Children fulfill dying dad's final wish

Ken McHugh (right) walks his daughter, Samantha, down the aisle.


Shortly after Ken McHugh was diagnosed with stage four neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer, he began making the "proverbial bucket list."

In April 2010, doctors gave the 42-year-old a maximum 2-year lifespan.

Ken McHugh pictured on his GoFundMe page.

Two years came and went. One by one, the Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, resident continued checking items off the list, saving the best -- and most difficult -- for last.

"The idea of walking my children down the aisle to give them away," the father of four told CBS News. "In all likelihood, I won't be here to do that for any of them."

Sitting at a keyboard with a pen and paper in hand ready to write each of his kids a letter on their "wedding day," McHugh said he never managed to get past "Dear Samantha," or "Dear Dylan."

"How do you start a message like this? It reduced me to tears," McHugh said. "So, I put it aside and wouldn't get to it."

Three years later, as McHugh's condition worsened, he decided it was time.

Last week, on October 3rd, his dying wish finally came true.

Ken McHugh and his family gather at the altar during their "family wedding."
Mary Savage

From oldest to youngest -- Samantha, 19; Dylan, 17; Julia, 15; Kathryn, 14 -- he walked each of his four children down the aisle to hand them off to God and their "new family."

"It just knocks me over. It's more than I ever imagined." McHugh said, thanking non-profit charity Team CMMD for putting the ceremony together. "It's absolutely beautiful; it's bittersweet."

The children gathered at the altar to listen to their father's parting words.

"I was able to tell them what I thought of them," he said. "I see them pushing into the future and I don't want them to mourn for me -- life goes on."

McHugh's wife, Tammy, joined them.

In front of all of their kids, Tammy and McHugh unexpectedly renewed their marriage vows 20 years later.

Ken McHugh stands with his wife, Tammy, at the altar.
Mary Savage

"I didn't think we'd make it 15, and here we are," Tammy told CBS News.

As Tammy watched her children run around with curlers in their hair ahead of the ceremony, she was pleasantly surprised to see smiles on their faces.

"I realized nobody spoke of cancer, which doesn't typically happen in our house," she said.

After the ceremony, the smiles slowly faded and everyone was teary-eyed as they prepared to read personalized letters from their dad.

"As sad as it was, there were tears of happiness," Tammy said.

With tissues in hand, they opened the letters together. After reading the first line, they looked at their dad and laughed.

Ken McHugh gives his only son, Dylan, a hug.
Mary Savage

Each note began with an inside joke: "I have a secret to tell you, 'You're my favorite,'" it read.

McHugh may have traveled across Europe, gone on an African safari and crossed off even more items on his list -- but seeing his children grow has by far been his greatest accomplishment.

"I think when they look back, they'll go to that in times of need, in times of happiness," said McHugh, referring to the special day. "When they go to it, it will be to seek reassurance, the belief that I have of them."

Right now, McHugh is more worried about his kids' future than he is about dying.

"They had serious dreams," he said. "That causes me the most pain -- I have to say."

A GoFundMe page set up in McHugh's name has raised nearly $35,000 to go toward the children's education.

Eldest daughter Samantha started school at Penn State this year, and 17-year-old Dylan will be next.

"He's my right hand man," McHugh said, describing how his son has quickly become the man of the house. "He suffers with worrying, taking the role of replacement father."

But McHugh doesn't want Dylan or any other of his children to worry.

"You have to go forward and be happy and not get stuck in the past, " he advised. "The next morning, the sun [will still be] shining."