South Mississippi couple gets married in hospital days before husband dies from COVID-19

Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 7:56 AM CST
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GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX/Gray News) - A 62-year-old Gulfport man knew COVID-19 would kill him. He was right. However, before he died, he was able to marry his sweetheart of 17 years.

Jeff Nabors had been avoiding the illness for most of the pandemic, but finally tested positive on Jan. 11. He had stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, even though he recovered from COVID-19, his lungs had seen too much damage.

“I think he was on borrowed time already,” said 53-year-old Sherry Nabors in an interview at her home on Tuesday, almost a month after the couple married.

Their time as husband and wife lasted less than four days.

Jeff and Sherry Nabors were next-door neighbors in Houston. They met in 2007 when he rescued her from a broken garage door. When he said they shared the same birthday, she thought it was a bad pickup line, but she took him to dinner to say thank you, and they became fast friends.

Sherry later moved to Atlanta to care for her mom, leaving him lonely in Houston. Six months later, he moved to Gulfport and they had a long-distance relationship for two years.

Then, she and her mom moved to the coast, and that’s where the couple quickly felt at home.

“We loved the peaceful life here on the coast,” Sherry said. “The no traffic and just the quiet, laid back life and we were having a good time.”

He loved Cruisin’ the Coast and volunteered at Shuckers games. They watched Jeopardy together and she called him Jeopardy Jeff because he seemed to know all the answers.

According to her, he was always wanting to learn, always wanting to read and gain further knowledge, and that inspired her.

Sherry Nabors works as a bookkeeper, but Jeff Nabors was a service engineer.

“A fixer, a jack of all trades,” Sherry Nabors said. “Whatever it was, he would figure it out. We were simple and I loved it.”

They got engaged in December and had talked about wedding dates before COVID-19 took over their lives. But, instead of a small chapel wedding, their ceremony was held in his room at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport.

“It wasn’t what we had in mind,” she said. “It wasn’t ideal, but at that moment it was. It was very special.”

Hospital chaplain Martin Gilliland knew the couple was engaged and suggested that a bedside wedding would be possible. The ceremony was held at 7 a.m. the next day.

“Everybody was there.” Gilliland said. “What’s amazing about this hospital, and what’s so beautiful about the people that work here is the night shift stayed. The nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors came, the day shift was there. They ordered a Mardi Gras wedding cake, they had a florist come in and bring flowers. The nurses made congratulations signs.”

One of the nurses had fashioned a wedding band for Jeff out of a medical bandage.

“And there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when we finished,” Gilliland said.

“Martin did some of the talking for Jeff,” Sherry said. “But when it was time for Jeff to say ‘I will,’ he couldn’t say it, but he sure shook that head.”

Their six children and 12 grandchildren watched the ceremony on Facebook, struggling to hear the words over the hiss of the groom’s life-sustaining oxygen.

“They were there with us and it was just absolutely incredible,” she said. “It was beautiful and it was so touching and it was so perfect.”

She didn’t leave her husband’s side until he died. On the Sunday after the wedding, Sherry Nabors knew something wasn’t right.

“It wasn’t going well,” she said. “He wasn’t breathing right. I could really see the struggle in his chest with the breathing.”

She was discussing putting him on comfort care with one of the doctors.

“I really believe that he heard (the discussion) and he made the decision for us,” she said.

She said Nabors already had a “do not resuscitate” order in place to prevent extraordinary efforts to keep him alive. When they put him on comfort care, Miller said it was just a matter of a couple of hours.

“I was sitting on his bed and I had my head down, crying,” she said. “And I heard him say my name, he said it twice. And I popped my head up and I looked at him, and he was looking at me and I said, ‘I’m right here, baby, I’m right here.’ I said ‘I’m not going anywhere.’ and he closed his eyes. He shook his head and closed his eyes. And he didn’t open his eyes again.”

She added, “Knowing that he didn’t struggle, that puts me at peace, not that I don’t miss him every day. I kind of went through this with my mom three years ago, so I can see that there is peace in this and so I’m not afraid of that.”

The couple had a shared love for Ireland and had planned to take a second trip there as well, and one to Niagara Falls.

“When I get his ashes, I’m going to take those trips,” she said. “Our journey is over on Earth, but it’s not over. We’re not over.”

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