Chas and Shirley
A patient with a life-limiting illness was granted his wish to get married by Fair Havens Hospice in Essex, who arranged the service in just 24 hours.
Charles Hobbs, known to everyone as Chas, has cirrhosis, and was admitted to Fair Havens earlier this month. Having been with his partner, Shirley Reason, for 13 years, they decided to get married before Chas' condition got worse.
He was diagnosed with cirrhosis a couple of years ago. After surviving a major operation 18 months ago, his condition had been steady but deteriorated in the last month while he was shielding at home during lockdown.
Asking for help
"We had been coping well at home, but eventually the 24 hour care became too much for me” Shirley said. “I'd heard of Fair Havens before. My friend's husband was cared for at the hospice when it was in its old location, and she recommended I reach out and ask for help.
"After getting a referral from the doctor, Fair Havens called the next day to say there was a room available.
"It was only very recently that we decided to get married, but I knew I couldn't take on those arrangements myself. So the Spiritual Care Lead, Martin Hill, liaised with my daughter to make the preparations within 24 hours.
Teamworking for the perfect wedding
"Staff have gone beyond any expectation you could imagine. You can tell they thoroughly enjoy working here and they gave up their own time to help us prepare for our wedding day. The team pampered me, styled my hair, decorated the private garden outside Chas' room and made a cake decorated with butterflies."
The ceremony took place on Thursday 17th September in the family lounge at the hospice. It is the first wedding that has taken place at the new facility, which opened in March.
Chas' twin brother, Phil Hobbs was a witness, alongside Martin, who said: "Everybody pulled together to arrange this celebration. When I was approached by Shirley's daughter to organise the wedding, of course I said yes straight away, and then worked out how we could do it.
"It was an absolute team effort and the cooperation from Southend Registry Office was exceptional. When people realise that this is the wish of someone approaching the end of their life, it's so important to get it right."
A place of respite
Shirley and Chas were introduced through mutual friends; she describes him as her 'best friend.' While she has two daughters from a previous marriage, for Chas this is his first wedding.
Shirley explained that they were both astonished by the hospice. “The care, his room, everything. It's like a five star hotel. It's not morbid here, it's relaxing for both the patient and their family which is so important. We've had so many trips back and forth to hospitals, so this is completely different.
"I'm as guilty as many other people in thinking that hospice care must mean the end, but it doesn't. It's respite for the family, until they need to deal with the next stage. We can't praise this place enough.
"We've already been talking about Christmas, and I've said that I'm not sending cards and donating to Fair Havens instead. If people want to buy a present, please give to the hospice instead."
Making precious memories
Healthcare Assistant Line Manager Julie Stott-Skold helped to organise the wedding. She said: "We found out the day before that the wedding was definitely going to take place. I messaged the HCAs who would be on duty, even though it was their day off.
"Between them, they made a banner, confetti and brought in hair styling equipment. One of them even loaned their own tiara and bangle for Shirley to wear.
"We made a special 'wedding breakfast' for Chas and Shirley, and then pampered the bride-to-be as we got Chas into his suit. We even created a make-shift garter from a catheter strap and a knitted heart!
"This is what makes hospice care special. The time they have together is precious, so it was important to make their wedding day as special as possible. There wasn't a dry eye in the room."