The Hallmark Channel movies coming out this Christmas season can’t even hold a candle to Lou Hendrickson’s love story. The year was 1955 and Lou, who lives at The Commons, had spotted Carolyn across a crowded church service on Christmas morning.
“That’s the one,” Lou, 84, thought the first time he met her. And he was right. The two married the next year and stayed together until she passed away in 2018.
Prior to meeting Carolyn, Lou was a sailor who did three tours overseas — two in the Mediterranean and one in the Caribbean — so he knew what he was looking for in a wife.
“I’d been around the world,” Lou said. “I had girls at every port.”
After he was discharged, he met Carolyn and found work as an electrical engineer. The work took him to Colorado, North Carolina, Georgia and, eventually, Huntsville. He was always active, going rock-hounding — for people like us who didn’t know, that’s searching for precious gemstones — in Colorado and then taking up kayaking and fishing, and Carolyn was always there to go on all the adventures with him.
“She was the go-everywhere-do-everything kind of person,” Lou said.
Carolyn always wanted to help people, so she worked as a social worker, counseling rape victims. The two had four children, two sons and two daughters, and Carolyn loved cooking for the whole family.
When Carolyn was diagnosed with lung cancer, Lou knew his chances to make new memories with Carolyn were limited. She went through chemotherapy, but in February, doctors told her there were no more options for her and gave her three to six months to live. Carolyn lasted seven months after that.
Thankfully, their granddaughter stepped in to make one last special day before Carolyn passed away.
“She was pretty excited about the whole thing,” Lou said of Carolyn getting to experience the wedding.
One Last Memory
Casey Hendrickson, Lou’s granddaughter, is a wedding photographer in North Carolina. When she told her grandparents she would be getting married in December 2018, they knew there was no way they could make the trip, even if Carolyn did live long enough. So, instead of risking it, Casey and her husband-to-be, Chad, threw a pre-wedding wedding at The Commons in May, just to make sure her grandmother would be there.
It was a good call, too. Carolyn passed away in August, five months before actual the wedding.
“Oh man, it was super special,” Casey said. “Chad and I keep saying that was the real thing. Even though we’re getting officially married in December, that’s all that mattered to us, was having her there to be able to experience it.”
The wedding was a group effort, Casey said. The wedding dress shop let her borrow her second favorite dress to bring to Alabama for the ceremony. Their florist made a bouquet and smaller flower arrangements for them to use for decorations. The baker made a smaller version of the cake and kept it fresh using dry ice. Casey’s associate photographer drove down to Huntsville to take photos of the big day.
“Basically, we just stuffed the car full of everything for a wedding and headed down there,” Casey said.
Carolyn was the last living grandmother for both Chad and Casey, making it extra important that she was part of the celebration.
Lou got to walk his granddaughter down the aisle. He’d been there before. After walking two daughters down the aisle, he jokes that he’s a pro.
“I knew what I was doing, but it was kind of exciting being an octogenarian and walking my granddaughter down the aisle,” Lou said.
Casey didn’t know where or how she was going to have a wedding at a senior living community, but the staff of The Commons was there to help. They don’t have a lot of weddings, so it was big news for everyone who got a sneak peek of the bride.
While Casey was getting ready, her brother and sister-in-law were tasked with finding the perfect setting for the ceremony. The Commons staff were on hand to help them find a place and get everything decorated, and the wedding went off without a hitch.
The early wedding wasn’t just for Carolyn’s benefit. Casey got some irreplaceable memories as well.
“When I was getting ready, she was there and watching and chatting with us, and I had asked her if I could wear her ring as my something borrowed, and she placed it on my finger for me. … Then she wanted to look at it with me,” Casey said.
She also has some keepsakes from the day that she can look back at forever and remember how happy her grandmother was.
“Going back through the pictures and seeing her face during the ceremony just means the world,” Casey said.
These days Lou is still grieving, but he’s not alone. He lives in The Commons, surrounded by friends. He has a dog, Rusty, who keeps him company. They have a trip to look forward to as well. The two will be making the trip up to North Carolina to see Casey get married again in December.
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