In 2009, wedding planner Liz Guthrie called on her industry colleagues and friends to throw a free wedding for a deserving couple in San Francisco. Her idea was to give the couple, as well as their loved ones, a day away from a serious illness.
It would be the first of many such events. In the last ten years, her mission has expanded nationwide to become Wish Upon a Wedding, a nonprofit organization that grants weddings and vow renewals to couples facing terminal or life-altering illness. Each wish is made possible by individual vendors, called wish granters, in the wedding and event industry who donate their time, resources, and materials to make the wedding possible. "The mission of Wish Upon a Wedding is to provide our couples with a day of celebration with family and closest friends focusing on their love and bringing hope to our couples," says Keri Durkin, president of Wish Upon a Wedding. "This day is intended to be worry-free as [we] provide an unforgettable day....one free of thinking about illness and only hope and love."
On December 4, 2019, the organization granted its 150th wish to Amanda DiMarzio and Sean Woodward of Nashville, Tennessee. Like 80 percent of wish recipients, bride Amanda was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and is currently undergoing treatment, continuing her five-year battle with Metastatic Neuroendocrine/Carcinoid Syndrome. The couple, who met on Bumble in the fall of 2017, first heard about Wish Upon a Wedding in September and began the application process, which includes background checks, medical consultations, and interviews. In November, they got the call that they had been selected, and wish grantor Laurie Hardman of Laurie D'Anne Events began planning a romantic winter wedding in the couple's hometown. "With the whole experience, I never thought I could feel as special and loved and pretty as I did," Amanda admits. "When you have something like this, you beat yourself up. But having them put this together in the way that it came together, I felt it. I felt like a bride. I didn’t think that was possible."
Keep reading to see Sean and Amanda's wish come true in a romantic winter wedding photographed by Nyk + Cali and planned by Laurie Hardman of Laurie D'Anne Events.
In addition to taking on the cost of the wedding, Wish Upon a Wedding strives to relieve couples of the stresses that can come with planning a wedding. For this reason, much of the wedding is left as a surprise to the couple—but that doesn't mean they don't take any part! In this case, Laurie Hardman of Laurie D'Anne Events worked with Amanda, having her answer questions and share a Pinterest board to define her vision. "It was really nice not having to do everything," Amanda admits. "We were able to focus on what was going on in our lives."
Amanda was also able to select her wedding dress, thanks to the organization's relationship with BHLDN. The company mailed her a box of dresses from their warehouse—and Amanda fell in love with two! "I know, I'm a spoiled brat," she says with a laugh. Neither dress was white; and she wore one for the ceremony and the other, shown above, for the reception.
I felt like a bride. I didn’t think that was possible.
Amanda wore a blush-hued ballgown for the ceremony, describing it as a "princess dress." "I picked it because it felt like a wedding dress," she says. She changed into the second style, which was more form-fitting, before their first dance.
In addition to carrying a lush bouquet of quicksand roses and dahlias, Amanda added sentimental accessories to complete her bridal look and check off her "something old," "something borrowed," and "something blue." She borrowed silver heels from a friend, wore a headpiece with blue beads—and, thanks to surprisingly cold weather in Nashville, added a jacket that once belonged to Sean's grandmother right before the ceremony began. (Her dress was her "something new.") Sean's tux was gifted from Generation Tux.
Amanda and Sean have four children from previous relationships and each played a special role in the ceremony. "They were so excited! Blending a family together is difficult for anybody, especially with younger kids," she admits. "They have loved each other for day one and they were so freaking excited and really proud of themselves to be there with us. They were looking forward to the wedding just as much as we were!"
Amanda's daughter acted as the flower girl and her youngest son walked her down the aisle. "He actually asked!" she says. "We were talking about the wedding, and he asked, 'Mom, can I walk you down the aisle?'" Sean's two boys stood by his side.
The wedding took place at 1212 Germantown, where the ceremony was set below string lights on a patio outside. Amanda, escorted by her eight-year-old son, walked down the aisle to "Love Song" by Third Day. "When Sean and I first started dating, we sent songs back-and-forth to each other," she says. "That’s the first song he sent to me, and it’s the song that plays when he calls or texts me now."
