The Hospice Wedding

Anne Reber essays

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In late June of 2011, my mother entered a hospice center in Gilbert, Arizona. She had battled ovarian cancer for just one short year. After an initial hysterectomy and three rounds of chemotherapy, she had been given a clean bill of health. In an unapologetic “F-you” to cancer, my mother celebrated. She traveled to New York City for my sister’s engagement party, visited Florida for a huge family Christmas, planned a family vacation to Yellowstone and even booked a safari to Kenya!

Within four months of initially being told she was cancer-free, the cancer came back with a vengeance. She underwent an aggressive abdominal surgery and the doctors discovered the cancer had spread everywhere, including into her lymph nodes and lung fluid. The cancer was consuming her body and there was nothing more to do. Being true to her own nature, my mother decided that she did not want to linger and cause us all more suffering.

Nearly one year after her initial diagnosis, she made the decision to enter a hospice home and refused all liquid nutrition and water. My mother told us that she had accepted that she was going to die and was ready to journey home. It was with this decision that my younger sister Amy, knew she needed to change her wedding date. 

Amy and Mike had spent the previous year planning an intimate wedding in the Catskills. It was certain now that their wedding planned for August 11, 2011 could not happen. One morning, I casually suggested to Amy that we bring the wedding ceremony to Arizona, that our mother needed to watch her youngest get married to the man she loved. From this moment of inspiration, a beautiful and profound wedding idea was conceived. That very day, Amy called her fiancée Mike, in New York and asked him to fly to Arizona immediately. She told him that she wanted to get married in Arizona and he wholeheartedly agreed. She wanted her mama to see her get married. Mike flew out the next day with Amy’s wedding gown in tow, and my sisters and I frantically planned the details. 

Our mother’s pastor, who had been ministering to her in the hospital and hospice home, agreed to officiate the ceremony. Our cousin designed and ordered a gorgeous wedding cake and her own cousin, who happened to be a photographer, dropped everything and volunteered to take photos.  My older sister’s mother-in-law was so moved by the wedding plans that she ordered and paid for all of the flowers for the wedding from Pennsylvania! The staff at the hospice home excitedly helped us prepare the main room for the first wedding ever performed there. The Hospital’s oncology ward therapy musicians, who had grown extremely fond of our mother, generously offered to sing and play their instruments at the wedding. Finally, over 25 family and friends made the effort to fly out to Arizona. Work schedules were rearranged and expensive last-minute flights were booked within three days notice. The effort of family and friends to make my sister's wedding was unbelievably generous and those who were able to attend are forever etched in our hearts. The generosity and kindness of all involved was profoundly humbling and enabled us to glimpse what love manifested looked like.  

My sister Amy’s wedding was planned in three days and took place on July 2, 2011 at the Lund Family Hospice Home in Gilbert, Arizona. It was the most beautiful wedding that my sister could have possibly ever had. Our mother, in a final burst of mother-love energy, put aside her physical pain and weakness and proudly attended her youngest daughter's wedding. She was the essence of beauty and grace that day as she watched Amy and Mike say their vows in front of family and friends. She put aside her own illness and made sure that the day was about her daughter’s wedding. People came to honor Amy and Mike’s marriage, but they also came to say goodbye to my mother.

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About the Author

Anne Reber

Anne Reber, author of the blog, , takes her readers on a personal journey through the last 18 years of her life. As Anne explores her past as it relates to her future, readers can identify with and connect to, the universal life themes of courage, change, grief, hope and love.

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