Reunited Sidney couple doesn’t let cancer stop dream wedding

Couple exchange vows 25 years later.

SIDNEY, Ohio (AP) – This is a story about a prince and princess who fell in love, were parted for almost three decades, and found each other again.

And it’s the story of their fairy godmother – the prince and princess call her their angel – who put together a fairy tale wedding for them in Tawawa Park, May 28.

Brett “Joe” Gariety, 48, is the prince. Goldie Hogg Gariety, 48, is the princess. They were introduced to each other when they were 14 or 15 by Goldie’s cousin, Charles Mullins. They were all students at Sidney High School. Joe and Goldie began to date each other. Then with no warning, Goldie disappeared from Joe’s life.

“We were originally from Kentucky,” Goldie said of her mother and family. “My father was abusive, so we had come up here to stay with my aunt in Sidney. I came home from school one day and all my stuff was in the car. My mother said I had to get in the car and we had to leave. We went back to Kentucky. I didn’t get to tell Joe or anything. He had a photo of me. I didn’t have one of him.”

The teens weren’t letter-writers. They lost each other. Goldie went to school in Kentucky, dropped out, married and raised three children, divorced. She was in and out of Sidney from time to time, but never crossed paths with Joe.

Joe dropped out of school, too. He didn’t marry.

“I waited,” he said. “When she was 15, she was the hottest thing going. I knew she’d come back someday.” Someday turned out to be Oct. 1, 2012. Goldie, who had returned to Sidney that July, was working at Mama Rosa’s, staying with a friend.

“We were going to look at a couch. (Joe’s) brother was walking home. I recognized him. He gave me Joe’s number,” Goldie said. “I remember (when we were teenagers), we were going somewhere and (Joe) was holding my hand so tight. He looked over and smiled at me. I never forgot that smile in 30 years.”

She phoned him that day.

“Do you remember someone named Goldie?” she asked.

“I knew someone named Goldie,” he answered. “(She) broke my heart.”

“I’m the one who broke your heart,” she said.

Joe invited her to visit him after work. He worked nights as the supervisor of a cleaning crew at the Ohio Department of Transportation. Goldie knocked on his door at 1 a.m.

“Can I hug you?” she asked. Their embrace lasted for 15 minutes.

“It was a trip. I couldn’t believe it. Sitting down and talking was really cool,” Joe said. Goldie moved into his apartment three days later.

But this is a story with a bittersweet ending.

In February of this year, Joe was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. He had suffered from lyposarcoma, cancer in his stomach, during his 20s. As long as a year ago, he had felt that “something wasn’t right.” Goldie had noticed bumps in his stomach. Then in February, there was an excruciating pain in his hip. He went to the hospital emergency room.

After an MRI, a surgeon asked, “When was the last time you had cancer?”

“That’s how we knew he had cancer (again),” Goldie said. CT scans of his chest, head and torso followed. The cancer had started in his lung and spread to his hip and his stomach. His prognosis? Six months to live.

Joe signed up for care by Heartland Hospice, based in Dayton now but planning to open an office in Sidney by the end of the year. And that’s when Carrie Barga, a Heartland Hospice nurse liaison, became their fairy godmother, their angel.

The couple had discussed marriage two years ago. Because Joe had never been married, he wanted to wait until they could afford a little wedding, rather than a courthouse ceremony. Now, given his illness, Goldie was driven to marry Joe.

“So we went and got our marriage license,” she said.

But there was still no money for a wedding. Goldie, who had been out of work for several months, had just begun to work at Reliable Castings. Joe had had to leave his job at American Trim. Their car had broken down and groceries were scarce.

When Barga heard that they planned to go to the courthouse to be married, she said, “Oh no, you won’t.” And just like all good fairy godmothers, she went to work.

“Heartland Hospice has a program called “Heart’s Desire,” she said. “One of the things they encourage us to do is go above and beyond. One of the things we try to do is fulfill a heart’s desire.” Joe’s heart’s desire was to be married on the 28th of a month. The number, 28, had been very important to his father. They decided not to wait until June 28. Setting the date for May 28 gave Barga less than a week to pull everything together.

She reserved a spot in Tawawa Park. She turned a pumpkin into a carriage by booking a limo to take the couple from the park to their reception at the Sidney Moose lodge. She bought them clothes to wear, took Goldie to pick out a wedding cake, arranged for flowers and a photographer. Heartland Hospice paid for all of it.

“You do the right thing for the right reason. You meet people right where they are,” said Eric Ball, hospice administrator.

Sidney First United Methodist Church donated the use of chairs for the ceremony. Refresh of Sidney donated table decorations for the reception. The Heartland Hospice chaplain, Candy Null, performed the ceremony, in which Goldie and Joe mixed together black and white sand to symbolize their union. A hospice volunteer, Joyce Mitchell, played music at the park. Drew Mosher, a hospice manager, was the disc jockey at the reception.

Keith Bey served as Joe’s best man. Lindsey Market was Goldie’s maid of honor. And Mullins, who had introduced the couple 30 years ago, gave the bride away. In front of their 50 guests, the prince and princess held hands and made their vows to each other.

At the reception, Mosher played some of the couple’s favorite songs: Bette Midler’s “The Rose” and “Detroit Rock City” by Kiss.

“Joe couldn’t dance, so I got up and put on a show for him,” Goldie laughed. The two couldn’t be happier with their special day and with Barga.

“She rocked it,” Goldie said.

“And rolled it,” Joe added.

Barga had never planned a wedding before – not even her own.

“My mother and a wedding planner did it,” she said.

The prince and princess are at home in Sidney now. Joe is too ill to travel, and Goldie had to work the night after the wedding, so their honeymoon has been put on hold.

“We were disheartened and hopeless (after Joe’s diagnosis. Heartland Hospice) made some wishes come true. They brought some happiness to our lives” Goldie said.

Joe looked across the room from his bed at his new bride, his long-ago flame.

“All I ever wanted was survival and a little bit of happiness,” he said.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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