Stephanie Fish’s wedding day wasn’t exactly how she’d envisioned it. First, she and fiancé Bryan Fish had already set a date of May 27, 2018 for their nuptials. She still had a dress to pick out and details to brainstorm. And they had agreed upon Minnesota as a good middle point for their two families, a 3.5-hour drive from either of their two hometowns.
But earlier this summer, Stephanie, 27, walked down the aisle toward Bryan in Devils Lake, North Dakota, in a wedding gown she bought off a store mannequin, and officially became Mrs. Stephanie Fish. The impetus for the sudden changes? Stephanie’s mother, Susan Gefroh, who had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease about 10 years ago, and whose condition was worsening.
“I had called my sister on May 2nd to get her opinion [about wedding planning] as she had been pretty quiet about the whole thing,” Stephanie tells The Knot. “That was when she told me that she was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get my mom there. My mom already had difficulties with making small trips around town, and the thought of having to drive her 3.5 hours to an unfamiliar town in a year from now seemed impossible. She suggested we get married in Devils Lake, as that seemed to be the only way that my mom would be able to attend. I was pretty broken up about it, mainly because I never envisioned getting married in Devils Lake, nor did I think people would want to make the long trip to see us get married, but I knew she was right.”
In fact, Stephanie’s dream wedding would have been a destination wedding in Italy (where Bryan proposed), with a smaller crowd and a general “fun, low-key” vibe.
Stephanie explained that when she suggested getting married in Devils Lake to Bryan, her groom-to-be was not only understanding, but also tried to make her feel better by suggesting that perhaps they have a “small ceremony for her and then a do another ceremony next year for friends and family.” The couple was already planning on heading to Devils Lake in three weeks’ time, so Stephanie asked Bryan, “Should we do it then?”
He said, “Sure.”
So with the support of Bryan and her sister, Stephanie whipped together a wedding in just 25 days, held in her mother’s backyard.
“I wanted my mom to be able to be at that wedding and see her last daughter walk down the aisle,” the Plymouth, Minnesota, native told Today.com. “It meant a lot for me to have her there. It was a beautiful ceremony, and when I look back, I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
In order to expedite the wedding-planning process, Stephanie’s relatives cooked for the reception and the community and loved ones donated wedding goods for the couple’s big day.
Stephanie walked down the aisle with her father, Busch Gefroh, and hugged her mom when she got to the end of the aisle. (Susan lost the ability to speak or recognize her daughter two years ago). The day, Stephanie tells The Knot, was one filled with a variety of emotions.
“I walked into her house before the ceremony started. My sister said, ‘Look mom, Steph’s getting married!'” she recalled. “She looked at me with an expressionless face, and walked away. She didn’t understand what was happening. We were worried we wouldn’t even get her out of the house to attend the ceremony in her own backyard. Luckily Bryan and one of her caregivers was able to slowly get her out there.”
Stephanie and Bryan had met in February 2015 through mutual friends at a Whirlyball game, but by the time she introduced him to Susan that summer, her mother’s condition had worsened. And April 2016, the couple’s one-year anniversary, marked the first time Stephanie’s mother didn’t recognize her own daughter anymore. ” It was heartbreaking,” she says. “Bryan had come along that weekend and witnessed what was easily one of the worst days I’ve experienced with this disease.”
All the same, Stephanie says, she is glad that she will only see smiles when she looks back at photos of her wedding day.
“What you don’t see in the articles and the video that Kare11 did, is that my aunt was crawling on the ground and making strange noises in order to get her to laugh,” she says. “I will forever be grateful that she did that because it made the day seem that much better knowing that she had a smile on her face. The moments that stand out to me the most are hearing my mom’s laughter and seeing her smile. Even though those weren’t directed towards the wedding itself, it still meant so much that she was having a ‘good day’ for Alzheimer’s.”
And the rush was worth it in the end. Two weeks after the wedding, Susan had to be moved into a memory care unit in a residential facility.
Watch the video above.