A happy couple stands in front of a glittering holiday display of lights and garlands.
Merle Adelson and Paul Freedman

Merle Adelson and Paul Freedman had planned to marry on Friday, January 22, 2021. But instead, their nuptials took place on January 11, in a Jewish ceremony inside one of Mass General’s intensive care units.

Freedman was admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 just one day prior, and his care team determined he may soon require a ventilator. Adelson says she and her now-husband wanted to proceed with the wedding, even though it meant saying their vows virtually—Freedman with a camera fixed on his hospital bed, and Adelson just outside the room, with a gaze fixed upon her groom on a large computer screen.

“I was at home on Monday morning when I got the call about a Jewish couple looking to be married at the hospital that evening,” says Rabbi Ben Lanckton, of Mass General Spiritual Care.

A flurry of activity ensued, with Lanckton delivering marriage materials to the ICU for the groom and engaging in pre-wedding conversations with the bride. But it was Freedman’s nurse Kristin Egan, RN, who issued the first rallying cry that morning, says resource nurse Marie Macrorie, RN. “She asked us, ‘Well, who wants to have a wedding today?’” Soon after, Macrorie says, clinical social worker Jennifer D’Alotto was coordinating a balloon “bouquet” for Adelson, as Freedman’s doctor, Jake Rosenberg MD, PhD, picked up items from the MGH General Store, including a Mass General wine glass and juice for the traditional blessing delivered over a cup of wine.

“I wasn’t even aware of everything happening behind the scenes,” says Adelson. “It wasn’t until about 4 pm that day that I realized we were really getting married.”

With the pieces in place, Adelson says she simply tried to take in the scene. “I was trying not to let the little things get to me and just concentrate on the words, look at Paul and focus on the moment.”

In the hallway of the ICU, four hospital staff in scrubs hold a chuppah over the head of a woman, while the rabbi officiates using a bedside tray as a table.
Before the rabbi’s words, there was the signing of the Ketubah, or marriage contract, by two unrelated Jewish witnesses—Rosenberg and Mass General Rabbi Shulamit Izen. The pair also used Lanckton’s prayer shawl to craft a Chuppah, or canopy, that they raised over the bride’s head. And when their arms tired, there was no shortage of volunteers who jumped in to take the four corners of the cloth.

“The entire unit was quiet as we gathered behind the nurses’ station and everyone came out of their rooms,” says Macrorie. “It was amazing.”

Freedman was intubated shortly after the ceremony, but was able to be taken off the ventilator just a few days later. He is now continuing his recovery at home.

Lanckton says he will never forget the couple’s wedding day. While it was a Monday on the calendar, “it was technically a Tuesday in the Jewish faith, as it happened after sunset,” says Lanckton. And he adds, “Tuesday is the day God blesses twice in the first chapter of Genesis—so it’s the luckiest day of the week.”