Bride Dies Two Months After Her Dream Wedding

Posted April 18, 2018 2:21 p.m. EDT

When James Garish married his kindergarten crush Liz Stipkovits on Feb. 17 near their hometown McKeesport, Pennsylvania, it wasn’t with the expectations many couples entertain, about raising a family and growing old together.

Garish, 34, and Stipkovits, 34, had been dating since 2010, when he was serving in the Army in Iraq and looked her up on Facebook. They hadn’t been in touch since they were 5 and Garish was the kindergarten class rabble-rouser. But “I wanted to see how life had turned out for her,” he said.

It had turned out OK. Stipkovits was then working as a medical receptionist and raising a daughter, Maleena, as a single parent in McKeesport. Four years later, though, she would get her first breast cancer diagnosis. By the time they decided to marry, in 2017, the cancer was advancing toward her brain.

“Little Bad Jimmy,” as Stipkovits remembered Garish from their school days, never left her side.

Hospital stays and expenses made the planning of a wedding impossible until Lori McKown, an oncology social worker who became close with the family, enlisted Jamie’s Dream Team. The Dream Team, a local charity, gave the couple a wedding for more than 200 friends and family. Stipkovits’ donated dress, sewn with Swarovski crystals, made her jaw drop; her daughter, now 14, was her maid of honor.

On April 16, one day short of their two-month anniversary as a married couple, Stipkovits died at home in McKeesport of Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Garish was by her side, holding her hand.

“I watched her leave this world, it’s been my worst nightmare,” he said the day after her death. “She was trying to breathe, and then she stopped, and she was gone.” Two weeks earlier, Stipkovits’s doctors had told her she may have weeks or months to live. By then, cancer had invaded her liver, hips and bones.

“She declined so fast,” Garish said, his voice breaking. Six days after the doctors sent her home, she was gone.

Garish is surrounded by family and friends, including Stipkovits’ parents, Joe and Joy. Days before his wife died, he talked with Maleena about her future.

“I made her sit down, and I told her I felt she was old enough to know what was going on,” he said. He explained that she would have to decide whether she would be raised by her biological father, who has partial custody, or by him, her new stepfather. “I told her, I support you 100 percent, no matter what you decide, and I don’t want you to feel guilty one way or another.'”

He hopes she will choose to remain in his care.

“She’s a tough little kid, like her mother,” he said. “My wife wanted me to raise her. I want to be there for her.”

Stipkovits’ funeral will be held Monday in McKeesport, at Corpus Christi Church. McKown, the social worker, is now working on setting up a college fund for Maleena.