On Friday 29th April, 2011, an estimated TV audience of 2 billion tuned in to the “Wedding of the Century” as Prince William of Wales married commoner Catherine Elizabeth Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London. They had met at university and had been together for 9 years (bar a short period of separation) and for almost as long, the world had been asking “when will they tie the knot?” Once their engagement was announced and a wedding date set, then more questions followed: “who is she going to wear?” (making it sound as if she will be wearing a person), “who will be invited?”, “where will they have their honeymoon?”, etc. And now that the ceremony is over, the next big question to the happy couple is “when will they have a baby?”. And when that question is eventually answered, no doubt the next one will be “when will they have another one?”. Ah, so many questions!
We are all fascinated to some extent by people who lead very public lives and, of course, the British royal family is one of the most famous and most public for many reasons. Like all newlyweds, we wish the happy couple much joy and happiness. But when all is said and done, the confetti has been cleared from the London streets and royal wedding memorabilia have been sold out, we return to our normal day-to-day lives, and our reality is a very different picture.
Although I was not among the invited guests at the royal wedding, I was fortunate to have been able to attend another wedding a few weeks ago of an old high school friend to her partner of some 15 yrs (or more?), and the father of her two beautiful daughters. It was a much smaller and more intimate affair – something that I am sure Will and Kate wish they could have had, being surrounded by close friends and family. There were no formal invitations sent – a simple message on Facebook announcing to friends the wedding date a mere 4 weeks ahead of the special occasion, followed by another one announcing the time and location of the ceremony and reception. No formal RSVPs were received other than some messages posted on Facebook. For Rodney and Mary, this was their perfect day.
I went to high school with Mary. She had moved to Adelaide, in South Australia, with Rodney over a decade ago. We had lost touch but found each other again through the power of social networking. Mary has always been a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact, kind of girl. She was very athletic in school and with the exception of our school uniform, I have only ever seen her in a dress and wearing make-up on one occasion until her wedding day. Yes, Mary is not one to make a big fanfare over anything. She had not wanted a reception but somehow had found out about the surprise party her family was throwing for them. And so, on a glorious and sunny Saturday morning in Sydney, a group of perhaps 50 friends and family traveled far and wide to attend the outdoor wedding at a park to witness their wonderful celebration of unity and love.
A friend of theirs, who was also a celebrant, oversaw the formalities and we cheered on as they exchanged their wedding vows. For most couples, the words “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” are just words – a possibility that they may not face for another 50 years, if they are lucky enough to still be together by then. But for Mary and Rodney, it is an everyday reality they face together because Mary is battling cancer for the second time in less than 2 yrs.
Mary was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 when she was pregnant with her second child. It was at her first ultrasound that they found a mass in her ovaries. Tests were done, the bad news was delivered, and the couple suddenly were faced with one of the most difficult decisions nobody ever wants to make. Instead of celebrating the joys of a little brother of sister for little Mia, Mary and Rodney had to contemplate medical options. At that point, nobody thought it would be possible for Mary to undergo chemotherapy during her pregnancy – her options appeared to be her or the unborn child. Fortunately, a panel of medical experts determined that both mother and child had good chances of successful treatment during this pregnancy, and sure enough, miracle of miracles, baby Kylan was born safe and well in May 2009. It was an extraordinary blessing and to this day, Mary calls Kylan her miracle baby, and constantly and proudly declares that she saved her life because it would have been highly unlikely they would have discovered the cancer if she had not had that ultrasound. We are still eagerly awaiting the medical journals to use Mary as a case study :).
But lately the news has not been as good. Late last year, Mary discovered the cancer was back, but no amount of chemotherapy was going to spoil Mary’s and Rodney’s party. With a gorgeous blonde wig on her bald head and her excitement over the false eye lashes that had been attached on the morning of her wedding, wearing a dress her mother and sister had picked for her that she had tried on a mere two days before the wedding, Mary looked simply stunning and most importantly, happy. Oh, and Rodney looked pretty dashing, too! 🙂 The ceremony was intimate and beautiful and by the time we headed for the reception a few hours later, we were all ready to let our hair down.
For Mary, this was literally the case as she reverted to the good old Mary I’ve always known – t-shirt and shorts. And she left the wig at home. How many brides, or indeed any woman, do you know who would be prepared to be seen with a bald head (oh, just so Mary doesn’t kill me if she reads this, her hair was slowly growing back so there was a layer of blonde fuzz on her beautiful dome!), let alone on her wedding day? But to me, there was no more beautiful sight than a couple very much in love and prepared to walk together in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. And when Mary is not able to walk, Rodney is there to push her wheelchair around. Those vows were not just mere words to Mary and Rodney. They are living it everyday. We should all be so blessed.
With love xox
Author’s Note: It is with great sadness that I add this footnote to this post. On the morning of Wed 11th May, 2011, five days after she celebrated her 39th birthday, Mary passed away in Adelaide, South Australia. My thoughts and prayers are with Rodney and their two beautiful little girls, Mia and Kylan. Their time with their mother was all too short but she will be remembered with great love.