She Planned Her Wedding In Just 25 Days So Her Mom With Early-Onset Alzheimer's Could Be There

"It made the day seem that much better knowing that she had a smile on her face."

Steph Gefroh and Bryan Fish got engaged in April 2017 and were planning on using the next year to plan their ceremony. However, there was a change of plans after Gefroh's sister, Amber, expressed concerns that their mother, Susan Gefroh, wouldn't be able to make the 3.5 hour drive to the couple's preferred wedding location because she has Alzheimer's, a type of dementia that causes problems with memory, thinking, and behavior.

Gefroh's mother began showing symptoms of Alzheimer's 10 years ago when she was 48 years old. She eventually lost the ability to talk and write, and now she no longer recognizes family members. She hasn't recognized her daughter for two years and they haven't been able to have a full conversation in five. Gefroh wanted her mom to be included in the ceremony, so she and Fish decided to move up their wedding by a year.

And they planned the entire event in just 25 days.

Courtesy of Kavli Photography

The Minnesota couple was planning to visit Gefroh's mother in three weeks, so they decided to make that their wedding date. Gefroh told A Plus via email that even with the time constraints, planning the wedding was very easy thanks to the support of friends and family.

"I have an amazing group of friends with great connections, and both Bryan and I have super supportive families that all chipped in to bring everything together for us in such a short amount of time," she told A Plus. "I was pretty laid back when it came to the wedding details because I knew I couldn't be as picky as I probably would have been had I allowed myself more time. I know I definitely could not have pulled this off without my sister, brother-in-law, aunts, and grandmothers. They all came together to make our day so special. It turned out so beautifully."

The ceremony took place in Gefroh's mother's garden and the bride's sister and her husband, Isaac, helped prepare the yard by trimming trees, replanting flowers, and even creating an aisle lined with hanging flowers. The family was also able to get chairs donated from a local Catholic elementary school. A friend donated all of the floral decorations, bouquets, and boutonnieres.

Gefroh bought her dress off a mannequin 14 days before the wedding and alterations were completed four days before the big day.

On the big day, Gefroh explained that her mom didn't understand what was happening because she's at the end stages of the disease. When her sister announced Gefroh was getting married, her mother walked away with an expressionless face. The family was concerned she might not be able to make it outside for the ceremony but Fish and one of Gefroh's mother's caregivers helped get her out there.

Gefroh's aunt helped make the moment special by crawling on the ground and making strange noises in order to get Susan to laugh. It was a simple act that meant so much to the bride. She said, "I will forever be grateful that she did that because it made the day seem that much better knowing that she had a smile on her face." 

Courtesy of Kavli Photography

Sadly, a week after the couple's wedding, Gefroh's mother fell, and had to get four staples in her head, and was moved to a memory care unit on June 13 for more specialized care.

Sharing her story has helped Gefroh connect with people around the U.S. who are also sharing their stories, and thanking her for being open about hers. The situation made Gefroh realize how fortunate she was to have a support system in Minneapolis of young advocates of Alzheimer's and how difficult it would be for someone without support.

"I've found strength through these individuals, and wouldn't be able to make it through the ups and downs of this journey without them. I couldn't imagine not having someone else to talk to who knows exactly what I'm going through," she explained. "So, I decided to create a Facebook group, as somewhat of an outlet for those who need someone to lean on. I wanted to make sure that those who read my story and resonated with it would know that they have a place they can go to find support."

Gefroh added that there are many ways people can get involved, too. She encourages people to join their local Walk to End Alzheimer's and other fundraisers for the disease, to become an advocate, and to continue pushing for more funds by writing to congress. Furthermore, Alzheimer's homes are always looking for volunteers to spend an hour of their day with residents. She explains, "I used to volunteer for two hours every Wednesday evening at an Alzheimer's home. It was really impactful."

Courtesy of Kavli Photography

Gefroh hopes that her story helps change people's perceptions about the disease. "I want people to know that Alzheimer's disease is not an 'old person's disease.' That anyone with a brain is at a risk of developing the disease." 

... "I want people to read my story and realize that life is way too short to be taken for granted, to cherish the time they have left with their loved ones, because you never know what could happen to them today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now."

Approximately 200,000 Americans under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer's disease, with many in their 40s and 50s.

Gefroh writes, "My mom was the most loving, caring, and selfless person. She ran her own in-home daycare until this disease robbed her of her ability to do so. In her spare time, she loved to cross-stitch and create stained glass windows and stepping stones. She was very artistic." 

When her speech began to fail, she knew what was happening and felt embarrassed in groups. Sadly, she lost a lot of friends because of the disease. Gefroh writes, "People don't know how to act around those with Young Onset Alzheimer's, so they just start to distance themselves from the individuals all together. It was heartbreaking to see my mother in that stage. The stage of knowing that your brain is slowly dying, and knowing that there's nothing you can do about it."

The disease progressed with her losing her ability to speak and write. Now, Susan doesn't show many emotions. Gefroh states, "My relationship with my mother is very one-sided now.  She doesn't know who I am, and hasn't for about two years now. I used to cling on to her reactions when I'd come home to visit, because that's how I knew that she still knew who I was. She doesn't react to seeing me anymore. She just looks at me and walks away. It's been very hard to cope with. I miss her every single day."

Courtesy of Kavli Photography

(H/T: HuffPost)


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