Unbreakable Bonds in the Folds of a Wedding Dress

by - 5:51 PM



When Olivia Krieger went shopping for a wedding dress last July, she was only 15 years old.

No, there was no plan for her to become a child bride. She wasn’t even dating. But for Ms. Krieger, the ritual of trying on dresses in a bridal salon wasn’t about a relationship with a future spouse but about her relationship with her mother. And her mother, Lisa Krieger, had reached an advanced stage of terminal breast cancer. (This reporter learned of these events as a cousin of the Kriegers.)


“We weren’t sure how long we would have with her,” Olivia Krieger said of her mother, with whom she had enjoyed watching countless episodes of the television show “Say Yes to the Dress.” “She had the idea to do things while she still could, while she was still on her feet.”

And one of those things was to go wedding dress shopping with Olivia and her 19-year-old sister, Madeline. Or more accurately, Lisa Krieger wanted her daughters to have the opportunity to try on wedding dresses with her present, even though it meant acknowledging that it was likely to be their only opportunity.

“I was worried it would be a sad experience,” Madeline Krieger said. But instead it was a joyous one. There were toasts with sparkling cider and giddy smiles on July 28 as the two teenagers contemplated the elaborate dresses at Maria’s Bridal Couture in West Bloomfield, Mich. “They were almost magical,” said Olivia Krieger, who gravitated toward a Cristiano Lucci she described as “a princess gown,” while her sister favored a simpler silhouette.

But their favorite part was seeing their mother’s expression when she saw them in the dresses. “Her face just sort of lit up,” said Madeline Krieger, now a sophomore at Michigan State. “My mom won’t get to see Olivia graduate high school or see me graduate college, but she could do this.” Though Ms. Krieger doesn’t intend to get married anytime soon, she added, “When I do, I’ll be able to remember when I was 19 years old and my mom took me wedding dress shopping.”

“Lisa accepted life the way it was, rather than the way we wished it was,” Doug Krieger said of his wife, who died in October, three weeks after Olivia’s 16th birthday. “She showed the girls how you deal with a challenge in your life, no matter how small or how large. You focus on what you can do and not what you can’t.”


By doing so, Ms. Krieger was able to create a special moment with her daughters that they are likely to remember for the rest of their lives. Yet her choice was fairly unusual according to Dr. Karen Fasciano, a senior psychologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I’ve been doing psycho-oncology for 20 years, and I haven’t heard of a patient taking their unengaged daughter wedding dress shopping,” Dr. Fasciano said.


Megan Neforos hadn’t heard of it either, nor did she have any matrimonial prospects. But none of that stopped her from asking her mother, Joanne Ibbotson, to accompany her to Katherine’s Bridal Boutique in Alexandria, Va.

“I had a unique situation, because I had already lost a parent,” said Ms. Neforos, now 32 and a middle school counselor in Lincolnia, Va. Her father had died when she was 14, and she was 25 when her mother learned that she had ovarian cancer in November 2008.

“I kept asking ‘Why my mom?’ ” Ms. Neforos said. “My mom always said, ‘Why not me?’ ”

In August 2009, her mother’s oncologist told them there was nothing more he could do after only eight months of treatment. (“Below-the-belt cancers are deadly,” said Karen Bate, the spokeswoman for the Foundation for Women’s Cancer. Roughly 95,000 American women each year find out that they have gynecologic cancer, she said, and almost 30,000 die.)

“I can’t tell you how much we cried,” Ms. Neforos said. And as long as they were crying, she decided it was a good time to tell her mother she wanted to pick out a wedding gown with her.

Unlike the Kriegers, Ms. Neforos didn’t want to just try on dresses; she wanted to make an actual purchase. But her mother was too weak for any extended shopping, or even standing, so when she went to the bridal salon, it was only to see the one strapless Maggie Sottero gown that Ms. Neforos had picked out for her approval. And she definitely approved of how Ms. Neforos looked in the gown. There were tears in her eyes as she struggled to her feet and wordlessly embraced her daughter.

