As a child, Tara Foley always had a special relationship with her grandmother. And as she grew into adulthood, the 37-year-old came to appreciate the matriarch of her family even more.
So when she got engaged, the realtor knew her nana, Stasia Foley, simply had to be at the wedding. "When she was visiting us in Texas last September, she talked about looking forward to my wedding and how she hoped she would be there," Foley told TODAY Style via email.
But at 102 years old, Stasia Foley's health was beginning to decline. Just weeks after her granddaughter found the perfect wedding dress, Foley began receiving hospice care in her Naples, Florida, residence.
"One of the nurses asked her what her goals were and she told them she wanted to be at my wedding, which was still six months away," Tara Foley said.
On Jan. 28, Foley set out on a trip that only her fiance, Matt Bars, knew about. She flew to Florida to surprise her grandmother with a special photo shoot. "I wanted to make sure I could give Nana her wish, or come as close to it as I possibly could. It was her only goal. I also wanted to give her a sense of peace that it was okay if she couldn't keep holding on," she said.
The bride-to-be got her makeup and hair done beforehand and changed into her Stella York wedding dress after greeting the 102-year-old at the door. Her grandmother's reaction was priceless.
"Nana was so happy when she first saw me in my dress. She held out her arms to me and I knelt down in front of her. She kissed me and just kept looking at my dress, touching the tulle, looking at me and telling me I was beautiful. It made her day, she was so excited and touched and we both got teary-eyed," Foley recalled.
The bride's thoughtful visit came just in time. Less than a month later, the elder Foley passed away on Feb. 23. Looking back, Foley is grateful they had that special day together.
"It was one of the best days of my life and I will never forget that day we spent together. Nana had become a bit frail, but it was almost as if her younger self emerged that day. We got lost in the moment together, forgetting the camera was there and just laughed and loved on each other. The way she looked at me, her smile, her eyes, her touch — those memories will be etched in my heart for the rest of my life. It was an indescribable day and meant everything to both of us," she said.
At the end of her visit, Foley asked her grandmother to keep the photo shoot a secret for her family until her wedding day.
"She was living with my aunt and uncle so I asked her what she was going to tell them if they asked what we did together. She turned her head, put her finger on her chin, looked up thinking and turned to me and said, 'I'll tell them we went dancing!' It was so cute and she never let the secret slip," she said.
Marie Kamp of Red Door Photography was there to capture the moments. “It was an honor to be a part of Tara’s surprise. At first I thought 'What a sweet idea' and when I saw Stasia see her granddaughter, I was overcome with emotions for both of them,” Kamp told TODAY.
When her big day arrived this June, Foley set her family aside for a surprise unveiling.
"My dad was so touched by the photos and taken aback that he first thought I had two pictures Photoshopped together. I explained that I flew to Florida and did a whole shoot with her and the moment of surprise and shock quickly changed to tenderness and the tears started falling," she recalled.
Wedding photographer Misty McLendon was taking pictures at the time, and said she only truly grasped how special the moment was later on. "In the moment it happened, I was in such work mode. You really don't think about feelings much. When I was able to go back and look at the photos and edit them. I grasped how special it truly was. It was a sad but really beautiful, happy moment. You can see it all in the pictures captured," McLendon told TODAY.
As it turns out, Foley wasn't the only one with a surprise.
"Nana had made me a small white keepsake box that my mom presented to me about two weeks prior to my wedding. Little did I know that Nana had a surprise up her sleeve too," she said.
After sharing her story on Facebook, Foley's photo shoot has gone viral, and she's amazed by how happy it's made other people.
"I never could have imagined that my small surprise could have such an impact on others and for people I've never met to be moved to tears by this is so touching. It warms my heart to know that I have had an impact on others and that they are grateful for the little reminder to spend time with those you love," she said.
As for those precious photos she took with her grandmother? Well, they've already got a special place in her home. So far, Foley has printed and framed a few of the shots, but simply can't narrow down one that stands out the most to her. "I can't say I have a favorite, I honestly love them all."