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With ‘Wish Upon A Wedding,’ A Commitment In Sickness And In Health

Helaina Hovitz, Contributor

2/11/2014 @ 8:00AM

Organization helps couples facing terminal illness make a forever commitment

Chris and Heather of Portland, Oregon fell in love almost instantly—he made her blush, and had a certain energy that she found irresistible. It wasn’t long before she knew he was the one, and Chris felt the same way about her.

“He just walks into a room and it makes me crazy happy,” Heather says. “If he’s near me, I’m happier.”

A year after they started dating, Heather was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer.

Several months later, Chris brought her to the top of the mountain they climbed on their first date. Surrounded by all of their closest friends, he got down on one knee and proposed.

“I was very surprised. I don’t know anyone who would want to marry someone terminally ill,” said Heather. “I love him, and I knew he wasn’t going anywhere, but I didn’t think he wanted to marry me. It’s a different level of commitment.”

Of course, she said yes, unable to imagine her life without him. But amid all of the medical bills, finding the money to throw the actual wedding was a different story. Heather was faced with the decision of putting $20,000 towards trying to extend her life as long as possible, or spending it on a wedding.

“It was a no brainer,” she said. “So we thought we’d just end up going down to the courthouse.”

Then, Heather heard about an organization called Wish Upon a Wedding, a nonprofit that provides free weddings to couples facing terminal illness and other serious life-altering circumstances. California-based wedding planner Liz Guthrie founded the organization in September of 2009 when she became inspired to rally thousands of volunteers around the country to donate their time, products, and services to help make wedding wishes come true.


Photo by Rachel Capil

“When a terminal diagnoses hits, there’s a new sense of urgency to fulfill your dream of walking down the aisle,” said Guthrie. “They’re bonding themselves for eternity through the ceremony. The most sacred thing we can do is commit ourselves to one another, forever, in life and in death.”

When Heather first heard about the organization, she was hesitant to ask for help. But in February of 2013, she learned that the cancer had metastasized to her lungs, and she had a change of heart.

“I knew the cancer liked me and was going to keep going. I worried I’d never get to our wedding,” she said. “I didn’t want to be the one bringing bad news anymore. I wanted to bring my family and friends together to celebrate my life, and our life.”

Planning her wedding, she says, was the best six months of her life.

“There are so many daily reminders that I’m sick and facing a disease, and I’m constantly trying to tackle the idea that I’m probably going to die,” she said. “But the whole time we were planning the wedding, nobody ever made me feel like I was sick or reminded me that I was dying. They carried me.”
When the big day finally arrived, Heather put on her wedding dress and felt like a queen; she didn’t have a worry in the world. She wasn’t thinking about the fact that she was marrying someone she was going to leave—she was thinking about the fact that that she loved somebody, and was going to love them forever, as long as that was.

Four weeks after the wedding, Heather got the news that her disease had progressed again.

“She’s fighting, but last year she had two reoccurrences. She’s been doing aggressive chemo for a long time,” said Chris. “She knows she’s everything to me and that I’ll be with her no matter what. We have struggles, but everyone has struggles. We have a good life, and I am going to love her forever.”

Another couple dealing with similar struggles is Mark and Lori.

Mark proposed to Lori shortly after midnight on New Year’s Day 2012, and the Chicago based couple began planning a destination wedding, just the two of them, to Hawaii. A few months later, Lori was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer.

As the oncology nurse ran through all of the treatments she would have to undergo, Lori suddenly said, through tears, “I was supposed to get married this year.” The nurse told her about a wedding planner she’d heard about who arranged weddings for people in her situation.


Photo by Rick Aguilar

“We weren’t together very long, and Mark easily could’ve walked. But he made me feel beautiful. I had no eyelashes or eyebrows, which is not a pretty sight, but he would always tell me how beautiful I was and how much he loved me,” said Lori.

Lori waited until her treatments were over, and the two were married in March of 2013. With the help of Wish Upon a Wedding, they had a “vintage romantic” wedding, full of roses and gardenias in different shades of peach, white, and pink.

Mark said he knew that they would get married, no matter what.

“She’s the most beautiful woman in the world. She makes everyone around her happy,” he said. “I want to be with her for the rest of her life, or mine.”

The nonprofit also grants “special circumstance wishes” to 10% of couples who qualify as having serious life altering circumstances and face incredibly serious challenges.

David and Maureen, who both have cerebral palsy, fall into that 10%.

Maureen knew she wanted to marry David when he showed up to her house with a pizza for their first date—she was surprised that he actually showed up. From then on, David treated her like a princess, wheeling her everywhere she needed to go, fixing up the apartment, and making her laugh.


Photo by the Shooting Gallery

Over the past twenty years, they’ve been through the joyous moments together, like the birth of their daughter, as well as the heartbreaking ones, like the day they were forced to give her up for adoption.

“I know her first wish is to be able to meet our daughter, Amy, but I haven’t been able to give her that, so I wanted to give Maureen a beautiful wedding. It was her lifelong wish to get married. I personally am not financially able to give her the wedding of her dreams, so I asked Wish Upon a Wedding for help,” said David. “We would never have been able to afford something like this. We are so appreciative that they accepted us.”

Wish Upon a Wedding just announced the addition of bedside services at hospitals and hospices, granting couples a final wish just days—or hours—before one of them passes on.

“Why do people want to get married when they only have days left? It’s not about dancing and partying. It’s their last wish to be connected spiritually,” said Guthrie. “It’s taking a piece of your heart and tying it to the other person you’re in love with regardless of if they’re still here physically or not. It’s forever merging that love, even after they’re gone.”

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