“Did I miss it? When’s the wedding?”, my Grandma struggled to ask while laying on her hospital bed. It was in that moment I knew what was about to happen. I was going to have my wedding in her hospital room the next day.
My grandma and I have always had a close and special relationship. We lived close by, so I got to spend lots of time with her as I was growing up. She was truly what one would call a ‘second mom.’ She always made it a priority to make it to all of my extracurricular activities. She always took the time to make me feel like our relationship was the most important to her. She was and always will be my best friend.
As I grew up, I always loved going to see my grandma and grandpa. The big hugs, the laughter, going fishing, vacationing multiple times with them down in Kentucky on The Kentucky Lake. These memories make me so thankful for the time I had with them but miss them more then words can express. When I was 17, my grandfather (Geri’s husband) was diagnosed with Lung Cancer. It was shock and heartbreak. I was a senior in high school and I was about to undergo my first real loss of an important member of my family. He was the greatest grandpa a girl could ask for. His hobbies were fishing and boating. I have so many great childhood memories because of it. When he was diagnosed, his one wish was to make it to my high school graduation. He passed away on January 17, 2010, just about 4 months before my graduation. He didn’t make it. I, of course, couldn’t move up a high school graduation. I held his hand that last day as he passed away. His last words to me were ‘I tried to make it.’ It broke my heart and rocked my entire being. Finally, as I held his hand, he took his last breath and I experienced my first death and passing of someone who meant everything to me. Four months later, I had my high school graduation and instead of it being a completely joyous time, I had to look in the audience and not see my grandpa there. A sadness loomed over a day that should have been a joyous occasion. I had always believed in God, but I lost my faith for many years after that. I didn’t want to believe in anything that would allow that to happen to someone I loved so much and not even allow him to have what he wished for on top of it. It took me a long time to heal from that.
After my grandpa passed away, I got even closer to my Grandma. We leaned on each other during our grief. It was about this time that I really got into family history. I had dabbled with it off and on as a child because it always fascinated me and I loved history. But it went from that to a full blown hobby! My grandma loved that I was interested in it and she loved it too! She would help with my family history research. She would bring me to the places from her and my grandpa’s life while telling me stories. I had an amazing time with her and learned so much.
Fast forward to October 2015. I was engaged and set to marry my husband, Ryan, on May 6, 2016. My grandma started to not feel good and went to the hospital. She ended up getting life flighted because there was a bunch of fluid around her heart that needed to be drained right away. I will never forget the night before she went to the hospital. It was as if God allowed for a last peaceful moment with my grandma. She had come over and we were out in our hot tub. We were looking up at the stars in wonder and awe while talking about the vastness of the Universe. We were both at peace and enjoying each other’s company unaware of what would start to unfold that next day. That would be the last worry-free moment together. A couple weeks later, we found out the fluid had cancer cells in it. She had cancer. Lung Cancer, just like my grandpa had 5 years prior. It was Stage 4 but we held onto hope. Hope she could fight and at least have a few more years with us. She actually moved in with us so we could take care of her easily while she was going through her treatment.
I stayed hopeful for her. But part of me was so scared it would be a repeat of what happened with my grandpa. Another big milestone in my life getting ruined by what would again be a major loss. I struggled. I worried. I battled with God yet again with the circumstances that befell me and my family. But she seemed really healthy for months, started chemotherapy and as my wedding inched closer and closer, I became reassured she would definitely make it through until at least after my wedding.
It was February 2016 and we were going to pick out my wedding dress. It was just three months until my wedding date and my grandma was still feeling decent. She would have a few complications here and there and have to go to the emergency room but overall she was a fighter and she was still with us. She was able to come watch and help me pick my dress which was so special.
