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


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.


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.


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.”



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

  • Adam Cross

    traditional marriage is an absolute crushing manifestation of patriarchy, so not a bridge too far on my part by any means. But yes, obviously I can’t tell the future and know exactly how she’ll feel about the shoot, but as @christine loughead says a few coments down, a graduation shoot would have been so much better, and 500% less weird and creepy

  • Larissa

    Haven’t you heard? On the internet people all have to have the same opinion. If the internet were created in the middle ages, you and I would currently be burning at the stake. :)

  • Adam Cross

    with you 100%

  • Okram

    Tradition has father handing off his daughter. In some other countries perhaps as property. Sometime ago it may have been true here as well. However, now, here, in 2014, this is obviously not a display of father owning daughter. In fact, this is not a wedding or hand-off at all.

  • Larissa

    what do you mean NFL quarterback? He will be a doctor and she will be his stay at home wife, taking care of their 3 beautiful little children. And that’s the end of that.

  • Marko

    Holy sh**. Are you really that dense? Let’s take this one step at a time.

    1. A depiction of marriage is not marriage
    2. A depiction of rape is not rape (that’s not to say it’s right)

    HOLY S**T. Are there many like you out there?

  • Okram

    Didn’t we go over this? This is not a marriage. She is not a bride.

  • Adam Cross

    you’re hilarious, but I’m going to have to say bye now

  • Okram

    And you have me frightened. Are there many like you out there?

  • Adam Cross

    this Okram person is basically going against all of their replies that they’ve said to you and I, and others, with this post in an attempt to redeem themselves somewhat. they’re completely mad. NO UPVOTE Okram! NO UPVOTE FOR YOU! :’)

  • Zack

    Yeah, I can’t imagine looking back on these photos fondly. :(

  • Graham Marley

    Well, you can turn pretty much anything into an indictment on any social ill if you want to. You have to establish intent to reinforce problematic norms for your case to hold water, and I don’t know how you can do that in this case. Without getting into some huge historical deconstruction, marriage and family actually do serve some purpose, despite being tainted by issues of inequality, which is a matter of working forwards towards something better. IF she gets married, her father will absolutely be a notable absence apart from ancient concepts of humans-as-property. While I have issues with the execution of the concept, this is her dad wanting to participate in something that he obviously would have had he been around. That’s it. This isn’t “You have to get married to be worth something.” or “Child brides are great!” Dislike it, all day, we probably have lots of overlap on our dislike of it, but I don’t think this has to be some kind of ontological crisis in order for there to be a serious criticism.

  • Samuel Ashdown

    I would have been more tempted to take a photo of him in a suit from various angles and then shop them into actual photos from whenever she gets married… or whoever shoots the wedding

  • chelseyam

    Pretty sure she chose a wedding because it is fairly common for children who lose a parent to wish they had their parent there for their big day. At least now she will always have a picture of what it could have looked like. It’s not like there was a groom. I mean, come on, how many little girls like to dress up and play wedding when they’re that awkward and inappropriate too?

  • JoeThePimpernel

    I don’t get it.

    Too bad there weren’t any adults around to give her a little guidance.

  • Freddie Rodrigue

    It really wasn’t a wedding… it was more just the walk that she will never get to have otherwise with her Dad. I am cool with it but he was a bit hold having her to begin with to.

  • Sally

    I’m sorry. I also find this odd. She’s 11. Is she really of the mindset that her Dad won’t be there for her wedding? She’s worried about this at the age of 11? I wonder whose idea this really was

  • Gina

    I don’t understand why people have to this event with child bride and all the disturbing thoughts. This is just a fake wedding to give her a chance to do what they won’t be able to do when her actual wedding really happens. It is important for her! I was a crying mess in the middle of the slideshow because I wish someone did this for me before I lost my mom!

    When my mom passed away from lung cancer, it broke my heart that she wouldn’t be at my graduation. And even more devastated when I realize she wouldn’t be there when I get marry in the future. I used to wish my mom would help me with my wedding, picking out the gowns and calm my nerves, but she wouldn’t be there. I wouldn’t have the chance to feel how it would be like to have a mom to do those things with me and share those moments.

    So it was a wonderful thing that they made this happen! Just be happy that there are good people out there. Don’t critize kindness.

  • Scott M

    I think it is awesome. In about 9 or 10 years, some wedding photographer is going to have an amazing project when she walks down the aisle for real. How much do we wish we had photos like these to work into a current wedding!?

  • Jason Linkins

    The intention is sweet but quite a bit of emotion to surprise a grieving adolescent with.

  • Father of three girls

    Brilliant! As the father of three girls, this touched me deeply.

  • Vin Weathermon

    You are not the dying father. Who are you to judge?

  • loverNOThater

    Her dad is dying. They can do whatever the hell they want to preserve his memory. Haters quit drinking your haterade.

  • loverNOThater

    Larissa you need a day job or hobby. You spent way too much time crying over this fake wedding.

  • yopyop

    Maybe these photos should have stayed a bit more private, no ? I mean, this poor girl now has photos of her crying with his dad all over the internet. I understand it is meant to raise money, but still, there maybe was a way to expose this story without revealing to much privacy. Just my 2 cents.

  • wilmark johnatty

    For obvious reasons, this is a terrible idea and article to promote on Petapix and I would not take a job like this as a photographer. The adults associated with this kid (and the kid) should go into some kind of therapy. Its one thing to have to deal with a dying parent but this is all #$%@ up!

