Debbie Gerlach’s fiancé died nine months before their wedding, but she still managed to take wedding photos with him, and they’re going viral.
Gerlach and her fiancé, Randy Zimmerman, were supposed to get married on Nov. 11, 2018. Tragically, Zimmerman was killed in a motorcycle accident in February. But Gerlach didn’t let that stop her from capturing what would have been the biggest day of their lives, with him by her side.
A few months ago, Gerlach put on her wedding dress and posed for photos alone in the Tucson, Ariz., desert. On what would have been their wedding day, she shared those photos — and her late fiancé is in them. As of Monday afternoon, the Facebook post has 308K reactions and 29K comments.
Photographer Kristie Fonseca has experience Photoshopping late loved ones into pictures she’s taken. “I’ve done similar requests but never for a bride and groom,” Fonseca says. She recently did a shoot for a girl whose father had died. “I actually enjoy taking on challenges like this because, if portrayed with love and passion, the end result will be forever cherished,” she says.
So, when Gerlach came up with the idea, she was referred to Fonseca.
“When I first spoke with Debbie, she told me her tragic story and asked if I was able to insert her fiancé into what should have been their special day. A special day that was carelessly stolen from her,” Fonseca tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “After listening to her heartbreaking, story I just knew I had to do something very special for her.”
Fonseca felt passionate about making these pictures perfect. “It was supposed to be her day. It was supposed to be the day they expressed their love for each other. My thoughts were going a mile a minute coming up with ideas, poses and images that would mimic her special day with him.” She took Gerlach to the desert, where Gerlach posed by herself wearing her gorgeous gown. In a few photos, she’s holding an urn with a Z on it, containing Zimmerman’s ashes.
Some of the edited images include a transparent version of Zimmerman. In one, the couple is arm in arm, and in another, he’s kissing her cheek. There’s even a photo of Gerlach looking up at Zimmerman and one of him sitting on his motorcycle behind her. “I started the session as I normally would for a bridal shoot, and then I posed her for some as if he was there,” Fonseca explains. “She naturally posed for the photos as if he was standing right beside her,” she recalls. “Her smile had a warmth as if he was talking to her. Even though he wasn’t there, she moved as if he was.”
During the session, Gerlach told Fonseca about how she and Zimmerman desperately tried to sync up with the sunset for their engagement photos but were unsuccessful. “We shot her whole session under a white blanketed sky. Both of us thinking once again we would not get a picturesque sunset shot,” Fonseca recalls. “However, while she was finishing up her story, the most bright and colorful sunset appeared behind her as the clouds spread widely across the sky as if commanded. As I watched her embrace the warmth of the sunset, you could see his memory and the love she had for him was still strong,” Fonseca says. “I told her his love is forever as he gave her a sunset kiss goodnight. It was truly a magical moment.”
Gerlach loved the edited images. “She never expected for them to turn out as good as they did.” But she decided not to share the photos with the world until what would have been her wedding day.
While Fonseca insists that the session was just “for the bride and their loved ones,” the photos have been shared 158K times. “We never in our wildest dreams imagined that it would spread across the globe. There have been comments from all over the world and heartfelt messages sent to Debbie … it is truly incredible,” Fonseca says. “I am humbled and honored to have been part of it and to be able to give her something so special that she can look at and hold on to forever.”
Gerlach is hoping to send a message with these photos, so the more they spread, the better. “Please I beg each and every one of you that reads this post, WATCH FOR MOTORCYCLES, stop at stop signs and drive with care because you never know whose whole world is on that bike,” she wrote on Facebook. “Maybe if that person stopped, I’d be marrying my Randy, my best friend, the love of my life.”
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