Publish date: 2 March 2022

Your wedding day is a very special moment in your life, but what happens if your partner is terminally ill in hospital? How can you fulfil your dream of marrying the person you love when the obstacles to making it happen seem so huge?

Thankfully, for one local woman, the staff and our Chaplain, stepped in to help. Under a new model of care called SWAN, which will launch officially next month, they made all the arrangements, sorted out all the complicated documentation and conducted the service, which was followed by a wedding breakfast of steak and kidney pie and prosecco.

The happy couple were able to spend quality time with their close family. Sadly, but expectedly, new husband Jack* died in the early hours of the next morning, leaving Sarah* bittersweet memories but grateful that their wish to marry had been fulfilled.

Rev. Canon Jean Hurlston, one of the Trust chaplains made the wedding happen for Sarah and Jack. Process and complicated procedures could have delayed or prevented the ceremony going ahead but Jean was determined to make it happen.

Jean explains: “Although I have conducted several marriages in church this was the first in a hospital setting under these circumstances and with a special licence. When I heard that they wanted to get married but that Jack didn’t have long to live, I went straight up to the ward to chat with them about next steps. I was with them until midnight, filling in the paper work, helping them to understand the legal implications and planning what I hoped would be a joyful celebration of their love for each other. It’s the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office that deal with these requests and they were so helpful, guiding me through the process of getting a special license and certificate. 

“Jack’s medical team advised we try for 1pm the following day and, although it was a close thing, we made it. Sarah looked every inch the beautiful bride and Jack was so proud as he made his vows. The bride’s two children were there to witness the moment and other close family joined them. 

“When I said the words ‘I therefore proclaim that they are husband and wife’ a cheer went up from the nurses. It was a very special moment and one I’ll never forget.”

Project lead nurse Dawn Fletcher says the SWAN model of end of life and bereavement care is being introduced across the Trust to support and guide the care of patients and their loved ones at the end of life and after death too. 

Chief Executive, Karen James OBE, said, "I believe all staff have a duty of care to promote dignity, respect and compassion at the end of life, which is why the Trust is introducing the SWAN model of care. What Jean, Dawn and the team did for Sarah and Jack was wonderful. They gave them the opportunity to fulfil their important wish to be married, if only for a short time." 

*We changed the names of the people involved in this story to respect their privacy.