On one of the most memorable days of her life, Jeni Stepien walked down the aisle with her father by her side – 10 years after the man passed away.
There are few more bittersweet memories than a parent giving his child away at the altar, and getting that moment just right is one of the most commonly shared romance goals. If, like Jeni Stepien, your parent has passed, there are still ways to capture the magic of that experience and to honor the loved one you lost.
Tragedy Became a Lifeline
Jeni Stepien lost her father to a senseless act of violence. Walking home from his job as a restaurant’s head chef, 52-year-old Michael Stepien was the victim of a robbery. His murderer, just 16 years old, shot him in the head at close range and was later convicted of the crime. From this tragedy came a father of four’s second chance at life. Michael Stepien’s donated organs included a heart that went to Arthur Thomas, who was just days away from death due to congestive heart failure. Arthur eventually wrote a thank you letter to the surviving members of the Stepien family, and they kept in touch, sending cards, writing emails and calling, but they never met in person.
Walking Jeni Down the Aisle
When Jeni became engaged, the thought of her father not being there to walk her down the aisle left her unsure what to do. Her fiancé suggested she ask Arthur. As Jeni told The New York Times, “It would be incredible to have a physical piece of my father there.” Arthur asked his own daughter for her blessing and she approved.
The Stepiens and Arthur arranged to have him travel from New Jersey to Pittsburgh to walk Jeni down the aisle in the same church where her own parents had gotten married. In one particularly tender moment, Jeni laid her hand on Arthur’s chest to feel the heart beating and to sense that connection to her father.
What to Take Away
Brides and grooms missing their own parents can find unique ways to honor their memories at their wedding ceremonies. If there isn’t a person alive thanks to your father’s donated organs, you might have your mother, uncle, aunt or other relative walk with you while holding a photo or memento of your lost parent. Consider preparing a speech about happy memories with your parent for the reception, or playing a song that meant something special to your parent instead of the traditional bridal chorus.
Jeni Stepien and Arthur Thomas were two strangers whose paths would have never crossed if her father’s donation hadn’t saved Arthur’s life. Arthur never intended to act as a replacement for Michael Stepien, but to honor and thank the man. While your circumstances may not be the same, there are still ways to make bittersweet moments even more touching by honoring a parent you lost as you head down the aisle.