LEWISTON, Maine — Pam LaFreniere placed a hand on Barry Hanson’s cheek, knelt and whispered to her husband-to-be, then watched as he rolled down an aisle at Central Maine Medical Center.
Holding tight to a small bouquet of flowers, LaFreniere appeared in the makeshift wedding chapel wearing Crocs and a white hospital gown that matched Hanson’s. Streamers covered the waiting room walls. Wedding music played from a computer laptop, and imitation rose petals littered the floor.
LaFreniere had left the perfect dress at home. It seemed no more important than the June wedding she would never have.
“Under the circumstances, now, some of those little details don’t matter,” the new bride said a few minutes later, her hand holding tight to the groom. She beamed. But her eyes were puffy.
“This wasn’t the wedding we wanted to have,” Barry Hanson said.
The couple became engaged just after Christmas and had begun planning right away.
One week ago, Barry, 59, went into the hospital for a gallbladder operation that was supposed to be routine. It wasn’t. Doctors discovered that cancer had attacked several of his organs, including his liver.
“The diagnosis is not complete,” said Scott Anthony, Barry Hanson’s son-in-law. “But it’s a very advanced stage.”
The weight of the news hit the couple and their families on Friday.
“My whole outlook on life has changed 180 degrees in a matter of a couple hours,” Hanson said.
He and LaFreniere decided to move up the wedding.
“We both at the same time said, ‘We can do what we want,'” LaFreniere said. “It was a very simple decision to make.”
At first, they planned a small service in the room. Then, family began streaming in. Pam, 47, has three children from a previous marriage and Barry has five.
“A lot of the nurses said, ‘Boy, you’ve got quite a crowd here. How many people do you think will be coming to this wedding?'” LaFreniere said.
When she answered “about 20,” the nurses began searching for an alternative. On Monday, they set aside the new, window-covered waiting room at the end of the oncology unit. Staff came up with the flowers, the cake and a photographer. Hanson took care of the preacher.
He asked his son, Aaron, an ordained minister, to marry them.
On Tuesday morning, the 29-year-old teacher stood in the hospital hall with his Bible in his hand as his brother, Ian, pushed their dad down the hall to the solarium.
“I think the one part that really struck me was thinking about the love he had shown us,” Aaron said. “The greatest thing he showed me was God, by loving us.”
For the ceremony, Barry was seated in a corner with Pam at his right. At his left sat Ian and his brother, Dane. In the audience, their sister Ivy sat with her husband, Scott.
Another brother, Drew, was on his way home Tuesday from Afghanistan, where he serves in the U.S. military.
The ceremony lasted less than 15 minutes.
As Aaron spoke, the couple held hands, often gazing into each other’s eyes.
“The moment Pam entered my father’s life, it was revived,” Aaron said.
Family smiled and cried. And when the vows ended, they applauded.
“It’s really more than what I envisioned,” Pam said minutes later. She didn’t miss the fancy clothes or the big church. “This wedding today was so much more meaningful.”
She and Barry said they were humbled by the experience.
“I married the love of my life,” Barry said. “It’s truly remarkable.”
There will be no honeymoon, he said.
Rather, the couple plans to go home to Livermore Falls as soon as doctors allow.
And despite his grim diagnosis, Barry insisted Tuesday that he was content.
God made him so, he said.
“There’s been a peace,” he said. “It’s nothing I’ve done myself. My faith has given me strength.”
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