A widow has described getting married to her husband just hours before he died of cancer as “both the happiest and saddest day” of her life.
Dave Cross, an IT engineer and talented photographer, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in January this year and given just months to live.
His then fiancée Mel, 54, said despite their lengthy engagement the couple wanted to officially declare their love to each other in the final weeks that they spent together.
She has paid tribute to Dave’s determination to fulfil this commitment, speaking about their final hours together during Dying Matters week, which runs from Monday 14 May to Sunday 20 May.
The week shines the spotlight on the importance of talking about dying, death and bereavement.
The couple wed on 28 February surrounded by their closest family in an intimate ceremony at a holiday cottage near Bude.
Following the devastating diagnosis Mel and Dave set a date to marry – 23 April –and together they began to organise their church ceremony.
“I spoke to the Reverend Alison Hardy and I know she had to apply for a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury because it was so rushed. We’d been together a long time, we’d always meant to exchange our vows but never got around to it and then we were faced with the fact that it might never happen. Everything the reverend was willing to do for us meant so much because becoming man and wife meant so much to us both.”
But with fears that Dave would not make it to the planned ceremony the date was brought forward to the 3 March and then forward again to the 28 February.
“I took Dave’s palliative care nurse Ali Lobb to one side and asked if she thought he would make it to 3 March ceremony [a few days away] and she told me it was doubtful. I called Reverend Hardy and she told me she could perform the ceremony the next day. Dave and I signed all the paperwork in the morning and the ceremony took place in the afternoon.
“Despite everything Dave still wanted to look his best. His sister got him ready, he combed his hair and brushed his teeth, he didn’t manage to dress up but that really didn’t matter.
“He kept saying to me ‘how long do you think the vicar is going to be’ because he knew he didn’t have long and his feet and hands went extremely cold. He kept saying to me ‘I’m shutting down’ and I was really worried that we would not make it but we did.”
Reverend Hardy changed the order of the ceremony especially and Dave said his vows first with the help of his son Seb.
“I didn’t have a wedding ring or a dress- I borrowed those from his sister. But we did it, we always said we would and we did.”
Hours later Dave lost his short battle with cancer.
“It was both the happiest and the saddest day of my life. I don’t know how to describe it. There was a cake, people had brought champagne and I had flowers but not the person I loved to share them with. I have very mixed feelings about the day. I spent my wedding night with my sister-in-law and my daughter who were also by Dave’s side with me when he died”.
Mel said Dave’s determination was truly inspiring.
“The reason I can cope with it because I know he is no longer in pain.
“I still expect him to walk through the door or ring me at work. I wake-up thinking where is he? I would say live life to the full and do everything you want to do because you don’t know when it could be taken from you.
“The care Dave received from the palliative care nurse Ali was very good, she really did go the extra mile to make him as comfortable as he could be in those final weeks. For people who have suffered a bereavement I would say take your time, do things at your own pace, realise that there will be a lot to organise after the person’s death but that there is a lot of support out there for you and get all the help you can.”
The Cornwall Cruse Helpline 01726 76100 is currently open for three hours a day five days a week.
The Cruse National Helpline offers a listening ear and emotional support to anyone who has lost someone they love, or been affected by a bereavement is available on freephone 0808 808 1677.
All calls to these helplines are answered by trained Cruse volunteers.
If you need to speak to someone urgently the Samaritans are available day and night on freephone 116 123.