A single mother from Alabama had a longtime dream come true when her daughters gifted her with a photograph featuring all four of them in their wedding gowns.
Terri McCaffrey first came up with the idea to have her four daughters take a picture in their wedding dresses when her first daughter, Amber Patterson, got married 12 years ago.
“She’s the oldest of the four. I knew the day would come, eventually, when they would all get married,” McCaffrey, 52, of Albertville, Alabama, tells PEOPLE. “So I thought, well, this would be a great picture for me to have!”
Two of McCaffrey’s other girls, Kasey, 31, and Skylar, 27, would get married in the years following Amber’s ceremony, and on December 2, her daughter, Nikki, 29, completed the circle when she tied the knot. Remembering what their mother had wished so long ago, the sisters gathered together a couple of weeks before Nikki’s December wedding to bring out their dresses for the photo shoot that was more than a decade in the making.
The photographs, shot by Alabama-based photographer Ashley Sargent, featured the four women gathered in their wedding gowns in a beautiful wooded area in Alabama.
The daughters all wanted to show off their personalities in the photographs, so they held props to represent themselves. Skylar, the youngest daughter and the only one with kids, held up diapers; Kasey, the second oldest, loves running so she naturally brought her running shoes; Nikki is holding a sword to signify her devotion to her faith; and Amber held her guitar to show her love for music. Though they all carried vastly different things to represent themselves in the picture, they were all there for one purpose: to show their hard-working mother how much they appreciate all that she has done for them.
“That’s why we wanted to do the picture, to honor her selflessness,” Amber tells PEOPLE. “All the things she went without for her entire life—we still don’t understand how she did what she did back then.”
As a single mother raising four children, McCaffrey says she worked multiple jobs to provide for her daughters.
“We struggled. I worked three jobs to make ends meet, and I was a welfare mother for a long time, and then I got off of it because I decided it was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to make it and pay my bills on my own,” McCaffrey says. “But it did help us there because it was so hard to raise four girls.”
When the daughters gathered on Christmas Day to surprise their mother with the gift, McCaffrey says she had no idea what to expect. At first, she thought, the girls were maybe giving her a picture of her grandbabies, but as McCaffrey opened her eyes while her family held the picture in front of her, she was overcome with emotion.
“I was shocked! I was so pleased. I opened up the picture and, I swear, my heart skipped a beat. I’m not kidding you!” McCaffrey says. “As pretty as the picture you see, that’s how they are. That’s who they are. Their heart—they give and give because that’s what I taught them.”
For McCaffrey, the picture of her four daughters—who are all successful in their own right—represents how she was able to do her best for them even when times were tough. And, now, she is able to see that it all paid off.
“You make your choices in life and then you live with your choices. I made some bad choices in my life. You’ve got to figure all that out and quit doing that!” McCaffrey says while laughing. “The picture told me that I did good, that I did accomplish something. They are what I accomplished. They are my legacy. This is what I’m leaving here, and they’re good.”