Happily-married couple Roy and Kathleen London were due to renew their wedding vows on their 25th anniversary.
With six years to go until the milestone, Roy was going to keep it a surprise for his beloved wife, something he would plan nearer the time.
Kathleen, who had survived breast cancer in her 40s, became ill again in 2009 and doctors diagnosed cervical cancer. Despite aggressive chemotherapy and radiotherapy it rapidly spread and in September 2010 she was told she had months to live.
Roy realised he would have to bring his plans forward but still wanted to keep it a surprise so entrusted Kathleen’s daughter Allison Munson to make the arrangement for the ceremony and reception at the Le Talbooth in Dedham.
Meanwhile Kathleen, unbeknown to Roy, had similar plans and also asked Allison to plan the day.
Soon Kathleen’s health started to deteriorate, and she was admitted to St Elizabeth Hospice’s inpatient unit.
Roy, 63, of Ipswich, said: “About two weeks later Kathleen went downhill so I told the nurses of my secret plans to renew our vows and they said the ceremony could take place at the Hospice. I had a conversation with Hospice chaplain Revd Jane Kingsnorth and she diplomatically suggested we should do it sooner rather than later and the ceremony was fixed for the following day.”
Hospice staff organised the details – printing an order of service, a certificate for the witnesses to sign, preparing the room a short walk down the corridor and supplying a member of staff to take photographs for the family to keep. Meanwhile Roy ensured close family were able to attend, organised the cake and flowers and Allison had tracked down the beloved blue velvet dress Kathleen had wanted to wear, in homage to the song Blue Velvet which had played on their wedding day.
Allison said: “I told mum it was an important day as today you’re going to renew your wedding vows. She cried tears of delight. She then said she had nothing to wear and I pointed to the dress hanging up on the door. It was mum who said ‘I want to do this’ and the staff pulled out all the stops, they were brilliant.”
As Kathleen was pushed in her wheelchair by the bridesmaid she had asked for Kim, her granddaughter, Hospice staff stood along the route to wish them well. Her grandson William gave her away to the sounds of Blue Velvet and then the ceremony started, with medical staff on hand.
Roy recalled: “It was a very emotional ceremony, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. She was not able to stand and in pain but she wanted to do it. Afterwards we went back to her room on the ward for champagne and cake but Kathleen wanted to rest and was asleep most of the time after that.”
Kathleen died two days later on Christmas Eve last year with her husband and daughter at her bedside. She was 63.
Lorry driver Roy said: “I idolised the ground Kathleen walked on, she was a fantastic woman and I had a wonderful life with her.
“I cannot praise the staff at St Elizabeth Hospice enough. Without them we would not have renewed our wedding vows. It was very important to both or us to have that wish fulfilled. Noone realised she was going to go so quickly.”
Allison said: “Nothing stopped mum doing anything, she loved socialising and truly lived life to the full. She has left a huge void in not just our lives but the lives of lots of people she knew. She had a very positive attitude to life and it was a very positive ending for her.”
Kathleen was cremated in her blue velvet dress.
Roy London decided to share his story as part of Hospice Awareness Week which aims to dispel some of the misconceptions of hospice care.
St Elizabeth Hospice’s chaplain, Revd Jane Kingsnorth, said: “We take our patients’ and their families’ hopes and wishes very seriously and will do everything possible to help them achieve them. Roy and Kathleen were very much in love and their love shone out over the sadness and grief that Kathleen was dying.”
Other patients have been married at the hospice in recent years and staff are able to organise the ceremonies at short notice with the registrar.