Time was of the essence for Heather Whipkey’s wedding to James “Jimi” Berens.

Within a matter of weeks, a date was set — Oct. 4. Whipkey knew the day, a Tuesday, was a bit odd since it wasn’t a weekend, but she didn’t care.

It was going to be the happiest day of her life.

Beautiful Short Blue Tailor Made Cocktail Prom Dress (LFNCE0052)Until it wasn’t.


Whipkey knew a quick, yet special, wedding was going to be difficult to pull off.

But, family and friends of the couple worked together to make floral arrangements and a cake. A photographer, also a family friend, agreed to capture the day’s events and help purchase the wedding rings.

Whipkey planned to wear white empire-waist cocktail dresses uk with a V-neck that had a splash of turquoise and purple — not your typical white bridal gown, but one that Berens loved.

Her silk floral arrangement contained all white roses, calla lilies and light-green hydrangeas.

But Whipkey never wore the dress. She never carried her bouquet. She never even cut the wedding cake — a two-tiered red velvet cake with white icing — with her new husband.

Hours before the Oct. 4 wedding, at 12:20 a.m., Berens died from complications with stage IV lung cancer.

“She was supposed to be married that day …,” close friend Andrea Griffiths said.

Now, Whipkey is left picking up the pieces of not only her life, but those of her wedding day too.

“Her bouquet is still in my house. She can’t even bring herself to get it,” Griffiths said.

Berens was diagnosed with lung cancer in June. But, by the time he sought medical treatment, the disease had progressed beyond the point of medical intervention.

“It was too late,” Griffiths said. “It took over his entire body.”

Whipkey knew she didn’t have a lot of time to plan a wedding, but she held out hope that they would be able to spend a little time as husband and wife.

At the very least, she never thought he would die on their wedding day.

“We had always planned to get married, but things just kept coming up, mostly money issues,” Whipkey said. “When Jimi was diagnosed with lung cancer in June we decided, we would get married as soon as he was better. But he never got better.”

When Berens had “days to weeks to live” Whipkey applied for a marriage license.

“He told me he wanted to marry me before he went … ‘home,’” she said.

The ceremony was to be at Northridge Health Center in North Ridgeville.

“They were going to transfer him from the hospital to the nursing home that evening (Oct. 3) and I decided to go home and get some sleep that night,” Whipkey said.

As Whipkey slept, Berens took his last breath. The phone calls alerting her to his death never came through her cell phone.

“I was on the way to see him when the calls finally came through,” Whipkey said.

Berens was 49 years old when he died.

Finding love

Berens and Whipkey met at Jamie’s Flea Market in Amherst Township. He was a maintenance supervisor; she was a vendor.

“He was so tall and handsome. He had beautiful blue eyes,” Whipkey said, thinking back to the first time she saw Berens nearly 15 years ago.

Whipkey shared her feelings about Berens with a fellow vendor who then introduced the two of them.

“I told another vendor that I thought he was cute and she called him over and told him this right in front of me,” Whipkey said laughing. “I was so embarrassed.”

Taking a chance, Berens asked her to go on a date right then and there. She accepted.

“He was so smart, charming and funny,” she said. “And very, very real. From that first night, we were never apart.”

The only time spent apart was when Berens was admitted into the hospital.

Whipkey said Berens made her a better person.

“I grew to be more independent and caring of others,” she said.

Berens also taught Whipkey how to love unconditionally.

“Jimi gave me two wonderful stepchildren, Alex Naelitz and Kateland Robinson, and our two beautiful children, Connor, 9 and Cheyenne, 7,” she said. “He was a wonderful father and took an active part in their lives. He was always there for them and me.”

When Berens wasn’t at work, or spending time with his family, he was tuned into Cleveland sports — the Cavaliers, Indians and Browns, he didn’t care which one. He loved them all.

“He taught me all about sports, which was his passion,” Whipkey said. “He listened to ESPN Cleveland everyday especially ‘Really Big Show’ and ‘Golden Boyz.’ We started listening together and it became a great love of ours.”

Griffiths’ husband, Terry Griffiths, and Berens would talk sports every chance they got.

“They were die-hard sports fans and Jim would be thrilled knowing the Indians are going to the World Series,” Andrea Griffiths said.

Helping a friend

Berens’ death has been financially difficult for Whipkey and their two small children.

“They had no life insurance,” Griffiths said. “She’s a stay-at-home mom and she lost his income.”

As a way to help her friend, Griffiths is hosting a spaghetti dinner fundraiser 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 5 at McBid Hall in Twin Lake Homes, 42660 Albrecht Road, Elyria.

Tickets are $8 per person. The evening also will include a Chinese raffle and 50/50.

All proceeds from the evening will be given to Whipkey.

“She can use it for cost of living, to get her on her feet and for Christmas for the kids. It’s going to be so hard without him this year,” Griffiths said, holding back tears.

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