LYNNWOOD — Bernard Skipworth and Sharon Gardener proved it’s never too late to fall in love.
Skipworth, who has liver cancer, has lived at Emerald Hills Healthcare Center in Lynnwood for more than a year. Gardener, who is mostly blind and has failing kidneys, moved into the nursing home a few months ago. He is 69, she is 56.
On Friday, they exchanged wedding vows in the garden and dining room of Emerald Hills, in front of an audience of more than 30 residents and staff members.
“The ceremony was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t anticipate that,” Skipworth said. “The people who run this place have gone to the end of the world to make this special.”
Everyone at the nursing home pulled together to make the wedding a success, site administrator Jeff Henson said.
The ladies at the home treated Gardener to a bridal shower earlier in the week, complete with cake, music and karaoke. A couple of nights later, the men threw a bachelor party for Skipworth. The guys watched “shoot-‘em-up movies,” ate Little Smokies and drank nonalcoholic beer, Henson said.
The nursing home sponsored the wedding, paying for the marriage license and other costs. Staff members pitched in to buy wedding gifts. An occupational therapist at the home performed their ceremony.
“Everybody was with them from the beginning,” said Adama Jeng, their nurse. “I’m happy that this has happened.”
Skipworth and Gardener have lived separately. Now they’ll be living together in the same room.
“We want them to continue to live life to the fullest, and relationships are really a major part of life,” Henson said. “You know, we want to foster everything along.”
Skipworth, who is from Oregon, had a previous marriage that ended in divorce. Gardener, who is from Everett, was married for 25 years before her former husband died in 2002.
The couple became friends while taking smoking breaks outside. As time passed, their breaks grew longer, and they grew closer.
“We started out as friends, and it just grew from there,” Gardener said.
It was a sunny day when Skipworth popped the question about two weeks ago. Gardener was stunned, but she said yes.
Desa-Rae Khan, Gardener’s daughter, was surprised and elated when her mom called her soon after.
“She asked me if I wanted to go to a wedding,” said Khan, 25. “I said, ‘Whose?’ She said, ‘Mine.’”
“My mother does not smile that often. For her to smile, I just know she has to be happy,” Khan said.
Skipworth and Gardener usually get around in wheelchairs or motorized scooters, but they stood during their entire ceremony. Afterward, they held each other as they walked back through the audience.
“It was just a nice, beautiful day, and we really appreciate what the staff did,” Gardener said.
Reporter Scott Pesznecker: 425-339-3436 or firstname.lastname@example.org.