NEW PORT RICHEY — As they walked through the hospital parking lot to see her dying father, Josh Cunha stopped and bent down on one knee. He had a diamond ring.
"I'm sorry this isn't the most romantic place," he said. "But it feels like the right one."
Jeannette Brown said yes, as she had before when he proposed three years ago. That time, it was Valentine's Day and she was eight months pregnant with their son, Ethan. He asked for her hand in marriage as they watched him on an ultrasound.
Jeannette wanted a wedding, but soon they were dealing with a newborn baby and then she got pregnant again with another boy, Evan. She quit her job teaching preschool to be a stay-at-home mom. Josh worked in sales at a fitness club. Jeannette bought wedding invitations and thank-you cards and tucked them away in her closet, waiting for a time when money wasn't tight and things weren't so busy with the kids. It was easy for Josh and Jeannette, both 27, to put it off. They loved each other and were a family and a wedding seemed like a party and a piece of paper.
Her father, Greg Brown, disagreed. Greg, 52, wanted Jeannette and Josh to be married. He taught Jeannette and his youngest, Joanne, 24, to be independent. Still, Greg needed to be needed by his girls. And walking them down the aisle was part of that the role he planned for himself since they were born.
It didn't seem like that was going to happen. Then he got sick.
Two days before Thanksgiving, his hand wouldn't work. It was like a dead weight. Tests showed he had melanoma. He had tumors throughout his brain.
He had surgery to remove the largest tumor, then weeks of radiation and weeks of chemotherapy. Jeannette, Josh and their children moved into her parents' home in Holiday to help take care of him. Her mother, Karen, who is 50 and has been married to Greg for 30 years, closed the family's upholstery shop.
Instead of regressing, the cancer grew stronger. More tumors in his brain, both lungs, his stomach, his intestines, his bones. Greg shrank to 100 pounds and lacked the strength to go far without a walker. He had surgery in March to remove a blockage in his small intestine.
That's when doctors told him he had a few months to live.
Then last Sunday, Josh and Jeannette came into Greg's room at Morton Plant North Bay Hospital. Jeannette showed her father the ring on her finger.
"I would like permission to marry your daughter," Josh said.
"Of course," Greg said, his voice raspy from tumors in his throat.
"It's about bloody time."
"When?" Greg asked.
"As soon as possible," Josh and Jeannette said in unison.
Greg was moved to the Marliere Hospice Care Center the next day. The family decided to have the wedding there, in the courtyard at a white gazebo, on the following Saturday, April 3.
That gave them less than a week to prepare.
Jeannette found a dress at the mall. Invitations were made through phone calls. It was hectic, and Jeannette slept little. Dresses for the flower girl, bridesmaid, mother of the bride. Suits for Josh, the boys, for Greg. The cake. Decorations. Hair. Makeup. Jewelry. Heels. A hospice chef made punch. A nurse took a flower arrangement from the conference room and used it for the refreshment table.
The wedding was set for 2 p.m. Jeannette and her father waited in his room.
"If you need to sit down, Dad, then sit down," she said. She worried. It was hot. He was weak and he refused to use a walker or cane. He needed to do this on his own — just a father and his daughter.
"No," Greg said. "I'm fine."
The music began.
"I'm supposed to take your arm," Greg said and lifted hers into his. They walked slowly to the gazebo and he gave her hand to Josh and sat down. He stood and clapped at the end.
Greg was too weak to dance with his daughter so she sat next to him during their song and held his hand. Jeannette tried to fight it, but her eyes watered and her lip quivered as tears rolled down her face.
"Thank you," Greg said softly. He leaned toward her.
"I love you," he said.
"I love you, too," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.