A 97-year-old great-great-grandmother who hoped to attend one more family wedding had her wish fulfilled in a ceremony that brought her to tears on Christmas Eve.
Juanita Courtney beamed as she saw family members she hadn't seen in years while she proudly signed her name on the marriage license as the matron of honor in a ceremony for her great-granddaughter, Ashley Stewart.
"She got a little choked up and said, 'I thought I would never get to go to one of my family member’s weddings again,'" Stewart told TODAY.
When their initial plans to have a Disney wedding in Florida had to be pushed back, Stewart and her husband, Josh, both 26, came up with the idea of having a ceremony on Christmas Eve at The Pointe at Lifespring, the senior living community where Courtney resides in Knoxville, Tennessee.
"I got to thinking, and talked to my grandmother and said, 'I hate that Nanny can’t go (to the Disney wedding), so what if we just did a marriage license ceremony with her?'" Stewart said.
The idea was the perfect fit with The Pointe's "Living the Dream" program in which the staff selects one resident every quarter to fulfill a bucket-list item or special wish.
"Miss Courtney said she wanted all of her family to be together on Christmas Eve because they hadn't been together on that day in 16 years," Julie Sharp, director of sales and marketing at The Pointe, told TODAY.
The family had last gathered together at Courtney's home on Christmas Eve in 2005, just a month before the death of Courtney's husband, Paul. He passed away six days before what would've been their 59th wedding anniversary.
Courtney was too sad about Paul's loss to continue hosting Christmas Eve at her home after 2005, so she often visited family members separately during the holidays.
The staff at The Pointe bought Courtney a dress for the big day and had her hair and makeup done. She also wore high heels for the first time in three years since breaking a hip in a fall that led to her moving to the senior community.
"She just wept, she was so excited," Sharp said.
The Pointe also had a replica made of Courtney's bouquet from her wedding to Paul on Feb. 1, 1947, and used the cake topper from the wedding of Stewart's grandparents 40 years ago. It also had special programs made and a photo from Courtney's wedding to Paul framed for all to see.
A group of 34 family members gathered at The Pointe on the afternoon of Christmas Eve for the special day.
"To get her to be part of something that’s such a milestone in my life, it was an honor to have her there," Stewart said.
Courtney is a mother of three, a grandmother of eight, a great-grandmother of 12 and a great-great-grandmother of five, with a sixth great-great-grandchild on the way.
"The fact that we have five generations alive who are active in each other’s lives is just something that’s unheard of," Stewart said. "It’s a blessing to get to have that. Nanny and Papaw, they set such a great example for all of us in the family and have always been active participants in our lives."
One family member after another surprised Courtney at the gathering on Christmas Eve as Ashley and Josh were legally married. They are planning on having a bigger wedding next year.
"She was just so appreciative," Stewart said. "She was so shocked and just so excited to have everyone there.
"She got to sign the marriage license as a witness, which means the world to me because of the example she and Papaw set of what a marriage is supposed to look like, and to have that legacy attached to our new marriage is something I could never take for granted or replace."
Courtney hasn't been able to stop smiling in the days after her special wish came true.
"She’s on cloud nine, just relishing in the moment," Sharp said. "She was just so appreciative. ... She was so shocked and just so excited to have everyone there."