“Our civil ceremony previously had been so low key, it was nice to be able to renew our vows with family and friends. It was David’s way of getting everyone together to say goodbye.”
Love blossomed high above the clouds for Stephen and David on board a flight to Dubai in 1991.
Both worked for the airline company, Emirates – Stephen as a Ground Supervisor and David as Cabin Crew.
“My friend introduced us and we chatted the whole flight. Afterwards, we exchanged numbers.”
Stephen described his partner as “outgoing, loyal and having a wicked sense of humour”. In 2006, they celebrated their civil partnership at Maidenhead Town Hall.
“We had a low-key ceremony with only two friends attending,” Stephen explained. “We went home, had a bottle of Dom Perignon I’d bought on one of my trips and then got a taxi into Windsor to have lunch overlooking the river.”
Sadly, David was diagnosed with grade one bowel cancer in 2007. Surgery successfully removed the tumour but his subsequent course of chemotherapy affected his liver. The experience led the couple to volunteer for Lynn’s Bowel Cancer Campaign (founded by the presenter, journalist and campaigner, Lynn Faulds Wood) while David recuperated.
While Stephen initially commuted down south, David got a job as a Dyson demonstrator at the Silverlink Retail Park before moving to John Lewis in Newcastle city centre.
When Stephen gave up flying, he took a retail job in Fenwick. He joined David briefly at John Lewis before taking a position as guest host at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Newcastle.
The pair fully embraced their new life in Wallsend, as Stephen explained:
“People often asked if we’d move back down south but we loved the fact that from our home, we could be in the city centre, the coast or the countryside in just 15 minutes.
“We’d say, why would we move away from having so much on the doorstep and return to battling with the M25!”
In 2017, David underwent surgery on a hernia and afterwards, suffered chronic pain in his pelvis. He sought medical advice and the loving couple were eventually given the devastating news that the cancer had returned. Further investigation found the primary source was the prostate, which had spread to the bones. Worse still, they were told the cancer was terminal.
Though heartbroken, the pair chose to accept David’s diagnosis and they began making preparations while cherishing the time they had left together. Stephen retired to become David’s carer.
During a scan at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, David collapsed and became paralysed from the waist down. Two weeks later, it was suggested David be moved to St Oswald’s Hospice.
It was David’s idea that he and Stephen renew their vows, and after spending time with our Spiritual Care Lead, Davina, plans were put in place.
David died on 9th December 2019, leaving his devoted partner bereft.
Stephen promised his partner he wouldn’t become trapped in his grief and has tried to stick to this as a way of managing his emotions over the years. But like so many bereaved families, Christmas is a particularly difficult time.
Stephen said: “I wake up on Christmas Day thinking of David. I’ll usually have a little cry, wishing he was still here.”
Christmas Day for the couple would usually involve breakfast followed by a walk at the coast. They would then return home to exchange gifts – all except one, as Stephen explained:
“We kept a present back each that we would put on the dining table to exchange just before Christmas lunch. We used to call them our ‘table presents’.”
Stephen now visits his good friend, Gail, on Christmas Day, whose husband, Billy, sadly died of the same cancer as David.
Stephen joins Gail and her family for Christmas lunch, where they have embraced the ‘table present’ tradition.
The gesture makes Stephen remember the ‘table present’ of Italian silk socks that David had bought him but never had the chance to exchange with the love of his life. He added:
“I wear them very occasionally because they’re so special to me. It was very like David to have thought about getting that year’s ‘table present’ in advance.”
If you would like to dedicate a light in memory of someone you love and miss, please visit our Light up a Life page to find out more about making your dedication and how you can join our in-person remembrance event on Wednesday 6th December 2023 or how you can tune in from the comfort of your own home.