Love that conquers all in Havering

COURAGEOUS Cliff Burnett can’t speak, and he couldn’t even turn his head to watch his bride walk down the aisle.

But that didn’t stop the 55-year-old marrying the love of his life in St Francis Hospice, in Havering-atte-Bower, on Saturday (November 6).

The former electrical engineer, from Dagenham Road, Rush Green, has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) - a terminal condition, which has left him severely disabled.

He was able to type his vows and sign the marriage register using a special machine called a light writer – which converts text to words - and say ‘I do’ to sweetheart Kym Thompson in the tear-jerker service.

After winning a battle with neck, throat and tongue cancer in 2008, Cliff was diagnosed with MND after collapsing with pneumonia in March.

He is kept alive with a life-support machine in his home and requires 24-hour attention from a team of carers and nurses.

A small ceremony was held in the hospice chapel, which could only seat 18 guests, including the couple’s Yorkshire terrier - and ring bearer - Cookie

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Kym, 53, said: “It was beautiful. If there is such thing as real magic, that day was it. St Francis Hospice was perfect, the surroundings, the way the building was, it was just so inviting. If I had all the money in the world it couldn’t have been any better, the things you did for us were amazing.”

Hospice fundraising staff and local businesses rallied round to make the couple’s big day as special as possible.

Kym arrived in a vintage car, kindly donated by Essex Wedding Cars, and Jacki’s Florist in Hutton, Essex, decked out the chapel and provided the bride’s bouquet, free-of-charge.

Food and drink was donated by a hospice volunteer.

Nissi Grint, Cliff’s niece, sang I Knew Love by Nanci Griffith, to the pair, while Kym’s best friend Eve Collie read a few words.

“You are a truly incredible couple,” she said. “We’ve been blessed to share good times and bad together, and today’s got to be the best we could ever have hoped to share. Like most of you I’ve been to many weddings over the years but I’ve not been to one as special as today. Your love for each other is truly remarkable.”

The couple met four years ago while living in Spain and within three months smitten Cliff had asked Kym, a former care home worker, to marry him.

Now, doctors don’t know how long Cliff will live, but Kym, originally from Bath, is in no doubt she made the right decision.

“He is the king of his own castle,” she said. “He might not be able to communicate on the outside but he is as sharp as button in his mind.

“He has such incredible inner strength that he constantly amazes me. Saturday was the most emotional day of my life – when it was over I just turned to him and said ‘we’ve done it!’”

Cliff has been unable to speak since March but he chats to Kym through a series of eye movements they devised together.

Hospice chaplaincy team leader, Stephen Henwood, conducted the wedding.

He said: “It was a pleasure to conduct the marriage of Kym and Cliff, who are dealing with such difficult circumstances. It was a delight to be able to give them the wedding they wanted.”

The newlyweds held a reception near their home on Saturday evening and to end the night, they lit Chinese lanterns decorated with love hearts.

“We all made wishes as they flew off,” said Kym. “It was the perfect end to the perfect day.”