I couldn’t wait to marry my Gareth, but was his tummy upset just wedding jitters?
By Kay Jones, 45, from Ceredigion, Wales
I applied a final slick of mascara and examined my reflection in the mirror.
‘Right, I’m done,’ I said, turning to my boyfriend, Gareth. ‘Are you ready?’
Gareth was dressed up to the nines in his suit and black tie, ready for dinner. It was the first night of our romantic Mediterranean cruise and I couldn’t wait.
I was looking forward to a week of relaxation in the sun but Gareth seemed twitchy, he wouldn’t sit still.
Then I watched as he got down on one knee and pulled a ring out of his pocket. ‘Kay, I love you so much,’ he said, holding the ring up towards me. ‘Will you marry me?’
I clasped my hand to my mouth in surprise then broke out in a huge smile. ‘Yes, of course I’ll marry you,’ I replied.
I’d bumped into Gareth the year before at a food festival. He won me over with his sense of humour and after swapping numbers we dated long distance.
When we moved into a smallholding in Wales together, we decided we had enough love and enough space to share with some little people, and began fostering children.
Gareth was ever the joker and I saw a tender, fatherly side to him after we opened our home to our foster children.
But that cruise was a special trip for just the two of us, and so our engagement was the icing on the cake.
‘How about setting a date then?’ Gareth asked, back at home. We tried discussing venues and firming up a date, but the kids kept us so busy and life got in the way.
‘It’s so expensive,’ I told him. ‘But we will do it, soon. I promise.’
After my mum passed away after a battle with cancer in 2012, I lost a bit of my sparkle but by January 2014, I was ready to start living again.
‘Time is precious,’ I told Gareth. ‘Let’s make this a year for us. Let’s do it, let’s get married!’
First, we booked our honeymoon. We decided on another cruise around the Mediterranean, just like the trip we’d got engaged on.
Then, we set about planning the ceremony. ‘I’ve never been married before, I want to do it properly, the real deal,’ Gareth grinned.
I’d been married for a short time in my twenties but that had just been a registry office affair, so I was happy to plan a big white wedding.
‘You’re on’ I told him. ‘A fairytale wedding, for our fairytale romance.’
I booked the local abbey for the service, found a gorgeous dress and even arranged for a horse and carriage to transport us in style.
But a month before our big day, in August 2014, Gareth complained of feeling unwell.
‘It’s more than just indigestion,’ he groaned, rubbing his stomach. ‘I feel sick all the time and I’m getting horrible acid reflux.’
Gareth was a big guy and he loved his food but it affected his appetite and the weight began falling off him.
Doctors suspected he had a hiatus hernia and I wondered if the stress of the wedding plans was making him ill.
But Gareth was such a laidback person, it didn’t stack up. So at the beginning of August, when Gareth was becoming dehydrated, surgeons operated.
‘They want to open me up, get a proper look at what’s going on in there. Then we can get this sorted, once and for all,’ Gareth explained.
The hospital was a two-hour drive away and so I stayed at home with the kids as he went in for the routine procedure.
The next day, the phone rang. It was Gareth. ‘Kay… it’s cancer. They’ve told me I’ve got cancer.’
I was stunned. I could barely take the news in. We were due to get married in a matter of weeks. All I knew was that I wanted to be with him.
‘I’m coming,’ I told him. ‘I’ll be with you as soon as I can.’
When I arrived, the surgeon came round and stopped at Gareth’s bedside. He explained that the cancer was in his stomach and that the tumour had been blocking the nutrients from being absorbed into his system.
‘How long have I got?’ Gareth asked calmly. ‘I want to know.’
I felt my heart hammer in my chest as the doctor said gently: ‘It’s unlikely you’ll survive beyond six months. I’m sorry.’
It was as if time stood still. I knew I had to stay strong for Gareth, I couldn’t let him see me break down – but I couldn’t bear it.
I’d finally found my soulmate and now he was to be ripped away from me.
‘Excuse me,’ I said, as I shakily got up and left the room. I collapsed in tears then. It was just so unfair.
When I went back into the room, Gareth’s thoughts were only for me. ‘You’ve only just got over your mum, poor thing,’ he whispered.
It was so typical of him. He’d just been told he had six months to live, and he was worried how I was coping with the news.
We agreed to stay strong for each other and Gareth was determined that we’d still get married. ‘You’ll have to cancel the honeymoon,’ the doctor said, turning to Gareth. ‘I’m afraid you won’t be fit to travel.’
Gareth nodded. ‘Ok, as long as we’re married,’ he said.
I shot him a look. ‘Are you sure…’ I started.
‘We’re doing it,’ he told me.
Gareth was adamant and I longed to be his wife, so we agreed that we’d carry on with the wedding as planned, for just a few weeks’ time, on 20th September.
My heart broke as Gareth rang round all the guests to explain. ‘We’ve had a bit of bad news, but there’s to be no tears…’
We agreed that if we’d vowed to stay strong for each other, then our guests could stay strong for us too.
‘…it’s going to be a happy day,’ he finished.
Gareth was allowed to recover at home but a week before the wedding, he fell very ill again. He couldn’t keep any food down.
Surgeons had operated to bypass the tumour but it had become blocked again. ‘You need more surgery,’ medics explained. ‘But if we operate again, you won’t be able to make the wedding.’
Gareth remained determined. ‘The operation can wait, I’ve got a wedding to get to!’
The doctors agreed to postpone the op but insisted Gareth was admitted into hospital in the lead-up to our big day.
I went to all our wedding rehearsals on my own and arranged for a family member to make the two-hour journey to pick Gareth up from the hospital to bring him to the abbey.
‘You look beautiful, love,’ my dad told me as he helped me into the horse and carriage that afternoon. Tears pricked my eyes as I walked down the aisle and met Gareth at the altar.
Seeing him decked out in his suit, but covered in tubes, broke my heart. He looked so proud. I forced myself to keep it together, I knew that if I broke down, that would set Gareth off.
It was so poignant as we exchanged those precious vows in front of our friends and family: in sickness and in health, til death do us part…
Afterwards, the horse and carriage took us to the local village pub for our reception.
Gareth took my hand and looked me in the eye. ‘There’s only one thing I regret, Kay. And that’s not meeting you sooner.’
We cut the cake together, before Gareth was whisked back to hospital and I spent the rest of the reception without my groom.
The next day, I took our cards to the hospital where we opened them together and chatted about the wedding.
‘This bed’s a bit squeaky,’ Gareth remarked. I couldn’t help but smile. It was the first time I’d ever heard him complain.
An operation the following day revealed that the tumour had spread. There was nothing more they could do.
‘Take me home,’ Gareth begged me.
‘You know what this means, Gareth…’ I started. ‘I know,’ he replied. ‘I just want to be at home, with you.’
And so I brought Gareth home, where I made him comfortable and invited friends and family over to say their goodbyes.
He smiled when his mate came into the room to visit. ‘Oi, where’s my smile? Remember, I’m the one with the drugs, mate!’ I said, cheekily.
Gareth flashed me a big grin then. We were joking with each other until the end.
Two weeks after our wedding day, Gareth died peacefully at home. It was the first time I’d really broken down. I’d forced myself to stay strong for him for so long.
I was crushed. We should have been toasting our new marriage in the beautiful Mediterranean sunshine on our honeymoon, instead the sun had set on our love.
The next week, we held his funeral and afterwards, I scattered Gareth’s ashes in the stream on our land.
Losing Gareth so soon after our wedding was agony, but I’m so glad I became his wife – if only for a few short days.