Woman who told grandpa of her engagement in viral pandemic photo looks back on 'emotional moment'
In 2020, Carly Boyd and her isolated grandfather went viral on Facebook after a photo showed the two sharing a touching moment after she revealed her engagement.
In early 2020, Carly Boyd was finishing her last year of nursing school when the unthinkable happened: The world was shutting down as COVID-19 began to spread.
Despite the unsettling time, Carly did have some exciting news early that year. Her boyfriend, Trevor Sellers, proposed to her with a beautiful backdrop along the beach — and she said yes.
One person she was eager to tell was her grandfather, Shelton Mahala, who, at 87, was living in a retirement home. Unfortunately, she couldn’t visit his room at the Premier Living and Rehab Center in Lake Waccamaw, N.C., due to new safety protocols.
With Boyd unable to visit her grandfather in-person, the facility’s activity director, Gennie Parnell, suggested she try talking to him another way.
“Luckily, he was in his room and I just started knocking on the window. He came up to the window, he was very excited to see me, I was excited to see him and I just took that opportunity to let him know that I was engaged. He was really happy for me,” Boyd told Yahoo News.
Boyd recalled how her grandfather, despite having dementia, remembered her boyfriend and called him a “good man.”
“He was very excited for me. It was a very emotional moment,” she said. “I did tear up and cry a little bit. But I was just also very thankful for the opportunity that I had to at least be able to tell him.”
Parnell and her staff captured the tearful exchange, which later went viral during the early days of the pandemic and became a vivid symbol of the impact COVID-19 was having on personal relationships. The facility received permission to share the photos.
Boyd said, “[Parnell] and some staff had come up to the door and was just checking in to make sure he could hear me and stuff, and one of them decided to pull their phone out and record it for me to have. After we left, they texted me and was like, ‘Hey, is it okay if we put this on our Facebook account, so other family members know that they can come and talk to their loved ones through the window?’ Then it just kind of blew up and went crazy.”
The image of Boyd — tearing up and putting her hand against the window while her grandfather did the same — resonated with more than just people in the community. It connected with people all over the world.
“We really couldn’t believe how quickly the pictures started to generate interest and began to spread so quickly! We literally sat there and watched the numbers click up, up, up!” Parnell told Yahoo News.
Boyd said she and her dad went to a hardware store and someone stopped them to ask if she was the girl “they’re talking about on Facebook.” This was about 30 minutes after the Facebook post went up.
“The next thing I know, my local newspaper was calling me wanting an interview right then and there.”
It’s been three years since the touching moment took place, and a lot has changed. Carly Boyd is now Carly Boyd Sellers after marrying Trevor in December 2020. Now they live in their own home in Whiteville, N.C., with their dog, Hank.
The couple met on Twitter in 2017, with Carly saying that Trevor slid into her DMs (sent her a message). They exchanged numbers and hit it off from there.
Boyd’s mother, Letitia Boyd, said she felt “helpless” when the pandemic hit because she wasn’t able to have the normal visits with her father like before. Her father, who moved into the home in January 2020, didn’t understand why they couldn’t come in to hug and talk like always.
Boyd made the difficult decision months later that Mahala should not attend Carly’s wedding ceremony because of strict COVID policies that were still in place at the senior living facility. He would have had to isolate for 14 days — which Boyd felt he couldn't do for that long.
Afterward, the staff captured another sweet moment: Carly and Trevor telling her grandfather they were now married.
“When I got back from my honeymoon, we went and saw him and sent him pictures through the window and told him that we were married and everything and he was very ecstatic for us,” Boyd said.
But the story doesn’t end entirely on a happy note. Mahala passed away in December 2021 at the age of 89. He died peacefully in his sleep from natural causes, Boyd said.
“Oh, that was awful,” she added about losing her father. “But at the same time, to know my dad, he was a Christian, he believed that there was a heaven waiting for him and he was just wanting to go home.”
Carly said Mahala was a mountain man, born and raised in Tennessee, who worked in factories most of his life and had a passion for playing banjo and the guitar.
“When he would be in the nursing home and we'd go visit him, the nurses said that they thoroughly enjoyed listening to him, he would just be in his room sitting or laying in the bed just singing hymns out very loudly.”
As for the viral moment, Carly — who now works at a hospital as a registered nurse — said she was shocked when it all was happening and had a lot of support from loved ones. Things have since gone back to normal.
“I had a lot of friends and family that would get up and watch that as well and would send me messages. I did have famous people like Kelly Clarkson's show reach out to me, and Ellen DeGeneres, “The Ellen Show,” they reached out to me as well,” Boyd said.
She said she didn’t make it on the Ellen or Kelly Clarkson shows because the story began to slow down, but she did do other video interviews. At times, she said, patients will ask her, “Are you that girl that got famous?”
“Kelly Clarkson Show” producers, you know what to do.