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A Romance for All Time

By Craig Smith


Mike and Denise Loughran had a 37 year long (to the day, actually) love affair, which started on their first date. “After our first date, I knew…” said Denise. It only ended when Mike heroically saved Denise’s life, which cost him his own.


On the last day of a ten day trip to Maui, the couple decided to snorkel. “The turtles were out in abundance and it was magical. Until it wasn’t,” said Denise. The couple got caught up in a current and swept out to sea. They made it to a small buoy where they tried to catch their breath and attract help. “My asthma kicked in and I was having even more trouble breathing. I was ready to give up. Mike kissed me, took my hand, and told me to hold on to his shirt with the order ‘Do not let go’. I held on tight and he swam and swam until I felt him take my hand from his shirt and place it on a hard surface. A woman had watched us struggle and brought a boogie board for me to hold on to. The last words I heard Mike say were. ‘Get her to shore.’”


Denise recovered but couldn’t see Mike. She assumed he was snorkeling, until she noticed a throng of people on the beach surrounding someone. “This is the part where I say ‘Jesus carried me,’ because I have no idea how I knew it was Mike or how I got to his side. But I arrived to him at the same moment the paramedics arrived. They began working on him, and as they did, I started praying The Lord’s Prayer. Someone took my hand and joined me, then another, and another. A prayer line had started,” said Denise. Despite the efforts of the paramedics, Mike died of exhaustion.


“Mike saved my life and lost his. I shouldn’t be here. He died a hero. It’s been six years since that day. Every day I live is a gift from him. Our love for each other was one of those rare loves that come once in a lifetime. The kind you cannot describe any other way but ‘forever.’”

Mike was a very public person, involved in the community in many ways with a 30+ year career at the Sheriff’s Department; Police Academy instructor at NV College; former Board member at Leadership Napa Valley, NEWS, COPE, Grad Night, Rotary, and Pathway Home. Denise wanted to say something at Mike’s memorial, but didn’t want to repeat what everyone already knew about him.


“Then I sat at my computer and the words just flowed out of me. I wanted everyone to know a little something about ‘my Mike.’”

Denise asked someone to read what she had written at Mike’s service. Here is what she wrote: “Hi. I do not want to be here, or say these words to you, because I do not want today to be real. It’s Saturday; I want to be at home, fussing around in the garden with Mike, pulling weeds from ground softened by the our resent badly needed rains. Did you know that the rains we had were called a Pineapple Express? They originated in Hawaii and made their way to California. True story: the rain started in Napa the day I left Maui and they stopped seven days later when Mike arrived back in Napa. Yes, that’s right, I’d rather talk about the weather. By acknowledging what we are all gathered here to do today, means Mike and I have parted, and that just breaks my heart.


We LOVED being married to each other. We loved being married to each other so much that we actually exchanged our marriage vows five times during the past 36 years. Who does that?!

My Mike was a romantic and he adored me. He married me over, and over, and over. And I married him over, and over, and over, because I adored him, right back.

Our first vow exchange took place on our wedding day in Novato, California. Mike had on his baby blue tux and cowboy boots. He wanted his (seriously horrible) dog to somehow be included in our wedding. FYI: That did not happen. We honeymooned in Mazatlan and returned to Napa to begin our new life together.

Our second vow exchange took place five years later in Ireland. The trip was a gift from a dear friend. Grandma and Grandpa babysat while we flew to the land of Loughran. We fell in love with all things green. Mike drank Guinness, kissed the Blarney Stone, and we bought a set of Irish Claddagh rings. We were driving down an Irish country lane when Mike pulled over. He asked me to get out of the car, walked me to a little stream, took my two hands in his and started to repeat our marriage vows. He placed my new ring on my finger and kissed me. I followed his lead and fell even more in love with him…if that is even possible.


Our third vow exchange was on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. We had joined some friends on a cruise honoring the 50th anniversary of their parents. We had spent the day snorkeling, hiking, and driving around St. John, a small island near St. Thomas. When we returned to the ship the anniversary couple was all set to renew their vows and we were ready to witness the moment. After their exchange the Captain asked if anyone else wanted to renew their vows. Of course, we did. To this day St. John’s holds a special place in my heart.


Our fourth vow exchange took place in Sedona, Arizona. We were staying in our timeshare. The day before, we hiked up a mountain known for its vortex. We were expecting to “feel something,” but we just got dirty and hot, and the hippies pissed Mike off. Not a good day. So, when Mike told me we were going on a hike through the canyon, I thought “great.” I put on my hiking boots, my ugly blue parka that Mike hated, pulled my hair into a messy ponytail, and grabbed my walking stick. Off we went. A ways down the trail Mike looked at me and said, “You should do something about your hair.” I just laughed. But, soon I rounded the corner and glimpsed the beautiful canyon river, and standing on the edge of the river, was a minister in full robes. A woman handed me a bouquet of flowers, another woman was taking photographs, and I was speechless. Mike pulled some papers out of his pocket, took my hands, and began reading me new vows; ones he had written, heartfelt, personal, and possibly the most beautiful words ever strung together. Then the minister looked at me and said, “Now, your turn.” I’m sure I said something, but I have no idea what. All I know is Mike kissed me, and my love grew even deeper.


Our fifth vow exchange was once again on a Caribbean cruise off the island of St. Thomas. Earlier in the day we had purchased a new wedding ring for me because my original ring had broken. Mike would not let me put it on until he could get it blessed by the chaplain on the ship. Mike told me he had tracked down the chaplain and he was waiting for us in his office. The office turned out to be the ship’s chapel and, well, you know the rest. Vows, blessed ring, renewed love.


We, all of you, and me, we are here today. I do not want to be here, because it means Mike is gone. We loved being married to each other. Our vows were kept all of our 36 (way too short) years. Vows repeated over and over and over. I would repeat them fifty times more. We are now parted, yet he lives forever in my heart. Till we meet again, my love. That is my new vow.”

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