Maria Isabel Cipple Leon, a cancer patient at UNC Hospitals in Charlotte, the United States, was supposed to get married in a wedding at her church earlier this month.
But when it became unclear if she would be healthy enough to leave the intensive care unit, her medical team and UNC’s chaplain’s office rallied together in under a week to put on a wedding at the hospital’s own chapel.
A medical student on her team brought a cake. Residents brought a bouquet of flowers, which they used to decorate the bride’s wheelchair. The physical therapy team and the bride’s nurses helped her, with all her lines and tubes, into a wedding dress. The chaplain’s office coordinated with her pastor on scheduling, paperwork and logistics. Food Services made sure there were enough cupcakes to go around.
The result was a true wedding ceremony — one that surrounded the couple with family, loved ones and medical staff who had cared for the bride, and that enveloped the hospital in a kind of joy and love only an event like this could bring.
‘How wonderful it is to have community’
“It was really beautiful,” Palliative Care Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator James Adams said. “The thing I took away from it is just how wonderful it is to have community. … It goes to show how important it is to have folks with you when you’re in a tough spot to make sure you get what you need to support you when you’re quite ill.”
At first, hospital staff anticipated a small ceremony in the bride’s room, with seven to 10 guests at most because of Covid-19 restrictions. But as planning went on over the week, the guest list expanded to encompass dozens of family and friends and the ceremony moved to the hospital chapel.
The day of the wedding, members of the couple’s church came early to help set up and transform the hospital’s “sparsely decorated chapel into quite a beautiful venue,” Adams said.
When it was time for the bride to make her way down the aisle, loved ones sang and lined the hallway, and created an arch of white roses for the couple to walk under into the chapel.
The couple’s priest gave a short service, mostly in Spanish. But he paused at one point to speak directly to hospital workers in English, “to make sure that we knew that the love that we were showing for her was very important as well,” ICU nurse Sophie Austin said.
The joy the wedding brought was not limited to the bride and groom or their loved ones, but felt also by the health care workers who helped put it all together.
“It was just really joyful,” Austin said. “It was just emotional for all of us involved to see this outpouring of support.”
She added that especially because the unit served as the Covid ICU, “a lot of this joy was kind of missing the last couple of years. So I think it’s great for us to be able to do it as well.”
‘Really, really overjoyed’
Adams, as the hospital’s palliative care chaplain and bereavement coordinator, tends to officiate or help organize funerals rather than weddings or birthdays.
“You don’t get to do a lot of the joyous occasions,” he said. “So I was privileged (and) really, really overjoyed to get to help someone set up a time, this space, to have this joyous life event.”
“I feel privileged to be a part of it,” he added, “and grateful to a facility and organization and a team that’s willing to go out of the box to give a patient and family what they need to find fulfillment and joy.” – Kayla Guo/The Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service