By Mark E. Vogler
---- — HAVERHILL — Robert Lang smiled and flashed a victory sign last night as he celebrated his son’s wedding — 24 days early — at the Merrimack Valley Hospice House.
Lang, 62, of Boxford, had planned to join a wedding party of 160 family and friends in York, Maine, next month to watch his son Daniel marry Ashley Torr.
But with Lang battling terminal cancer and under hospice care for the last 10 days, the family decided it was best to move the wedding up so he could be there and enjoy it.
“Our wedding was planned for Oct 20,” Dan, 28, said in an interview last night.
“The doctors didn’t have a terrific prognosis that he’d make it that long. But we both wanted him to be there,” he said.
So, the Merrimack Valley Hospice House was more than willing to help by offering to host its first wedding since opening the home three years ago. They offered a picturesque place in front of the fireside in the foyer. “We decided Monday night that this was what we were going to do. We did everything online,” Lang’s wife Chris said, of the short-notice invitations that went out to immediate family. The couple has been married 31 years.
There’s still hope, of course, that Bob will make the Oct. 20 wedding ceremony.
But Dan didn’t want to take any chances that his father would miss the important date.
“It was needed,” said the Justice of the Peace Albert Jolie, from Cape Neddick, Maine.
“We did this for Bob because we don’t know how much longer he’ll be with us. So, this is like a practice run for the big one (Oct. 20). Bob is the toughest guy I’ve ever met. He’s been battling cancer for so long,” said Jolie, who is also a brother-in-law and Dan’s uncle.
So, Jolie presided over a wedding party of 11 last night.
Dan, a 2002 graduate of Masconomet Regional High School in Topsfield, said his dad’s been a major inspiration to the whole family.
“The most impressive thing about my dad — he was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago and they gave him two years to live,” Dan said.
“He changed his diet. He exercised more frequently. He got into running. He completed changed his lifestyle. A major source of pride for him has been making sure all of his kids graduated from college.
“After he was diagnosed (with cancer), his attitude was ‘I’m going to fight this and do what I can to help my family. I am going to keep on living,’” he said.
The newlyweds both graduated from the UMass-Amherst. Ashley graduated from Sutton High School in 2004. She is the daughter of Linda and Henry Torr of Sutton.
Bob said he was “really excited” that his family agreed to change the wedding so he could be there.
Then again, he has always been there for his family, whom he considers his major passion in life.
“When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and they said he had two years, he said ‘I don’t think so,’” Chris said of her husband.
“His goal was to get all of the kids through college. All are graduated and they are gainfully employed. That’s what he wanted,” she said.
Elizabeth, 22, of Boxford, called Bob “just an awesome dad.”
“We have tons of fun together. He’s not going to make it to my wedding, but I’m happy that he gets to make it to this one,” she said.
Kaitlyn, 25, of Somerville, said her father “has never given up on life. The fact that he’s been able to support us and give us everything. He put us all through college.”
“He took the whole family to Florida this past summer, July 4, he coordinated it,” she said.
Merrimack Valley Hospice House officials noted the wedding, though unique, reflects the philosophy of their caring business.
“It is truly a celebration of life,” said Candy French, director of Merrimack Valley Hospice House. “The staff were honored to accommodate this lovely couple and help their families enjoy this milestone event together.”
“The staff of Merrimack Valley Hospice House is committed to caring for the entire family when a loved one resides here. We know how important it is for families to enjoy these days together and this is a perfect example of a family truly embracing the celebration of life,” she said.