PetaPixel

Photographer Gives 11-Year-Old the Gift of a Walk Down the Aisle with Her Dying Dad

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Photographer Lindsey Villatoro of Lovesong Photography recently did something that is warming the hearts of the entire photo community and beyond: she gave a daughter the surprise of a lifetime when she put together a ceremony where her dying father got the chance to walk her down the aisle — something he very likely won’t get to do again.

Villatoro is a wedding and portrait photographer who spends her free time working with charities and cancer organizations to give the gift of photography to terminally ill patients and their families. That’s how she met the Zetz family.

Jim Zetz, 62, has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and so he and his wife Grace scheduled a photo shoot with Villatoro. During the shoot she found out that their daughter Josie would be turning 11 on March 14th, and so she offered to do something for her as well.

When she got home she posted the story to her website to see if she could raise some money or gifts for Josie’s 11th birthday. This could be the last birthday she gets to spend with her father, and Villatoro wanted to make sure it would be extra special.

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That’s when an idea struck. Why not give her something every little girl deserves? After speaking to Josie’s mom, the plan began to take shape: they would create a surprise wedding for Josie so that she could have her father walk her down the aisle.

In 72 hours, Villatoro was able to bring together a wedding dress from L.A. Fashion Week, catering, flowers, tux, hair, makeup and more, all donated by her local vendors. There was even a wedding cake and promise ring. In all, Villatoro tells us, “she received over $2,000 in birthday presents from my clients,” and not a cent was spent to bring the event together.

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Villatoro didn’t even meet Josie until the day of the wedding. “She was a little bit overwhelmed when her mom picked her up from school and told her,” she tells the Huffington Post. “Later, she said, ‘This is the best day of my life.’ She was very glad and excited to have these moments.”

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The story has since gone viral and been picked up by the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post and, now, photo blogs and other publications. It’s a story of hope, of photography coming together for a higher purpose, of visual storytelling at its best. Something we’re intimately familiar with, and never fails to touch our hearts.

To top off the experience, Villatoro also put together a video slideshow of highlights from the full day called “Walk me down the Aisle Daddy.” If you haven’t cried yet, we suggest you get the tissues ready:

Villatoro has said that her goal with photo shoots like this is “to preserve that person. Most people focus on the death and not the beauty of that person, who they were and the memories that they leave.”

It’s just our opinion, but we believe her goal shines through in these photos beautifully. This isn’t a photo and video about death, but about life. About a father who is leaving behind a beautiful memory for his daughter, that we’re sure she will cherish long after he is gone.

(via SLR Lounge)


Image credits: Photographs by Lindsey Villatoro/Lovesong Photography and used with permission


 
  • John Krill

    Oops I can’t find my tissues.

  • Rob S

    needs NSFW warning…..also seems to cause local dust storms

  • Larissa

    She could have planned anything, any big, magical event with no precise name, and yet she chose a wedding. For an 11 year old. I know I can’t be the only one who finds this slightly disturbing. I completely agree that this girl and her father deserved to share a moment together, and I’m happy that in the end they both enjoyed it, but putting an 11 year old girl in the position of a bride is not something to put in the spotlight. I don’t want to be the person who mentions the millions of girls who are forced to have an actual wedding when they’re so young (with men generally the same age as this father), but it’s a reality that doesn’t need to be romanticized.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    because nothing says “heartwarming” like an 11 year old bride.

  • SS

    I thought it was sweet. People make pretend situations all the time. I dont think its going to ruin anyones future because this happened. Its not giving false hope or anything but a beautiful memory.

  • becca

    You’re not the only one. A “wedding” should not have been staged for an 11yo. They could have done something more meaningful w/o being so dang creepy.

  • meaghdalena

    Seriously? It’s not creepy. It’s sweet. Her dad won’t be there for her actual wedding if she gets married one day. A girls’ wedding day is the one event where her parents are important and should be there. Can you think of any other event in a persons life where it makes sense to single out the father daughter relationship in any way??? Don’t be a troll for the sake of being a troll.

  • manaaaa

    haters gonna hate

  • hdc77494

    The point was, when she DOES decide to get married, HE WON’T BE THERE to walk her down the aisle. Any relationship between this act of kindness and forced child brides is all in your head.

