A dying wish for a daughter’s wedding

Emma Macdonald

HerCanberra has brought you many wedding stories over the years—weddings that took months, if not years, in the planning. Lavish weddings with hundreds of guests and every detail thought through.

And then there is this. A wedding planned in a just over a week in order to give a dying man his final wish of seeing his daughter get married. Tiny, last-minute, and pulled together with the love and support of some of HerCanberra’s favourite creatives and businesses, this story shows just how much heart this city has.

Weddings are emotional by their very nature. But when the father of the bride has only a short time to live, and the wedding is brought forward in record time in order for him to be there, the emotion reaches new heights.

That’s what happened when Tilly Avery married Andre Løken on Thursday, and her beloved father Howard fought to stay alive long enough to watch the ceremony.

It was an intimate affair, just 22 guests in a courtyard within the Canberra Hospital, and despite the logistics of bringing together a wedding in a little over a week, it was as beautiful a ceremony as any father of the bride could wish to see.

Howard was diagnosed with Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia just last month. Only two weeks earlier Tilly had announced her engagement to Andre and they were planning a stunning Canberra winter wedding in June 2019. Devastatingly, it was not meant to be.

Howard’s rapidly deteriorating health, and the further diagnosis that sepsis had consumed his body, meant Tilly and her mum Jenny had only days to pull something together. More than anything, Tilly wanted her dad to be at her wedding.

Howard and Jenny

Like many families facing a cancer diagnosis, finances are put under enormous strain while treatment and travel are undertaken. In Howard and Jenny’s case, the strain is that little bit harder. Jenny has a degenerative neurological condition and is confined to a wheelchair and Howard is her carer.

Jenny reached out to her longtime friend and HerCanberra’s Production Manager Belinda Neame—a woman we can only describe as an organisational powerhouse with a heart of gold.

Jenny and Belinda

And in turn, Belinda put the call out to some of our favourite wedding industry creatives and suppliers to see whether they could assist a beautiful family so desperately in need. And then something quite magical happened.

With the clock ticking, Tilly was offered a gorgeous hire wedding gown and veil from Jenny at Angelic Inspirations that fit her to perfection.

Moxom & Whitney’s irrepressible Loulou fashioned a stunning bouquet from silk flowers in order to adhere to the Cancer Ward’s no flowers-policy. She also made a head-piece, corsage and buttonholes for the groom.

Despite having to cater for a massive event attended by the Prime Minister on that same day at The Boat House, Chef John Leverink’s offshoot business Schmicnics catered an eight-course wedding feast—adding considerable pressure to an already under-the-pump kitchen.

And not to be forgotten, an exquisite wedding cake was provided by the dedicated Saadia at La Ombre Creations in near record time. It was a two-tier jaffa mud cake detailed with hand-piped buttercream flowers and macarons and literally took the bride’s breath away.

But as preparations for Thursday’s ceremony frantically took place, the family endured a further blow. On Tuesday, they were told that Howard’s condition was now perilous. The dedicated nurses and doctors promised to do what they could to get him through to Thursday. But it was touch and go.

There was little anyone could do but hope.

Miraculously, Howard made it through and the wedding day began. Sarah and Bethany from Saloon opened their doors so mother and daughter could get the full bridal hair and makeup done before the ceremony, while Hotel Realm donated a suite and breakfast for the couple’s first night together and celebrant Sharyn Gunn made sure the special day ran smoothly for the family.

With her photographer husband Tim Bean and a family friend capturing the pure emotion of the day, Belinda said it ended up being a perfect wedding—providing memories to sustain the family for a lifetime.

“I actually have no words to describe how emotional it was,” she said.

“And we couldn’t have done it without the support of all these businesses who agreed to drop everything. For them to do that, and to give their expert services to a family in need—free of charge—really says everything, doesn’t it.”

Belinda also noted the level of dedication and kindness displayed by the hospital nurses, for whom the job of helping host a wedding came on top of their already heavy duties.

“The nurses were just incredible, they decorated the courtyard with balloons and buckets of flowers, hired the guests’ chairs for the ceremony, covered the courtyard floor with rose petals and showered the bride and groom in confetti. They made the day that bit more special.”

But the final word goes to the bride, Tilly, whose joy at marrying the man she loves is tempered by the impending loss of her adored dad.

Andrew and Tilly

“Without the help of Canberra’s amazing community, his doctors, his nurses and all our family we would not have made it in time. There were a lot of tears and laughter on our wedding day and it’s brought a sense of happiness to the remaining hours we have with Dad. I am so grateful it brings me to tears. Thank you”.

Photography by Tim Bean Photography.

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Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author

  • Anonymousqld123

    What a beautiful story! What a lovely city. Best wishes to the family in the difficult time to come. How kind of all of those businesses to donate their time and talents.