A wish come true

Community comes together to help dying man marry the love of his life

Wedding vows are always poignant, but a typical bride and groom commit to each other “in sickness and in health” and “’till death do us part” at a happy time in their lives, years removed from when any such hardships will be faced.

Christopher “Gary” and Nancy Crosby, however, are not a typical bride and groom. The Early Branch couple tied the knot on July 23 at Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Ridgeland with a host of friends and community members in attendance. It was a wedding pulled together in a week for a duo who’s been together for decades but whose time is growing short: Gary has terminal cancer, and has been given just months to live.

“We had planned to get married, and when this came up, we just made a rush of it,” says Nancy, a native Californian who met Gary 21 years ago when they both lived in the same neighborhood. Her daughter, who was 7 at the time, introduced her mother, then 35, to the boy down the street with the easy smile and good sense of humor. He was 19.

“He was younger, so I was hesitant,” she says. “But he didn’t care about the age, and neither did I.” They started dating and for many years remained in California. They never had children together, but Nancy has three daughters of her own.

In 2006, the couple moved to South Carolina, where Gary is from, and eventually settled in Early Branch, where he worked in landscaping.

“I love everything about him,” says Nancy. “He’s funny. He’s always motivated. He’s hard-working. He just always made me laugh.”

Diagnosed with cancer in late 2015, Gary’s health went downhill this summer. When he became a patient of Hospice Care of the Lowcountry in July, the couple decided to finally do what they’d been meaning to do for a long time.

“We just planned to go to the courthouse and get married, and later on have a little dinner,” Nancy says. But when a hospice nurse heard of their impromptu wedding plans, she asked if the bride had something old, new, borrowed and blue. She left their house that day thinking the Hospice Care of the Lowcountry organization could perhaps donate something to help the couple celebrate. But once word spread among the hospice staff, things snowballed. Nancy’s church, Beaver Dam Baptist, wanted in on the action as well.

“The church wanted us to get married at the church, with a dinner right after,” Nancy says. “It came out really nice.”

Parishioners, hospice staff and community members donated all the food, flowers, wedding cake, and even a set of wedding rings they used for the ceremony.

Nancy wore Gary’s sister’s wedding dress, a strapless white gown, and Gary wore black dress pants and a white shirt. The groom felt sick the morning of the wedding, but by the appointed ceremony time of 7 p.m. he was in better spirits, standing at the altar with a huge smile, waiting for his bride.

With her father unable to make the trip from California, Nancy walked down the aisle herself, feeling embarrassed to be the center of attention. But then she was at Gary’s side, with her middle daughter — the one who had introduced the couple all those years ago — serving as her matron of honor. Her son-in-law was Gary’s best man. Two grandchildren also were in the wedding.

The couple exchanged traditional vows in front of about 30 guests, as a member of the church played the piano for the ceremony. A reception followed with an abundance of donated food, all of it amazing, Nancy says.

She says her favorite part of her wedding day was “everybody being there and celebrating us getting married. I was just so happy.”

The couple honeymooned in Pigeon Ford, Tennessee, in mid-August with Gary’s father and stepmother. “I’ll never forget it,” Nancy says. “It was great.”

Now they’re back home in Early Branch, with hospice nurses tending to Gary every other day and Nancy soaking up as much time with him as they can.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still here together,” she says. “God sent him to me so I could take care of him.”

Hospice Care of the Lowcountry’s mission statement reads: “To give comfort and honor dignity for end of life patients and their families through compassionate physical, emotional and spiritual care, regardless of their financial circumstances.”

With help from the surrounding community, that mission was certainly accomplished in this instance.