Wren Hospice has granted many last wishes to its terminally ill patients since its 2014 opening in Greer.
But the one from Floyd Pepper was a first. The 59-year-old Easley man who has Parkinson’s disease wanted to marry his girlfriend of 24 years.
Wren granted Pepper his wish last Sunday, with a Western-style ceremony in the couple’s barn off Old Saluda Dam Road.
“We’ve been happy for 24 years,” said Frances Underwood, his new bride.
The biggest change due to their status as an official married couple, she said prior to the wedding, is “now when I answer to Mrs. Pepper, I will be Mrs. Pepper.”
Marriage had been the couple’s intent years ago. Both had been married with children before when they met in Atlanta where Underwood was living.
Pepper, a former supervisor for a trucking firm, was invited by a “buddy” to go to a birthday party. Underwood happened to be the guest of honor at that party. And unbeknownst to Pepper, his buddy hadn’t even been invited to the party.
“We kind of crashed in on it,” said Pepper, from his bed at his home. But, he said, it had a country music bar and the meeting between he and Underwood was “love at first sight.”
Part of his attraction to Underwood, Pepper said, a former supervisor of a trucking firm and a truck driver, is that they have similar interests. They both love horses and enjoyed outdoorsy stuff like water skiing, boating and trail riding.
For two years, he and Underwood commuted to keep their relationship alive, taking turns each weekend to meet in either Easley or Atlanta. Then, Underwood moved to Easley.
In addition to traveling and spending time with family, they used their free time to build the farm that’s been in Pepper’s family for 70 years. It now has 24 horses.
Sometimes, they’d start work on the farm at 10 a.m. and be out until it was too dark to work, Underwood said. “It does take a lot of time and a lot of work,” she said.
So, while they’d talked about making their commitment to each other official, building the horse farm was one of the areas of life that kept getting in the way of a wedding. “It always seemed that we were too busy to take care of that,” Underwood said.
Pepper, too, said everything else seemed to be more important. “We had a good arrangement. My philosophy was always ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ ” he said.
Then life changed. Pepper was diagnosed with Parkinson’s six years ago. He’s had surgeries, endured a stroke and other medical complications. At one point, he slipped into a coma for three days. The pull to fix his unfulfilled plans to wed Underwood came after Pepper said he’d had a “come to Jesus moment” when he thought he was dying.
He did a lot of soul searching and realized “it’s time,” he said. “I promised the good Lord if he’d let me come home and grant me one more chance that I would do the right thing,” Pepper said.
As soon as he was able to communicate, he proposed, Underwood said. “He was adamant that we should take care of this as soon as possible.”
He’s been a patient at Wren Hospice since the end of May 2017. When they asked him what he most wished that he had done that he hadn’t yet done, he’d said his wish was to go ahead and make it official, Underwood said.
Wren Hospice Administrator Heather Burton said Pepper’s hospice nurse, Jaime Hester, did a wonderful job coordinating and getting the wedding planned. In Pepper’s view, they are the angels that put the wedding together.
“You can’t spell hospice without hope and that’s what I’m here to give to my patients,” Hester said.
As for a honeymoon, Underwood said there’s no need for one. Pepper can’t stand for long periods of time and he gets around mostly via wheelchair. “We'll spend it with family and friends,” said Underwood, whose blended family includes her daughter and son. “It’s a blessing that we still have time to do that.”
Pepper said he hasn’t been given a prediction of his life expectancy. Like that of a cancer patient, life expectancy varies with each individual, he said. Some believed Pepper would not live through physical therapy when he spent time in a nursing home.
And, Underwood said, “we’ve been going through six months of not knowing what was going to happen. He’s pretty much considered a miracle.”