A wedding day is a memory to be treasured forever. And from the moment of her engagement, Becky Carey knew whom the photographer would be to capture the day. She clicked with Bonnie Turner when they met in spring 2018. But planning became difficult for Becky – and she therefore emailed Bonnie to ask a very big favor.
Often, at milestone moments in a person’s life, only a professional photographer’s touch is good enough to preserve the occasion. Such instances can include weddings, graduations, pregnancies and engagements, for example. When Becky became engaged, then, she knew she wanted to celebrate her love for her fiancé, Matt, with photos to share with friends and family.
Furthermore, Becky, who teaches at a school and hails from Woodbridge, Virginia, knew exactly whom she wanted as her engagement photographer. When she met Bonnie in spring 2018, the pair immediately hit it off. After Becky became engaged, then, she soon booked a photo shoot with Bonnie. But there was a problem.
Settling on a date for Becky’s engagement photos was difficult because of inclement weather. Conditions never seemed to work in her favor, and it was a situation out of their control, which must have been frustrating for everyone. Nonetheless, she kept communications flowing with Bonnie in case a window of opportunity opened up.
However, in September 2018 Bonnie received an unexpected email from Becky regarding the pending engagement shoot. It seemed there had been a dramatic change in the bride-to-be’s circumstances, in fact. What’s more, she had a new idea of what the session would involve and also had a huge favor to ask Bonnie.
Bonnie is a Virginia-based photographer. She’s also a wife and mother to three girls and a stepson to boot. It seems, then, that her personal life informs her professional one. Indeed, she admits to being a hopeless romantic and endeavors to capture on camera those heartfelt moments that should be cherished for a lifetime.
As Bonnie writes on her website, “Whether it’s the love between two amazing souls, the beauty of life growing on the inside, those tiny little bottoms that will quickly outgrow your lap, or your family that you will forever hold in your heart, it should always be captured and remembered.”
Working as a photographer, then, Bonnie specializes in portraits, with much of her focus centered on couples. Many of her shoots capture the love between two people on their wedding days, for instance, or celebrate the intimacy of engagements or pregnancies. In addition, she’s also commissioned for family portraits and even shots of high-school seniors.
Bonnie seems able to forge a profound connection with her clients. Indeed, some return to her for more shoots throughout the unfolding stories of their lives. It’s proof of the same connection that Becky made with her when they first met. And when she needed a photographer for an engagement shoot, she knew Bonnie was the one.
Becky and her fiancé, Matt, were engaged in September 2018. And as sure as she was that she wanted an accompanying photo shoot and knew the photographer she wanted to work with, there was something extra that Becky felt for certain. You see, there was someone else who would play a big role in her wedding day: her dad, Tim.
And Becky was incredibly close to her father. Traditionally, of course, it’s a dad’s responsibility to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day and to take the first dance with her. It’s a duty that Tim was due to perform at his daughter’s wedding and one that Becky was looking forward to.
Timothy Carey was 70 years old and a former colonel in the U.S. Air Force. In fact, he fought in the Vietnam War and undertook hundreds of flights during the conflict. But, as it happened, those weren’t the biggest battles of his life. That’s right: in September 2018 he had a tougher fight on his hands.
Back in 2014 Tim Carey had been told that he had stage-four pancreatic and prostate cancer. And after receiving four years’ worth of treatment, Tim took another turn for the worse. Shortly after his daughter’s engagement, in fact, he was due to enter a hospice for further care. Becky then sent an email to her engagement photographer about the devastating situation.
As Bonnie revealed on Facebook in March 2019, Becky’s email began, “So I know you probably think I am the biggest photo session flake in the whole world; I’m so sorry for being all over the place with our requests changing.” Becky wasn’t responsible for the poor weather, of course, but she had a favor to ask.
It transpired that Matt, Becky’s fiancé, had already paid the deposit for Bonnie’s photography services. Even so, they hadn’t yet nailed down a date due to the changeable weather conditions. But with Tim expected to be moved to a hospice, there was a sudden need for the arrangement to be altered.
“My dad has been fighting prostate cancer and his body is now at the point where it can’t handle more treatment,” Becky explained to Bonnie. “We found out yesterday that he starts hospice this week. We’d really love to use the deposit Matt gave you to do a family photo session.”
Becky explained that she and her brother were still kids the last time that the Careys decided to have their family portraits professionally shot. With her father’s deteriorating health, though, this seemed like a good time to have them done again. It meant sacrificing her engagement shoot but that, Becky said, could wait. However, the photo session had a twist.
“Matt and I will worry about our photos later, because this is more pressing with time,” Becky explained to Bonnie. “Of course, this is a very difficult and dark time, but I know how you feel about love and capturing it so beautifully and meaningfully.” For Becky, moreover, the shoot would have a particularly special meaning.
“This weekend [in September] a good friend of mine who does videography is doing a really special favor for me,” Becky’s email continued. You see, the photo shoot had morphed into something else. Her dad’s condition wasn’t going to improve. And with her wedding still many months away, the bride-to-be had a plan.
Indeed, with her fiancé’s blessing, Becky had come up with a novel idea. “My dad and I are getting dressed up to film our first dance so that I can have it at my wedding,” she explained to Bonnie. Tim had battled against cancer, but nobody knew how long he had left.
