Impromptu wedding allows dying Bluffton man to walk daughter down aisle

abredeson@islandpacket.comNovember 24, 2013 

Holly Haynes was married Aug. 16 in her father's ICU room at Beaufort Memorial Hospital two day's before his death.

PAUL NURNBERG — Submitted photo

As a young girl, Holly Barker had pictured what her wedding day would be like. While she didn't know who the groom would be or the exact dress she would wear, she was absolutely sure of who would walk her down the aisle.

Her father, Dennis Haynes.

On Aug. 16, Barker's dream came true. She wore a fuchsia dress with a white jacket. Paper wedding bells hung from the ceiling, white tablecloths were covered in silver confetti, and rose petals had been sprinkled all over. She carried white flowers, and music played as she walked toward her groom, Brian Barker.

While Holly had dreamed of this day, it didn't happen exactly the way she had imagined.

The ceremony was held in a room in the intensive care unit at Beaufort Memorial Hospital.

Haynes, of Bluffton, had suffered from pulmonary fibrosis and frontotemporal dementia for years. Then he fell and broke his arm in August. While in the hospital, he came down with pneumonia, which, combined with pulmonary fibrosis, turned out to be catastrophic.

The details of the wedding are a little foggy for Holly. The plans came together so quickly that she barely had time to stop and think about anything. But she was not at all disappointed with the impromptu ceremony. She just wanted her father to be there for it.

"I didn't care where or how we did it, as long as he was there," she said.

Dennis died two days after the ceremony. He was 68.

'WE WERE OVERWHELMED'

Before Haynes became so ill, Holly and Brian, who met online, had just begun talking about getting married. He had not officially proposed to her, but when Holly heard how poorly her father was doing, she knew they would have to speed things up so he could be there for her big day.

She told Brian how important it was for her father to be at their wedding, so Brian got down on one knee and proposed right then.

Because Dennis was not expected to recover, the only place they could have the ceremony was at the hospital. Holly originally thought it would be nice to get married in the hospital chapel, but her father was not well enough to be moved.

Holly's mother, Linda Haynes, asked ICU nurse Ana Eastman if they could have a small ceremony in Dennis' room.

Turns out, they could.

Before Linda knew it, Eastman had planned the whole event, complete with decorations, music, flowers, champagne and a cake with raspberry filling and topped with a decorative swan.

"They were like a bunch of little bees," Linda said. "They had cleared out the room of anything extra that wasn't needed at the moment. ... We were overwhelmed. We literally stood around with our mouths hanging open, just absolutely amazed."

It was a quick ceremony with few guests. Dennis' brother was there, and a couple of family friends also attended. They peeked outside of Dennis' room and saw the ICU filled with hospital staff wanting to catch a glimpse of the special occasion. Hospice nurse Christy Bayne was recruited at the last minute to sing Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up."

While it was difficult for them to truly celebrate in front of Dennis through his suffering, they tried to keep his spirits up while he was awake and gave him little bites of cake.

"We tried to include him as much as we could," Holly said.

At the end of the ceremony, Dennis looked at the groom and said, "Congratulations. Now she's your problem."

"We laughed," Linda said. "We weren't sure if that's what he meant to say. Part of the dementia problem would be choosing the right words. The right word was always in his brain, but what would come out of his mouth would be the wrong one, and then he'd look at you like, 'Did I just say that?' But everybody got a chuckle out of that."

Linda said Eastman's gesture meant a lot to her and her daughter because they knew Dennis wouldn't have been there if they had waited to plan a more formal wedding. In fact, they moved the ceremony up two days at Eastman's urging.

"In the midst of all the sadness, knowing he was not going to recover, it gives you something to hold onto other than the sadness," Linda said. "It's really overwhelming to think about what they did."

The hospital recognized Eastman for her actions by presenting her with the DAISY Award in September. The award is given to extraordinary nurses.

But Eastman said it wasn't all her. The entire ICU staff helped her plan the wedding.

"I was honored to be able to do that for someone," Eastman said. "That's why we do what we do. ... I did it for them. That's really the only thing I could do so that her father could be there for her on her wedding day."

Holly was blown away.

"They were wonderful," she said. "Not just with what they did for us for the wedding, but how they treated my dad."

GOOD DAYS AND BAD

The family is still adjusting to the loss of Dennis. Holly thinks about him often. Brian wears the wedding ring that his father-in-law once wore. Linda is getting out and meeting other women who have lost their spouses, and neighbors are checking on her from time to time.

"There are good days and bad days," she said. "I don't have any choice. I just have to take the bad days and know the good days will come."

Holly and Brian, who live in Cartersville, Ga., are planning a more traditional wedding, which will probably take place in the spring in Georgia. That way, other family members and friends can attend. They're also considering moving closer to Linda sometime in the near future.

Holly said she's glad her father was able to get to know her husband and while the circumstances weren't ideal, all that really mattered to her was that Dennis got to be at her wedding.

"One chapter closes, another opens," she said. "I miss him, and I cry sometimes, but it's life. You have to accept what happens and deal with it the best you can."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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