Hospice Patient Celebrates Life and Love on Wedding Day

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WOODWARD, Iowa - For Kris Gerhard, every day is a gift from God. That's because Gerhard, now 46-years-old, suffers from a combination of rare and complicated illnesses that have left her in hospice care, with doctors telling her she has a limited life expectancy.

What's complicated: Doctors can't give her a definitive time-frame of how long she has to live. What's not complicated: Her decision to live every day to the fullest.

That's exactly what Gerhard did on Saturday at Camp Mitigwa - the place her father helped build and is now buried at - in Woodward, when she said, "I do" to the love of her life, Damien O'Brien.

“I want people to know that you can live right up to the moment before you go,” she said.

Gerhard and O'Brien's love story sounds as much like a fairytale as their wedding day: They met 20 years ago when Gerhard was caring for a friend of O'Brien's, and reconnected last year at Gerhard's "Celebration of Life," an event she hosted to say goodbye to nearly 250 friends and family members.

O'Brien, who is restricted to a wheelchair due to complications with cerebral palsy, could not stop smiling Saturday as he said, "I do" to his wife. And Michelle Danker, one of Gerhard's foster daughters and a bridesmaid in the wedding, wore the same smile.

"She's the most loving woman, and she's my rock," she said. "She's now a grandmother to my beautiful baby girl, and I can't express how much I love her."

Gerhard has fostered 12 girls, four of whom were bridesmaids. In a matter of weeks, Danker herself will transition her title from  "foster daughter" to just "daughter" after adoption paperwork is complete. Gerhard says she was inspired to become a foster parent after going through the system as a teenager.

“I vowed that someday I would love to give back and show what a foster parent should be,” Gerhard said.

With the help of HCI Hopsice Care Services, Gerhard made her dream wedding a reality Saturday. With O'Brien by her side, she says she hopes others view their union as a symbol of truly living every day as if it could be your last.

"That's what we really want people to know," she said. "Nothing is really the end of your life. You're living until you're not breathing anymore."