  • Tim

    Agreed, mostly. Something about it caught me as a bit creepy too. I think it’s the combination of facts that the event is not really a wedding and that the tears she’s crying are grief that her father won’t be there if there is a real wedding in the future, not just happiness at the occasion. I suspect there are other, better, ways for the photographer to have celebrated the father+daughter’s relationship.

  • Cinekpol

    > I wonder whose idea this really was


  • David Vaughn

    Dear lord this comment section is a mess.

  • lordeels

    it would be better, we missed an useful hater

  • bob cooley

    This is a pretty unfounded concern in this case . We aren’t talking about an exploited little girl, this is a typical American 11 yr. old girl with little girl dreams – one of which is the fantasy of a big wedding – When I was 11 I wanted to be an astronaut – which is much less likely than this girl becoming a bride some day.

    It’s a sweet story – it seems some people need to find something to complain about in any possible scenario…

  • Wes

    I would use ‘odd’ rather than ‘creepy’, but other than that you said exactly what I was thinking…

  • Jen

    My husband just walked in as I’m a blubbering fool. Showed him the video, now we are both blubbering fools.

  • hatersgonnahateshonuff

    Yuyp – the hostility towards this generosity is shocking. God bless everyone who participated. If you think it’s an “alabaster jar” gift (Judas criticized a harlot for throwing away money on perfume for Jesus’ feet instead of giving to the poor.. which was actually more like Judas’ pocketbook… but that’s another story) well, then, that’s fine. but please keep your hatred to yourself and allow the people who gave in a way that was meaningful for them the joy of giving. Too true, haters gonna hate.

  • Akeem Casey


  • Vin Weathermon

    Tell you the truth I am tired of reading sick and pointlessly negative comments in the true petapixel buzzard style this place is famous for. Always looking for the worst, turning something good into something perverse. Critical when there is no reason to be, derisively intent on driving an opinion home that really didn’t need to be. If you were the daughter, the mom or the dying dad your perspective matters. As a single father of a daughter this touched me. If you aren’t touched by this, there is something wrong with you…and your opinion on what they did is completely irrelevant. I would like to see people support the family, share the brief moment of kindness, or simply say nothing at all.

  • Sheri

    I agree that you don’t understand what a wonderful idea this was to do for her. I lost my dad from pancreatic cancer. Before he passed I made him promise to be there if I ever got married. I would have cherished someone having done this for me and even more important, he would have.

  • Vin Weathermon

    Surprise? You mean you think she didn’t know what was happening? I think this process was the family’s way of preparing for what was to happen. They are lucky to have had the time and means to do this.

  • greenarcher02

    Baby shower??? That’s worse. Bachelorette party wtf? In a baby shower, the father is usually of less importance compared to a wedding, especially for a daughter. The baby and the couple is the spotlight in that. As for a bachelorette party, it’s the soon-to-be-bride that’s important, not the father. And most definitely she will be with her friends (and mother maybe).
    You do understand that for a girl, for a woman, having her parents, most especially her father, walk her down the aisle, and letting her go to her husband, could be one of the happiest moments of her life??

  • greenarcher02

    Having a different opinion does not mean you understand the context better. You could be plain wrong, too. And the fact that you fail to open up to any logical explanation is baffling and frustrating.

  • greenarcher02

    At least they have this, instead of nothing when she finally gets married. I’m sure they’ll have these pictures shown at her real wedding in the future. Sad, I know, but that’s reality. And that’s okay.

  • greenarcher02

    Every kid likes to make “pretend”. This is just probably a reenactment of “daddy when I grow up and meet prince charming and get married you’ll be there, right?”. But he won’t be…. better to have acted it out than do…. nothing.

  • Well informed

    Pretty sure Larissa is a professional troll.

  • Well informed

    Larissa=childless, heartless professional troll.

  • Nadine Lumley Real

    omg crying right now

  • Bmwendo

    IF she does get married *

  • hdc77494

    Ultimately, that doesn’t really matter, does it, though if she never gets married, she at least created a special memory with her father. Yes it’s goofy, and yes, it plays into all kinds of stereotypes, maybe more the photographer and possibly the mom, but stereotypes none the less.It’s still a kind gesture for a child who loves her dad and a man who will die consumed with guilt that he didn’t live long enough to help her reach adulthood.

  • hdc77494

    You don’t care? Obviously you care a great deal, about how some stranger chose to celebrate a moment with his child. OK, you HATE kind gestures for little girls whose father’s are dying, and you simply MUST fixate on the idea that somehow this was a wedding. Get over yourself and broaden your perspective. Why, pray tell, do you care enough to criticize it in the first place?

  • Larissa

    I said equally inappropriate events would have been. I didn’t say these were events where the father is in the spotlight.

    Anyway, as a girl, no I don’t think that my father giving me away to my husband could be the happiest moment of my life. I’m not achieving anything, why would THAT be the happiest moment? I’m really happy for girls for whom that is the best time, but for me it doesn’t make sense. If you think about it, the happiest moment of your life is the moment your father handed you over to your husband. That strikes me as kind of weird. Like you’re a bag of goods being gifted.

    I mean whatever, I don’t want to get married, and I know lots of girls and women who don’t either, not necessarily because of the giving away thing, but for other reasons. That does not mean that I’m not going to have a massive celebratory party with whoever I choose to spend my life with. I mean, who doesn’t love a party? :)

  • Larissa

    Because I’m allowed to state my opinion. Isn’t that what the comment section is for, commenting?

    And I appreciate your use of the word hate, but aside from big things such as “racism”, “animal cruelty”, “domestic violence”, I don’t hate anything. Also, if you read my comment properly you would have noticed a sentence that went something along the lines of “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”.