Joseph McCloud said he has so much love and respect for Emilia Gonzalez, a nurse he met six years ago, that he “could write a book about her.”
Instead he wrote a 331-word tribute to her on Instagram, which won the couple a lavish wedding this past fall at the Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, Calif.
When asked for one word to describe their Oct. 30 nuptials led by the Rev. Karna Carr, a United Methodist minister, both Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. McCloud agreed on “unforgettable.”
But for Mr. McCloud, 32, and Ms. Gonzalez, 28, there will never be enough words to express how their lives were affected by the pandemic, which forced them to postpone the planning of their first wedding, initially scheduled for the fall of 2020.
“Our facility had an outbreak from August until September back in 2020,” said Ms. Gonzalez, an infection-control nurse at Pleasanton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Pleasanton, Calif. “That’s six weeks of physical and mental exhaustion. I was working almost everyday, coming in weekends and on-call 24 hours.”
Through it all, Mr. McCloud was her “biggest ally,” she said. “He made sure to take care of me and everything else he could so I could concentrate on restoring our facility’s pre-Covid status.”
It was Ms. Gonzalez’s work on the frontline, and the sacrifices the couple had to make as a result, though, that ultimately brought the two to their “unforgettable” wedding day.
“This whole thing has been so surreal,” Mr. McCloud said. “It’s like Emilia and I have been living a dream.”
It was a dream that began with a chance meeting between Mr. McCloud and Ms. Gonzalez in May 2015 at a bar in San Jose, Calif. “He was actually at the bar when our eyes connected,” Ms. Gonzalez said of that night. “Then a few minutes went by, and he was just standing there, not moving, and I didn’t know what to think.”
Neither did Mr. McCloud, a security operations specialist for Sony in San Mateo, Calif. “I was working up the nerve to meet her,” he said, laughing.
Sensing that she was about to walk away, he made up his mind to move toward her, and said the best greeting he could muster was blurting out an ancient pickup line: “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”
Ms. Gonzalez said she had never heard that line before, and “gave it an A-plus rating.” She said she told Mr. McCloud that she had gone to the bar that night with her sister, Cristina Gonzalez, who by then was “waiting for me to come outside so that we could all walk back home together.”
Added Mr. McCloud, “It seemed like a good situation, but now I needed to work up the nerve to talk to two women.”
He eventually settled into an easy conversation with the Gonzalez sisters and was soon making a good impression on both.
“I thought he was so charming,” Ms. Gonzalez said, “and my sister liked him as well, so I was looking forward to seeing him again.”
They exchanged phone numbers and, two weeks later, Mr. McCloud and Ms. Gonzalez arranged for a first date at a restaurant in Tracy, Calif., where Ms. Gonzalez lived at the time.
“We had so many things in common, like trying to find Mr. and Mrs. Right,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “We sat there and talked for hours. It was just wonderful.”
After dinner, they went for a walk, and shared their first kiss. When Mr. McCloud briefly held Ms. Gonzalez’s hand, she said that her heart began racing. “I could feel my heart beating in my chest,” she said. “It kept beating faster and faster.”
Mr. McCloud and Ms. Gonzalez began dating steadily and after about a year they moved in together in 2016. By 2019, talks of marriage led Mr. McCloud to ask her parents’ permission during a trip to the Philippines.
However, once Mr. McCloud started laying plans to buy the perfect ring, what should have taken 30 days turned into a three-month delay when the jeweler he purchased the ring from closed its store in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The couple became engaged on May 23, 2020.
The following January, their plans for a wedding were still in the making when a mutual friend called to tell Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. McCloud that the Meritage Resort & Spa and Vista Collina Resort were staging a social media contest. The prize was a free wedding, valued at around $30,000, to a frontline health care worker or emergency responder that had to postpone a wedding in 2020 because of work demands.
The winning couple could invite up to 100 guests to the wedding reception, which would be held on the Meritage’s vineyard deck. (Ms. Gonzalez and Mr. McCloud hosted 75, most of whom were vaccinated; they dined on California sea bass and New York steak, along with banana and lemon cake.) The winners would also receive a complimentary two-night stay in a suite at the Meritage.
“I was stunned, it just sounded so amazing,” Mr. McCloud said. “I told Emilia that I was going to nominate her.”
“When Joseph told me that he had written about me for a contest, I thought that was really sweet,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “And then I read what he actually wrote and it was just so beautiful that I started to cry.”
He joined a field of 98 entrants who each nominated a respective Covid hero on Instagram, where the contest began Jan. 14. The submissions were due exactly one month later, by Valentine’s Day.
Making his case for Ms. Gonzalez, Mr. McCloud began writing, “My lovely Emilia has been the greatest gift God has given me for six years now. It has been my life’s privilege to build a relationship with this magnificent woman, which has grown into a friendship with no bounds, a love without ceilings, and an adventure to treasure forever.”
“This pandemic has increasingly taken a toll on both of us, and Emilia has been especially impacted,” he continued. “As the work and infectious cases surged, I saw how it affected her both physically and mentally, even though she would try not to show it.”
On Feb. 18, contest officials reached out to Ms. Gonzalez to set up a Zoom call with the couple on Feb. 24 to supposedly conduct a brief interview with them. During the Zoom call, Joe Leinacker, the managing director at the Meritage Resort and Spa, Napa Vista Collina Resort, Napa, surprised the pair by announcing that they were the grand prize winners.
“Both of us were in such shock that we could not speak any words,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “We just started screaming.”
On This Day
When Oct. 30, 2021
Where Meritage Resort & Spa in Napa, Calif.
The Perks The prize came with many additional goods and services for the couple’s wedding, including hair and makeup, flowers, stationery and a wedding cake.
For the Record The bride and groom did cover some of the day’s costs. They hired their own photographer and videographer.
What They Wore The bride wore an Oleg Cassini dress, paired with Badgley Mischka shoes. The groom wore a tuxedo from Cassaras Italian Men’s Wear and Johnston & Murphy shoes.