Then, one of the worst days of my life happened on April 22, 2016. That morning my little sister, Faith, and I were home with our grandma. I was making breakfast while Grandma had fallen asleep in our rocking chair. All of a sudden, my sister yells into the kitchen for me in a panic. I ran over and our grandma was having a major seizure. I had never seen a seizure before, so at the time I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. I was witnessing my grandma dying. She was convulsing, breathing differently and was unresponsive. My worst nightmare was coming true exactly two weeks’ shy of my wedding date. She was rushed to the hospital to get the seizures under control. She would never leave the hospital. She was unresponsive for many days and I had to come to the realization she may never wake up and I would never get to hear her voice again. She would never get to see my wedding she desperately wanted to see and attend.
Then a miracle happened. She woke up. The seizures did major damage to her brain and body and she could no longer move or talk much but she was awake. We tried to figure out, with the doctors, what had happened when the chemotherapy was going so well and the doctors were saying it had not spread. Unfortunately, they were wrong. It had spread to both her spinal cord and brain. When we realized the cancer had spread to her brain and there wasn’t much that could be done, I realized she’d never leave the hospital. I wasn’t sure how long she had left.
She went back to being fairly unresponsive for another couple days and when she became more alert , she woke up and all she would say repeatedly, ‘Did I miss it? When’s the wedding? What time is the wedding?’ We would reassure her she didn’t miss it. We would ask her if she saw anyone like my grandpa or Jesus. She would say yes but it wasn’t time yet. She had to see my wedding and that my grandpa would be watching too. It was on this day, just one week until our original wedding date, that Ryan and I made the decision to have our wedding in the hospital in less than 24 hours. We had no idea how we were going to make it happen but we were determined to make it work. It was a gut feeling that we needed to do this now. It was her last wish and I refused to let it be another devastating loss without her last wish granted.
The hospital was so kind and helpful. It’s called St. Margaret’s Hospital in Spring Valley, IL. I want to give them a huge shout out and thank you because without all of their help, compassion and kindness, this would have never been possible. It was a miracle wedding. A nurse became our photographer. The other nurses and staff went and decorated the room so nicely. My grandma, just a week prior to her seizure, had gone out and bought her dress for my wedding and the nurses were so kind to put her in the dress she picked out so she could feel pretty. When we told our florist of the situation, she volunteered to work late and came to work early to make sure our flowers were done in time. Ryan’s tuxedo wasn’t going to be in for another 5 days but miraculously, two hours before the wedding, we received a call that it came in early. We found a Pastor we knew that had just beat her battle with cancer. She agreed to Pastor our wedding in that short amount of time because it was a very personal thing for her. Everything came together in the perfect, meaningful way it was meant to be. My grandma had a front row seat to my wedding on April 30, 2016. She was smiling and even had enough energy to clap. After the ceremony, my grandma was able to say ‘happy, happy’ It was her last good day.
The original date of our wedding, May 6th, came and my grandma was unresponsive again and this time she didn’t wake up. She was peaceful as she took her last breath on May 10, 2016. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For me, it wasn’t about the glitz and glam or having a big party. It’s about family and who was there with me on our special day. It was about being with the people I loved.
The grief has been a struggle. It has been hard not having my Grandma Geri here to experience life with me. The hardest struggle has been having her first great grandchild. She isn’t here to experience all the joy and love with us. When I found out we were having a girl, I knew I wanted to honor her in some way with her name. We chose the name Livia Rose. Livia which means life, Olive and heart of God.
This combines Livia’s first name with the word Hope, which was a big word my Grandma Geri would always use. She never lost hope. Her last real words to me on the day of my wedding, before she went unconscious for the last time, were ‘I hope, I hope.’ No matter what, we can have hope in what’s to come. Livia’s middle name is Rose because that was my Grandma’s favorite flower. A pink rose to be exact. A rose is given as an act of love. I wanted it to be like we are giving my Grandma Geri our love and letting our love for her live on through Livia.
It has been a form of healing for me to honor my grandma through my daughter. We miss her every day but I know that she, along with my grandpa, are watching from above and smiling.”