Photos courtesy UPMC After months of battling late-stage Parkinson's, 87-year-old Frank Kirsopp's only wish was to marry Bobbie Bitters. Commonwealth Hospice in Robinson arranged a ceremony for the couple and they were wed on July 30.
-LOVE & MARRIAGE-
By Jamie Wiggan
When Frank Kirsopp became a patient of Commonwealth Hospice earlier this year for assistance living with advanced-stage Parkinson’s disease, a nurse asked him if he had any regrets looking back on his life.
“Not marrying Bobbie,” he replied.
Around six months later, propped up before an altar in a wheelchair, Kirsopp took the hand of his long-time love and fought through the tremors to give voice to the words, “I do.”
The wedding was facilitated by the Robinson-based hospice, with support from UPMC’s Asbury Heights senior living facility in Mount Lebanon, where it took place and where they both live.
Kirsopp, 87, had proposed to Bobbie Bitters, 86, four years earlier – and she had accepted.
But before they could make headway with wedding preparations, the Parkinson's diagnosis came along and threw off their plans.
“He was having [health] problems and we kind of put it off,” Bitters recalled.
However, once the hospice staff got wind of their unfulfilled pledge, they insisted on putting together a wedding as part of their care plan for Kirsopp.
“This is kind of a unique thing with Frank, but we’re always looking for that unique thing,” said Brendan Kelley, community outreach director. “We always want to find what’s important to our patients.”
In the weeks leading up to the July 30 ceremony, nurses, kitchen staff and other residents could all be heard chatting excitedly about the big day, according to Bitters.
No other weddings have taken place at the facility since the couple moved in eight years ago, and the longest-staying residents can reportedly recall only one marriage celebration in prior years.
“Everybody’s talking about it, everybody’s excited,” Bitters said.
Kirsopp and Bitters both lost their former spouses around the same time and met soon after through a mutual friend.
Kirsopp, a lifelong Mount Lebanon resident, spent 38 years teaching industrial arts at the Mount Lebanon School system before retiring in the mid-1990s.
Bitters, a Pittsburgh native, previously ran a pet grooming business out of her South Hills home, which she had to give up during a battle with cancer 20 years ago. She made a full recovery and sometimes regrets closing.
Kirsopp took a chance by asking Bitters to join him at a pig roast on an unseasonably cold September day 10 years ago, beginning a companionship that deepened slowly up till the moment they exchanged their vows.
“I think the older you get, love becomes more important,” Bitter said. “All of a sudden, when you get older, it’s like something really special, something to hold onto. We don’t know, we might only have one more day to live. People younger than us keep dying.”
From March 2020 until getting vaccinated in early 2021, the facility’s virus prevention measures meant the couple were unable to visit each other despite living in adjacent buildings.
They could talk by phone, but it wasn’t the same. “You can’t see them, you can’t touch them, all you’re doing is hearing a voice,“ Bitters said. “One thing that we all missed – not just us – was the touch.”
Kirsopp said the nearly year-long quarantine felt like it stretched back through his entire 25-year retirement. But the time apart helped cement in his mind he was ready to devote his final days – however many there may be – to Bitters.
While Kirsopp’s disease has advanced during recent months, Kelley said he’s convinced Kirsopp’s pledge to Bitters has sustained him physically.
“The prospect of this marriage has done a lot to carry Frank through,” he said.