  • Larissa

    I don’t think you know what a troll is. But here’s what it’s not: It’s not someone who has a different opinion.
    And you don’t need to have pre-existing events. If you want to make truly memorable moments, you create new events, special ones that have a deeper meaning for the parties involved. There’s a million creative paths they could have wandered down.

  • Okram

    There is nothing disturbing here. This is not a real wedding. She is not a bride. This eleven year old is not getting married. This is a moment shared with a daughter and her dad. A moment she would like to share later on in life, but will not be able to.

  • Larissa

    I obviously understand that. But why make it a wedding? why not just any nondescript event where they get to dress up and dance and wear flowers and be merry? That’s my question. It wouldn’t have made a difference in her heart if it were something else.

  • Okram

    WTF? This is not a eleven year old bride. This is not a wedding. This is a moment shared with daughter and dad. A moment she will not be able to share later in her life, when she is an actual bride.

  • meaghdalena

    Did you look at the pictures???? Pretty sure this was a “truly memorable event” for the “parties involved”. And you’re totally right! I had you all wrong. You’re not a troll. I won’t say what you are, though, because that would encourage this conversation to continue.

  • Okram

    Obviously you do not understand. Read carefully now… THIS … IS … NOT … A .. WEDDING!

    Stop. Just stop.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    well i’m glad you liked the shoot, I think it’s ridiculous, and you’re welcome to disagree with me.

  • Larissa

    First of all, calm down. second of all, I wasn’t even the one who said this was creepy. thirdly, you don’t know me so you can’t possibly think anything. Fourthly, that’s exactly my point. it didn’t have to be a wedding for it to be memorable, she would have been just as happy with some other dress up event. please reread what I said, and don’t skip the part where I say they deserve it.

  • http://www.winslowpicturecompany.com/ Graham Marley

    There is such a thing as concern trolling, and you’re bordering on it. I think there’s a discussion here about some of the editorial choices. For example, I think the photos might capture too much grief for them to be helpful later on down the line, but I wasn’t there and I can only critique so far. There isn’t, however, a link between child abuse and what these people are doing here.

  • Okram

    I don’t just disagree with you, I think you’re ridiculous.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    well that’s fine, too. Your opinion is just as valid as mine.

  • Larissa

    some people should just not comment because you clearly lack the intellect to understand a simple argument. Let me explain this in simple terms:
    Girl happy ANY event. Photographer no need make fake wedding. ANY EVENT make girl and daddy happy.

  • Okram

    This is not a bride. This is not a wedding. These are facts, not opinions.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    I’m totally with you on this. The fact that people here disagreeing with us and getting genuinely upset about our opinion s rather strange, though.

  • Larissa

    so with your logic, sex scenes in films should be shown to anyone at any age because it’s not real sex? It doesn’t need to be real to represent something real.

  • Okram

    Ah good, it only took two replies to make you realize this is not a wedding. Next time read the article carefully.

  • Orakm

    Is sex with your dad in the room something you consider a special moment?

  • Larissa

    I give up on you

  • Okram

    You’d do better to give up on life.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    I’m not disputing the facts, at all, I’m disagreeing with the choice to make this shoot a wedding, it has no significance and meaning other than to perpetuate an ideal that a woman’s goal in life is to marry and have her father give her away to her choice of husband at her wedding – it’s gross. These photos won’t mean anything when/if she actually gets married, it’ll be “oh, here’s the fake wedding I had when I was 11 so my, now dead, father could experience handing me over”… it’s so weird. And it’s this that we obviously disagree on, we have a difference of opinion – which is fine.

  • Larissa

    you actually are an idiot. And I don’t say that to be mean, those are just facts, not opinions.

  • meeweek

    why not make it a wedding? :-) why we comment on this post, but not something else.

  • meeweek

    pretty sure any event includes a fake wedding.

  • Okram

    How are you not disputing facts? Your initial comment stated that this is an eleven year old bride. This is not an eleven year old bride. Right away you are turning this moment into something that it’s not. This is not about this girl’s goal in life, this is about a moment that she may not have with her father. How is that so difficult to understand?

