Austin O’Brien’s only wish for Christmas was to finally marry the love of his life, Carmel Giovannini. Together for 36 years, love still ran deep for them both.
But the years had brought big changes. Austin, an independent man who had owned a heavy equipment business in St. John’s for many years, had become ill and was now a permanent resident at the St. John’s Long-Term Care (LTC) Facility in Pleasantville.
“Him going into long-term care was such a change for both of us,” says Carm. “I felt like I was lost at home without him and had to find a new way to live the life I now had with Austin. The staff here became a big part of our lives.”
Carm spends her days at Austin’s side, bringing home, to him – especially home cooked meals. “I remind him of his life, how special he is and how much he is loved,” she says.
Softhearted and prone to a tear in his eye, Austin often inspires love from those around him.
He knows his memory isn’t what it used to be. “I can’t begin to remember to tell you everything,” he says. “Then he points to the three diamonds in his wedding band and looks at Carm, “but I know these mean ‘I.Love.You.’”
So, when Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Nancy Hodder and Recreation Worker Lisa Power overheard Austin say the only thing he wanted for Christmas was to ‘marry that lovely woman there,’ the idea immediately took root. “We were washing dishes after baking fruit cakes with the residents,” says Nancy. “I remember whispering to Lisa, “We could do this for them.” Lisa replied: “Let’s make it happen then.”
So they did.
The Planning Began!
First, Nancy spoke to Carm to make sure she was on board. After all, getting married is a big step – perhaps more so after being so long together! A non-traditional lady, Carm said, “Sure I’ll marry him, but I’m not wearing a wedding dress!”
Word spread like wildfire that a wedding was going to be held at the LTC facility – a rare thing indeed. But rarer still, was that it was going to be held just before Valentine’s Day on Austin’s birthday, February 12, 2015.
Staff literally lined up to be a part of it and gave of their own free time. Nancy took the lead, overseeing the details; making a boutonniere for Austin; a flower piece for Carm’s hair and even providing ‘something borrowed’ – her bouquet from her own wedding day.
Holly Benmore in Housekeeping, with the help of Roxanne Tucker, Alice Doyle, Coraine Cole and Kelly Walsh organized a potluck buffet. Front desk clerk Colleen Kennedy designed and printed the program and watched out for Carm’s 94 year-old dad during the wedding. Lisa Power provided the decorations and made the wedding cake and Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Rebecca Maloney took the wedding pictures.
Beautician Amanda Mclean’s personal gift was Carm’s hairdo and Lori Pitcher, owner of The Model Shop, when she heard the love story, took the time to personally come in and measure Austin for his tux and then graciously donated it for his wedding.
Old Man Winter
After a whirlwind month of planning, everything was finally in place for the big day. Carm’s dapper dad was set to come over from the Agnes Pratt Home; her sister had travelled from Ontario; and Austin’s brother and best man, along with other family and friends and their ‘adopted family’ from long-term care, were bursting with anticipation.
Then old man winter announced that he had other plans for Austin and Carm and delivered a huge snow storm that day.
Undaunted, the wedding was rescheduled for February 18, 2015. Austin and Carm were finally ready to tie the knot, with long-time friend Jane Morgan proudly officiating.
But there was one more surprise – a gift Physiotherapy Aide Bill Jordan gave to Austin O’Brien on his wedding day. Spending most of his time in a wheelchair, Austin is unable to stand for long periods of time. Bill decided that Austin would stand on his own two feet while Carm walked down that aisle.
He strapped a walking belt to Austin, which provided the sufficient balance and stability to enable Austin to safely stand at the altar and await his bride.
“Knowing Bill,” says Nancy, “he would say it was no big deal, but what he really gave Austin that day was his dignity. He enabled Austin to have his wedding on his terms. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. For such a big man with this ‘hard’ outer shell, to see Austin’s face when Carm walked down the aisle… for me, it was a very touching moment.”
Celebrating their First Anniversary
As Valentine’s Day approaches, Austin and Carm are getting set to celebrate their first anniversary.
“I still can’t believe what they did for us, it was like a fairytale,” says Carm as she dabs the tears in her eyes. “What they did was so remarkable. I never thought I’d experience anything like it. It’s like we were family. We are family.”
“This was a wish that we all wanted to make happen,” says Nancy. “Being involved was one of the highlights of my career. Dreams can come true – even if you live in long-term care. Good things happen here.” ■
This story was written by Robyn Lush, a communications specialist with Eastern Health’s Corporate Communications Department.