Kim Allen and Jim Ford
Oct .21, 2016, in Ridley Park
Moving through a fog of grief over the loss of her husband, Kim could barely function.
She and Joe had been married for a happy 23 years and raised two children together. In late 2008, Joe suddenly became ill and required emergency surgery. He died in June 2009.
That August, a close friend suggested the way forward might be trying something new. Kim joined the North Beach Health Club in North Cape May. It took her another month to will herself through the door and onto a treadmill.
Within a few weeks, she met the man on the neighboring machine: Jim.
Jim was easy to talk to. When Kim burst into tears, he did not freak out. He listened.
She told him about Joe. And he told her about Estee.
Jim and Estee had been happily married for 13 years when he lost her to cancer in 2004.
He told Kim that he knew firsthand how hard it was and that he also knew she would get through it.
A friendship grew between Jim, who grew up in South West Philadelphia and had lived in North Cape May since 1991, and Kim, a native of Endicott, N.Y., who retired from an IBM facility there before moving to North Cape May in 1999.
They looked for each other every morning at the gym, but were surprised to meet at the Oct. 20 Bruce Springsteen concert at the Spectrum. Kim went with a girlfriend and her husband, and Jim with his sister and nephew.
“Where are you sitting?” Jim asked.
“In the rafters,” Kim said.
His text reached her way up there: “Meet me at section 110.” Now retired, he was then in upper management for an Atlantic City security firm, and the Spectrum was a client. He took Kim and her crew to better seats.
Kim was having such a great time. She felt pretty normal. And happy. For a second, she slipped her arm around Jim.
“I thought, 'Whoa! What's this all about?' ” Jim said. Whatever it was, he liked it.
A week later, on Kim's birthday, Jim persuaded a florist to open at 7 a.m. so he could stop by on his way to the gym. He missed Kim by minutes.
Jim called her. Could he come over, just to drop something off?
She met him at the door, hair still dripping from the shower. Jim handed her a huge bouquet, a gesture so kind she cried.
The following week, they went together to Philadelphia's Italian Market. They had so much fun they capped it off with lunch at Manayunk Brewing Co. The next week, they road-tripped to Ocean City, Md., for crab cakes, followed by drinks at the Purple Parrot in Rehoboth Beach. Their friendship deepened through summer and fall, with more excursions and conversations.
Jim became interested in more than friendship but knew Kim needed time. By winter, Jim would give her a little peck of a kiss at her doorstep.
When he invited her to the New Year's Eve Glitter Ball at Congress Hall, everything felt different. “That actually felt like a date. I was nervous,” Kim said. “My son was home from Drexel, and there he was, shaking hands with Jim when he walked in the door.”
They danced all night to the orchestra. Jim gave her one of his little pecks-of-a-kiss.
“Can I ask you something?” Kim began. “Are you attracted to me?”
“Yes!” Jim said.
“How come you are not pushing things any further?” she asked.
He was waiting for her to tell him she was ready for that.
She said she was. At midnight, they kissed for real.
Three years passed. In January 2013, Kim, then a purchasing agent for Cape May County, got a call from Jim's secretary: He was in the hospital, and she should get there as fast as she could.
A driver had run a red light.
“He almost died on me,” Kim said. He had many surgeries, including a knee replacement, a pelvis reconstruction, and a hip replacement. It was uncertain whether he would walk again. Jim was hospitalized for three months, in a rehab center for another three, and then a hospital bed was brought to the couple's North Cape May living room.
Jim spent a year and a half in a wheelchair. Even now, “he walks like Frankenstein and can't bend over to put shoes and socks on,” Kim said. He was forced to retire. But with Kim's help and their faith, he got through it.
How does forever sound?
In June 2014, Kim, who now is a substitute teacher, needed very minor outpatient surgery, and the intake person asked who would drive her home. Kim, now 61, and Jim, now 60, looked at each other as she tried to come up with the right words for what they were: Significant others? Partners? Boyfriend/girlfriend?
“That's when it really dawned on me that I didn't like this anymore,” Jim said.
It happened again that fall, on a cruise ship in Hawaii, where they celebrated Kim's birthday. They were talking to other travelers by the pool, and someone referred to Jim as Kim's husband. “He's not my husband,” she said, and the words made him wince.
They were still on board when Jim made a suggestion: “Let's go pick out a ring and plan a wedding.”
“I think we're ready,” Kim agreed, tearing up a bit.
They chose a champagne diamond in a custom setting from Philadelphia's Halloween. When it was ready, Jim put it on Kim's finger right in the store.
It was so them
The couple wed in a High Mass Catholic ceremony performed by Jim's friend the Rev. John Flanagan, at Father John's church, St. Madeline Parish in Ridley Park.
Kim's son Joe, 30, walked her down the aisle. Her daughter Sarah, 26, was maid of honor. Jim and his best man, also named Jim, have been best friends since they were 13-year-old West Catholic students.
A harpist played during the ceremony and the cocktail hour, held before the reception for 120 at Kings Mills Inn. Rather than favors, they made a donation to the Knights of Columbus of Cape May, where Jim is the grand knight. In lieu of gifts, the couple asked their guests to donate to the Kiwanis Club of Cape May, where Kim is president and Jim a past board member.
This celebration had no tossing of flowers or garters, and no chicken dance. There was a lot of Motown, and some Springsteen, as the wedding was seven years after that fateful concert.
Dancing was important.
“I really liked to dance before my accident. Kim always said to me, 'You're my dancing bear,' ” Jim said. “After the accident, she said, 'Some day, I'm going to get you back on the dance floor.'”
His dance moves are simpler now, but swaying back and forth to the music with his new wife was amazing, Jim said.
Everything the couple had gone through together over the last seven years -- the mending of a broken heart and a broken body -- all led up to the church on their wedding day, Jim said. “We were listening to the priest, looking at my family and friends, and her family and friends. We were holding hands. And all I could think was, 'This is great. This is what I wanted.' ''
At the reception, the couple danced to Van Morrison's “Someone Like You.” Jim lifted his arm so Kim could twirl beneath it. “I looked at him as I went around, and there was no one in the room but him,” she said. “There was just all this feeling: 'Wow, do I love you.' ”
A bargain: Getting married on a Friday night instead of a Saturday saved 20 percent, and it allowed the couple to spend the next day with friends and family at Longwood Gardens.
The splurge: Kim hired Joseph Anthony of Glen Mills to do hair and makeup for herself, her daughter, her daughter-in-law, and her mom. “I didn't price it,” she said.
They had canceled a planned trip to Ireland after Jim's accident, and a second attempt met the same fate because of follow-up surgery. This spring, they'll finally spend 10 days in Dublin.
BEHIND THE SCENES:
Officiant: The Rev. John Flanagan of St. Madeline Church, friend of the groom, Ridley Park.
Venues: Ceremony: St. Madeline’s Church; reception: Kings Mills Inn, Media.
Food: Kings Mills.
Music: Harpist Meghan Kathleen Davis, Washington.
Photography: Family and friends.
Videography: Bob Hogan Productions, Drexel Hill.
Flowers: Francie Chalfant at Botanical Splash, Chadds Ford.
Dress: Tadashi Shoji lace gown purchased at Nordstrom.