“My husband Neil and I loved to travel. It was our shared passion and during our life together we were wowed by many places.” ~ Linda Aitchison
We particularly loved Kefalonia in Greece and adored exploring hidden gems in every corner of the UK. We spent our early years together zipping off for weekends away, although after our twin girls came along in 1998 we swapped romantic breaks for family trips.
When Melissa and Emily, now 13, were babies you’d find us at cheap and cheerful holiday parks.
We hurtled down slides, spent too much time on roller coasters and laughed until we cried in Blackpool. We even set up our own travel blog, havealovelytime.com in 2009.
We always tried to get away for special occasions so last October we all spent a night at Ruthin Castle in Denbighshire to celebrate the twins’ birthday. It was a fantastic trip, the sort I’d dreamed about when Neil and I first met 16 years earlier.
It was love at first sight for me. “I’d like to marry that man,” I thought.
The funny thing is once we were a couple marriage was forgotten. Despite our families willing us to tie the knot everyday life always got in the way.
Even when Neil was diagnosed with skin cancer 10 years ago, aged 34, which was treated, we just got on with living our lives. However the cancer was threatening to catch up with us.
Just three months before the twins’ 16th birthday Neil had been back in hospital after finding a lump under his arm.
The cancer was back but doctors were upbeat assuring us there was nothing to stress about as they’d removed it all. In the clear again, Neil was full of energy, jogging most days and playing six-aside.
However at breakfast on our break to Ruthin Neil was in pain. He thought he’d hurt his back playing golf but I was worried as he’d been through a lot.
Two days after coming home from our weekend break he was finding it hard to breathe and we were sent to New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton for tests.
It was cancer again. This time it was widespread, with multiple deposits of melanoma in his spine, lung, rib and liver. Neil stayed in hospital for five weeks and for three he was banned from moving in case his spine collapsed.
He had to have a cumbersome metal brace that needed two people to fit.
We joked he looked like RoboCop, trying to laugh at the situation but it was all too desperate. A week later doctors told us his cancer was incurable.
I went into shock and before I knew what I was saying, I blurted out that I wanted to get married before dissolving into desperate tears. Neil said exactly the same thing. It quickly became clear that we wouldn’t have much time to organise our wedding.
Doctors told Neil he had only three months to live as he was unlikely to respond to treatment. Suddenly we both had our sights set on our big day even more. Neil lost all movement in his legs within a couple of weeks.
We began to think we might have to say our vows over Neil’s hospital bed. However cancer didn’t count on his courage. With the help of Macmillan physios Neil started to walk again. He told anyone who’d listen he was going to make it down the aisle.
In December after two rounds of chemotherapy, Neil improved enough to come home. We disconnected the phone and sat with our girls, telling them nothing more could be done and they were going to lose their dad.
Neil was amazing and I was in awe of how he found the words to say what no child should have to hear.
Now we were all focused on the wedding at our church St Mark’s in Great Wyrley, Staffordshire. Neil chose to have “My love will never stop” inscribed in my gold band, while his had a message from me, “Always with you.”
At the rehearsal we could barely speak through our tears. We were so excited, touched and grateful for all the help from our friends and family.
Neil asked for the music as we came out of the church to be Bring Me Sunshine from Morecambe and Wise. It was typical of him, wanting to raise a smile. On January 2 this year Neil surprised everyone by walking down the aisle unaided in front of our 100 guests.
He banned any mention of his illness. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when he stood at the top table to declare how much he loved me and our girls. We even managed a first dance to Van Morrison’s Have I told You Lately?
Over the next four months Neil’s disease spread to his brain and he died, aged 44, surrounded by his family on May 13.
The memory of our wedding is a shining light in the darkness of my life without him. I am so happy to have become the wife of such a special man and wish we’d done it earlier.
I promised Neil that the girls and I would continue to travel, enjoying new places, people and experiences.
We’ve already been to the five-star Sensatori resort in Crete. We missed Neil so much, he would have loved it.
We have lined up trips to Dubai, Egypt, Brighton, the Cotswolds and Scotland. Our girls are committed to seeing as much of the world as they can in memory of their dad and together we are going to a remote area in South Africa near Durban called White River.
There we will help feed and clothe children orphaned by HIV and Aids. There was no stopping us when Neil was here. There will be no stopping us now.