Twenty-five months ago today, my precious wife Fiona died of pancreatic cancer. She’d been fighting it for three years.
And in the midst of the horror, we chose hope over despair, joy over grief, and love over despondency. Four years ago, on 5th December, 2014, about eight months after her diagnosis, Fiona and I renewed our wedding vows together in our Church in Torquay.
Hope for healing (didn’t happen, at least not this side of the veil), hope for the ability to live life one day at a time and appreciate everything that each new day brings. Renewing our vows so that, no matter how long we had left together, we would publicly declare our commitment to each other and our intention to live out our time together in freedom, joy and love. Because of our faith in Jesus, Who died and then came back from the dead, we believed (and I still do) that death is not the end. That kind of belief gives a person the power to live free of fear, and to live in the freedom of the moment. Not that fear and horror are not part of the ‘cancer journey’ – they are! – but that the fear is not one of losing someone forever to ‘death the great divider’, but that our lives go on through the veil of death and on into a glorious afterlife with Jesus. And that definitely affects the way that we live our lives, including the ability to live in the light of that blazing truth.
Fiona and I were married in January, 1984, at Guiseley Baptist Church in Guiseley, West Yorkshire. In the same way that we first promised to ‘have and to hold, in sickness and health’, that promise became actual and real in the face of the ultimate sickness of terminal cancer.
I’ve scanned in some of the photos that were taken at our wedding. The header picture is one of gorgeous Fiona, here reproduced in colour:
Wasn’t she stunning? Like I’ve said elsewhere in this series, Fiona was easily the most beautiful girl I had ever set eyes on, and, for me at least, it was love at first sight. 😀
Happy days, eh? 🙂 I was twenty-one (nearly twenty-two) on our wedding day, and Fiona was nineteen (nearly twenty). I count myself the most blessed man to have had such a gorgeous, amazing, wise and clever lady as my wife, and we always agreed how glad we were that we had met when we were young so that we could spend our entire lives together. And what amazing lives we led. The sheer amount of adventure we packed into our nearly 33 years of marriage was incredible, despite me (at least while in Leeds) being in a low-paid job and raising a young family on a shoestring. We were so happy together.
Of course, the last part of the story was traumatic. Cancer has a way of changing one’s outlook and priorities, but that doesn’t have to be a change for the worst. The illness meant that although we had wanted eventually to grow old together, we knew this wasn’t going to happen, and that’s quite disappointing when you realise it. And yet, over the time of the illness, we were so close: we learned so much about life and death; God and others; illness; compassion; dedication and commitment. Truly, that time enriched us as people, and we certainly didn’t let it go to waste.
For some time, we had wanted to renew our vows, so what better time to declare our love for, and commitment to, each other, than in the face of a terrible terminal illness? On that 5th December 2014, then, we stood in front of our family and our Church family, and many of our relatives and old friends who had come hundreds of miles to be with us on our special day.
In the face of that evil illness, we lit a bright light of hope and joy. We had decided that we were not going to let the illness defeat us as people, nor to let it cloud what remaining time we had together. And it’s interesting, but we actually enjoyed our second wedding far more than we did our first. Which, I think, speaks volumes.
Here are some photos from our second wedding:
Look at her wonderful smile, and that despite the ravages of the chemotherapy and the cancer. Because we had such a great life together, I often find it hard to point to a specific event and say ‘that really made her day’ – there were so many such events! – but in this case I think I can safely indicate that this was one of those occasions. She was just so happy! As you can see on this next shot, with Fiona dancing down the aisle because she was so full of joy 😀
I’m so glad we did that renewal of vows wedding. And at the time of the publication of this article, it’s almost exactly four years since our second wedding, and I still look back on it as one of the happiest days of my life, mainly because my lovely Fiona was so happy.
And doesn’t that smile say it all? It compares very well with the one she’s wearing at our first wedding, in the top picture above!
This next point is quite personal. Just lately, I have had the experience of seeing elderly people living in a care home. And while the care home in question really is an excellent one, still it is less than ideal; there is little privacy, there is of necessity a regimented approach to mealtimes, the patients have no freedom, but to be honest what else can they do? If someone is incapable of looking after themselves, then someone has to look after them, whether that’s family, or, if unavaliable/unable/unwilling, the local care system. But it’s horrible to see, even though the staff are lovely and the care home is excellent. I find it incredibly traumatic to see it. And here’s my point: although obviously I miss Fiona greatly, it would have broken my heart to see her in a situation like that, should we in our old age have become unable to look after each other any longer. Or being separated from each other; some elderly couples are (for whatever reason) not together in the same care home. We would have found that unbearable; completely and heartbreakingly unbearable. It hurts to even think about it, but I know of course that I will be spared seeing her in that situation, and for that I’m grateful. And she too has been spared the pain of either being in that situation herself, or seeing me go through it. I mean, sure, the trauma of losing her, and that of coping with her having a terminal illness, was immense for both of us. And in some ways I have already been through the heartbreak. But this is one heartache I will not have to face into. Fiona had the chance to live her last years in dignity and in freedom, and only for her last two weeks or so was she in a hospice – and even that was supposed to be temporary.** Maybe that sounds like I’m glad she died young – it’s not that; all I am doing is being grateful for ‘small mercies’, and finding another silver lining in the dark cloud of her loss. But I’m glad that I was spared that care home trauma, and of course I’m glad that she too has been spared it either way.
Anyway, with our second wedding, we effectively thumbed our noses at death and disaster. We declared by our actions that tragedy wasn’t going to have the last word over our happiness, and that was indeed how it worked out. Our last two years together were spent in joy and fulness, living the Kingdom life that Jesus gives, and being shining examples of joy in the face of adversity.
Fiona, my love, I love you and I miss you. Thank you so much for our second wedding, for what you said to me there, and for affirming once again that deep, deep love we shared.
It meant everything to me, and it still does.
I’ll see you soon, and then we’ll never be separated again.
*During our first wedding, it was throwing a blizzard outside and this is why all our photos were done indoors.
**As she was going in to the hospice (for a closely-monitored pain control regime), Fiona did jokingly ask, “When people go into a hospice, do they ever come out again?” “Oh, yes!” said the nurses…but in her case, they were wrong! Even at times like that, Fiona thought it funny. Our sense of humour together was funny and flippant; I’m still like that (have been so since about 1980) and I would have it no other way 😀
In fact, I almost did even more dark humour and called this piece Two Weddings and a Funeral. For this purpose, I took a photo of Fiona’s gravestone, which I reproduce below to complete the ‘joke’. The Scripture quote is Psalm 116:7, Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you, a verse the Spirit gave me a couple of years ago.
Our family name has been redacted because I want my site to stay semi-anonymous. With disabled people in my family, and given the propensity of certain Christians to take exception to heretics like me, the last thing I want is for a mob of rampaging Pharisees to turn up on my doorstep brandishing King James Bibles 😉
I must also say that credit for the photos of the second wedding go to my friend Ella. Well done, chick 🙂