May 17, 2014 -- While some couples spend years planning their weddings, Catherine Ventura and Jonney Ahmanson pulled it off in 17 days.
The Los Angeles pair had initially planned on a big event, but that all changed when the groom's mom took a turn for the worse in her battle with stage IV colon cancer.
“It doesn’t feel appropriate to plan a wedding between chemo trips to the hospital,” Catherine Ventura Ahmanson told ABC News.
Although her health was quickly declining, Jonney Ahmanson mother, Abby, didn’t want to miss the big day.
“She was asking if I was still having a big wedding, [then said], ‘I’m not going to be able to make that,” Jonney Ahmanson said. “ That’s when I went home to [Catherine] and we talked about it.”
The couple considered both the logistics and the emotional toll of planning a wedding when a funeral would soon follow. In a blog post on the wedding website, A Practical Wedding, Ventura Ahmanson recounted some of her questions.
"It’s not my mother who is ill, how much of a say do I really have in this? Is it okay to essentially get married for someone else? How will said person feel about us getting married so soon? Is this just one more stressful thing she will have to deal with?” she wrote.
Jamie Miles, editor of TheKnot.com, said that there are many options for couples who want a quick wedding to include ill family members. Using less popular wedding days like a Friday or a Sunday and splitting up the ceremony and reception to keep costs down are smart ideas, and leave room for couples to plan a bigger party with more people at a later date.
“There are ways to make that happen,” said Miles, who said most couples spend an average of 14 months wedding planning. “There are ways to cut corners and focus, it will be a little less frilly and there may not be as many extra details, but obviously it depends on where your priorities lie.”
For the Ahmonsons, the decision to plan a wedding in 17 days meant throwing out their original plan for a large gathering and focusing instead on an intimate backyard affair for 70 guests.
“She was a little surprised when we told her,” Ventura Ahmanson recalled of telling her mother-in-law. “[She said] ‘I don’t want you to do this for me.’ And we said ‘Well, we are. Sorry!’”
Even though Jonney Ahmonson’s mother was dealing with cancer treatments in the days leading up to the ceremony, the couple said she still made her mark on the wedding by helping to pick out the bouquets and giving some key advice.
“She didn’t want us to do a big wedding,” said Jonney Ahmanson. “When she married my dad she had a very small wedding. Of course, she ended up being right.”
For the couple, the quick planning became an easy way to focus on what was important.
“Everybody has in their mind this perfect day, for us it has to be more the food and the people,” said Jonney Ahmanson. “That whole pressure of perfection was just thrown off the table and made it so much easier for us.”
On the day itself, the couple said the atmosphere was more like a backyard picnic. The groom’s mother was also able to lay down in a back bedroom where family could visit her.
“You think it’s this great huge party and all of a sudden, when it really comes down to it, everything gets stripped away,” said Jonney Ahmanson of his wedding. “All the fluff of the wedding gets pulled away. This is the way it’s supposed to be really.”
While Abby Ahmanson was not on her feet for much of the day, she was able to walk her son down the aisle. After the ceremony, one of the first things Jonney Ahmanson did was lean down and give his mother a kiss on the cheek.
Only a two weeks after the wedding, the couple was planning Abby Ahmanson's funeral. They got their wedding photos the day after her death.
“As we sat there and flipped through the gallery for the first time, overwhelmed with equal parts sadness and the happiness of reliving our day through these photos, I felt truly connected, not only with my husband, but also with Abby,” wrote Ventura Ahmanson.
The couple said they shared the story so that other couples in similar situations could see that it was possible to plan a wedding when a family member has a terminal illness.
“We kept holding off,” said Jonney Ahmanson of delaying the decision to plan their wedding. “Families can fall into denial and say, ‘We have a lot of time.' But I think I would just tell people, if they want to do it and want their loved one to be there, to do it and not hesitate.”