Megan Dean was 4 years old when her little sister Rylie died of heart disease. But Dean, who has four sisters in total, knew that she wanted to share her last wedding day not only with her living siblings, but also with the sister she knew for only eight days.
“Because I was so young when Rylie died, I don’t remember much – just little memories that I’ve cherished for so many years,” said 23-year-old Dean TODAY parents. “I remember being so excited to have another girl in the house … She was a beautiful little baby and reminded me of the dolls I would play with.”
Dean’s mother Rebecca Slama says Rylie, who was born in January 2001 and was her fourth daughter, was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the day after she was born.
“She literally didn’t have half of her heart,” says Slama, who lives in Plymouth, Minnesota. “They performed surgery to redirect the way her heart pumped blood … she made it through the surgery, but hours later her small aorta couldn’t keep up with the blood flow and she died.”
Slama says the loss was devastating to her other daughters – Kate (2), Megan (4), and Ellie (6). “It was terrible to see how the other children lost their sister.”
After losing Rylie, Slama and her husband John later had a fifth daughter, Molly. Slama says she continued to celebrate Rylie’s memory by helping her daughters remember the time they had spent with her sister.
“We sent notes to the sky with balloons and later, because it was more environmentally friendly, sky lanterns every year on their birthday – we all stand in the cold and say a birthday prayer for Rylie,” said Slama. “We donated a rocking chair to the NICU department in their memory and participated in a heartbeat 5 km race that benefits the children’s hospital. And I created a special slide show with all pictures of Rylie and sent it to all girls on Rylie’s Birthday.”
Dean, who lives in Goodrich, Michigan, says her parents’ way of keeping Rylie’s memory alive has inspired her to involve her little sister in her October 2019 wedding.
She asked for her mother’s help by asking about Rylie’s pink baby blanket that she wanted to incorporate into her wedding dress.
“To get her blanket, my mother and I had to open a box of Rylie’s things that we hadn’t looked at in years,” said Dean. “Talking to my mother about her experiences and the memories she had was very special … I understood the pain of losing a sister but never experienced the severe loss of a child.”
Dean’s tailor made a heart-shaped patch with Rylie’s name embroidered on it from the blanket and sewed it to the inside of the wedding dress. Another Rylie-embossed heart was made from fabric waste from the dress. Dean was going to present this to her father on her wedding day to put in his suit pocket.
Dean and Slama kept the beautiful additions to the wedding secret until the big day.
“I was so excited to show my father our homage to Rylie,” said Dean. “When I showed his heart to him, I remember how he said in tears: ‘It’s her blanket’ and we both started sobbing. My mother joined us afterwards and we were all speechless for a while. “
Dean also surprised her sisters – Ellie (25), Kate (20) and Molly (17) – and showed them the hidden heart before their wedding ceremony started.
In January 2020, on Rylie’s 19th birthday, Dean shared photos of their wedding in a moving Facebook post dedicated to her sister.
“This is the blanket you wrapped when you left the womb,” she wrote. “It is what enveloped you when our parents held you for the first time … This is the blanket you wore during your last memory, kissed your forehead one last time and didn’t want to leave your side “I could not believe celebrating a new start without you being right next to me.”