In the ICU, We Said Yes to the Hope of a Dress
In the three weeks between my boyfriend Jonny’s proposal and our spontaneous elopement, we daydreamed about a big wedding. We decided to get married before he left for a year of training and school with the Army. Despite our legal union, we still wanted to celebrate with a ceremony of our own design and a kick-ass party.
Imagining our wedding filled me with delight — until it started to fill me with dread.
The first year of our marriage was long distance. I wanted to plan our wedding before our newlywed status expired, but it didn’t feel right to do it while we were so far apart.
Once we moved to Washington state together, we started thinking about the big day again. Before long, a cascade of traumatic events began, and with each new blow, wedding planning got pushed further and further from our minds.
After years of mysteriously declining health, my mom, Holly, was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2018. Nothing made unfulfilled wedding dreams feel more urgent than a terminally ill mother. At the same time, nothing made me want to dive into the stress of wedding planning less than a terminally ill mother.
Our plans went on hold indefinitely when my mom was admitted to the ICU at the end of that year. I temporarily moved to San Francisco to be with her, and my husband kept every other part of our lives — and me — afloat from Washington.
In the months she spent in the hospital, we didn’t speak of the future much. It seemed like a bad idea to entangle ourselves in hopes and plans that might not come to be. The big dreams for my mom from her bed in the ICU were things like a glass of lemonade, a breath of fresh air, and the ability to use the restroom in private.
The only morsel of wedding planning that we indulged in was to talk about the dress. My mom and I have always wanted to have the dress shopping experience together. In bleak moments we doodled what we thought the dress might look like. We’d allow ourselves to say things like, “When we get out of here we’re going dress shopping and drinking lemonade!” Each statement a small rebellion against the heartbreaking potential of her disease.
As a notorious lifelong tomboy, my wedding dress fixation is something I can’t explain. For someone who routinely wears hiking shorts and flannel to be enamored by these gleaming ephemeral garments is beyond reason.
My fascination started in childhood, but I became really attached to the idea of the dress in high school. Getting my first taste of romantic love might have had something to do with it.
At the same time, my relationship with my mom stretched and strained. For several years we didn’t seem to be on the same planet. But when we disagreed and argued about almost everything, we found common ground in our love of the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress.” As silly as it was, the show inspired a mutual dream that we held on to even when the rest of our plans went out the window.
Three months after my mom’s lung transplant, she was cleared to leave the 5-mile radius around the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. My mom and I collected my two aunties and my best friend Jen and headed to a small bridal boutique. We didn’t find the dress that day, but it was a success anyway — we finally got to see what I looked like in white.
When my family came to Washington for Christmas, we went shopping again, and this time, found the dress. I didn’t cry like they do on TV, but I felt like a beautiful bride for the first time. Experiencing that with my mom meant the world.
Having the dress, and more importantly, my mom by my side, alive and thriving, allowed me to start daydreaming again. Jonny and I got to work planning a vow renewal shindig in 2020 … and, well, you know what happened next. We made the obvious choice to reschedule our wedding yet again.
It’s a small sacrifice compared to what so many others have lost. We are fortunate and grateful to not have lost any loved ones to COVID-19 — a fact that we will celebrate when we renew our vows later this year. I will be wearing the dress that has been a symbol of connection and hope between me and my mom through our toughest days. Even when it only existed in our imaginations.
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.