Jeremy Hook knew his grandmother was declining fast when she didn’t touch the McDonald’s burger, fries, and pickles that he and his fiancée, Ally, brought to her in Gifford’s Garden room in early May.
In the months leading up to her hospital stay, Jeremy and his cousin had spent hours looking up foods that were good for her before doing her food shopping. “She loved junk food, and we wouldn’t bring her high-sodium foods like pickles or chips,” he said. “She was so mad at us! She would try to get other people to shop for her because we ‘forgot stuff.’”
So when even the pickles were left untouched, Jeremy realized that this grandmother probably wouldn’t make the wedding he and Ally had planned for early June.
“She was always there….”
Born and raised in Chelsea, Bettyann married Clyde Hook on May 11, 1951. They stayed in town to raise two sons and two daughters, and when Clyde died in 2015 they had lived all 64 years of their marriage in Chelsea.
Jeremy spent a lot of time with his grandparents as a child. His family lived nearby, and even as a grown man he saw them often, at least once a week.
“I was down there a lot, “he says. “She was always there—gardening or making raised doughnuts.”
Bettyann cared for Clyde after he had a stroke, and when Clyde died she said they would be celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary together. When her own health began to fail after his death, her large family gathered round to care for her.
Ally said Bettyann had been like a second mother to Jeremy when he was growing up. So when she told people that being at her grandson’s wedding was one of her last wishes, the couple was determined to find a way to make it happen.
A wedding in a week
Jeremy knew that Last Mile Ride raised funds to help to make “last wishes” happen. When his uncle had been in Gifford’s Garden Room the previous fall, Last Mile Ride had supported the family with food and other special services. He asked if they could hold a small wedding ceremony at the hospital the next weekend, Mother’s Day, and his mother Polly asked if they could pay Gifford chefs to make a cake.
“I knew about Last Mile Ride, but I didn’t realize how far they would actually go for us,” he said. “They just took over and made it so much easier. They told us we’d have a cake, but they wanted to do all these other things too.”
Ashley Lincoln, Gifford’s Director of Development, jumped into Last Mile Ride gear and magic began to happen: Gifford chefs made a beautiful wedding cake and a spread of amazing appetizers; a courtyard garden was filled with pots of flowering plants, and two Gifford nurses offered to play fiddle and guitar at the ceremony; a conference room was transformed into a special reception area where grandchildren, great-grandchildren, family members, and friends could visit and enjoy bacon-wrapped scallops, chocolate covered strawberries, a platter overflowing with cheeses, and of course, wedding cake. Travel funds were found to help bring in family members who lived far away. But best of all, it could be kept a secret until Bettyann was wheeled down the hall to be part of it.
So many things could have gone wrong….
The week of preparations was a blur for the family as well: when Ally tried to contact the seamstress who was altering her wedding dress, she was unable to reach her. Family members scrambled to change schedules and make last-minute travel plans. Everyone struggled to keep the bustle a secret from Bettyann.
On the following Sunday, May 8th, Bettyann was ready and waiting. Her hair had been styled, nails painted a bright red, and the nurses had pampered her as she prepared for what she thought would be a Mother’s Day filled with visitors. Rain pelted down in the courtyard garden, and by noon she began to worry that she would spend the day alone. Two of her 14 great-grandchildren huddled in a corner giggling, but did not spoil the secret.
Down the hall Ally was getting dressed (the gown was found in time!). The rain stopped, and nearly 50 people began to gather in the garden. Just before the 2 p.m. ceremony the sun came out, the music began, and Bettyann was wheeled out into the garden, her shiny red fingernails flashing against a vibrant blue and purple lap quilt. Surprise, and then total joy washed over her face.
For Lincoln, seeing that expression was everything. A hectic week of planning and rushing and worrying was totally worth it.
“Our incredibly generous Last Mile Ride donors and participants seldom get to see tears of appreciation stream down the faces of those who benefit from their gifts,” she said. “I was so lucky to be part of this story, and to be able now to share this family’s story with others.”
“I closed that party down!”
Janet Miller, a Braintree Vermont photographer that Last Mile Ride hires to take Legacy photos and DVD’s, captured the ceremony and celebration. She made a special effort and was able to deliver an edited disc quickly, so Bettyann would be able see it. On Monday Ally and Jeremy watched it with her in the Garden Room. Although she was declining fast, Bettyann was still lucid and watched the video over and over again. “I closed that party down!” she’d say each time.
“Bettyann could not stop talking about it. For her, it was like the party was still going on down the hall,” Ally said. “We could not have asked for a more perfect day to give to Bettyann as one of her last wishes.”
Bettyann Hook died on May 12 at 1:30 a.m., four days after Ally and Jeremy’s wedding and just hours after her own 65th wedding anniversary day. She surely had a wonderful story to tell Clyde when they reunited for their own, slightly delayed, celebration.