Parnells say marriage vows 16 years after divorcing

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When Bobby Earl Parnell and Evalina “Bootsie” Parnell married in August 1988, the ceremony was held at the Wilson County Courthouse and officiated by a justice of the peace.

“He forgot he was scheduled to do our ceremony and had to stop mowing his lawn and come in and marry us,” Parnell recalled.

On Thursday evening, after being divorced for about 16 years, the couple tied the knot again under very different circumstances.

This time, the bride wore a white wedding gown with a 6-foot train and a long veil. The groom waited for his bride in a wheelchair.

Parnell was diagnosed in October with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that develops in the bone marrow. Because he had heart surgery in May for an aneurysm and was not well enough to be fitted with a pacemaker, Parnell was not eligible for cancer treatment.

“We have been back together for about a year and a half and had planned to get married before he got so sick,” Bootsie Parnell said, “but we didn’t think he would live two weeks after his cancer diagnosis, so I canceled the plans and returned everything.”

Two months later, Bobby Parnell is doing better under the care of his wife, who was a registered nurse, and hospice services provided by 3HC Home Health and Hospice Care, Inc. Three weeks ago, the couple decided to go ahead with their plans to get married.

“The hospice company has made this wedding possible,” said the bride, who is a three-time cancer survivor herself. “Nursing aid, social work, support with religious needs, health … everything I needed, they made possible.”

The company even brought paperwork to the house that allowed her to get a marriage license without the groom going to the courthouse. A mobile notary service came to the Parnells’ house, and she was off to get the license.

“It’s God’s will that he has stayed alive this long,” Bootsie Parnell said. “I thought he was going to die the first week after the diagnosis. People need to know how wonderful hospice is.”

3HC arranged for its spiritual care manager, Mark Palmer, to officiate Thursday evening’s ceremony. Based in Goldsboro, Palmer said this was the third hospice wedding he had officiated.

“I know this could be one of the most lasting memories they have together,” Palmer said after the ceremony.

Five years ago, Bootsie Parnell lost her son, Bobby Underwood, in a motorcycle accident. Also killed was Underwood’s fiance, Danyell Sanders. Sanders’ parents, Linda and Gary Champion, became friends with the Parnells during their children’s 11-year courtship and remained close after the accident. The Champions served as witnesses for the Parnell wedding and the couples’ grandchild, Alex, walked the bride down the aisle and gave her away.

Family, friends and 3HC personnel gathered in the wedding couple’s living room to watch the ceremony and take photos and video.

The 70-year-old groom beamed as his 58-year-old bride walked into the room. Bootsie Parnell cried as she recited traditional vows and put the wedding ring on her husband’s finger. The couple lit a unity candle in honor of their parents and the children who perished in the 2012 accident.

“Our wedding is a way for us to formally get back together and show everyone what we feel and how much we care for each other,” said Bobby Parnell. “We’ve been friends forever, even when we were separated. When she was sick, I was there for her. When I was sick, she was always there for me. Bootsie is a godsend. If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know what I would have done.”

“This is our dream, to have a wedding this time,” Bootsie Parnell said. “The hospice team has made it come true.”