Together 'Til Death Do Them Part
I've officiated a few weddings in which one or the other party was terminal. I recall a bride who had cancer. Her doctors had predicted she had only a year to live. This couple made the most of their celebration with beautiful clothes and a fancy venue, a posh hotel in downtown Portland, with guests attending from near and as far away as Japan. Most notably, there was a lot of love between the bride and groom. It had to be bittersweet.
On another occasion I received a call to officiate a deathbed wedding later the same day in a hospital. The man was apparently in the final stages of his illness. He and the bride had been together for over 20 years and he had wanted them to be legally married before he passed. I expect this was partly to provide for her in the way of benefits, which I find admirable. Naturally, I made sure he was of sound mind and knew why I was there before proceeding. I had been prepared for a sad tone for this wedding, but everyone was surprisingly upbeat. They put on their bravest, smiling faces. She and her mother, a sibling, and a spouse were all there to witness, and were quite supportive. He had clearly been considered part of the family for years.
Then there was a deathbed wedding I had officiated in which the couple were both fine—it was his mom who was nearing her end. Her dying wish was to live long enough to see her son get married. He and his longtime girlfriend simply took Mom’s request as the inspiration needed to make it official. They didn't have time to get a license, so I did a non-legally recognized ceremony at Mom's bedside in a care facility. The peaceful smile on her face when she heard me pronounce them husband and wife (symbolically, of course) was priceless. A few days later after they obtained their license, I met them again in a different location and officiated their legal wedding. Interestingly, they reported that Mom had still not passed at that point. Possibly a part of her was still hanging on, wanting to make sure her son was legally and officially wed before she could die in peace.
Two other weddings come to mind, which I performed in my office/chapel. Both were May-Decembers. In each case, the 75-plus-year-old groom arrived by medical transport in a Hoveround in order to marry a 40-something-year-old bride. In the first instance, it was obvious he was marrying his caregiver, possibly as a way to thank her. There did not appear to be a romantic relationship between them; she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek after I pronounced them. She also gave me a hug afterward and thanked me for not judging her.
For the other May-December couple, it was purportedly true love, though I have often wondered about that one. Was she really in love with him, or was she more in love with the notion of gaining her new husband’s financial assets? Despite my reservations, it is still not my place to judge. Believe me, I made sure to ask specific questions of that elderly groom to satisfy myself that he knew what he was doing. If both parties are of sound mind and if the proper paperwork is presented, I will go forward with the wedding. It is my job to help a couple tie the knot, not to judge their motivations. That is between them and their conscience—or between them and God, for those of a religious persuasion. Either way, after I do my job, the rest is up to them.
I'm the founding minister of Wedded Your Way. I love helping people tie the knot!