November 8, 2021

Hospice Chaplain Officiates a Last-Minute ICU Wedding

When VITAS Chaplain Jeffrey Krauss met patient Patricia “Pat” Townsend and Howard Johnson, her partner of 30 years, they asked an unexpected question: 

“Chaplain, are you able to perform a wedding? Can you marry us?”

VITAS care teams have had a long-standing principle: Do whatever it takes to fulfill a patient’s last wishes.

Inspired by compassion for their dying patient, a commitment to see her dream come true, and a can-do attitude, Jeffrey and his VITAS team married Pat and Howard in a last-minute, bedside ceremony at a Northern Virginia intensive care unit.

That compassion, commitment, and can-do attitude define the VITAS Difference for our patients, families, and colleagues every day.

‘It Has to Be Now’

The chaplain and fiance at the bride's bedside

“It brought a lot of joy to them,” Jeffrey says, “that after all that time, their final wish was fulfilled.”

After Jeffrey first met the couple in the spring of 2021, he explored the logistics for officiating weddings in Virginia. Several weeks later, he had completed the county’s requirements and certification.

At the next home visit with Pat, the couple asked again: “Can you marry us now? We got our marriage license!”

Together, they settled on an early July date. Then, in mid-June, Pat was admitted overnight to Novant Health’s intensive care unit with severe breathing problems.

VITAS admissions nurses Johanne “JoJo” Waggy and Sangeeta Sethi called Jeffrey to tell him: “They want to get married now, and it has to be now if it’s ever going to happen.”

Success From a Team’s Can-do Attitude

“The entire team really mobilized at that point to make the wedding extra special,” Jeffrey recalls. “The head of the hospital’s ICU bought flowers and banners, streamers, a cake, and cards for us to sign. They created a mini chapel around the couple, and really did it up beautifully.”

Jeffrey’s wife Rebecca donated a veil and flowers. Jeffrey officiated at the touching wedding ceremony and also accompanied the couple on his guitar, with a touching performance of “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

“Pat was overjoyed,” he says. “You could see in her face and her eyes … the look of happiness on her face.”

Two hours later, when he returned to Pat’s ICU room, Jeffrey found his patient alert and talkative, with a piece of wedding cake in front of her.

Hospice Chaplain: ‘A Highlight of My Career’

“I’m not going home, I know I’m going to die, and I’m OK with it,” Pat told Jeffrey. Early the next morning, she died in her husband’s arms.

One week later, Jeffrey officiated at her graveside service.

“I was pretty emotionally overwhelmed by it,” he says. “It was exhausting, but it was also very meaningful, a highlight of my career. I’ve not had any other experiences that were as special as this.”

Mostly, he’s comforted knowing his team’s compassion and can-do attitude enabled Pat and her beloved Howard to spend their last day together as husband and wife.

“It brought a lot of joy to them, that after all that time, their final wish was fulfilled.”

If you’re interested in a career in compassionate healthcare that honors patients’ wishes and goals for quality of life near the end of life, join the VITAS team today.


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