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As my dad was dying of colon cancer, I planned a last-minute wedding at his bedside

When my father's condition severely worsened, the idea of a big wedding didn't matter anymore.

Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. Mine was my saddest: I got married the same day my father passed away.

When my father was first diagnosed with colon cancer, I quickly learned our time together would be limited and began to prepare myself for a life without him. Of course we hoped for the best, but I am a realist and I couldn’t fool myself into thinking that he would beat the odds and live another 30 years. I knew he would never meet the children I would eventually have, and I never expected him to walk me down the aisle or even see my wedding day.

This photo was taken about six months before my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer.Courtesy of Sarah Talent

Five years after that horrific diagnosis, I met an incredible man. Eric and I quickly realized that this was real and it was going to be for forever. We got engaged 13 months after our first date, in front of both of our families, at Disney World. Looking back, I still can’t believe my dad made it to Disney. But he did, wheelchair, oxygen tanks and all.

Within weeks of that trip, it was clear his final days were on the horizon, and I knew he wasn’t going to be there for the big wedding we had started planning.

Suddenly, a big wedding didn’t seem to matter anymore. The only thing that mattered to me was having my father by my side for the moment I said “I do.” Eric and I decided to have a very small ceremony with just family, so my dad would be there.

Our happy engagement in Disney World, with my dad and family looking on.Courtesy of Sarah Talent

Then he took a turn for the worse, sooner than any of us expected. And so our planning got pushed up day by day. We spoke to the incredible hospice workers about the best way to do it. We had wanted to do a small ceremony in my parents’ yard, but my dad was too sick to get out of bed. And we wanted to wait a few more days so Eric’s family could join us from Atlanta, but my dad was too sick for that.

When the hospice nurse came over one day, she pulled my mom, brother and me aside and said, “I don’t think he’s going to make it through the night.” She told me that if I wanted to get married with my dad there, it needed to happen now. The nurse then spoke to my dad. She asked him if he could hang on a few more hours, so he could see his daughter get married, and he incredibly nodded yes.

I immediately got to work. I called Eric, who had returned to the city for work, and told him today was the day. He had to drive back to my family’s house in upstate New York, and bring the white Banana Republic dress I had bought specifically for the wedding. I called my two best friends, and my brother called the county judge, a longtime family friend who was going to marry us. Together, we all started planning a wedding.

The hours dragged by. We were waiting for Eric to get back, and hoping my father could hold on and stay alive long enough to see this. I sat with him while we waited. He was lying in a hospital bed in our family living room. I held his hand and cried. Maybe he couldn’t walk me down the aisle, but he sure as hell was going to see his daughter become a wife.

My parents used to come to New York City every three months for appointments at Memorial Sloan Kettering. My brother and I would always join them.Courtesy of Sarah Talent

Eric finally arrived, and we knew we had to move quickly. I changed into my dress. My best friends arrived with a small bouquet and helped me get ready. The judge brought the paperwork and we started signing it. We got Eric’s family on FaceTime. My brother and his husband helped get my dad, who had been lying shirtless and nearly lifeless in that hospital bed, ready. Suddenly, he had a beautiful button-down shirt on. My brother-in-law had cut the back of that shirt, buttoned it and put it on my dad so he was dressed for the occasion. Looking back on that day, I think that was one of the most touching parts of the whole thing.

We held the ceremony at my father’s bedside with the judge near his head, and Eric and I facing him, me by his side. The ceremony was short, and after we said “I do” I swear I heard my father — who hadn’t been able to speak — say “Yay!” It was amazing and heartbreaking all at the same time.

My friends and family tried to make it as happy an occasion as possible. After all, we had just gotten married. They had a cake and some champagne, and we took some pictures. But, it was really hard to be happy when in the back of my head I knew my father was dying.

He had held on all day for this, and I didn’t want him to have to wait any longer to leave us. I wanted him to have his last moments alone with my mom, so Eric and I planned to leave for a little while to give them that peace.

Though my dad was struggling, he hung on so he could be there for our ceremony.Courtesy of Sarah Talent

I went in to say goodbye and he was already gone. In the end, he held on just long enough to see his little girl get married.

As we come up on the sixth anniversary of it all, it’s probably no surprise that I think about that day all the time. I think about how happy I was, that he could be there for it all. I think about how sad I am, that this was the way we had to do it. I think about how hard he fought, right up to the bitter end. I think about how he hung on until the very moment I needed him to. And I think about how, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world.

My dad, my first love, the man who would literally do anything for his little girl, the man who could always make me smile, proved himself to be just as amazing as he had been from day one. He never wanted to disappoint me, and he stayed true until the very end.

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