“I wanted to stay in that moment forever,” said Ms. Neforos, who was married three years later in the dress her late mother bought her and who is now a mother herself. But on that day in the bridal salon, she was reluctant to take off the dress because it was “the last time my mom would ever see me in it,” she said.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the store,” said Katherine Gotsis, the salon owner. “In all the years I’ve been selling wedding gowns, I think hers was the most memorable.”

Not everyone responds as favorably. MaryAnne DiCanto, an 11-year breast cancer survivor in Amityville, N.Y., was disturbed by the negative reactions when she went wedding dress shopping with her daughter last November after learning her cancer had metastasized. “People thought I was being morbid,” said Ms. DiCanto, 56. “I thought I was being a realist.”

“People don’t know what to say,” Dr. Fasciano said. “They feel that being a cheerleader and saying you’re going to be fine is the most helpful, and often it’s not.”

Dr. Fasciano didn’t find anything morbid about shopping prematurely for bridal gowns. “If you do it in the right way, you’re helping your children grieve when you can’t be there,” she said. Still, she wasn’t completely sold on the idea and voiced concern about burdensome expectations that can come with “buying a wedding dress for a wedding that may or may not happen.”

However, making a purchase was not the objective for Ms. DiCanto and her 26-year-old daughter, Hilarie Williams, when they visited a David’s Bridal store in Massapequa, N.Y.

“I had just gotten out of a long relationship and had no plans for dating, let alone getting married,” said Ms. Williams, who described herself as more comfortable at horse stables than in bridal shops. But she enjoyed primping in the Zac Posen ball gowns, and her mother relished helping her into them.

“When she put on the veil, that’s when I got really emotional,” said Ms. DiCanto, whose own mother died of breast cancer in 1995. “I always imagined walking Hilarie down the aisle, and lifting the veil.”

Whether or not Ms. DiCanto does that, she felt she had done the next best thing, which was a common refrain among the mothers and daughters interviewed. So, too, was the notion of making the most of every day.

“Never wait,” said Mary Ann Wasil, also an 11-year breast cancer survivor experiencing a recurrence of the disease. “If something will bring you joy, then do it.”

Ms. Wasil, who lives in Milford, Conn., was 39 in 2004 and had three young children when she learned she had the disease. She told her children to tell anyone who asked that she was kicking cancer’s derrière (except she didn’t use as genteel a word as “derrière”). She went on to found the Get in Touch Foundation, a nonprofit organization that distributes educational tools for breast self-exams to teenagers in 32 countries.

Her middle child, Mary Nilan, described her mother, both a former Ford model and police officer, as irrepressibly positive. “If I hadn’t met her, if I just saw her from afar, I would say that woman is just one big ray of sunshine,” said Ms. Nilan, now 23.

It’s not that Ms. Wasil doesn’t admit to days when she gets in the shower and cries; her greatest fear is that she won’t be around when her children need her. But, she said, “I don’t want to miss out on the incredible moments I’m having right now because I’m sad about what might not be.”

With that in mind, in December 2013, Ms. Wasil took her daughters, Mary and Betsy Nilan, to try on dresses at the studio of her friend Victoria McMillan, a bridal designer in Babylon, N.Y. There was finger food and a bottle of Champagne. But mostly there were dozens of flowing white gowns with gossamer lace and shimmering silk.

“Just because my sister and I aren’t close to getting married didn’t mean we couldn’t have that special moment that every girl deserves with her mother,” Betsy Nilan, now 24, said.

Her sister said it more simply: “We had a blast.”

“This doesn’t have to be a sad story,” said Ms. Wasil, who recently started a more aggressive round of chemotherapy. “I know people who have so much more and are so miserable, and I just want to shake them and say: ‘How is this possible? Enjoy what you have.’ ”

You May Also Like

0 comments