Background Discovering what matters to people when they are dying may highlight a relationship that needs formalising in the last weeks of life. Hospices have become expert at high speed last-minute weddings. But surprisingly, many weddings also take place in a tertiary cancer hospital. Over a period of nine months the palliative care team supported six weddings in the hospital. These were expertly supported by the nursing, catering, facilities and chaplaincy team, and were a well-kept secret, apart from one which made it onto national news, as the patient was a well-known journalist.
Method A retrospective analysis of notes of patients who were married in the hospital, to discover who initiated the conversation about goals of care, about marriage, documentation about the relationship and the wedding plans, whether the patient left hospital after the ceremony and where possible, the meaning of the wedding to the couple or the bereaved widow or widower.
Findings and Discussion The hospital weddings were organised superbly, always spiritual, a mixture of joy and sadness, hard to bear but with no regrets for those who lived on. The ceremonies seemed to be for love, deepening connexion, rather than financial security. In fact one new wife inherited all her partner’s debts by marrying him! Half were new relationships, with previous marriages behind them, and half were partnerships of many years, that seemed important to formalise. Only one out of six patients left the hospital, and one patient died within minutes of the wedding which was shocking for all. The purchase of the rings was a particularly symbolic gesture. Wedding outfits varied from borrowed gowns from local bridal shops, to blue hospital scrubs! Jan, widow of Colin said, ‘I wanted to be a widow, not someone whose partner had died.’7 Further qualitative research is planned with the bereaved partners.
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