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Love After Loss

by Regina Schaffer

This Washington Township couple found hope and inspiration in each other.

Christina Davidson stood nervously in her wedding gown on the MGM Grand Arena stage in Las Vegas. Her equally anxious fiancé, Frank Tucci, was by her side.

In a moment, the television cameras would be rolling. Country superstar Martina McBride and Train frontman Pat Monahan would join them on stage, serenading the pair with McBride’s hit “Marry Me.” An estimated 13 million people would be watching the Washington Township couple’s wedding in live time—a ceremony incorporated into the 47th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards.

“It was so surreal,” recalls Davidson, 32. “It was, like, I can’t believe this is really happening. We’re really on stage, and now, all my favorite country stars are watching me.”

It certainly isn’t the typical way to say “I do.” But for Davidson and Tucci, this was anything but a typical romance.

For this couple, nearly three years after each suffered their own devastating pain and loss, a wedding offered a new beginning.

It was Labor Day in 2009 when Davidson received the news. Her husband of five years, Paul, died in a canoeing accident. She was just seven weeks pregnant with their second child.

Tucci, too, was reeling from his own loss. His wife of five years, Danielle, lost her battle with thyroid cancer on July 4 that same year, leaving Tucci to raise their young son, Frankie, alone.

Davidson, consumed with shock, grief, and the impending arrival of her baby, was looking for support from others who had been through a similar loss. When she discovered there wasn’t a local support group for young widows and widowers in Washington Township, she decided to form one herself.

Davidson knew Tucci—her brother played baseball with him when they were younger—and had learned of his loss through friends. She decided to call and invite him to join the support group. Both can easily recall the date of that fateful phone call—Nov. 22, 2009.

“I thought she was selling something,” says Tucci, 34. “I was like, ‘Whatever she is selling, I’m not interested.’”

But something told Tucci to accept the invitation, he says. A friendship developed almost instantly. As single parents both raising boys, the pair learned they had more in common than they realized. Trips to the park and Sesame Place soon followed.

Neither, they insist, was thinking about romance.

“We were really good friends for a long time,” Davidson says. “All I could think was, ‘How is anyone going to be with … all this?’ I was still pregnant. It was chaos.”

“You have this friend … and I just knew she was someone important in my life,” Tucci says. “I didn’t want to screw that up.”

Still, as their friendship grew, friends and family began to see something special—Davidson and Tucci were smiling again.

“Everybody around us kind of knew,” Tucci says. And finally, Tucci knew, too.

Once the couple began dating, Tucci realized pretty quickly that he could spend the rest of his life with Davidson, he says. He was already thinking about how he hoped to propose.

“I knew pretty much right away,” Tucci says of his decision to propose. “I knew I was going to involve the kids somehow.”

On Dec. 3, 2011, Davidson was upstairs in their Heritage Valley home, taking a shower. Tucci knew that was his chance to quickly prepare his surprise. He grabbed the T-shirts he had ordered. Paul, the youngest (then just 22 months old), would wear the shirt that said “Will.” Frankie, 6, would wear the shirt that said “You.” Davidson’s oldest son, Stephen, 5, would wear the shirt that read “Marry”—and hold the engagement ring. Tucci wore the shirt that said “Me.” The boys filed up the stairs in order. One by one, they entered the room. And with the words on the T-shirts—Will … You … Marry … Me – Davidson slowly realized what was happening. Son Stephen pulled out the ring—and Davidson said “yes.”

For Davidson, having the whole family participate in the proposal not only made it more special, but symbolic, she says. They were all in this together.

“That was it, right there,” Davidson says. “That’s what our lives are all about.”

Davidson and Tucci set a wedding date of Oct. 6. Friends and family loved the couple’s proposal story. When Davidson found out that the chain David’s Bridal was holding a “Share the Love” proposal contest, she decided, on a whim, to enter.

But in telling her proposal story, Davidson left out two key details—that she and Tucci had both lost their spouses—making the incorporation of the three children even more meaningful.

It was only through newspaper accounts of the couple’s story that representatives at David’s Bridal got wind of the full story. Country star Martina McBride—who was working with the company—learned of their story, and was inspired.

In March, Davidson got a strange phone call. “They said, ‘What would you think about getting married April 1?’” Davidson recalls.

If the proposal was a surprise, the idea that followed was something Davidson never saw coming. The plan was for Davidson and Tucci to fly out to Las Vegas, where they would be married live on television during a broadcast of the Academy of Country Music Awards. McBride—one of Davidson’s country idols—and Monahan would be singing while the couple exchanged vows in front of a minister.

Davidson was floored.

“I didn’t even tell (Tucci) … I was like, ‘Yeah!’” Davidson says, laughing. With the blessing of both families, the couple agreed to the plan.

The 24 hours both before and immediately following Davidson and Tucci’s live-on-TV wedding were a blur. The media was alerted to their story, and everyone wanted an interview. Photographers were everywhere.

“We got there 10 p.m. that Friday, so 1 a.m. our time,” Davidson says. “That Saturday it was like, ‘You guys need to be up at three in the morning, you’re going on Fox & Friends at four in the morning, because it’s going to air in New York at 7 a.m.’”

“By the time I came (back to the hotel) … we had only had like an hour to relax, and then I had to go down and get my hair and makeup done, do professional pictures, then do a dress rehearsal on the stage,” Davidson says. “The lights are going, the music, the fog. It was pretty much the show, without the (wedding) dress.”

Davidson’s sons, Steven, 5, and Paul, 2, and Tucci’s son, Frankie, 6, stayed behind in Washington Township with their grandparents, Joe and Anna LaGreca and Kathy and Rocco Tucci. They, along with other extended family and friends, had arranged viewing parties and were watching the ceremony live as it happened.

The boys, while young, seemed to understand the meaning of the moment. As Frank took Christina’s hands and began to say his vows in front of America, McBride and Monahan began to sing.

Frankie, sitting in front of the television, turned to Stephen. “In a few minutes,” Frankie said, “We’re going to be brothers.”

On Oct. 6, the couple still plan to walk down the aisle in a vow renewal ceremony at the Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield. That way, they say, their boys can be a part of the ceremony in front of family and friends.

The couple chose the wording on their wedding invitations carefully. “Through marriage, we are given the gift of a new beginning, a new family and a new life,” it reads. “We, Christina and Frank, along with Frankie, Stephen and Paul, invite you to witness our beautiful beginning.”

“My two boys are both going to be giving me away,” Davidson says. “Frankie will be the ring bearer.”

Christina continues to use her life experiences as a force for good. She recently formed a second support group at Rowan University—Footprints: A grief support for children. She continues to be involved with the young widows support group, which meets every other Tuesday in the Washington Township Municipal Building.

“We say, ‘We were once in your shoes,’” Davidson says. “We were once there. Grief is a process, and you go through different stages. They need to know, some of the things they go through are normal. I think we give people a lot of hope.”

“There is hope,” Davidson says. “You can love again.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 7 (October, 2012).
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