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Neil Wallace and Julie's marriage at the hospice

Neil and Julie Wallace

27 June 2023

While Julie was quickly approaching the end of her life, a dying wish was to marry her partner of almost 30 years, Neil. Surrounded by their two daughters, loving family and close friends, they tied the knot in Eden Valley Hospice while Julie was being cared for. This is their story:

Neil Wallace and Julie Clarke had been together almost 30 years before they got married in Eden Valley Hospice in the summer of 2022. Julie was dying from a brain tumour and the end of her life wasn’t far away.

Julie and Neil had always wanted to live in Cumbria so when Neil was offered a job at the Cumberland Infirmary, the couple decided to relocate to Carlisle. They were both prosthetists, specialist who make artificial body parts, and because there was only one post available at that time, Julie travelled to work in Newcastle for many years before a second post became available in 2014.

Meanwhile, the couple had decided to start a family by adopting one-year Sarah and, four years later, her 8-month-old sister, Emma.

However, in February 2020 Julie began to suffer from prolonged spells of dizziness and sickness. A scan revealed a lump in her brain, but it was thought to be insignificant. Regular scans showed no change, and the cause of Julie’s illness remained a mystery. Julie was not able to return to work, but fine tuning of her medication allowed her to continue with two of her passions, reading and knitting, making life tolerable through the pandemic.

Two years after her illness began, Julie began to deteriorate rapidly. Still nothing appeared on the scans, but it was decided to remove the original lump. Julie began to lose her sight and her hearing. Speech became difficult, and she was no longer able to walk more than a few steps safely without support. Biopsies taken during the surgery revealed an active tumour that was spreading rapidly. Julie was too weak after her surgery for further treatment and too unwell to be cared for at home.

A referral to Eden Valley Hospice was made and Julie was admitted in July 2022, spending the last few weeks of her life being cared for by the hospice’s dedicated clinical team and family support workers.

One of Julie’s dying wishes was to marry Neil, so staff and volunteers from across the hospice got to work on making Julie’s wish come true.

A wedding dress for Julie was gifted by Carol’s Bridal Boutique and Neil was loaned a suit by Goodfellows Carlisle. Vandella Flowers and Linda’s Flowers stepped up with buttonholes, bridesmaid’s bouquets and flowers for the room, and there were gifts from Morrisons Carlisle and Hobbycraft that made the room sparkle in pink and purple. Local photographer Joshua Wyborn captured the occasion perfectly.

With the extraordinary generosity of the local community and the kind help of registrar Susan Slater, the hospice staff arranged a beautiful, poignant ceremony, attended by a small group of Neil and Julie’s family and close friends.

Sarah and Emma were bridesmaids and Neil says the day was a turning point for them as they had previously struggled to come to terms with Julie’s illness.

“Losing your mum is pretty scary and both girls had talked about their fears that something could happen to me, too,” he says.

“The wedding was the first time our whole family was together in the same room, with some of our closest friends and the hospice’s family support team. The girls were able to look around them and believe me when I told them, ‘It’s going to be OK’.”

“It’s also about the memories that the girls will keep of that day. None of us will ever forget it; it was perfect. I don’t know how the hospice managed to pull it all together in just five days.”

While it’s the beautiful memories of their wedding that will live on most prominently for Neil, he also says he will remember fondly the care Julie received while in the hospice in the summer of 2022.

“The problem with Eden Valley Hospice is: How do you thank these people for everything they do? It’s overwhelming.

“I had a picture in my head of what the hospice would be like: an old, red- brick Victorian building, cold and unwelcoming, but it couldn’t have been further from the truth. I don’t really have words to describe it.

“It didn’t matter who you were talking to, what their job was, there was always care and empathy. In Julie’s last few days, the family were all able to stay at the hospice. Everyone there understands; they accommodated us in any way they could. They looked after us all. We will always be very, very grateful for that.”

A special thanks to the following local business/businesspeople who donated their products/services for the wedding:

  • Carols Bridal Boutique – wedding dress
  • Goodfellows Carlisle – suit
  • Vandella Flowers Carlisle – bouquets and buttonholes
  • Lindas Flowers Denton Holme – flowers to decorate room
  • Morrisons Carlisle – flowers for the table, bubbly, balloons and decorations
  • St Nicholas Galleries Ltd – grooms wedding ring
  • Josh Wyborn – photographer
  • Susan Slater – registrar
  • Hobbycraft – table decorations, guestbook jar, ribbon, confetti

Photos kindly provided by