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An Unexpected Meet-Cute, Thanks to Their Moms

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An Unexpected Meet-Cute, Thanks to Their Moms

The first time Maria Anita Antonaccio and Harry Douglas Gural met — at lunch on Easter Sunday in 2018 — they weren’t focused on each other. They were visiting their mothers at a senior living community in Lewisburg, Pa. Mr. Gural, 63, had driven four hours from Washington, where he was working as a senior adviser to Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, to visit his mother, Ruth Gural, whom he had recently moved to an apartment at the facility after the death of her husband and Mr. Gural’s father.

“I remember being very struck by Harry,” said Ms. Antonaccio, also 63, who visited her mother every day. “He was very articulate.” An academic who had written two books on the ideas of the British novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, she wasn’t used to seeing someone like him at the senior facility.

He had noticed her too — he had given her arm a little squeeze when he said goodbye on Easter, but with Ruth between them at a large table, they hadn’t had a chance to talk one-on-one.

In the coming weeks, Ms. Antonaccio occasionally saw his car in the parking lot — she knew it was his because it was the only one with D.C. plates — and she thought about leaving her business card on his windshield but changed her mind.

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That July, Ms. Antonaccio found him in the game room and worked up the courage to ask him to go for a bike ride on a nearby rural trail. He hesitated and looked at his watch. She made it clear it wasn’t a date and that she was going on the ride whether he came or not. He agreed.

It was a 20-mile bike ride in the Susquehanna River Valley, with scenic views and farm after farm. It soon became a regular weekend activity to decompress from their hectic careers and the stress of caring for their moms, who were starting to fail cognitively. They would ride 10 miles to Mifflinburg, Pa., occasionally split a beer at a craft brewery and then ride back, talking about life.

They were the same age. They shared cultural references, such as “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Bruce Springsteen. Both had suburban upbringings and parents that had long, loving marriages. While they had previously had long-term relationships, neither had been married or had children.

Ms. Antonaccio and her mother, Therese, then began to join Mr. Gural and Ruth for dinner at the community hall during his weekend visits. There they became great friends with a group of senior women over leisurely meals.

But their relationship didn’t turn romantic until March 2019, almost a year after they met. “I remember cognac was involved,” Ms. Antonaccio said with a laugh. “There was a first kiss. I was really nervous because I had been single for a good five years at that point.”

Ms. Antonaccio, who grew up in Chappaqua, N.Y., has a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Williams College, a master’s degree in divinity and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is a professor of religious ethics and the director of the Humanities Center at Bucknell University.

Mr. Gural, who was raised in Park Ridge, N.J., before moving to Bedford, Mass., has a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University, where he was in the College of Social Studies program, a multidisciplinary major. He also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

In March 2020, as Covid became a threat, Ms. Antonaccio moved her mother to her home in Lewisburg. Mr. Gural, who had been working as the Democratic staff director for the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, packed his car and moved into the spare bedroom of Ruth’s apartment.

The couple and their mothers established a four-person “pod.” Ms. Antonaccio taught classes via Zoom and Mr. Gural edited policy papers and helped organize remote Congressional hearings while caring for their mothers for over a year without outside assistance. All the while, they tried to bring a spirit of fun and lightness to their days.

Mr. Gural stopped his full-time job for Congress in March 2021. He’s now doing pro bono work as a housing rights advocate. They bought a house together in Lewisburg in July 2022 — for themselves and their mothers.

Then in September 2022, after a fall, Ruth died at age 89. The next month, they were sitting outside a favorite ice cream shop when Ms. Antonaccio saw Mr. Gural getting teary-eyed. He said, “Will you marry me?” She said yes.

In February, Therese died at age 95. The pair are both grateful that they were able to take care of their mothers in their old age and describe it as the most meaningful thing that they’ve done. “We were on the same page completely — and we’re still on the same page, 100 percent,” Mr. Gural said.

On Aug. 5, the couple were married by the Rev. Paul Fagan, a Roman Catholic priest, before about 65 guests in the small chapel of the church in Chappaqua, N.Y., that Ms. Antonaccio attended as a child. There was a reading from the Gospel of Matthew in honor of Ruth and, at the cocktail hour, music by Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole and Andrea Bocelli played in honor of Therese.

Following a reception at Crabtree’s Kittle House, a small group took a long walk through the woods and then went out for tapas.

Their ceremony opened with a reading from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything.” The couple agree that now is their time to “live it up.”

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