How quickly can someone organize and plan a wedding when the stakes are high? What if you throw in a high school graduation too? One Nebraska town was able to do it all in about three hours last month for the sake of Dr. Dan Harrahill, who otherwise would not have lived to see his children reach those milestones.
Harrahill was an obstetrician and father of four, who managed to touch many lives in his town of St. Paul, judging by the hundreds of messages, memories, and prayers posted on the Dr. Dan’s Fans Facebook group.
“He just had a passion for medicine that people hadn’t seen before,” Shelly Harrahill, Dan’s wife, told Yahoo Style. “He was always putting other people first. It wasn’t unusual for him to go out of his way for hundreds of people all the time. I didn’t even know how many lives he had touched, by going to people’s homes and making extra phone calls and things like that. It’s kind of been news to me as well, because he was so humble.”
According to the Omaha World-Herald, he received a dire prognosis for his colon cancer on March 23. It didn’t look as though he would make it to his son Noah’s graduation or his eldest daughter Emilea’s June wedding.
“We thought we would have at least five years with him,” Shelly said. “It turned out to be less than six months.”
The day after receiving the news, Emilea’s fiancé, Kyle Harshman, told Shelly they would like to exchange their vows at the hospital.
“His goal throughout all of his chemotherapy treatments was to make it to May and June,” Emilea told Yahoo via email. “When we learned the prognosis, we decided to bring the events to him.”
Soon, friends and family were all pitching in to put together a real wedding for that evening. One person got the flowers, another found a musician, and a caterer friend had enough food in her freezer to provide a reception dinner.
“Social media can do wonderful things, and they used it to get everyone there,” the Rev. Ray Kosmicki of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in St. Paul told the World-Herald. He officiated the ceremony along with the Rev. Mike McDermott of Grand Island.
Emilea’s wedding dress hadn’t been altered yet, but with one safety pin, it was a good fit. “She was kind of upset that you could see the safety pin,” Shelly said. “Somebody else said, ‘You know what, that’s part of the story that you were able to get that dress to fit to do whatever it takes to make this happen for your dad.’ ”
Amid that flurry of wedding-planning activity, a friend suggested they also put together a graduation ceremony for Noah.
“We kind of went through the tears first,” St. Paul High School principal Jen Hagen, who received a call about the idea at 1 p.m. on March 24, told the World-Herald. “Then I said, ‘We’re doing this for Dan. We want him to experience this.’ ”
They managed to get caps and gowns, a diploma, and a graduation program for the event. The school choir director recruited a small chorus for “Pomp and Circumstance,” and several students, including the class valedictorian and salutatorian, wrote speeches.
By 4:30 that same day, everyone gathered at the chapel of St. Francis Hospital in Grand Island, with Dan in his wheelchair in the front row. Noah’s graduation was first, followed by the wedding.
“When Emilea and Kyle were saying their vows at the hospital, everyone was crying, pretty much, except for Emilea and Kyle,” Shelly said. “They said they had this sense of peace that came over them, that they were able to say their vows without crying or anything.”
The doctor died just eight days later, on April 1.
“He was smiling from ear to ear the whole time we had the wedding and the graduation,” Shelly told the World-Herald. “It was one of the best days of his life, even under the circumstances.”
The family will be going ahead with celebrations at Noah’s official graduation and Emilea’s wedding.
“I want it to just be a really happy day for them,” Shelly told Yahoo. “Their dad would want that. He wouldn’t want us to be sad that he’s not there. They’re very important milestones.”
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