  • Marko

    Actually, that’s an opinion. Go make that special moment with your dad.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    because in the photographs she is literally portraying an 11 year old bride, it doesn’t matter that she’s not actually getting married. The sentiment behind the idea is almost irrelevant. “this is about a moment that she may not have with her father. ” well yeah, a moment that is pushed on girls, that moment when they’re married to another man and no longer the property of their fathers. It’s gross.

  • Julia

    I wish I was able to do this. I am 22 and my father past away 2 months ago. When I get married in the future, there will be no one walking the aisle next to me. Nor there will be my father’s blessing nor father and daughter’s dance.

  • Larissa

    other events that would have been equally “inappropriate” including but not limited to “fake bachelorette party”, “fake baby shower”,.. I mean I don’t care, it’s not my childhood. I just think that anything else (figure of speech) would have been better.

  • Okram

    Portraying a bride and being a bride are two different things. How is the sentiment not relevant? This act is all about the sentiment.

  • http://www.winslowpicturecompany.com/ Graham Marley

    I get the disagreement on the wedding as content, but I think you’re reaching too far with your projections. You don’t really get to say how it’ll be interpreted in 20 years by the girl in the photo with any authority, and to nail it down as some kind of crushing manifestation of patriarchy is a bridge too far. I think the concept can be fine, I just think these are way too focused on sadness and not nearly subtle enough. I’ve done a “last family photo shoot” and the dynamic is so strange, I think it needs to be done with the softest touch possible. This is pretty heavy handed.

  • Larissa

    Again, by your logic, portraying sex (acting) and having sex are two different things. So if a man got naked with a little girl and pretended to have sex with her, portraying it, but didn’t actually do it, it would be different? No, it would still be portraying pedophilia, whether the act was committed or not.

    Obviously this is an extreme example, but it shows that the argument is flawed.

  • Larissa

    Now that I know you support incest, I understand your train of thought. Any further comments you make will be irrelevant.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    ok, so someone works on a photo series depicting infant rape, it’s not real rape, so that must be okay!! also, depicting marriage in this way also makes a mockery of actual child brides that are forced to marry at such a young age – feel free to disagree with that as well.

  • Christine Loughead

    Im kind of on the fence about this . It’s obviously a nice day for both the father and daughter but there is a strange feeling because did she really need a fake wedding ? while tradition has the father handing off his daughter married as property which is kind of gross , we still seem to like this tradition and that’s why it’s still around. I do think the father and daughter enjoyed the day however . Maybe next time do a fake graduation instead .

  • Okram

    Actually, yes, the portrayal of sex and having sex are two different things.

    That is irrelevant to this story.

  • Tom Blachford

    The whole child bride thing aside, which IS an issue…

    Send the two of them to disneyland to smile laugh all day. To drag a little girl through an overacted reminder that her father is going to die is a harrowing and necessary experience. Tragically he will miss many moments in her life but final days should be spent enjoying what time they have together, not bawling their eyes out with a heart-wrenching farce of an event to be used as folio marketing and link bait.

    All i see is badly shot, badly processed photos of pure anguish and heartache that i cannot and will not deem necessary for the development of that little girl.

  • Okram

    Depicting marriage and depicting rape are two very different things. If you don’t see a difference there, I suggest you get help – quickly.

  • Larissa

    You make valid points, sir.

    Now, unleash the trolls who will disagree with you!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/zackhuggins/ Zack

    This gets to the core of what kind of bugs me about this series. It feels more about the expectation of the parents for the kids life than anything, and it ties into how hard the “fairy tale wedding” is pushed on girls so early on in their lives. What if she doesn’t want to get married?

    It’s like how relatives will crowd around a little boy and say “aw, look at him, who’s my future NFL quaterback?” They might mean well and their hearts are in the right place but they’re still placing expectations on him. WHAT IF HE WANTS TO BE A DANCER HUH?

  • http://www.winslowpicturecompany.com/ Graham Marley

    THIS is my issue with the shoot. If I were to shoot this (I would not shoot this) it would have been much wider shots, probably from behind, no facial expressions of crying. I get that it’s about a way for her dad to participate in a future event, which I don’t have a problem with, but I think these are way too traumatizing for that to work.

  • https://twitter.com/adamhowardcross Adam Cross

    well, rape is a illegal, and so is marriage at 11…. what difference is there ?