Joey Williams was only eight when he first encountered the love of his life, Nina Marino. The pair were friends throughout their childhoods, and the relationship later blossomed into a romance – one since described by photographer Nil Patel on Love What Matters as “‘the kind of love people only dream of.”
Williams and Marino were more or less inseparable after meeting at Camp Boggy Creek in Florida. They shared plenty of memorable experiences growing up. In fact, Williams subsequently described that period of their lives as growing up “like siblings” in a Facebook post.
It was during a visit to Disneyland in 2017 – more than ten years after meeting each other – that the nature of their relationship changed. They agreed that the trip had seemed different to two best friends just hanging out together. So, the pair agreed to try out being girlfriend and boyfriend for a few days, on the condition that they’d pretend it had never happened if things didn’t go well.
Only a few weeks prior to the Disneyland trip, however, Marino had been told that she had cancer. To be precise, she was suffering with sarcoma, and it had reached her lungs. Nevertheless, the couple’s dating experiment DID work out. Big time.
Williams subsequently supported his girlfriend through all of her cancer treatment. She endured a series of bouts of chemotherapy, as well as an operation to cut out a tumor. Through it all, though, she had her loyal boyfriend by her side. The pair had created a bucket list of experiences to complete together, in fact, and were providing updates about their efforts on Facebook.
The pair went on to enjoy plenty more great times with each other, but Marino’s health was nonetheless worsening. Unsure of how much time he and his girlfriend had left, Williams proposed to her.
Marino was being cared for by medical professionals at the Children’s Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. The non-profit establishment supports hundreds of children who have the disease. It also runs numerous initiatives that aim to help family members of cancer-sufferers.
The pair were due to wed in a hospital chapel on September 4, 2018. However, as the big day approached, they were advised by doctors to marry within a few hours, as there was no guarantee Marino would survive for much longer.
Williams and Marino agreed, and the race was on to put on an incredible makeshift wedding. Loved ones and hospital staff did everything they could to create a special service. Marino was no longer able to move to the chapel, so the wedding would take place that day in the pediatric ICU.
The hospital room was brought to life with candles, fairy lights and photographs of the pair enjoying some of their happiest moments. These adornments did a fantastic job of demonstrating the intensity of the bond between the couple.
As the final preparations for the ceremony were taking place, the room was filled with positive energy. Any despair about Marino’s deteriorating health was to be put on hold for the time being. Instead, the guests were ready to celebrate her momentous romance.
Williams’ vows reduced those in attendance to tears. Nina’s health condition had left her unable to speak a word. In many ways, though, it didn’t matter. The way she gazed at her husband was worth more than a thousand words.
“It wasn’t the wedding of our dreams, but it was the wedding that made our dreams come true,” Williams told People in September 2018. “It was really important to her. It was one of the things she absolutely wanted to do, one of the things I wanted to do.”
The pair spent a little more than two-and-a-half days as husband and wife before Marino passed away. In an emotional tribute on the couple’s Facebook page, which is titled The Chronic Travelers, Williams promised that Nina “will always be my beautiful wife and you will always be with me.”
“You looked so beautiful in your dress, and the way your eyes lit up when I put the ring on your finger will stay with me forever,” Williams’ Facebook post continued. “‘You taught me what love really means, you taught me how to be selfless, caring, compassionate, kind, and how to see the bright side of everything. You taught me to love myself, and you accepted me for who I was.”
A touching sub-plot from these events involved the photographer Nil Patel. He had been booked to cover the wedding at just a few hours’ notice as a last-minute replacement for his friend, who’d been unable to attend on the rearranged date. Patel subsequently rushed to the hospital to capture the beautiful occasion.
In a September 2018 post on his blog, Patel revealed that the hours immediately before being asked to photograph the wedding had been “one of his darkest days in a long time.” He explained that he’d spent that time “fueled by alcohol and pity,” as he was struggling to cope with the recent passing of his father. But Patel went on to describe the wedding itself as a positive, life-changing experience.
“If all you take away is that whatever is holding you down at this exact moment, it’s not worth dwelling over,” Patel’s friend had told him. “Live your lives for those who can’t live for themselves. This young woman is 19. She is living her best life. Don’t take your life for granted… Learn to let go of these petty little things. Now go out and live.”
The emotions stirred by the wedding ceremony have given Patel a new perspective on life, which he explained beautifully on his blog – a post that has since been widely covered in the media. “I wish it didn’t take a visual tragedy for us to appreciate life,” Patel wrote. “For us to grasp how unexpected life can be and how short it really is.”
Patel was full of praise for the incredible courage shown by the bride, Nina Marino. “Nina’s presence, Nina’s energy, and Nina’s love for life comforted and healed me a million times over,” Patel explained. “I only wish there is some way I could repay you. Please understand the amount of love, the amount of appreciation for life, and the endless lives you’ve touched on this Earth due to your circumstances. We are forever in your debt.”