For a Dying Father of the Bride, a Wedding Built in 24 Hours

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Sarah Richards and Wyeth Killip were legally married on June 3 at the Renaissance Hotel in Cincinnati. More than a year earlier, they exchanged vows in an unofficial ceremony that took about 24 hours to prepare but created a moment that the father of the bride had waited a lifetime to see.

Their journey toward marriage moved quickly when Mr. Killip became engaged to Ms. Richards on the first day of April 2016, beneath a vanishing sun at a picnic in Cincinnati, where he did more than just propose.

Mr. Killip also let his future bride know he had every intention of honoring a vow he had already made — that her father, Dr. Arthur Isaac Richards, who became ill the year before, would be able to attend her wedding.

“Sarah’s dad had been suffering from a rare form of cancer when he took a turn for the worse,” Mr. Killip said, prompting the couple to rush to Cincinnati. “He often talked with me about wanting to see Sarah walk down the aisle, but now he was really sick, and all of a sudden, we weren’t sure just how much time he had left.”

So Mr. Killip glanced at his watch, looked up and asked Ms. Richards something that sounded like an April Fool’s joke: “How about marrying me tomorrow?”

Already overcome with emotion, Ms. Richards had a hard time processing the logistics surrounding the question. Her parents lived in Cincinnati, Mr. Killip’s parents and a sister lived in Kansas City, Mo., and two other sisters were even farther away, one in Denver and the other in Stuttgart, Germany.

And many of their friends were in Manhattan, where the couple worked and shared an apartment.

“You can’t be serious,” Ms. Richards told Mr. Killip, pointing out that doctors had already called for hospice care for her father. “It’s just not possible.”

But for Mr. Killip, who had already beaten great odds just to meet Ms. Richards in the first place, anything was possible.

Ms. Richards, now 30 and an executive account director for Condé Nast, had met Mr. Killip, now 35 and chief executive of WonderTech, a toy manufacturer, on Memorial Day 2011. They were at a bar on the Lower East Side when Mr. Killip’s friends playfully questioned his ability to get the phone number of a beautiful woman.

“Pick anyone here, I’ll go talk to her!” Mr. Killip told them. They chose Ms. Richards, whom Mr. Killip described as “gorgeous, with blue eyes and beautiful blond hair.”

“In a whole sea of faces, all I saw was hers,” he said.

Out of that chance moment between strangers came a couple that grew close to each other’s families, often spending holidays together in the ensuing years.

At an outing with Ms. Richards’s family in Colorado in July 2015, Mr. Killip taught Dr. Richards fly-fishing, and later they shared a gondola ride high in the mountains. They had been clowning around during the ride when their conversation suddenly turned serious.

“You know, if you were to marry Sarah, you would have my blessings,” Dr. Richards said.

Mr. Killip thanked him, and they continued to “banter back and forth,” Mr. Killip said.

“Sarah’s dad had hinted to me many times that he wanted to see us get married,” he added. “I wasn’t about to disappoint him.”

So less than a year after that gondola ride, Mr. Killip would not let a lack of time prevent the father of his bride from attending the wedding.

He told his fiancée that he had already been making preparations and that the initial phase of his plan was about to take flight.

“My family is on standby, waiting for my call,” he told her. “They can hop on planes and be here tomorrow.”

Ms. Richards began rethinking the situation.

“I knew how badly my dad wanted to be there on my wedding day, and it was heartbreaking because Wyeth and I weren’t even engaged yet,” she recalled, her voice beginning to crack. “But now we had this opportunity, so I said, ‘Sure, let’s go for it.’”

Mr. Killip looked at his watch again. Even though it was nearing 7:15 p.m., he set the next day’s ceremony for roughly the same time, leaving 24 hours to grant the wish of a lifetime to Dr. Richards, who had peripheral T-cell lymphoma, in which the T-cells become cancerous.

After returning to Ms. Richards’s family home to celebrate their engagement with Champagne toasts in the company of her father and mother, Ms. Richards and Mr. Killip immediately began making plans for what they called a “spiritual ceremony.”

Ms. Richards’s first call was to her best friend, Sarah Monahan Nathan, in Manhattan. After explaining her situation, she asked her to rush over to Zara to buy a white lace dress in three different sizes and have them shipped overnight to Cincinnati.

“She got there just as the store was closing and told the staff our story,” Ms. Richards said. “They stayed open and began ripping through boxes to find the dresses.”

After a successful search, Mrs. Monahan Nathan raced over to the nearest FedEx office, but it was after 9 p.m., and the office was closed and could not accept any additional packages.

“She starting crying and pleading with people there to ship the package,” Ms. Richards said. “One of the drivers overheard and took the box from her. He wrote the mailing information in pencil and had no receipt or tracking number to give her, but miraculously, the package got to me the very next morning.”

The miracle continued with the on-time arrivals of Mr. Killip’s parents and two of his three sisters, all of whom helped transform Ms. Richards’s family home into what she called “a beautiful sanctuary.”

Mr. Killip’s mother, Kathy Killip, an artist who designs figurines and other gift products in Kansas City, had stopped at a Costco to buy roses and flowers to make bouquets, boutonnieres and table decorations. Other family members made a huppah out of willow sticks found in the woods, and a family friend, Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, was called in to lead the ceremony, which took place in the family’s living room just after sundown on April 2, 2016.

“It’s about time,” said Dr. Richards, clad in a tuxedo and beaming the moment his daughter walked down a makeshift aisle.

Everyone laughed, and Dr. Richards spoke briefly about the wonderful times his family had enjoyed together over the years — and the wonderful times to come.

“He was very tired after that, and went to lie down,” said Ms. Richards, beginning to cry. “But he never really got up again.”

The next morning, Dr. Richards died.

“It was an incredible rush of emotions, absolutely insane,” Ms. Richards said. “But in the end, my dad got his wish, and that’s all we really wanted.”

She decided to wait to have the legal ceremony. “It’s been very hard,” she said. “But I kept getting stronger, both mentally and emotionally, until I was strong enough to move forward again.”

They were officially married on June 3, when Rabbi Kamrass returned to officiate in what was a black-tie affair. The bride’s mother, Kathy Richards, who walked her daughter down the aisle, said she felt as though her husband had not missed the second ceremony either.

“I could feel his presence,” she said.

So could Ms. Richards.

“I feel my dad’s presence every day,” she said. “When I walked down the aisle, I was thinking, ‘Be strong,’ and how much I wish he could have been there. He would have been proud and overjoyed for us.”