Dying Veteran Gets Married at Buffalo VA - Veterans Health Administration
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Dying Veteran Gets Married at Buffalo VA

A man and woman dressed in wedding attire smile and hold hands above their heads, surrounded by people clapping

Mr. and Mrs. Albert Lewis, moments after saying ‘I do.’ Photo by Evangeline Conley, Buffalo VA

By Tom Cramer, VA Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2015

You have less than six months to live.

What would you do if your doctor gave you news like this? Visit Egypt and see the pyramids? Blow your life’s savings in Las Vegas? Head for that place where they let you swim with the dolphins?

Albert Lewis, a 56-year-old Army Veteran who’s undergoing cancer treatments at the Buffalo VA, chose none of the above. Instead he chose to marry Dorothy, his girlfriend of 17 years.

“When I found out I was in Stage 4,” Lewis said, “my first reaction was, ‘How am I going to explain this to Dorothy? How can I tell her I’m going to be leaving her?’

“So I sat down with her and talked to her. We decided we weren’t going to let this get the best of us. We decided it doesn’t have to be the end; it can be the beginning of something.”

Ups and Downs

“We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs together,” said Dorothy. “And we’ll go through this together. I’m at his side every step of the way, and I always will be.”

“She’s always been in my corner,” Lewis agreed. He noted that in addition to her courage and steadfastness, Dorothy has other attributes that make her a good catch.

“She has a smiling personality,” he observed. “And her eyes are irresistible. And she can cook! If they can cook, you know you got it made.

“When you find a woman with all the right ingredients,” he added, “you’ve got to grab her before someone else does.”

So Lewis did just that. He and Dorothy tied the knot on Saturday, November 1, in a small chapel located on the Buffalo VA’s third floor.

“It was a long time coming,” Dorothy said. “We had a lot of support from the VA. They helped us. All the doctors and nurses were there at the ceremony. They supplied the food, the flowers, the music. We had a piano player, and a guitar player…

“Some of the staff even made me a corsage,” she added. “I thought that was nice.”

They showed me that I wasn’t just a patient with a tag on my arm. They showed me I was a person.
— Albert Lewis

Teamwork Gets it Done

With only a week or so to work with, staff at the Buffalo VA had to do a bit of scrambling to make the big day a success. Luckily, several community partners stepped in to assist.

A local business called Tops Market supplied the wedding cake.

The Erie County Chapter of the Links (an organization for African-American women) provided the wedding gown along with food, champagne glasses and other ingredients needed for a successful wedding reception.

A non-profit called Veterans OneStop Center of Western New York supplied the bride’s bouquet, her wedding veil, and several other critical items.

The Johnette R. Cole AMVETS Post 24 chipped in with wedding day must-haves, including a military uniform for the groom to wear.

But hold on: what about bridesmaids?

“Without hesitating, I told Dorothy I would be honored to be her bridesmaid,” said Fern Beavers, an advanced practice nurse at the Buffalo VA who helped with the wedding arrangements. “I told her my friend, Gladys Diji, would serve as the other bridesmaid.”

When someone’s in need, you reach out and embrace them.
— Fern Beavers, advanced practice nurse, Buffalo VA

Full House

With a lot of teamwork and a little luck, everything fell neatly into place at 3 o’clock on Saturday, November 1.

“It was a happy, wonderful celebration,” said VA Chaplain Benita Hairston, who married Albert and Dorothy. “We had a full house. The families of both the bride and groom were there, plus our staff. We’ve never had a service with so many people!”

Albert Lewis had high praise for the VA staffers who are not only caring for him and other terminally ill patients, but who made November 1, 2014, a very special day for him and his bride.

“They work very hard for their patients,” he said. “When you’re in a hospital, you feel like this is the place where you’re going to take your last breath. But when people smile and talk to you, it’s like you’re in your own neighborhood. They showed me that I wasn’t just a patient with a tag on my arm. They showed me I was a person; that they were concerned about my well-being.

“I’m going to miss them,” he added.

So what’s next for Albert and Dorothy? What about Las Vegas? What about that place with the dolphins?

“I just want to spend the rest of my life with him, no matter how long that might be,” Dorothy said. “We’re going down this road together.”

But Albert is perhaps looking a little further down the road.

“After I’m gone, maybe she can help another Veteran who’s going through what I’m going through,” he said. “She can help them and support them, the way she’s supported me.”