Lifelong Friends Say “I Do” at a Hospice Wedding

By Tana Villanueva, General Manager for VITAS® Healthcare

For 35 years, Donn and Charla have been lifelong friends—steadfast companions through life in a non-romantic-but-always-close relationship.

In early 2020, Donn was diagnosed with brain cancer, and in May, he was admitted to a hospital unit under the compassionate care of VITAS® Healthcare. One day in June, as Charla visited her dear friend, the two discussed Donn’s last wishes.

“He’d never been married before and never had any children,” says the team manager, a VITAS hospice nurse for 10 years. “Donn’s wish was to be married before he died, and we caught wind of it when they began talking one day about how to make a wedding happen.”

Knowing the couple had already decided on pink pineapple-themed shirts for the groom and his wedding party, the VITAS team sprang into action. 

The home care chaplain and rabbi coordinated the Jewish wedding ceremony and provided prayer shawls. The director of market development arranged for a pink-accented Gerber daisy wedding bouquet and a single daisy to adorn Charla’s hair. 

Other team members provided a wedding cake, and the team’s music therapist stepped up as the musical accompanist. Outside the hospital unit’s gazebo was transformed into a chuppah, the traditional wedding canopy of Jewish matrimony.

On a Friday in June, Donn’s care team carefully dressed him, positioned him in his wheelchair, and escorted him to the chuppah to meet his waiting friend and bride. Pink rose petals lined the walkway.

“Charla was really taken aback by the fact that we paid such special attention to their request and provided all the little touches,” said one VITAS caregiver who attended the wedding.

The pastor of a local church presided over the ceremony, and the two lifelong friends sealed their vows with a kiss and applause under sunny skies.

Thirteen days later, Donn was discharged from the hospital to hospice care at home with his bride.

“I’m not a wedding planner,” says the team manager, “but it’s always been my motto that there are no do-overs in hospice care. We have to get it right the first time. This was a perfect example of why we do what we do—honoring someone’s last wish to be married.”

For more information about end-of-life care options, call VITAS Healthcare at 309.691.2381 or visit

To read more inspiring articles, visit 50 Plus News and Views Greater Peoria Area Online Edition.

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