Tucked in the middle of a Carson trailer park, Donald Webb, a United States Navy veteran, had his dying wish granted by a group of Long Beach State students.
Three years ago, Donald, or Don to his family and friends, was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and wasn’t given a lot of time left to live. After his diagnosis, he spoke to the Veterans Administration and was told there was nothing else that anybody could do for him.
Through his hospice, he learned about the Hospice DreamCatcher Foundation, an organization whose mission is to “grant end of life dreams” to those in hospice care. He and his partner, Alva Riley, reached out to the CSULB chapter of DreamCatchers to ask them to organize a wedding that was 22 years in the making.
“I wondered if it was really true if there is someone who could grant dreams,” Alva said.
The couple came into contact with Amanda Jane Paiz, the president of the CSULB chapter and gerontology graduate student, who agreed to organize a wedding for the two.
The day before the spring semester started, Paiz began the frantic journey that is planning a wedding while juggling her last semester at CSULB. She reached out to many local companies and managed to acquire the coffee, the wedding cake and even the officiant free of charge.
“I’m married too, so I feel like it’s a special thing,” Paiz said. “I wanted to make it special for them.”
Don and Alva arrived at the community center exclaiming “wow” as they took in the room filled with balloons, flowers and pictures from the last 22 years of their relationship.
Paiz and Sarah Olson, who is also part of the DreamCatchers at CSULB, arrived early in the morning of Jan. 24 to set up the room and finalize the plans for the first “dream” of their chapter.
“This semester I wanted to start it off right,” Paiz said, “so during the break, I made sure to have everything in order … and so our hospice agency told me about this right away.”
As guests trickled in, it was apparent that the unfortunate truth of Don’s diagnosis would not stop anyone from celebrating to the fullest. Don joked with family as Alva doted on him, adjusting his breathing tube and “lid.” Despite the looming reality, there was not a somber face in the community center.
Don and Alva, despite this not being the first wedding for either of them, said they were nervous but excited to be going through with the marriage after being together for so long. They’ve been together since they met at work years ago.
“She was stalking me at work,” Don said with a smile as Alva rolled her eyes, “and then it was my turn to stalk her.”
He said that they’d been through so much during their 22 years that they just forgot to get married. However, he expressed his happiness that they were finally getting around to it. He said he felt blessed that he was able to get in contact with the DreamCatchers and Amanda. The couple thanked them many times throughout the celebration.
The officiant led them through their vows, keeping it lighthearted by singing “if you like it then you should put a ring on it,” and cracking jokes. After many laughs and heartfelt moments, the couple was officially declared married, making Don’s last wish a reality.
“We woke up this morning and I looked at her and she looked at me and we said, ‘At least we know what we’ve got,’” Don said.