Saturday, 22 August 2020

Today is my wedding anniversary

Mr and Mrs Bedford

Today is my wedding anniversary.  Four years ago today, I married Mr Bedford in a hospital side room, and became Mrs Bedford.  It was a hot, sunny day, all our families crowded into the hospital room in their best clothes and though there was much light and joy, it was also the saddest day.  The groom, Mr Bedford, had six weeks and one day left to live.  We knew he did not have long, but none of us really thought it would be so soon; we must have guessed deep inside though, because of the haste in which we arranged the wedding.  The side room in the hospital was transformed with balloons, an afternoon tea with bone china and dainty cakes, and bunting.  The tiny room had to double up as a registry office and party venue and so I made my vows to dear Mr Bedford with my eye on a lavish cream tea just feet away. It is common knowledge that I love cream teas.  That is why his family, my new in laws, provided it.  

Mr Bedford and I had been together for over eight years.  We thought often about getting married, but never quite got round to it, we somehow managed to evade the seriousness of it.  Of course, we knew we would end up married but every time we tried to think about it, one or other of us decided we needed more time.  Life was full enough as it was, without weddings to think of.  I would have been his third wife, and he would have been my second husband.  We had done it all before, it did not seem terribly urgent.  And, of course, we used to argue like mad.  Are we right for each other? we would think after we had disagreed about the millionth thing that day.  Is this the right person for me?  But there was a bond of deep friendship that could not be overlooked.  Our arguments were always resolved, mostly because Mr Bedford had the courage to address difficulties and insist we talk them over.  I liked to flounce and sulk, which was water off a duck's back to Mr B.  Tell me how you are feeling, he would say, and I learned that it was safe to do so.  Tell me the truth, said Mr Bedford, and I found that he respected my opinion, and took me seriously if I told him whatever truth I had, even if it was hard to hear.  Mr B was a proper grown up.  No amount of pretending I was fine when I was not would fool him.  I learned that it was safe to speak my truth, and that of all people in the world, Mr B would respect it. Even if he did not like it, he would respect it, as long as it was the truth. 

 We were exact opposites to each other, we were so very different that when we could not agree on something, it was like talking to someone from another planet.  But when we were in harmony, due to our deep underlying friendship, we were unstoppable.  He was a detail man.  He liked to read the small print, and he was forensic in his thinking and analysis. He needed to be, he wrote serious case reviews on some dreadful child abuse cases, and his detective skills, his interview techniques, and his ability to research, remember and apply the law was astonishing.  I on the other hand, am a fairy.  I live in a world of imagination, creativity and instinct. I made plans as I went along, I took risks and did not care about rules.  I was extroverted, he was introverted. I looked up at the sky, marvelling at the clouds and space, and he looked down, fascinated by the detail of the stones and pebbles on the path ahead.  We would take each other by the hand and show each other our worlds.  Look!  he would say, at this fascinating detail here on this path, look at all the millions of things to study.  I would point up to the sky.  Look! I would say, at all the space up here, the stars and the clouds, look at all the magic.  

When Mr Bedford became ill, he was stoic.  He had been an NHS man for most of his career, he managed hospitals, he was a trouble shooter when things went wrong, he became a specialist in managing super bugs in hospitals, and spent time trying to improve waiting times in A and E departments all over the country.  But when his health began to deteriorate, no one picked up the symptoms.  It's your heart!  They said, and in fact, it was stage four cancer.  It was picked up in hospital almost by accident.  Mr Bedford, the NHS man, did not fight.  He took his diagnosis on the chin, so to speak, and began to put his affairs in order.  Part of this was to propose to me.  

The tennis champ, refusing to give in.

We went on a tennis holiday just after he knew he had cancer, or rather, I joined him on his tennis holiday because he was beginning to struggle with his energy.  As a dedicated tennis player, he needed to be on the court, as one of the team, and to not give in.  His colleagues cheered him on every time he got up to play, and he displayed his iron will in not letting the exhaustion stop him.  He was a star, they all loved him.  But back in the hotel room, his face grey with the effort, his legs giving way, he lay down and slept where no one could see the toll it was taking.  But he would not give up.  I loved him very much on that holiday.  He was so brave.  He did not complain once.

Alan had cancer.  By the time it was discovered, it was too late.  He tried chemo but it made him so ill that they would not continue.  His decline was very fast. Then, on the 18th of August 2016, from his hospital bed on the ward attached to drips and lines and tubes, after a gruelling operation that did not entirely work, he proposed.  Marry me, he said.  Of course!  I said, and we burst out laughing together, all our differences forgotten and the giddy joy of having finally agreed to get married making us giggle and hold hands.  It is the only time I saw Mr B looking bashful.  

The bashful Mr B.  Engaged at last. 

Alan's delightful family took over from here. Somehow, they made a side room in the hospital into a paradise of colours and festivities.  They organised the whole thing, while I rushed off to arrange the fastest appointment I could with the registry office.  We arranged to be married in three days time.  August the 22, at the hospital.  Yes, the registrar said, we have done urgent weddings at the bedside before, we will be there and all will be well.  I found wedding rings, but had to buy a chain for Alan's ring as his hands and fingers were so large, nothing would fit and we could not wait to order a special wedding ring.  So, he wore his wedding ring on a chain around his neck.  On the day he died, I took it from his neck and wore it myself for months.  We both knew I would do that.

The wedding tea

Oh, on the day, on our wedding day, Alan's brother David got him dressed in the ward with the curtains around the bed.  Everyone on this and the surrounding wards knew he was getting married, it was almost heartbreaking.  They were so happy for him.  Alan wanted to wear a smart shirt and trousers.  Control and dignity were important to him. He wanted to walk into the room, but could barely stand, and so had to accept a wheelchair.  His iron will could no longer keep his body in check.  I tried to wheel him into the wedding room, thinking it would make a brilliant entrance, but I couldn't control the chair.  I kept wheeling him off at right angles into the wall. This annoyed him and we nearly had one of our arguments, but I could not deny that it wasn't very dignified to have him wheeled in backwards with plaster all over his smart clothes.  He asked for me to get a nurse, he didn't want us lurching into the room like drunks, and so a nurse wheeled him in gracefully and everyone cheered.  After we said our vows, he could not keep himself upright in the chair, and was wheeled back to his bed, a married man, while we all stayed and had the cream tea. Mr Bedford found it hard to keep his head raised and his eyes open when we said our vows.  "Look at me!" I said to him, "I will not marry a man who cannot look at me!" and so he did.  He gave one of his little private smiles, and I knew he loved it. 

Later, when everyone had gone home, and I had dropped guests off at the station to get their trains, I went back to his bedside, where I spent the rest of the afternoon in my best dress sitting beside my new husband as he lay motionless and exhausted, holding his hand.  The sun was shining, the balloons and bunting were removed and my new wonderful in laws quietly took everything away so that I did not have to.  I was deeply happy that day, I had married my Mr B, I was Mrs B, and I had gained his family, his most excellent family, as mine too.  I had in laws to boast about, I had a husband to love and to be proud of, and I had a job to do.  The job, we both knew, was to see him out of this life, and to go with him as far as I could, with his brother David and his son Chris.  But that was not today, that was not on the agenda on the 22 August 2016.  That day was my wedding day.  

Six weeks and one day later, on the 23 October 2016, his brother, his son and I held him as he died.  Mr Alan Bedford and I, Mrs Antonia Bedford, had had six weeks and one day of a perfect marriage.

Happy Anniversary Mr B.  Love from Mrs B. 

The wedding afternoon, holding my new husband's hand.

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