The bride wept as she repeated after the chaplain: "I, Ernestine, take you, John, to be my husband."
Her tears continued throughout the vows.
But at the last line, the tears turned to sobs as she repeated: "Until death parts us."
John George, terminally ill with prostate cancer, took his new bride's hand, held her close beside his wheelchair and sighed deeply as she bent down to embrace him.
"Oooh, Jesus," he said, overcome.
The wedding Friday morning at a Fitchburg hospice center lasted about 10 minutes but was 19 years in the making. Ernestine Jones met her future husband in a Minneapolis homeless shelter nearly two decades ago. They've been together ever since.
"Through good times and bad," Jones said with a smirk.
George, a Crowley, La., native who served in Vietnam and worked in various federal agencies since the war, had proposed marriage 10 or 11 times through the years, his new bride said.
But circumstances got in the way.
They've been homeless three times, she said, and moved around a lot together: Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Paul, Seattle, St. Cloud, Minn. For the last year, they've called Madison home.
Seven years ago, she was in a Milwaukee hospice center, facing her own death sentence because of colon cancer.
"I was told I wasn't going to make it," said the native of East St. Louis, Ill.
"Man said ‘No,' God said ‘Yes,' " chimed in Linda Hoskins, a fellow parishioner at End Time Ministries church in Madison. She attended the ceremony in a canary yellow hat and dress.
The couple always wanted to wed. Then things got more urgent in May. A doctor told George, 64, that his cancer had spread, leaving him months to live, at most.
"He wanted to make it legal," said the newly Mrs. George, 57. "And we wanted to be right before God."
George started at HospiceCare in mid July and told a nurse he wanted to get married.
So the planning began. A nun provided the bride's veil. Hospice chaplain Bob Groth agreed to perform the ceremony. Hospice staff reserved the chapel, the late-morning sun glinting through its stained glass on Friday.
As husband and wife kissed and the ceremony closed, the dozen or so in attendance cheered.
"It's an amazing dying wish," said another church friend, Sandra Byndom. "The last thing he could give her to remember him was his name."
Next door in a conference center, bride and groom cut a small wedding cake together, then he went to a room to rest, exhausted but smiling.
"You're his honey bun, his puddin' pie," Hoskins said in congratulating the bride.