JARDINE: Dying Modesto mom gets preview of daughter's wedding

jjardine@modbee.comMay 18, 2013 

    alternate textJeff Jardine
    Title: Local columnist
    Coverage areas: People, issues, the community
    Bio: Jeff Jardine joined The Bee's staff in 1988 after a decade at the Stockton Record. He covered sports before moving into news in 1996 and became the Local Columnist in 2003. He graduated from University of the Pacific in 1979, majoring in communications and history.
    Recent stories written by Jeff
    On Twitter: @jeffjardine57
    E-mail: jjardine@modbee.com

This Mother's Day brings the story of a dying mom's wish and those who made it come true.

Early in 2012, Suzanne Weststeyn knew she had only a couple of months to live. The 47-year-old Hughson mom and her teenage daughter, Kayla, began talking about all of the great moments in Kayla's life that Suzanne would miss:

Graduations from high school and college. Her only child's wedding, too.

Suzanne had but one request, to see Kayla in a wedding dress.

"It was something that was on Suzanne's bucket list," said Bryan Weststeyn, Suzanne's husband and Kayla's dad.

A junior at Hughson High at the time, Kayla had no boyfriend, let alone a fiancé. She was still weeks away from attending her first prom.

Now a senior, the 18-year-old ranks first academically in her class and expects to be its valedictorian. She'll head east to Brown University in Rhode Island for her freshman year of college with dreams of becoming a physician and traveling to Third World nations to work with the poor.

Marriage, she said, is a long … long … long way off. Even so, she cherished the remaining time she had with her mom and understood that the desired fashion show would be more than a mere indulgence.

The Weststeyns had expected nothing less than a complete recovery when Suzanne was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2007.

"Mom got sick when I was in sixth grade," Kayla said. "She was mentally strong. We were always of the mind-set that she was going to beat it. We never considered that she wouldn't beat it."

By early 2012, it became apparent the cancer was winning.

"She started going downhill fast," Kayla said.

Too fast. Suzanne became too ill to go dress hunting. So to make sure she got her wish, brother-in-law John Potter called Beautiful Beginnings, a wedding shop in Turlock. He asked store manager Esmerelda Guillen if she could bring several dresses to the Weststeyn home for Kayla to try on.

Nearly 27 years ago, Suzanne bought her own dress in the same shop before her marriage to Bryan. So, of course, Guillen obliged, bringing four styles — princess, a more casual A-line, mermaid and trumpet — on the appointed day.

Kayla tried on the dresses, modeling them in the living room for mom.

"(Suzanne) didn't like the first one right away," Guillen said, referring to the princess style. Guillen stayed in the next room, giving mom and daughter their poignant moment while Bryan videotaped.

"As soon as I walked in, she said, 'No, I don't like it,' " Kayla echoed.

Bring on the next one.

"It was the process of elimination," Kayla said. "We narrowed it down to two."

The A-line and the mermaid. Suzanne picked the A-line. It was Kayla's favorite as well. Though the plan was only to model the dress, Kayla decided to buy it in tribute to her mom. She told Guillen she'd come by the shop in a day or so to pick it up. But Guillen would have none of that.

"She said, 'No,' and gave me the dress," Kayla said. "It was such a selfless and amazing thing to do."

A month after Suzanne picked out her daughter's wedding dress and two weeks after seeing Kayla off to her first prom, an obituary appeared in The Bee. It began:

"Suzanne Corine Weststeyn, age 47, beloved wife, mommy, daughter, sister, aunt and friend, passed away peacefully at home Saturday, April 21 (2012) with her loving husband and daughter by her side after a courageous five-year battle with cancer."

A few weeks later, Mother's Day arrived. Kayla sifted through some cards in a cabinet at home.

"I had what I call a 'movie moment,' because it was like something you'd see in a movie," Kayla said. "A Mother's Day card I'd made her when I was little fell out of the cabinet. It was something totally ironic."

Preparing to graduate, to head off to college and life, Kayla misses her mom deeply. But she refuses to be sad.

"I cope very well with things internally," she said. "My father and I are both like that. So was my mother. She was very strong. We wanted to be as positive as we could."

Kayla has watched the video a few times. She looks at the dress far more often.

Yes, she's only 18 and it could be a decade or more before she's ready to wear it down the aisle. But she promises that one day, she will.

After all, Suzanne picked it out.

Said Bryan, "She was very involved, as a mother should be."

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.

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