“I had been a little bit in denial about how sick he was, thinking that he would actually be at my wedding,” Becky told Inside Edition in April 2019. To say Tim had been fighting cancer for four years was somewhat of an understatement, you see. In fact, he had already beaten the odds to defy death several times.
And Becky, mind you, knew only too well the truly tough battle her dad had faced thanks to the disease. “He fought cancer harder than anyone,” she reported to Good Morning America in April 2019. “He should have died at least seven times prior. I know he was holding on for me.”
So when Becky explained to Bonnie how she and her dad were getting dressed up, it wasn’t simply to look good in a photo shoot. In fact, with her dad’s health worsening by the day, the session had taken on a role different to anything Bonnie had been involved in previously.
The location of the shoot was the grounds of the very house in which Becky had spent her childhood, in Woodbridge, Virginia. Indeed, it’s the house where her mom and dad still lived. And this wasn’t due to be just any nostalgic photo shoot. Instead, the bride-to-be had a very specific concept in mind.
On the morning of the shoot, Tim found enough strength to don his old Air Force uniform. You see, the co-star of the shoot wasn’t due to be Becky’s fiancé after all. With time running out for her ailing father, this was going to be a daddy-daughter session.
Meanwhile, Becky, too, got dressed up especially for the photo shoot. She put some make-up on, in fact, fixed her hair and then donned a lace wedding dress for the session. Her idea was that she and her father would share their first wedding dance in the backyard.
As Becky explained in her email to Bonnie, “Dad is getting weaker by the day and unfortunately we have to do this as soon as possible.” Of course, the bride had hoped that her father might make it to walk her down the aisle, but the wedding was still a year away.
Indeed, with her father’s health deteriorating, Becky had come up with a back-up plan should it come to pass that Tim wasn’t well enough to fulfill his intended role at the big ceremony. “We are throwing this plan together really fast because we don’t know how long we have before [dad] won’t be able to [dance],” she told Bonnie.
As Becky had previously explained to the photographer, she’d convinced a videographer pal to stop by on the day. Although the family remained hopeful, it was looking very unlikely that her father would be able to take part on Becky’s wedding day. So, then, they would film the “first dance” as a kind of insurance policy.
Meanwhile, Becky’s idea was that Bonnie would work her photographer magic and capture the dance in her unique style. And although it was short notice, Bonnie found time in her schedule to take the job. So that weekend, she headed to the Carey family home to document the emotional video shoot.
Then, with Becky dressed in a bridal gown and her father in his military uniform, they took to their improvised dance floor – the family’s backyard. The pair danced to the classic “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers, which is Tim’s most cherished track. And the moment proved to be an incredibly emotional one.
Despite her father’s frail physical state, Becky had her dance with him. They whirled and joked around as Bonnie and the videographer captured every heartwarming moment. “We were able to talk and laugh,” Becky explained to Inside Edition. And while they danced together, the duo offered each other a special reassurance.
As Becky and her father danced, she leaned into him and whispered, “This is just practice and just for fun.” Indeed, the bride-to-be described her dad as being relentlessly positive. “He always saw the world through rose-colored glasses,” she told Good Morning America. “He would always be the one making the nurses laugh.”
However, the power of positive thought would only stretch so far. And while Becky and her father danced to the Righteous Brothers with her mom and brother watching, Tim’s emotions got the better of him. “He started crying, so of course I started crying,” Becky recalled on Inside Edition. “It was sad. But it was also beautiful.”
Indeed, despite Becky and her father reassuring each other that their “first dance” was just a dry run for the real thing, their smiles and laughter veiled a hidden sadness. “I choked up at the end, realizing how important it was,” the soon-to-be bride admitted to Good Morning America. You see, deep down they both knew the truth.
“[Dad] wanted to make it [to the wedding],” Becky confessed to Inside Edition. But Tim was incredibly frail, and with hospice care in his immediate future and the wedding still a year away, the prospect didn’t look likely. Time was surely running out for the former Air Force colonel.
Eventually, a hospital bed was delivered to the Careys’ home courtesy of the hospice staff. As Becky recalled, “[Dad] didn’t want to go there because he didn’t want to go yet.” However, Tim lost his brave fight against cancer on March 28, 2019, while asleep in his own bed.
“We found him at 7:30 a.m.,” Becky recalled on Inside Edition. She explained how he passed away as he slept and remained in the position they’d tucked him in earlier. “He didn’t move,” she recalled. “I think it was very peaceful.” Hopefully, the relatively tranquil nature of his passing is a comfort to his loved ones.
Bonnie shared a selection of images from Becky and Tim’s first dance on her Facebook page. And so far the post has received more than 100,000 reactions, shares and comments. “Photos are everything you have when people are gone,” the photographer told Good Morning America. “It’s what we have to look back on to feel that person with us.”
Tim didn’t make it to his daughter’s wedding in the end. He did, nevertheless, celebrate Becky’s engagement party at a gathering four days before dying. Meanwhile, the video of what transpired to be the bride’s first and last dance with her father will play at the wedding reception. “I still had that moment with my dad,” Becky told Good Morning America.