Days away from her wedding, Christina Davidson is gushing about her gown and groom – just like any bride on the brink of her fairy-tale moment.
Only she’s not just any bride. For starters, this wedding will be on TV. And another thing: As Davidson and her fiancé exchange their vows, Martina McBride and Train lead singer Pat Monahan will serenade them onstage with a duet of “Marry Me.”
All this will air on CBS Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, at the Academy of Country Music Awards in Las Vegas.
But for Davidson, 31, and Frank Tucci, 34, it wasn’t always so dream-like. Their love story began at a grief support group founded by Davidson in Washington Township, N.J., where both were mourning the loss of their spouses, who died in 2009 within two months of each other.
“I struggled,” Davidson tells PEOPLE about the death her husband, Paul. “I had a hard time seeing people happy.”
Their first conversation was a phone call that lasted about five minutes. After her mother-in-law passed along his number, Davidson was trying to recruit Tucci for her support group aimed at young widows and widowers.
“I had no idea who [Davidson] was,” Tucci says of their initial conversation, when he told her, “It’s my wife’s birthday, and I’m getting ready to go to the cemetery with my son.”
Their children would be the thread that connected them to each other. Davidson was seven weeks pregnant with her son Paul when her husband died, and every little kick was a reminder her husband would never know they would be welcoming another boy. (They already had a son, Stephen, a toddler at the time.)
So when Tucci told her he was taking his son Frankie and a bouquet of balloons to his late wife’s grave site, Davidson said, “You should make Frankie say, ‘Happy Birthday,’ and let the balloons go up to heaven with her.”
Before the conversation was over, Tucci remembers, he said he would attend the meeting. That’s how they started seeing each other every other Tuesday.
Falling In Love Again
“I don’t think we realized what we had,” Tucci says. Starting as good friends, they took their kids to carnivals together and dyed Easter eggs, among other family-friendly activities.
Then, in April 2011, nearly two years after they first met, Tucci finally asked Davidson to spend time with him one-on-one. He went to her house to watch a Philadelphia Flyers game,even though she was tired and already wearing her flannel, polka-dotted pajamas.
“It just kind of happened,” Davidson says, “and we started to kiss.” But then he stopped. Looking at her, he asked, “Are you okay with this?”
The answer was “yes.”
Their three kids – Stephen, 4, Paul, 23 months, and Frankie, 5 – filed into Davidson’s bedroom one-by-one, each wearing a shirt with a word emblazoned on the front.
The sentence was complete when Frank, also clad in a T-shirt, walked into room, where she was getting ready for a Christmas Party. The message when they were all together: “Will you marry me?”
Although their nuptials were originally scheduled for this October, the couple says they pushed up the date when David’s Bridal discovered their story on Facebook, which led to collaboration with the ACM Awards under the direction of McBride. (And in the spirit of starting in style, she’ll wear an Oleg Cassini gown from David’s Bridal, hand-picked in New York City.)
“This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me. It happens to other people,” Davidson says.
“We can’t change what happened,” Tucci says. He adds, “I wouldn’t change what I’m going through now.”
The ACM Awards, hosted by Reba McEntire and Blake Shelton, air at 8 p.m. ET on CBS. People.com will be live blogging all the action!