the Sunday before Christmas, hopped separate trains to Center City.
All Sharon wanted was someone nice to accompany her to dinner and the movies.
For 18 wonderful years, she relished a loving and supportive marriage with Michael, but he lost his life to cancer in February 2010. In time, Sharon, who grew up in Tacony, regained enjoyable equilibrium in a life full of family and friends, a fulfilling career as director of human resources at Chestnut Hill College, and elder-care responsibilities. Those grew when her mother died in 2015 and her father moved in with Sharon and her dogs in the Hatboro Cape Cod she purchased after selling the home she had shared with Michael.
Then, in March 2018, her father died. She had more free time than she’d had in decades, and sometimes, she felt lonely. Sharon, who is now 60, posted a profile on the Our Time dating website. She went on a series of first dates with men who stretched the truth in their profiles, wanted to make her one of many companions, or with whom she simply did not click.
"If I don’t meet a decent man by the end of the year, I’m done,” she told her sisters last October. “This is exhausting!”
For 35 wonderful years, Steve relished a loving and supportive marriage with Janet. Janet had Type 1 diabetes and had undergone organ transplants. She died in February 2017. Steve’s siblings and parents had all died. He had a grown stepson, friends, his faith community, and a dog, but sometimes, he felt lonely. His Sicklerville, N.J., neighbor, also a widower, had found a girlfriend. “He finally convinced me to try the website and I said, ‘OK, I’ll just give it a try for a month, just to find somebody to have dinner with or see a movie with.’”
In December 2018, with three days left in his subscription, Sharon’s picture popped up. Steve, now 69, started to pray. The retired drug and alcohol counselor had worked in the criminal justice system and learned a lot about people. He enlarged Sharon’s photo so he could focus on her eyes. “This woman has a lot of pain,” he thought. “She also has a lot of love to give.”
They exchanged stories by email about their life experiences, moved to phone calls, and then, the Sunday before Christmas, hopped separate trains to Center City.
Sharon recognized the tall, thin man with the goatee instantly; Steve looked exactly like his profile picture, which she considered evidence of his honesty.
First they went to Macy’s for the light show, then to Dilworth Park for hot cider and more conversation. Steve took a blank piece of paper and pen from his pocket and made a row of check marks. “What’s that?” Sharon asked. “I’m going down a checklist that’s in my head — engaging conversation, very intelligent, brown eyes...”
They laughed so hard!
Just after Christmas, Steve drove to Hatboro. Chihuahua mix Timmy and Coonhound mix Willow loved him instantly. They walked around New Hope and took a ride on the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad. Before long, Sharon was as smitten with Steve as her dogs.
In Scotland years ago, Sharon had bought a Celtic infinity knot ring. She bought a matching man’s version at a festival a few years back in a fit of optimism.
In February, she offered the man’s ring to Steve as a symbol of commitment. He cried, and put it on his right hand. Sharon removed an infinity ring, a gift from her late husband, from her own right hand and slipped on the ring that matched Steve’s.
“I love her demeanor. I love when she laughs. I love her tenderness, her obstinance, her independence,” Steve said. “I love that she’s such a go-getter, that she cares, that she understands. And at night, we lie in bed, and we’re both belly laughing over silly things.”
Sharon loves that one man can contain such quiet and unassuming ways and a loud and boisterous laugh. “I love big and little things about him: his faith in Jesus Christ and our similar values. The fact that we’ve both been through tough experiences, and we understand each other. I’m still working, and he does the wash, and takes care of the dogs and is an equal partner. He cries at things, and is loving and understanding.”
One important thing both understand: Their love for each other exists alongside the love each still feels for their late spouse. In fact, they believe God, Michael, and Janet somehow conspired to bring them together.
In early spring 2019, Steve asked Sharon if she’d like to marry, and she said she was completely committed to him, but would not marry again. This contradicted the message that filled Steve’s heart whenever he prayed about their relationship. He decided God was in control, not him, so he would follow the message with faith.
In April, Sharon had cataract surgery and Steve stayed with her to help out as she recovered. She was in comfy pajamas and had her hair pulled back in a clip as they sat watching TV. Steve got up —- she assumed to use the bathroom —- but then, “I look to my left and he’s kneeling on the floor -— and that’s difficult for him because he’s had knee replacements. And he’s holding an emerald ring.”
“What’s this?” Sharon asked.
“Will you marry me?” asked Steve.
Sharon hesitated just briefly, then said, “Yes. Of course!”
Later, Steve asked what made her change her mind. “It wasn’t me,” she said.
When he proposed, a feeling came over her. “Whether it was my gut, my intuition, or a higher power, I just trusted that this was right,” Sharon said.
In July, Steve sold his house and he and his yellow lab, Jake, moved in with Sharon.
It was so them
The couple had a ceremony and reception for 50 at the Talamore Country Club. A bagpiper played while guests arrived and as Steve walked in with Father Edward Hastings and Sharon was escorted down the aisle by her brother, Alex.
Sharon’s niece and goddaughter, Hannah, did a reading. The couple took their vows and then Steve and Sharon shared a few words about the other, some sentimental and some silly.
Sharon told everyone about Steve’s addiction: Wawa’s decaf coffee with lots of hazelnut creamer. They get some every morning and the kind way Steve interacts with the cashier warms her heart as much as the beverage. Steve also makes her lunch every morning and tucks a little love note inside.
“It’s from the dogs, though,” he interjects.
Steve shared his appreciation of Sharon’s acceptance of his laid-back Southern ways. (Southern Ohio, that is. He’s originally from a Cincinnati suburb.) He cherishes how much she loves his cooking. “We’re finding out how many ways I can cook fish or chicken!”
The bagpiper played the newlyweds into their reception, where Steve’s friend and neighbor Ray -— who convinced him to try online dating —- gave a toast, and his friend John said a blessing.
In lieu of gifts, the couple requested donations to Doylestown Hospital’s hospice program, which served Sharon’s late husband, and Bee a Blessing, the nonprofit founded by Steve’s late wife’s family to raise money and awareness for causes related to children, organ and tissue donation, and animal welfare.
Steve and Sharon saw each other before the ceremony. “She tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around, and I was absolutely awestruck. She was so beautiful!” he said. They both cried.
When Father Hastings pronounced them husband and wife, Sharon said, “I thought to myself, ‘What a journey to get us to this point. What a journey!’ ”
The budget crunch
A bargain: The Talamore had an open date to fill. The couple used the savings to upgrade their dinner choices.
The splurge: A family breakfast for 25 the morning after the wedding.
Nine days in Montreal and Québec City and Halifax. They especially loved Quebec, where they tried to speak French and Steve gained a deeper appreciation for U.S. immigrants who arrive not speaking English.
Officiant: Father Edward Hastings, theology professor, Villanova, Pa.
Venue and food: Talamore Country Club, Ambler, Pa.
Music: Scott Landis, Soundscape Entertainment, North Wales, Pa.
Photography: Barbara Zlotnik, Forevermore Photos, Hatboro, Pa.
Flowers: Ambler Flower Shop, Ambler, Pa.
Sharon’s attire: Montage by Mon Cheri, purchased at Dress Up Time, Philadelphia.
Stephen’s attire: Calvin Klein, purchased at Macy’s.
Transportation: King Limousine and Transportation Service, King of Prussia, Pa.
Bagpiper: Dan Emery, Washington Memorial Pipe Band, Maple Glen, Pa.
Sharon’s Hair: Nick Nichols, JNB Salon, Jamison, Pa.