For terminally ill Dad, son’s surprise wedding is “highlight of my life”

Tommy DiPaolo, who has late-stage kidney cancer, speaks after his son’s wedding ceremony at his Neptune nursing home — which was arranged a month in advance of the couple’s long-planned wedding in Disney World. Jerry Carino

Tommy DiPaolo couldn’t make his son’s wedding in Disney, so his nursing home arranged an impromptu ceremony. There was hardly a dry eye in the place.

Tommy DiPaolo stood up, which in itself was an act of fortitude. The 65-year-old is suffering from late-stage kidney cancer, Parkinson’s disease and Hepatitis C.

With one hand gripping a walker and the other cradling a glass of cider, the father of the groom fought off tears and offered a wedding toast straight from the chest: To the happy couple, of course, but also to the folks at Imperial Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

Here’s why: For the past two years, Ellen Tyndell and Thomas DiPaolo planned a destination wedding in Disney World. When it became clear the elder Tommy couldn’t get there, the nursing home brought the wedding to him. They threw an impromptu ceremony in their courtyard Saturday, four weeks before the main event in Orlando.

“This is the highlight of my life,” the grateful dad told the assembled crowd of about 50, most of whom were Imperial residents and staffers. “I’m just so overwhelmed by your love, and I hope I give you love, too.”

You could hear a pin drop. Even the birds were quiet.

Saturday’s affair came together in a matter of weeks, but you’d never know it. The courtyard was festooned with flowers and balloons, with music piped in and two sheet cakes on display.

“We try hard to do things like this for families,” said Mary Walaszek, Imperial’s director of activities. “People have this impression of nursing homes as dark and dreary and full of death. We want to make sure we remind people: Life still happens.”

The five-star facility has celebrated birthday parties and wedding anniversaries, but this was the first wedding anyone could remember.


“It’s a really good idea, not just for our family but for other people,” said Kim DiPaolo, 59, Tommy’s wife. “Sometimes people are afraid to say something when you’re in a care facility like this. They’re afraid to ask if it’s OK to do this; they just automatically thing that you can’t do it. All you have to do is ask because people are really good at heart.”

Kim helped hatch the idea, but “they took care of it all,” she said. “All I had to do was pick up the cake.”

You’ve heard them a thousand times, but when you really listen, wedding vows are a powerful thing. Especially the pledge to persevere together through sickness and health. Enlarge that a little and you get an event like Saturday’s.

“We wished they could be there with us in Disney,” Ellen Tyndell said, “but we thought this was the next-best thing.”

In a way, it was better.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *