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The Only Guaranteed Moment Is Now
Story written by LIZ FARRELL with The Island Packet and submitted by: Heather Mitchell
Tom McNally and his new wife, Lee Altizer, got in their car Saturday afternoon and headed for their honeymoon, just hours after the Rev. Michael Williams married them at Faith Memorial Baptist Church on St. Helena Island.
They each had packed a small bag.
Tom McNally and Lee Altizer smile as friends throw bird seed and blow bubbles at them after their wedding the afternoon of Jan. 30 at Faith Memorial Baptist Church on St. Helena Island.
But they were not sure where they'd go. Atlanta. Charlotte. Charleston. Myrtle Beach. Or maybe they'd just stay home. It did not matter. "We change the plans as we go," McNally, 66, told me about the Bluffton couple's habit of getting in the car and pointing it north, south, west and east. "Maybe we go this way and then change it. Then we go that way and maybe we change it. People get so fixed on planning something. Like it's written in stone just because it was 'planned.'" He said that last word with mild annoyance and amazement at those who adhere to strict ideas about what is going to happen in their lives. He is, it would seem, an expert in spontaneity and flexibility. He has to be.
McNally has stage three multiple myeloma and is under hospice care. Now is not the time for hesitation -- for exhaustive consideration of what's next and how and with whom -- because "now" is the only guaranteed moment in life. Right here. In this day. He might not have another. And besides, one more day not married to Lee Altizer was one day too many for him. This is why last Tuesday McNally shared an item on his bucket list with Glen Shapiro, his nurse from Hospice Care of America. He wanted to enjoy the rest of his life with his love by his side. So the next day Shapiro and his co-workers set out to make that happen. "All people think about when they hear 'hospice' is dying," Shapiro said after the services, "but hospice is about living."
And so it was that four days after expressing his wish, McNally stood at the front of the church, surrounded by hospice employees, church volunteers and the few friends who were able to come last minute, and he vowed "I will, for always" to the woman he has deemed to be the most wonderful of all, the woman whom he wants with him in sickness and in health and in good times and in bad. "I've been trying to get her to the altar for two years," McNally said. "I knew right away she was the one." The couple met four years ago at a dance social at Montana's in Bluffton. He proposed three months ago when the seriousness of his illness became clear. They had their wedding license, but no venue or minister had been booked. Williams, who is pastor of Faith Memorial and has been chaplain at Hospice Care of America for nine years, offered his services and his church for the occasion.
"I feel like a princess," Altizer, also 66, told me before the ceremony. She stood in a small room off the sanctuary and clutched a bright bouquet. She was quiet but said she was not nervous. I wanted to believe her. In just a few days, Altizer had found out she was getting married and that the wedding details were taken care of, put her condominium up for sale so she could move in with her new husband, bought a wedding dress and shoes, and learned from doctors that she has skin cancer. This is a lot for any one person to handle. Like McNally, though, Altizer seemed to draw strength from focusing on the moment, the one we know we have. "God worked it out," she said. "We're where we are supposed to be." Before the ceremony, hospice employees Candace Fritz, Lisa Peters and Leah Kidwell decorated the church hall. Local businesses had donated food, the cake and flowers. A professional photographer captured the occasion for free. Peters had talked to Altizer beforehand to make arrangements and find out what colors she would like. "'Anything you guys do,' they said. They were so appreciative," Peters said. None of the three co-workers had done anything like this before, but they were heartened by the response from the community and thrilled that they were able to pull it together so quickly and so smoothly. "When you're in hospice you don't 'get around' to anything," Fritz said. "You do it now." During the ceremony, the couple clung to each other and locked eyes. A friend sang "I Did It My Way." A church member sang "At Last." McNally and Altizer cried through their vows, each word bearing more weight than it perhaps should for newlyweds.
"All right," Williams said after they were declared man and wife. "You may now k--"
He stopped. The couple had not waited for his instructions. There was no waiting.
Learn more about Hospice Care of America.
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