After seven years together, Maria Donaldson’s boyfriend, Keegan Galea, proposed during a picturesque holiday to Norway in the spring of 2017. The Toronto-based couple began planning a rustic ceremony outside of the city in Caledon, Ont. set for June 2, 2018.
Donaldson, a 28-year-old registered nurse from Oakville, Ont. knew that she wanted her grandfather to play a special role in her wedding day and was excited to ask her 99-year-old grandfather, Kjell Renstrom, to accompany her down the aisle with her father.
“I’m his final grandchild to get married,” Donaldson tells Yahoo Canada. “We all knew he would be so moved to walk with me down the aisle.”
Donaldson says she has always had a special relationship with her grandparents, who were a permanent fixture during her childhood. Despite moving away from her parents’ home in Oakville, Donaldson makes regular visits to her grandfather whenever she can, and even exchanges emails with her tech-savvy grandparent.
“Even at 99-years-old he is sharp as a nail,” Donaldson says. “He probably has a better memory than I do!”
However, in the months leading up to the wedding, the family began noticing slight changes in Renstrom’s mental sharpness – and soon his he began looking very frail. Donaldson admits that she began to worry if he would make it to her wedding.
Just six days before she was set to walk down the aisle, Renstrom was hospitalized with pneumonia.
“I went and saw him the following day and his condition was very poor,” she recalls. “I was devastated. At one point, we weren’t sure if he would even hold on until the wedding day. It was really hard on all of the family.”
While her grandfather was unable to walk her down the aisle, Donaldson was determined to still include him on her wedding day.
“I knew I needed to find a way to see him,” she says. “My friends and family did such a wonderful job in making this happen.”
On the day of her wedding, Donaldson and her parents woke up early to make the hour-long drive to visit her grandfather.
Photographer Anastasia Giaouris of Olive Photography joined the family at the hospital to the special moment when Renstrom would see his last grandchild in her wedding dress.
“My heart leapt – of course I wanted to capture those precious moments,” Giaouris tells Yahoo Canada. “Documenting memories with loved ones is why I became a photographer. Weddings aren’t just about ‘the pretty.’ They’re about the connection and love between people.”
As the family entered the hospital room, they were overcome with emotion.
“I thought I could stay composed, but as soon as I saw him and he saw me, we were both reduced to tears,” Donaldson says. “It was such a beautiful moment, and you could see it meant just as much to him as it did me.”
The young bride admits she was afraid of the state her grandfather would be in.
“I was so glad he was completely coherent. He knew exactly who I was and why I was there. I found out later he had been telling people, ‘my granddaughter is getting married today.’ I know I made the right decision.”
After taking in the sight of Donaldson in her wedding dress, Renstrom managed to joke with granddaughter.
“He looked me over and then said with a smile, ‘So, you haven’t changed your mind?” she recalls. “I said absolutely not, and that I loved Keegan so much. He replied, ‘me too.'”
There is a palpable connection between Donaldson and her grandfather, evident in the photos from their wedding day visit, a testament to the powerful love the family has for one another.
“I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the support and love of my grandfather,” Donaldson says. “He cares so deeply about his grandchildren, and we all love him so much.”
Giaouris’s Instagram page has been flooded by comments from followers who have been moved by the photographs.
“This was absolutely the highlight of my wedding photography career,” Giaouris says. “I am grateful Maria felt comfortable to share this memory with me. I hope it brings her and her family a sense of peace and warmth throughout the years.”
“My grandfather is such a kind, loving and giving person,” says Donaldson. “I am so incredibly grateful for Anastasia who went above and beyond to capture this incredibly important moment in my life.”