Sept. 29, 2018 — it was to be the happiest day of Jessica Padgett’s life.
That was the day the Loogootee, Ind. resident was to marry Kendall Murphy, a volunteer firefighter, insurance salesman and former basketball coach at Barr-Reeve High School, so popular within his community that people called him “Mr. Barr-Reeve.”
But tragedy struck just 10 months prior: Murphy’s life was taken away after he was hit by a car, driven by a fellow volunteer firefighter, as he responded to an accident near his home.
He was killed instantly. He has since been honoured in the “Roll of Honour” by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Instead of cancelling the booking, Padgett contacted Knepp some months after Murphy’s death to keep her available for Sept. 29. Murphy’s mother had also asked Mandi to be open that day.
“I already had my dress bought and other things, and I still wanted to contribute to my wedding day,” Padgett told Global News.
An “emotional roller coaster” of a photo shoot unfolded over two hours. It began in Glendale, Ind., where Padgett and Murphy had their engagement photos taken.
There were surprises along the way for Padgett. She had texted the wedding’s bridesmaids and groomsmen to station themselves at a site at a particular time to meet the photographer.
But when she arrived at the appointed site, “my bridal party and the groomsmen were all standing in their places like they would if we were going to get married.
“I was very emotional,” Padgett said. “I had to take a break for a second because I was just crying so much from that.”
Padgett held a bouquet of sunflowers, the very flora they had planned to use in their wedding.
Murphy’s parents brought a pair of cowboy boots that Kendall had worn “every day.”
Fastened to the boots was a note: “Whatever path you take, your guardian angel will always be there for you. Love, Kendall.”
Friends and family came along for the photos.
Posing for them were Murphy’s nieces and nephews — one of whom, Micah, had yet to be born when Murphy died.
The day ended at the site where Murphy was buried.
“I wanted to be where he was at,” Padgett said.
The photo shoot has helped bring Padgett some closure, after the day she hoped would be the best of her life threatened to become the worst one.
“It turned out to be a decent day with all the surprises and the support and the love that my family and friends shared with me,” she said.
As the photos hit the internet, Padgett has received messages from people saying how much the images helped them through their own grief.
“I’m kind of blessed that I did it, because different people have been telling me how they have been struggling and seeing my pictures kind of brought strength and comfort,” she said.
“I’m really glad I ended up doing it because I’m not only helping myself and my family, but I’m helping others that I don’t know who are going through a hard time and a grieving process as well.”
Padgett admitted, however, that in a way, she’s glad the photo shoot is finished.
“I’ve been dreading this day for a very long time,” she said.
“In the end, I’m glad I did it though, because now I can look back at those memories that Mandi took, and the ways I got to honour Kendall and be with Kendall and see all the support I had that day.”
Here are some more photos from Jessica Padgett’s wedding day photo shoot: