In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 5, 2019

Hospital Wedding a Gift to Dying Mom

By In the Loop

Roma Liani hadn't planned on getting married in the hospital. But then she learned that her beloved mother, Martha, was unlikely to ever leave it.


As Roma Liani walked the hospital halls in her wedding dress, an unexpected chorus rose up around her. "Everywhere I went, people came up and said, 'You're the one getting married today,'" Roma says. "Doctors, nurses, staff I'd never even met. It was so comforting. Mayo was such a community that day. It felt like everyone was on our side."

Roma hadn't planned on getting married in the hospital. But then she learned that her beloved mother, Martha, was unlikely to ever leave it. Four years earlier, Martha had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Now, doctors told the family things had taken a turn for the worse and Martha's time was limited. That's when Roma reached out to Kristina Butler, M.D., her mother's oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

"Roma approached me on a Tuesday and asked if it would be possible to get married in the hospital before her mother passed away," Dr. Butler says. Her response was immediate and absolute. "There was no question from Dr. Butler, no hesitating," Roma tells us. "Her attitude was, 'Of course we're getting this done.' She said, 'Tell us what you want and we'll try to make it happen.'"

That "us" soon included Pam Glassley, an event planner at Mayo Clinic. "I met with Dr. Butler and the bride, and we decided that the wedding would take place on Saturday in the Cancer Center," Glassley says. Glassley arranged for flowers, food and a photographer, while Roma bought a dress and reached out to family and friends, inviting them to Scottsdale for the impromptu wedding.

While the ceremony came together quickly, Roma's relationship with her fiancé, Brennan Halloran, had developed over a decade. The couple began dating their freshman year of high school. "My mom knew I was going to marry Brennan before I did," Roma tells us. "She watched us grow up. My mom was my best friend, and she was very close to Brennan. I knew nothing would make her as happy as seeing us married."

And on Saturday, June 15, Martha did just that, watching from the front row of a space that had been transformed. "It didn't feel like a hospital," Roma says. Guests, including many doctors and nurses who had come in on their day off, wiped away tears as Roma and Brennan exchanged vows in front of glass panels etched with another set of promises — those the Mayo brothers made to their patients.

According to Roma, it was a fitting backdrop. "Mayo Clinic is an organization that truly lives its values," she says. "They tell people, 'You come first,' and they mean it." For Roma and Brennan, that was evidenced in Martha's care, as well as in the care given to them. "I was blown away by how everyone stepped up," Brennan says. "They were so willing to go out of their way to do things for us."

That willingness is "ingrained," Dr. Butler says. "We can't save everybody, but we can impact everybody. And we all understood what this wedding meant. This was going to be one of their last family memories. The wedding brought joy to the family, and everyone at Mayo Clinic was pleased to be part of that."

The wedding also brought peace to the family. That peace can be seen in Roma's favorite photo from her wedding day. In it, she and her mother are holding hands, their foreheads touching. "To me, that photo says, 'It's OK. You've seen the important things,'" Roma tells us. "My mom knew she was dying. That day, she also knew her one and only child was going to be OK. She got to see me walking into the next part of my life with a boy she'd seen grow into a man."

Roma tells us the wedding "was about love in all its different forms. It was about the love between a husband and a wife, but also about the love between my mom and myself and all the people who came to the wedding. It was truly what a wedding should be about."

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Tags: Cancer, Dr. Kristina Butler, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, Pam Glassley, Patient Stories

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