Jacqui Hoang Castro // Life Celebration

Today is Jacqui and Ernie’s 1 year wedding anniversary. She passed two weeks ago. While Jacqui was in the hospital, Ernie called me to see if I could photograph her funeral and life celebration reception. I wanted to help by any means I could. It was one of the toughest things that I’ve ever photographed. At her wake, I found myself walking up to the podium to share a short story about a moment that I had with Jacqui right before she walked down the aisle. It was just her and I; it lasted for a few minutes. She was confident and calm. She was ready to walk down that aisle and make her dream come true.

While getting to know Jacqui during the wedding planning, I learned that she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer four years ago. I could tell she wasn’t feeling the best, and yet, she put every ounce of effort into planning a memorable and exciting wedding that ultimately was a reflection of her and Ernie’s outlook on life: celebrate the good times. In the short while I’ve known her, she motivated her friends and cousins to embark on a memorable bachelorette party filled with adventure in Mexico, planned an incredible wedding with multiple bands and one of the best dance parties I’ve ever seen. She traveled all over Europe on her honeymoon and celebrated her 30th birthday. She was strong for accomplishing all of that, but most importantly, she wasn’t a person that let her worst moments trap her.

Her mother and family, particularly each one of her uncles, aunts, and cousins, were tremendously supportive in Jacqui’s life. By supporting her vision and helping finance her wedding and surrounding wedding festivities, Jacqui could make her and Ernie’s dream wedding come to life as they had one of the most spectacular weddings in Malibu. Ernie was such a wonderful counterpart for Jacqui because he is like-minded. He engaged in life’s zeal and dove head first in all the excitement of planning the wedding.

Jacqui’s cousin, best friend, and maid of honor, Thuy Tien played such an instrumental role in her life. The closeness they shared is admirable. They shared the same house as children and Thuy-Tien was by her side during her best and worst moments . The Life Celebration Party that she played an instrumental role in planning is a testament to how important this family comes through for each other.

I could already see Ernie taking mental steps to navigate his way through this unexpected event of Jacqui’s funeral. Rather than being morose, after the funeral, he changed clothes and got out his DJ equipment and entertained the crowd. It was something that got his mind off of the tragedy and it’s something that Jacqui would have wanted. It’s so important to maintain a reason for hope in every context in life and putting together a life celebration party for Jacqui overlooking the beautiful marina speaks volumes to the character of the family and Ernie’s outlook on life.

Rest in Peace, Jacqui. I’ll always remember how confident and happy you looked moments before walking down that aisle. Your family would do anything for you and you were lucky to be a part of this great mystery we call life.