Saskatchewan·Photos

Sask. photographer remembers late husband through wedding dress tradition

Each fall, Vanessa Lanktree zips up her wedding dress to remember the day she married her best friend, Eric.

Vanessa and Eric were high school sweethearts who married in 2012; Eric died in 2014

Vanessa Lanktree's current boyfriend took her 2019 wedding dress photographs. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

Putting on her wedding dress this fall was a bittersweet moment for Vanessa Lanktree.

It's a reminder of her late husband and best friend, Eric Lanktree, but also a way to honour his life. 

The Weyburn-area photographer remembers the day she wore it down the aisle with pride. She married her high school sweetheart on Sept. 8, 2012.

"Eric was amazing. He was patient, kind, hardworking," Lanktree said. "He loved me and I could see it in the way he looked at me. He knew me like a book."

Vanessa and Eric Lanktree started dating when Vanessa was in Grade 10 and Eric was in Grade 12 at the same high school. He was wearing his hat backwards while standing in the cafeteria, Vanessa recalled. (Submitted by Vanesssa Lanktree)

The two met in 2006 when they were both high school students and began dating. Lanktree, who was in Grade 10 at the time, said she can still remember what Eric, in Grade 12, looked like: his hat was on backward as he stood near a cafeteria table, laughing with friends. 

He proposed in December 2011 and the two started to plan a wedding and build their dream home, Lanktree said. 

"Our wedding day was beyond perfect," Lanktree said. "We were surrounded by so much love that day. I married my best friend." 

Vanessa Lanktree and Eric Lanktree started construction on their dream home in the Weyburn area in fall 2012, the same time they got married. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

When putting on the wedding dress again, memories surround Lanktree, she said, and it feels as good as the day she saw it in the store.

The wedding dress was on a mannequin and Lanktree knew immediately that dress was the one. 

"When I walked into the church and like rounded the corner, he was bawling his eyes out. And I never expected that," Lanktree said.

"I knew I was marrying the right man."

Vanessa Lanktree said when she walked down the aisle and saw her late husband, Eric, crying, she knew she was marrying the right man. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

'It was just like the world completely stopped'

Eric was planning a trip in 2014 to the United States with his father as well as his uncle. They were planning their annual trip down to California, and then they would attend a big car show in Las Vegas.

The group decided that year to rent motorcycles and see some of California. It was on their way back to Las Vegas that there was an accident. 

Eric Lanktree was a volunteer firefighter when he married Vanessa Lanktree in 2012. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

"My father-in-law just kept in touch with me and I thought [Eric] was going to make it," Lanktree said.

"You kind of just felt like you were alone, and then when you got that phone call it was just heartbreaking."

Eric Lanktree died on Nov. 3, 2014. He was 25. 

Vanessa and Eric Lanktree were married in 2012. Even after Eric's death, his parents were major supports for Vanessa, she said, and taught her to still enjoy little moments in life. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

"It's like you felt almost invisible — you just disappeared. It was just like the world completely stopped."

Sharing on social media was a way to cope with her feelings and emotions, Lanktree said.

It started with posting out of heartbreak and pain, she said. Now, it's a way of letting other women know they're not alone.

Vanessa Lanktree put on her dress in 2017 as a way to remember her late husband. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

"I felt like I was the only one at that age that had lost somebody that young like their husband," Lanktree said.

"Our lives had just started — it takes time to finally feel like you're not in a cloud anymore." 

Vanessa Lanktree photographed herself in her dress in 2018 to remember her special day with Eric. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

Beginning of a new tradition

Lanktree received support from family, friends, in laws and more after her husband's death, and the advice to not sit around and be miserable on their wedding anniversary. 

Lanktree decided to put on her wedding dress once again on Sept. 8, 2016. It would have been their fourth wedding anniversary. 

The dress was still in the original bag, still a little dirty from the wedding day. She zipped it up and put on her wedding song, Making Memories of Us by Keith Urban. 

Vanessa Lanktree's tradition of wearing her wedding dress each year on her anniversary is a way of honouring and remembering her late husband, she said. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

"It has felt so good to put my dress on," Lanktree said. "I love putting it on and just felt good and I felt good in it that day and I still feel good." 

The dress is a symbol of an amazing relationship and marriage, she says, even if the marriage was shorter than she had hoped. Since her first time dancing alone in her dress in 2016, Lanktree has put it on each year as a way to remember Eric, that day, and their lives together. 

Vanessa Lanktree wore her wedding dress in her father's sunflower field this year. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

Lanktree was away during the anniversary this year, so she put on her dress a month late and decided to go outside into her father's sunflower field.

She has been training her current boyfriend in photography, so he's the one who took the photographs to help honour Eric, Lanktree said. 

"They're one of my favourites just because I finally got to actually … be in my dress, and have fun in my dress.… I had rubber boots on, and I just ran in my dress," she said.

Vanessa and Eric Lanktree were married in 2012. (Submitted by Vanessa Lanktree)

"It's a way to remind people that he was a big part of me, and [to make sure] that other people don't forget about him either."

Lanktree hopes people always remember to look at both sides of life, be good people, help others, live every moment to the fullest and find happiness, like Eric did. 

"Eric would have wanted me to continue on with life and find some happiness somewhere," Lanktree said. 

"The thing is to somehow find a way that you can honour that person. You can still find a little bit of happiness."

About the Author

Heidi Atter

AP/Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.