REAL LIFE

Bride’s tragedy – my dad died as I said ‘I do’

Heartbreaking.

Natalie’s dad was by her side through everything, right until the end.

Here, Natalie Hoskinson, 37, tells the story in her own words.

Now, you completely disappeared!’ a friend marvelled, as Dad hugged me. I laughed. My dad David gave the best hugs in the world. And at 6ft 3in and 120kg of muscle, I felt so safe in his embrace.

He was my biggest cheerleader. Even when I told him I wanted to be an actor he didn’t flinch.

‘You can do that, Nat King Cole,’ he smiled, using his pet name for me.

He came to every school play I was in. Even when I grew up, he accompanied me to auditions for support.

And when my boyfriend Tim, now 37, proposed, I couldn’t wait to hear Dad’s wedding speech!

An excellent storyteller with a great sense of humour, he’d have us in stitches with his antics, such as when he was in the navy and would miss the ship so he could spend more time in a town he liked!

family photo
Dad gave me and Selina the best hugs

Almost three years on, however, Tim and I still hadn’t set a date.

Then, one Thursday, my mum, Stase, rang.

‘Dad’s in hospital,’ she said. ‘Just a check-up, but they’ve asked him to stay overnight for tests.’ I wasn’t concerned.

Aged 60, Dad had been diagnosed with cancer. He’d already lived 13 years longer than doctors predicted. He’d battled cancer of the bowel, throat, lung and colon.

He’d gone from a muscly hulk to 60kg and back again, visiting the gym daily.

‘You’re the Bionic Man,’ my older sister Selina and I joked.

But when I went to visit him, the doctor came in.

To my horror, I learnt what we assumed were sore back muscles from Dad working out too hard was actually his lung tumour growing.

‘You’ll have trouble breathing,’ the doc warned. ‘I’m breathing fine,’ Dad insisted, and checked himself out.

My mum Stase and dad David
My mum Stase and dad David

But over the weekend he deteriorated rapidly.

By Monday, Dad was back at the hospital, and the next morning a specialist met us.

‘We’re making him comfortable. That’s all we can do,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ Mum exclaimed. ‘He’s fine,’ Selina cried.

‘Don’t talk like that,’ I added, fuming. He clearly didn’t know our father.

Dad would bounce back from this, as he’d done many times before. It soon became clear that Dad was in terrible pain though.

He tried to talk but we couldn’t understand anything he was saying.

Given morphine, he fell asleep.

The next day, Jude, Dad’s nurse for 13 years, came to see us.

‘I’m sorry, he’ll never wake again,’ she said softly. ‘He can hear you but this is the end for him.’

‘No!’ I cried. ‘Take my organs, my blood, take anything, just save him!’

‘Nothing can save him,’ she said gently.

‘But I wanted Dad to be at my wedding,’ I sobbed.

Through the heartache and tears, I suddenly had an idea.

‘Do you think they’ll let me marry here?’ I said.

‘Leave it with me,’ she said.

Tim agreed with my plan, so I texted my best friend Todd, a celebrant, who lived a three-hour flight away. ‘Can you marry us tomorrow?’ I asked tearfully.

Dad’s nurse organised my hair and makeup
Dad’s nurse organised my hair and makeup

Thankfully, we’d already filled out all the paperwork as we knew we’d marry one day.

That night, Selina, Mum and I hugged Dad until the morning came.

Then, racing home, I grabbed a white dress and rushed back.

I was getting ready when Jude came in.

‘If you don’t mind,’ she said, ‘I’ve organised a hair and make-up artist for you.’

She’d also arranged a pretty bridal bouquet, which made me burst into tears.

With my nieces, Jasmine, eight, and Freya, six, as flower girls, I stepped into the hospital hallway and gasped.

The sun streamed through the window and a red carpet led to where Tim waited, with Todd strumming a guitar next to him.

The hallway was filled with love
The hallway was filled with love

Mum walked me down the aisle past the weeping nurses to where Dad lay in his bed.

‘Look Dad, your little girl is a bride,’ I whispered, giving him a hug. And just as I turned to face Tim, Dad let out what sounded like a sigh of happiness, before gently slipping away. ‘Dad!’ I sobbed.

With tears streaming down my face, I exchanged vows with Tim. And just as I said ‘I do’, I felt Dad’s spirit leave.

As always, he’d been there with me to the very end.

At the funeral, Selina and I delivered Dad’s eulogy.

We joked at how tough it was having boyfriends because Dad’s bulk would scare them off. And he’d always joked he’d haunt us after he died.

‘Please Dad,’ I wept. ‘Hurry up and haunt us.’

I’m so glad Dad was there when I married
I’m so glad Dad was there when I married

I now share a wedding anniversary with Dad’s death, but I’m so glad he was there when I married.

The staff at Cairns Private Hospital went above and beyond to create an incredible wedding for us in just 24 hours – and there was so much love in that little hallway.

Our dad died at 73, a role model to so many. Despite horrendous pain, he never lost his sense of humour or his love for life.

Dad never did get to deliver a wedding speech but in the end, it didn’t matter, because the love he showed me will remain in my heart forever.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life, on sale now.

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