Two brides. Two grooms.
A hospice chaplain. A joyful ceremony, lightened with whimsy and accompanied by many, many tears.
And at the center of it all sat Rhonda White, serene and beaming in a purple dress, a flowing lilac wig and a sparkly veil.
This was her wish, this double wedding. And it took a village of family, friends, hospice workers and volunteers a mere 24 hours to make it happen.
“You don’t need a lot of time to plan a wedding,” Rhonda said, as she sat in her hospital bed. “You just need two hearts that care.”
Snow fell thickly in a darkening sky Thursday evening, as a ceremony of light and love began on the sixth floor of the Supportive Care Unit of Spectrum Health’s Fuller campus.
Rhonda exchanged vows with the love of her life, Brian Parkhouse. And she witnessed the marriage of her 25-year-old daughter, Brieannah, to her longtime sweetheart, Jason Musser.
As both bride and mother of the bride, Rhonda radiated pride and joy.
The past few months have been a whirlwind of change for Rhonda, a 50-year-old woman who lives in Ionia, Michigan, and works at the Ventra factory.
On Sept. 1, 2018, she learned she had melanoma and that it had spread to her brain. She underwent surgery to remove the brain tumor and received chemotherapy, said her mother, Shari Taylor.
The cancer also spread to Rhonda’s liver and lungs. Her health continued to decline.
“I was told I didn’t have much time to live,” she said.
Earlier this week, the pain, nausea and other effects of cancer made it difficult for her to communicate with family.
Her Spectrum Health Hospice and palliative care team worked hard to find the right medication to ease her symptoms, said Gretchen Roe, MD, a palliative medicine specialist. When they tried an “outside the normal box” combination, everyone was surprised by how well Rhonda responded.
“For me, it was like a miracle,” Dr. Roe said.
“Yesterday, we did not even know if she was going to come out of it,” Shari said. “At 4 o’clock yesterday, she woke up and she was talking.”
Her newfound energy was a gift, Rhonda said. She made the most of it.
That evening, surrounded by loved ones, she popped the question to Brian, the man she has dated for three years. They had discussed marriage before. And he had been her rock through her trials with cancer.
She turned to him and said, “So, will you marry me?”
He said yes, and they both started to cry.
The proposal quickly led to wedding plans. And then a double wedding.
Hospice staff members and volunteers got to work, arranging for flowers, a wedding cake and live music.
Thursday afternoon, Rhonda’s hospital room became a dressing room, where she and the other women dressed and fixed their hair and makeup. Rhonda held a stuffed bear wearing a University of Michigan maize and blue sweater.
It was an inside joke. She’s a Michigan fan. Brian roots for Michigan State University. She planned to carry the bear as her “something blue.”
Thirty friends and family members gathered in the lounge as the wedding procession began. They included Rhonda’s other three children, Jordan, Jasmine and Derek, and her infant grandson, Bryce Joseph Conner. Nearly all wore purple, Rhonda’s favorite color.
Rhonda rode down the hospital hall in a wheelchair, pushed by her father, Paul Taylor. She held hands with Brieannah, who walked beside her in a deep blue flowing dress. They both carried bouquets.
Behind them trailed Roberta Manske, RN, pushing the IV pole.
In a ceremony led by chaplain Natasha Kaminisky, the couples vowed “to have and to hold … for better or for worse… in sickness and in health … until death do us part.”
They exchanged rings.
Kaminsky declared them to be “husband and wife.”
“Say it again!” Rhonda said.
“Husband and wife,” Kaminsky repeated in a louder voice as everyone laughed.
The veil pulled back, Rhonda and Brian kissed.
The ceremony over, the brides and grooms hugged their loved ones, laughed, shed tears and posed for photos.
Jason said he was happy to share in the double wedding ceremony.
“I’ve been with Brieannah for eight years,” he said. “(Rhonda) is pretty much like a mother to me.”
He admires her playful spirit.
“She’s always excited about so many things,” he said.
Worn out from the excitement, Rhonda asked for a ride back to her room. As Brian wheeled her down the hall, she held a “Just married” sign on her lap.
Shari watched her daughter with tears streaming down her face.
The celebration, assembled so quickly, was “absolutely amazing,” she said. “I don’t know how they managed to do everything so fantastically.”
Kathy Squires, Rhonda’s cousin, agreed.
“It was over the top,” she said. “You have no idea what this has meant for all of us.”