COLUMBIA, Tenn. — A 62-year-old bride and 71-year-old groom who met at their nursing home in Columbia, Tennessee, during the pandemic were married with the help of their staff on July 29.
Henry Kelley Jr. and Mickey Stasser both moved to NHC Healthcare with health conditions that required much healing.
"When I first came here, no, I didn't make friends. I stayed in my room and it's just to myself mostly," explained Stasser. "And then, later on, I started getting out and playing bingo, which he does also. So we met at bingo and sat on the front porch in the rockers, which he did. We met there too. And just seeing him in the hallway and just seeing him at different places."
Kelley remembers when he first saw her in the dining room.
"I met her in the dining room. She's sitting at another table, and I went to introduce myself," he recalled. "And we met out here on the porch, and we got sitting and talking. Got to liking one another, and it just grew from there. And after a couple of months, I stole me a couple of kisses from her!"
In a matter of months, their friendship grew into a relationship.
"I started going to meals with him and seeing him that way each day. And we played, like I said, bingo... and we played cards all time. I mean every day, and it just started growing that way," stated Stasser. "You just know, you know? You just know you love someone and you want to be with them. It's just hard to explain."
Kelley jested that he "fell" for her early on.
"I did take a flip backwards for her once. One time I was walking my walker. I forgot to lock it down. Got away from me. I went backwards. I guess she knew I fell for her then!" he recalled smiling.
The couple soon realized the time they spent together was not enough.
"When we would leave a meal or something, he would go to his room, I would go to mine. We didn't want that. We wanted to be together all the time. Watch TV together. Just be together," said Stasser.
The couple then decided to ask the staff to help them get married.
"We really didn't know how to handle it. It took a lot of planning and a lot of putting processes in place to be able to make this happen. It hadn't happened in at least 30 years," explained Logan Foshie, social services director for NHC Healthcare Columbia.
Foshie said it was all hands on deck as the staff organized the special day.
"I think it's special because we've been through so much together with them. We've been through COVID. We've been through crisis after crisis. And through all of that, they showed resiliency and being able to overcome that and still build a loving relationship with each other," said Foshie. "They've been able to show that even at this age, in this environment, you can still make love happen."
He said the staff did not hesitate to plan their wedding after watching Stasser and Kelley grow close over many months.
"I think that in the year 2022, we have to realize, especially for us, the typical stereotypes that nursing homes have, and that through all of that through COVID through staffing crisis, that we've continued to pour love into our patients. It's not the typical stereotype. We're not the typical stereotype, and they're not the typical stereotype," said Foshie. "And I think this shows that the love that we pour into our patients every day, they then pour into each other."
Kelley asked Stasser to marry him several times. On the fourth try, she finally said yes.
"Somehow, I stole her heart. She already had mine," he said with tears in his eyes. "Never get too old. Can be 100 and still fall in love."
The wedding went off without a hitch, complete with a flower petal aisle, ring bearers, barbecue dinner, cake, and a chocolate fountain.
As for any honeymooning plans, Stasser laughed and said, "we'll just still be here at the nursing home! Playing cards and bingo!"