RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Raleigh family is finding joy in the midst of grief with a pop-up wedding that caught the bride by surprise.
Samantha Ragan, whose son Aaron was killed in a car accident in 2017, had to scrap her wedding plans in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic.
She and her then-fiancé, Chris Ragan ended up getting married in late March of last year, just as the state was moving into lockdown; the couple exchanged vows in Ragan's church with only their mothers and the officiant in attendance.
"I wasn't devastated, because I still got the love of my life, but it was disappointing," Ragan said.
It would have been disappointing for any bride, but especially this mother who had already lost so much.
Her son, Aaron, was only 11 years old and had just begun bonding with the man who would one day marry his mom, when he died. Ragan was driving home on a December night with Aaron in the backseat. She did not see a stop sign, crossed into the path of an oncoming pickup truck that crashed into the rear side of her car, killing Aaron.
Since the accident, the NCDOT has made changes to improve visibility at the intersection where the crash happened.
"I dream about him almost every night," Ragan said. "In most of the dreams he's missing and I can't get to him. Subconsciously, I think I'm still trying to figure out why I can't have him."
Through the turmoil and the darkest days after losing Aaron, Ragan said Chris was still there, patiently waiting.
"He said 'I'm not going anywhere; whenever you feel like you're ready, I'm here,'" Ragan said. "I really feel like God planned everything out. They say He takes with one hand and gives with the other, and I believe he planned for me to have a support system in place."
More than a year had passed since she and Chris tied the knot, and while she didn't see it coming, Ragan finally got the wedding day she never had, wearing her wedding gown, reaffirming their vows, and sharing a slice of cake with her groom in front of family and friends.
Surprising the Bride
Earlier this month, Ragan's friend and wedding photographer convinced her to go through with the photo shoot she would have gotten on their wedding day, offering to take the couple's photos for free.
That's when Ragan's mother, Pamela Hickmon, got to work.
"Of course, Aaron broke our hearts and then when we couldn't give her that beautiful wedding where it would just take her mind away from stuff--we couldn't do that--it broke my heart again," said Hickmon. "And that's why I had to spring into action and say, find something to do cause she's already going to have the dress on; she's already going to look beautiful."
In a week's time, Hickmon, with the help of her new son-in-law and close family and friends, pulled together a pop-up wedding, beginning with a surprise limo ride to the Raleigh Rose Garden.
"We pulled up here and I saw my dad walking around so I was like, 'OK that's a surprise,'" Ragan said.
After a photo shoot with her parents and the groom, Ragan was whisked away in the limo to another nearby garden where a saxophonist greeted them, playing romantic ballads.
"There was music playing and my husband was escorting me," Ragan said. "Then he stood back a little so there would be photos of just me and I felt like there would be something around the corner and when I got around the bend, it was just love everywhere. Just love--that's all I felt--love everywhere."
A small gathering of family and church family were waiting, balloons in memory of Ragan's grandmothers and Aaron were tied at the front where the couple reaffirmed their vows.
"She noticed that it was a celebration and she was just done away and then I finally exhaled," said Hickmon. "Because she thought this was her day and it was. It was finally her day."
"It was amazing," Ragan said. "I feel like I've had my wedding day now."