Amanda's best friend Devon officiated the ceremony and included several fun stories from their friendship over the years. The couple wrote their own vows, with Amanda admitting that Sean decided to make his up on the spot! "I wrote my vows late one night. I wanted them to be sweet, normal vows, but I also wanted them to pertain to us, which is very sarcastic and smartass," she says. "I said I would always leave the dishes in the sink for him and harass his family and friends as much as I do my own. I also said he taught me to love and all the sappy stuff, too!" There was also a Celtic knot tying to honor their shared Irish heritage.
While the couple planned their own ceremony, the Wish Upon a Wedding team had to unexpectedly step in when they realized they'd forgotten the rings! "As we all stood there looking at each other, I thought I will give them my ring so they can continue their vows and be happily married," recalls Durkin. "It was a small gesture to help them celebrate their love."
Thanks to the timing of the festivities, Amanda and Sean did a first look with each other (and their kids!) before the ceremony. "We weren’t expecting it! We thought we were going to wait [to see each other] until the ceremony," she says. "But it was neat, it was different, and it was so much smarter. We got to enjoy each other after!" Amanda says walking down the aisle was still exciting even though they'd seen each other before, adding "I didn’t cry—no crying! But I was basically a five-year-old with a big 'ole cheesy grin as I walked down the aisle."
After the ceremony, the newlyweds and their guests headed indoors for dinner and dancing. At this point, Amanda and Sean saw the space for the first time, saying they were totally surprised by the flowers, lighting, and décor. "Oh my gosh, I didn’t know anything! It was a lot more than I anticipated," she admits. "It was full-blown—it was a freaking wedding! It was awesome! It was gorgeous!"
Their wish granter also shared in the excitement. "I have always believed that dreams and wishes come true. Maybe I watched too many Disney movies when I was little, but my heart smiles when someone receives something more than what they ever could have imagined," Hardman says. "Weddings are a time of celebration for all people. I love that I get to be part of one of the happiest days in a person's life. And to be able to be a part of granting a wish for a couple facing such a difficult challenge is priceless."
Weddings are a time of celebration for all people. I love that I get to be part of one of the happiest days in a person's life. And to be able to be a part of granting a wish for a couple facing such a difficult challenge is priceless.
Amanda counts their first dance, to John Legend's "All of Me," as a highlight of the night. "You don't really think about the first dance, but it really is like the rest of the room disappears," she says. "It was awesome!" Also on the bride's list of highlights? Their children's speeches and son's performance, when he got on stage with the band to sing "Old Town Road." "It was hysterical," she says. At the end of the night, Amanda says she felt overwhelmed by the love in the room and how much everyone had done to make the day so special. "All these people who don’t know us, they loved on us so much at once," she says. "Once it stopped, you could still feel it. It still held on. It was like we had known everyone for so long. Such beautiful people. We sat outside at the hotel and just reflected on everything. We felt so loved."
And while it's now been a month since Amanda and Sean's big day, there is much more to come for the couple—and other couples in the year to come! "Granting our 150th wish was surreal...The joy of this newly joined family was truly overwhelming," Durkin says. "Our 150th wish was truly a milestone for the organization, and we look forward to granting enough wishes in 2020 to reach 175 wishes in total." Cheers to that!
Wedding Planner: Laurie D’Anne Events || Wedding Venue: 1212 Germantown || Catering: Clean Plate Club || Rentals: Please Be Seated || Floral Design: Fifty Flowers; Branching Out Floral and Event Design || Music: VIPs Entertainment || Photography: Nyk + Cali || Videography: Dylan Bass || Hair & Makeup: One 10 Beauty || Photobooth: Glam Life || Lighting: Nashville Audio Visual || Bride's Dresses: BHLDN || Groom's Attire: Generation Tux || Draping: Quest Events || Cake: The Sweetest Day || Cotton Candy: Pandy Cotton Candy || Bride's Robe: Ella Winston, Co || Lodging & Accommodations: Germantown Inn || Garter Girl: The Garter Girl || Linens: Nuage Designs