Rachael Pasternak & Matthew Berbeza
Dec. 9, 2022, in Philadelphia
In February 2020, Matt and Rachael met in what she calls the old-fashioned way – online. Each had recently started dating again, and both were surprised by how fun and easy it was to talk to each other. Then Rachael disappeared.
After a week of silence, she messaged him hello. Disappearances are not unexpected in digital dating, but Matt was glad to hear from her. Their witty banter was intact, so Matt, a corrections officer at Howard R. Young State Correctional Institution in Wilmington, and Rachael, a flight nurse for PennSTAR, Penn Medicine’s critical care transportation service, decided to meet in person.
Her profile said she liked trying new things, so Matt suggested ice skating. Matt, an Army veteran who served in Iraq, plays hockey with the Philadelphia Flyers’ Warriors – a team of veterans who have injuries and disabilities. Matt’s a very strong skater. Rachael, not so much. “Matt went ice skating. I went falling,” she said. But they had a blast.
Soon after, Rachael knew she had to tell Matt where she had gone when she disappeared, and why.
A year earlier, Rachael had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was finished with the most intense part of her treatment and she and her mother flew to Paris to celebrate. Other men had ghosted her when they learned of her diagnosis, but with Matt, Rachael was almost more worried that he wouldn’t. Matt’s first wife, Kristin, died unexpectedly in her sleep on Christmas Day in 2018. They had been married for nearly a dozen years. Rachael did not want him to go through anything like that again.
“It doesn’t matter,” Matt said, undeterred. They seemed to be on the cusp of something great, he told Rachael, and nothing should prevent them from seeing where they could go.
Literally speaking, they could not go many places – this was at the peak of COVID-19 closures. Matt persuaded Rachael to buy a bicycle, even though she hadn’t been on one in decades, and they hit the trails together. But mostly, they hung out together at Rachael’s Aston townhouse or Matt’s home in Wilmington.
“Dating during the pandemic is like dating in dog years – two years was like 14,” Rachael said. “We got to know each other well very quickly.”
Two people who weren’t looking for anything too serious found themselves very serious about each other.
“It was very easy and very natural to be with Rachael,” said Matt, who grew up in North Wilmington and is now 39. “We didn’t have to work at it – it just worked.”
“We agreed that life is kind of hard at baseline, and another person can either make it easier for you or make it worse,” said Rachael, 36, who grew up in Glen Mills. “Life is so much easier, and so much more fun, when we are together.”
They admire each other’s tenacity and focus on hard work that helps others. And they value how her work caring for seriously ill patients and his in corrections translates into a built-in understanding of crazy work schedules and a shared definition of what a bad work day truly can be.
Matt remains the more athletic of the two – in addition to hockey, he’s into motorcycles, mountain bikes, and anything outdoors. “I try outdoorsy things, but it doesn’t often go well for me,” Rachael said. She has always loved to travel, and now Matt does, too. Among the places they’ve been: Cabo San Lucas, Greece, Hungary, and Jamaica. A favorite domestic trip: New Orleans at Halloween.
The two were in Rome just before Thanksgiving 2021. Matt knew that the Trevi Fountain is Rachael’s favorite place in Europe, so he booked a hotel nearby. At after-dinner cocktails, they met a local couple and the four talked and talked until 1 a.m. By then, Matt and Rachael were hungry again so they stopped at a McDonald’s to grab a snack. Walking back to their hotel, they paused at the fountain to toss in some coins – local lore says visitors who do so will be back again.
Rachael saw Matt starting to bend down.
“Oh my God. Did you drop our McDonald’s in the Trevi Fountain?” she asked.
He had not. “I know another way to ensure that we come back to Rome,” Matt said. “Will you marry me?”
It was so them
On Dec. 9, 2022, the couple were married at Cescaphe’s Down Town Club with Journeys of the Heart’s Diane Smith-Hoban officiating. Diane shared the couple’s story, and Rachael and Matt wrote vows filled equally with love and humor.
“I admire your love for fun and how you always go with the flow, and also how you’re willing to take risks and go out on the edge to try new things – even if you’re horrible at them,” Matt told Rachael. “I promise to always support you and stand by you, even when I don’t agree with you.”
“I promise to let you watch the Flyers, above anything else, with the exception of every Sunday, some Thursdays, and some Mondays from September through February, because, Go Birds!” said Rachael. “I promise to stand by you, and behind you when you need a little extra support. I promise to always have your six,” she said, a military reference to a clockface that’s shorthand for the position behind you. In other words, she’ll always have his back.
The reception for 190 featured pyrotechnics, a ton of food and an open bar, and music by BVTLive band Elevation. “I don’t think anybody got off the dance floor, except maybe to eat,” Rachael said.
The couple’s first dance was to “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts – Matt’s choice because of the fitting lyrics and a loving compromise from Rachael, who prefers alternative and dance tunes.
Four hours before the wedding, it was photo time. Matt walked to First Bank, where he would get his first look at Rachael in her wedding dress. “She walked up the steps, tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around to see her,” he remembered. “She looked amazing – so beautiful! And it made me so happy.”
Before walking down the aisle, Rachael was excited to see all of their friends and family gathered. “Then the doors opened, and I saw Matt’s smile, and I saw nobody else,” she said. “Nothing else mattered but walking toward him.”
The two honeymooned in Barbados, and, after sleeping for much of the first two days, enjoyed singing along at the piano bar, a local nightclub, and a unique Friday fish fry. “It was like a fish fry block party, and it seems the whole island goes to it,” Matt said.
The couple wants to see more of the world, especially Southeast Asia. They also enjoy being home in Wilmington with Shadow, their pit bull mix. Rachael is cooking up something for Matt’s 40th birthday.