My beloved Dad will be with me every moment of my wedding day
17 Jul 2018
The journey to any wedding day can be fraught with emotion, especially if a parent is struck by ill-health. Here, one bride-to-be shares a heartrending story about her dad's devastating diagnosis
Kent bride-to-be Samantha Hills wanted nothing more than for her dad to see her in her wedding dress and walk her down the aisle.
And when dad Gordon received a second devastating cancer diagnosis, Samantha changed the date of her wedding. She wanted to ensure he would be by her side on the most important day of her life, and it was his greatest wish to live long enough to give his youngest daughter away.
Gordon Hills, of Welling, Bexley, was diagnosed with mouth cancer in February last year.
He endured 12 hours of surgery at Guys Hospital. His teeth and part of his tongue were removed and a flap was taken from his arm to repair the lower part of his mouth. By May 2017, after a further six-and-a-half weeks of radiotherapy, the consultant was happy that treatment had been successful.
Relieved by the news, Samantha, 30, and her fiancé Calum Comerford went ahead and booked their wedding at The Old Kent Barn, Dover, for July 12, 2019. Preparations were running along nicely when another bolt came out of the blue.
“On May 11, this year, we received the terrible news that the cancer had spread to Dad’s lungs and liver and the diagnosis was terminal. This came as a shock, given that we thought he had the all-clear. However, we were told that, with treatment, Dad could live for another 12 months, so we decided to bring the wedding forward.”
An emotional moment during visit to wedding venue
With the help of the team at the Barn, they rescheduled their wedding to be held on September 13 this year.
“On receiving the terminal diagnosis, the first thing Dad did was to turn and say to my mum that he wouldn't be around for my wedding. It was his greatest aim to make it to my wedding day once I brought it forwards.
“He was offered a feeding tube in late May but was told it would be a risky procedure so he opted to continue without, as he refused to take any risks that may make him miss the wedding.
“We only had 16 weeks to pull the wedding together and the people at the Barn could not have been more helpful. On seeing the venue, my mum cried. My dad welled up but held his composure. Instead he just kept thanking me for bringing it forwards just for him. We took pictures and he showed them to everyone.”
And the family had another event to look forward to. After Gordon was told last year that his cancer had been treated, they booked a big holiday to Crete for 18 family members to take place this August.
Sadly, events took a different turn. Gordon had his first bout of chemotherapy on Monday, June 4th. The following Saturday, after spending the day gardening and cleaning two cars, he began to feel poorly at around 4pm but thought it might be a touch of sunburn.
Bouquet of red roses to mark anniversary
“He walked into A&E at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, at around 8-9pm and was eventually diagnosed with sepsis and pneumonia. On June 11th it was my parent’s 41st wedding anniversary. Dad had bought Mum red roses every year of their marriage but was too ill to buy them this year, so we made sure Mum had her bouquet of red roses on their anniversary.”
Gordon became increasingly confused during the day on the 11th and passed away aged just 64, at 4.30am on the 12th surrounded by family. ”We were all there,” says Samantha, “including two older sisters and brother, partners, mum and even a cousin who got her four children out of bed and drove down to support us when we needed it most. Dad died just 32 days after we were told the cancer was terminal.”
Now Samantha and Calum have rescheduled their wedding to be held next year on June 27. “Again, The Old Kent Barn has been really helpful. We called them after Dad passed away and they helped us to rearrange the date. They have been absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, we’ve lost our photographer, so that’s something we still have to sort out.”
Gordon and his wife, Corinne, fostered around 44 children over the years.
“They collected many newborns,” says Samantha, “and had a family group of three all under five at one point. One of Mum and Dad’s foster children who remained with them until leaving for uni last year was one of the pallbearers for Dad, along with other members of the family.
A fitting tribute to a larger-than-life character
“The funeral was held at Falconwood Crematorium. We chose a horse and carriage as Dad had a larger-than-life character and was very bold, particularly when he was younger. We decided he would have loved to arrive in style and the chaos it bought the high street as everyone stopped to stare.”
Samantha pays tribute to the overwhelming support from her family and friends.
“We had planned on doing a fundraising night on July 7 in Dad’s honour, which he was chuffed about. Friends, family and strangers had donated raffle prizes or donated money to my dad so that he could complete his bucket list – including paying his travel insurance so he could come on holiday in August.
“Sadly we cancelled the event after his passing and ended up having the funeral the day before. No one wanted their donations back so in tribute to Dad’s generous nature; we put most of the money behind the bar for everyone and gave all the prizes away for free. There were a few sore heads the day after!”
Family determined to fulfil Gordon's bucket list
Samantha and Calum have a wedding to look forward to and their little boy Henley, two, will be a page boy. The family are also busy moving to their new home in Kings Hill, near West Malling.
Unfortunately, Samantha’s wish for her dad to walk her down the aisle will not happen now, and her brother, Andrew, will step in to give her away. He will also make the speech on Gordon’s behalf, “Dad had wanted Andrew to complete his speech anyway as he was worried people wouldn’t understand him.”
However, Samantha’s wish that her dad could see her in her wedding dress did come true. “I had already bought my beautiful blush wedding dress and tried it on for Dad to see. That was an emotional moment for both of us.”
Gordon will still be at Samantha and Calum’s wedding in spirit: “I will have a picture of Dad on me as I walk down the aisle. I'm having a ring made with Dad’s ashes as are all the family. We are all having these so we can complete Dad’s bucket list for him and take him along with us.”
- Donations from the family and those who attended the funeral will be made to Queen Elizabeth Hospital Intensive Care Unit
- For more information about mouth cancer visit mouthcancerfoundation.org