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Trigger Warning: This story includes descriptions and information about mental illness, including suicidal ideation, which may be triggering to survivors or to the family and/or friends of those who have died by suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation, please seek help. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day for assistance.
Small moments matter.
Just ask Tiffany Au. In ninth grade, as she was struggling with mental illness and suicidal ideation, she was also serving low-income families by handing out food with the Mobile Market. As she was chatting with one of the recipients of her community service, he looked at her and said, “Your smile is going to change the world.”
As she recounted this story, tears ran down her face.
“It was the first time in a really long while that I had felt heard, that I felt seen, that I had felt loved and celebrated,” Tiffany said. “And that I wanted prove him right.”
And prove him right she did. Tiffany, and soon-to-be husband Caleb Remington, have launched what they’ve named, “The Greatest Wedding Ever Donated.” Instead of a traditional wedding, they are hosting a gala and benefit concert on May 5 to get married and fundraise half a million dollars for five organizations close to their hearts: Global Genes and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and for Caleb; and Think Together, The Wayfarer Foundation, and To Write Love on Her Arms for Tiffany.
In some ways, Tiffany and Caleb are just like any other engaged couple. When he looks at her, it’s like he can’t take his eyes off her. She lights up as she tells me their millennial meet-cute story in which she saw and liked a photo of him on Instagram: “It was love at first like.”
With this wedding, they are taking their hardships to step into their stories and give back to the community.
Growing up in a first-generation, low-income immigrant family in the suburbs of Chicago, Tiffany helped raise her younger siblings through her parents’ divorce. She was also sexually assaulted as a child and struggled with mental illness, but kept a lot of these things inside.
“As an Asian-American, it’s not something we are normally taught to talk about. Anything that shows weakness, you just have to swallow,” Tiffany said. “There’s a lot of pride in the culture, which is a blessing and a curse. At some point, thinking that everything is good does help, but you don’t really address that traumas you experience; and at the end of the day, hurt people hurt people.”
As for Caleb, he struggles with cystic fibrosis, a disease where his body produces thick, sticky mucus where bacteria can easily grow. A progressive disease, his current prognosis gives him a life expectancy of 37 years.
“Our relationship started with conversations with life and death and what is your purpose,” Tiffany said. “Not exactly what you talk about on a first date, but it really did get me thinking about what is my purpose, what the purpose of humans is in general. And because Caleb is so open about his disease and the hardships about it, it really harbored a safe place for me to talk about things I struggled with.”
And these hard conversations and long sleepless nights with Caleb, coupled with therapy, have helped Tiffany open up about her experiences and the intersectionalities that impact mental health.
“He’s an incredible human who has really helped me open up to myself and helping me to realize that my own personal story had a lot of power and truth to it,” she said. “There’s still a lot of anxiety that still lingers inside of me, but he is super patient, and I’m very blessed to have someone like that in my life, someone I can call my best friend and soon-to-be husband.”
Tiffany chose one of her causes to be To Write Love on Her Arms to help other people struggling with their mental health. Tiffany’s first encounter with the organization was at a talk they had done at her school.
“It was the first time I had heard the words ‘mental health’ out in the world because we don’t really talk about it,” she said. “Even in health class, it’s always about physical health.”
When asked for advice for today’s youth, Tiffany said: “I think it’s important to start having these conversations about mental health. What you see on social media is often times not reality, and we have to take that pressure off of being perfect and put together. We have to learn to support one another. As I’m learning to step into my own story, I realize there is so much more that I could give that I didn’t realize I had before. I’m learning not to be scared by my feelings anymore, and that’s something that I hope kids today are able to not only resonate with, but also start practicing.”
To learn more about the Greatest Wedding Ever Donated, donate, or purchase tickets to the couple’s special event, please visit: https://www.thegwed.com/.