real life

'Two weeks before my wedding, I was in hospital planning my mum's funeral.'

Two weeks to the day before my wedding my mum died. There’s no fancy way of saying it, it can’t be sugar coated and tied up all nice. It is what it is – as my sister bluntly reminded me whilst we sat at the hospital ‘you knew the risks’ of planning a wedding with a terminally ill mum.

To take you back a bit – my mum was diagnosed with stage 4 endometrial cancer in March 2018. Four and a half years earlier she had fought and well, we thought beaten, stage 2 ovarian cancer and had almost hit the celebratory five year mark.

The day she learnt of her new diagnosis is up there with the worst most dramatic days of my life. Those 24 hours changed my life forever and looking back it was the day I started grieving for the woman my mum was.

Let’s increase the survival rate of Ovarian Cancer. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

In July 2018, my wonderful partner proposed and at the time my mum was well. She was going through chemo but she was on this radical diet and she was beating cancer. The night after the proposal my mum and step-dad (Pete is my stepdad but he’s an integral part of my life and for all intensive purposes I refer to him as my dad) took my partner and I out for dinner and mum was so excited at the prospect of planning a wedding.

For six months we went over details, finalised venues, chose wedding dresses and worried about dumb things like what colour shoes the flower girls would wear and who we would invite. Mum drove me insane. I am one of seven children and I was the first to get married and boy, did both mum and Pete have some opinions. They needed to be involved in every decision and some days it almost led to there being no wedding.

Christmas 2018 was hard. Mum was getting sicker and her cancer was proving somewhat difficult for the amazing doctors at St George private to solve. She was having world first procedures and groundbreaking surgeries but still the cancer was returning.

2019 started off hard and to be honest it never really got better. In March, after a pretty tough few months, my partner and I discussed the inevitable – what do we do if mum dies the week before the wedding? Should we cancel it or do we keep going? We both decided that mum was living for this wedding and how do we explain to her well we think you might die so we’ve cancelled the wedding.

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The wedding would go on no matter what! At the time I don’t really know if both myself and Richard thought that mum really would die.

Mums health continued to decline and early July I turned 30. In our family, birthdays are a big deal and mum usually went all out and did a huge lunch with lots of presents and the most extravagant cake (one year she made me a bomb Alaska and we had to get an industrial size blow torch to light the bloody thing). My 30th birthday wasn’t like normal. My step twin brother (he’s my step brother but we are about two months apart in age) and I cooked the dinner while mum looked on, she could barely eat her meal or sit at the table.

She tried so bloody hard and I am so proud of her for that. She never, ever wanted to leave her children and she did all that she could to make our adult lives normal.

Two days later mum went to hospital – we all knew things were bad but I don’t know if we knew she wouldn’t come home. A week before mum lost consciousness, my sister and I juggled children so that one of us could see her Saturday and the other Sunday. That Sunday would be the last Sunday my mum was my mum. We discussed trivial wedding details like seating plans and my sisters’ dresses. Mum still didn’t have a dress but she assured me her oncologist was doing everything he could to get her to the wedding in three weeks.

After a good three hours of wedding talk and a cup of tea with lemon meringue tart, I kissed my mum goodbye and went back home to get ready for work that week.

Emily's Mum. Image: Supplied.

That Wednesday, my dad called all seven children and told us it was time to come to the hospital. One by one we arrived and we spent the next five days holed up in a hospital room laughing, crying, silent and sometimes very loud. It was the weirdest five days of my life but it was also beautiful in so many ways.

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Every nurse or doctor who saw my mum during this week would ask which one was the one getting married and every time I would put my hand up and they would look at me with such sadness. They'd say 'your mum was so excited about the wedding, she talked about it all the time.' Here I was in a hospital two weeks before my wedding, planning my mum's funeral.

On Sunday, 28 July at 2am my mum died. She wasn’t in any pain, she was finally at peace.

Over the next few days we planned a funeral, I wrote a eulogy. I called her friends and told them what had happened, I looked after my family and I googled what do you do if your mum dies two weeks before your wedding.

Let me tell you there were no useful results at all - turns out it doesn’t happen to many people.

I knew I had to continue on and have my wedding because my mum had been an integral part of the planning right down to the finest detail, like the flower girls having their names embroidered on their Peter Pan collars because mum thought that would be cute. If my mum couldn’t be there physically at least she could be there in every single other way.

And besides - if I didn’t do what I had organised with her then it would be different to what she planned and well, that would’ve been worse.

My family and friends rallied to make every tiny detail come together and some helped me get my dress altered three days before. Others helped me decorate and almost everyone helped make the day a happy celebration.

It was the perfect wedding and I am so glad I did it, despite a pretty crappy lead up. But I’m lucky. I got to plan the best wedding with my best friend and yes, she wasn’t physically there she was most certainly there in spirit. Her magic was all over that place and I know she had a great time.

So my advice to you, if you’re reading this and it’s two weeks before your wedding and your mum just died is, have the wedding.

Marry the person you love more than anything in the world, try not to cry when you walk down the aisle (I changed my entrance song to Love On Top by Beyoncé because hell, I did not need that slow Adele song). Smile as often and laugh as loudly as you can because you can and that’s what your mum would want.

If you’re googling 'my mum died two weeks before my wedding' then girl, I know how you feel. But here’s a bit of advice that someone pretty special gave me.

‘Don’t let this define your life, it can be a moment that helps define you but don’t let it be the defining of who you are’.

Photo credit: Emily's wedding photograph was taken by Tim Frawley.

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