Dr. Holly Gray and Dr. Mark O'Hara
October 28, 2017, and December 31, 2017
The November 2013 appointment was typical at first: Mark, then an oncology fellow on rotation with Ursina Teitelbaum at Abramson Cancer Center, met with with Sally, a patient with colon cancer. After they discussed her health and treatment, Sally took out her phone to show Mark a picture of her daughter, Holly, then a dental student at Temple University.
"I think she's dating someone, but I don't know if it's going to last," Sally told him. "You should date her."
Sally's mom, Rose, elbowed her daughter disapprovingly, but Mark was flattered. He politely brushed off Sally's suggestion – which she repeated at every appointment – because he would never date a patient's daughter.
In fall 2014, Mark had finished his rotation, so, unbeknownst to Holly, Sally gave Teitelbaum her daughter's phone number and a message for Mark: Holly was moving into Philadelphia. She didn't have any friends in the city. The two of them should meet.
Sally told her daughter, "I'm a sick woman, and this is not a favor. You have to give this guy one date, and then I'll let you off the hook."
Holly made a promise she didn't think she'd have to keep; there was no way this guy was going to call her. No way.
At Thanksgiving 2014, Mark went home to visit family in Syracuse and told his sister Molly about Sally and Holly. "You should call her. Definitely," she told him. His fellowship was ending, so many of his friends were leaving town. "I figured the worst that would happen is I would meet someone else to hang out with in the city," Mark said.
He sent a text: "Hi. This is Mark O'Hara."
Holly and her family were returning home from a family gathering when the text arrived. "Your doctor is texting me," she told her mom, incredulously. "Oh, my gosh, what is he saying?" Sally asked excitedly. "Have him over!"
Holly wasn't ready for that, but a promise was a promise, and she and Mark had good texting chemistry. On Dec. 14, the two met at Barbuzzo for dinner and their first of many salted caramel budini.
By the end of dinner, they had set up their next date.
"She's just very easy to talk to," said Mark, who is now 35. "I could be myself completely around her. And she's the kind of person who electrifies every situation – it makes it fun to be around her."
Holly, now 29, felt the connection early on, too. "I think he's the smartest person I know, but he's not conceited about it. He's so charming and funny."
After their second date, they "saw each other almost every day, and every day I was with her was better than the last," Mark said. Holly told her family within a couple of weeks she had found "the one." Sally was never so pleased to be right.
Mark helped Holly through her mom's illness, and she helped him, too: His mom, Peggy, had been battling breast cancer since 2012.
Holly grew up in Wynnewood and Narberth and is now an orthodontics resident at Temple University. Mark is a medical oncologist at Abramson Cancer Center.
In December 2016, the couple headed to Barbuzzo for a late lunch. Between the budino and a tableside performance by some Mummers, Holly was certain a big question was coming. But then Mark said he had not summoned the Mummers, and when their desserts were gone, they left the restaurant to see The Nutcracker.
On the walk home, "I was chatting away, and he was not answering," Holly remembered. She looked directly at him to see what was up. "I knelt down in the slushy snow and asked her to marry me," Mark said.
Holly laughed and cried and Mark put a ring on her finger. Back at their Graduate Hospital home, they turned on a movie and poured champagne. "By the way," Mark said between sips, "you never actually said yes."
"Oh!" said Holly. "Yes, of course!"
Mark and Holly planned a New Year's Eve wedding. But in October 2017, Mark's mom became increasingly ill and entered hospice. Mark and Holly wanted all of their parents at their wedding, and Mark knew his mom wanted to be there, too. So Holly, Mark, and Mark's siblings became instant wedding planners, making all the arrangements in one day.
Holly's mom and dad, Glenn, her grandma Rose, and her sister and brother-in-law made the trip from Philadelphia to Syracuse. They joined Mark's mom and dad, Chuck, as well as Mark's three bothers, three sisters, their spouses, and his nieces and nephews in the living room of the O'Hara home. Mark wore a suit and Holly a simple white dress from her closet. A close friend of the family officiated the ceremonial service – they did not have time to get a license. They exchanged the rings they still wear – made in 24 hours by Holly's friend Desiree, a jeweler. After the vows, everyone ate chicken marsala, sausage and peppers, mac and cheese, and a wedding cake.
Peggy kept apologizing that she wouldn't be there for the official ceremony on New Year's Eve. Everyone assured her what mattered was that they were all together that day. "We knew she would be there with us in spirit," Holly said.
The next day, before returning to Philadelphia, the couple visited Peggy. When they left, they heard her say, "Good. I have another daughter." Peggy died two days later, on Oct. 30, 2017.
On New Year's Eve, the couple and nearly 200 guests gathered at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul for a traditional Catholic ceremony officiated by the Rev. Brian Cool – a friend of Mark's who was his priest during his college days at the University of Rochester.
The reception was held at the Please Touch Museum, beginning with a cocktail hour in the carousel room. The party continued in the main room, with salted caramel budino for everyone, and champagne from what was dubbed "Barney's Bubble Bar" in homage to the couple's golden doodle.
At weddings, Peggy always requested Sister Sledge's "We Are Family." In place of the traditional mother-son dance, the DJ played that song and everyone danced together. "It was a great way to remember her," Mark said.
Midnight was marked with a ball drop, rose-gold glitter shot from confetti cannons, and indoor fireworks called Sparktaculars.
Sally, who had predicted it all, was so glad to take the whole day in.
Holly's mom's cancer worsened in November and December. Chances were good that she wouldn't be able to attend the wedding, and that meant Holly's dad wouldn't, either. At the rehearsal, the couple practiced Plan B: Mark and Holly would walk down the aisle together.
But Sally was adamant. "She's stubborn, and she was going to be there," Holly said. That meant her dad was, too, and he walked her down the aisle. Watching Holly walk down the aisle is something Mark will never forget. "Seeing her with her dad, coming down toward me, with everyone all gathered to celebrate our love, was just amazing," he said.
"It's a long aisle, and so you have a lot of time to think," Holly said. "Seeing everyone supporting you, and there to celebrate two people in love, is a nice reminder of what's important in life."
Sally died on Jan. 10. "She knew from the very beginning that we were going to get married one day, and she was just so happy," Holly said.
Best bargain: Mark's brother-in-law Matt, an artist, made little LOVE sculpture ornaments for the couple to give as favors. They paid only for materials.
The splurge: Sparktaculars are awesome, but not cheap.
A 10-day trip to Bali is planned in early 2018.
Officiant: Rev. Brian Cool, University of Rochester Newman Community, Rochester, N.Y.
Ceremony: Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia
Reception: Please Touch Museum, Philadelphia
Food: Brulee Catering, through the Please Touch Museum
Music: DJ Mike Rossi from VIP Entertainment
Photography: Cliff Mautner, Cliff Mautner Photography, Haddonfield
Videography: Ted Felsberg, Felsberg Photography
Flowers: Tom Covello, Celebrations Design Group, Crum Lynne, Pa.
Dress: Reem Acra, purchased at Elizabeth Johns, Ardmore
Makeup: Dylan Michael Cosmetics, Jenkintown
Groom's attire: Vera Wang, Men's Wearhouse
Planner: KMT Event Group, Philadelphia
Transportation: Philadelphia Trolley Works, Philadelphia
Rings: Desiree Cavalancia from Desideria