A Celebration of Life, Love, and Family

Grappling with their father’s terminal illness, the Alvis children honor family milestones with him in a unique wedding ceremony when they can all celebrate together.

by Jeana Durst, content director, JBMC Media
Photos contributed by Lara Alvis

Once or twice in a lifetime, if we are fortunate, we experience a moment where time seems to stand still. Times when we can capture a little bit of magic in our memories that can sustain us for years to come. The celebration on April 5 at a friend’s home in Shelby County was that moment for the Alvis children. Lara and Barry Alvis hosted a ceremony for their children to celebrate their “weddings” alongside their father Barry, who is facing a terminal illness diagnosis of idiopathic lung fibrosis.

It was an idea that came from their daughter 10-year-old Maggie in March not long after Lara and Barry returned from Duke University this March with some tough news. Despite the hope that he could undergo a lung transplant, doctors had ultimately determined Barry could not be a candidate for a transplant. After carefully helping their children to grasp what this meant, one night they saw the light bulb go off for Maggie and her brother Barrett, 8. The children realized that doctors “could not heal Daddy and without a miracle he would die,” Lara says.

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Two days later, Maggie read online about a young girl who had a pretend wedding day celebration so that her father could walk her down the aisle. At first, they thought it was a “little bit unusual” but figured if it was what their daughter needed, then so be it.

Joined that day by Barry’s older son Kyle and other immediate family members, Lara officiated the ceremony and led both children through lighting eternity candles and a special sand ceremony, which left the kids with keepsakes they can use at their actual weddings. “I called each person up and we added sand for each person and what they meant in their lives,” Lara says. Barry presented the children Bibles, while Lara led the group in prayer. The family ceremoniously passed on treasured heirlooms, like Barry’s beloved Mont Blanc pen, inside memory boxes.

Perhaps the highlight was when Barry walked Maggie down the aisle to the end of the front porch and gave her a ring that he had inscribed. “He was so strong to do this for the children,” says Lara. Barry shares that it was “difficult, but it was good difficult.” He explained that his time at Duke with very ill people had given this seasoned and tough trial lawyer a new perspective on empathy.

In some ways this day was already borrowed time. Diagnosed in 2015 during a routine examination, Barry was given only 3 months to five years to live, almost five years ago. Even in the midst of heartbreak, Lara expresses gratitude for this and other blessings. For the Alvis family, this quarantine has delivered an unexpected gift of time. Lara, a Shelby County Circuit Court Judge, has more time than before and their children get to spend these days with Barry instead of in school. Maybe when we think of the lessons of this pandemic, we will think of how this family reminds us to be glad for the extra time at home and be inspired by their celebration of life.

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