The heartbreaking reason why Kiwi Ferns' Honey Hireme's wedding had to be brought forward

''Mum’s been holding on for the wedding.''

By Cloe Willetts
As Kiwi Ferns rugby league captain Honey Hireme walks through the chapel doors in a white wedding dress, there are two special women on her mind.
First is love of her life Rochelle Smiler, who she met playing club rugby in Hamilton seven years ago. The other is her mother Caryn Hunter, the lady known to conquer marathons around the world, and the reason today's ceremony has been urgently pulled forward.
Sadly, Honey's beloved 62-year-old mum was diagnosed with an aggressive terminal stomach cancer seven weeks prior. Since then, Sky Sport commentator Honey has put everything on hold to care for Caryn who, sadly, has just days to live.
Pretty in pink, brave Caryn's thrilled she gets to see her only daughter Honey marry Rochelle.
"Mum's been holding on for the wedding," says ex-Black Fern Honey, 38, after the small and relaxed ceremony in Waikato Hospital's chapel.
"Last week she deteriorated and I didn't think she'd be here for the wedding. I left all the organising up to Rochelle and my family, who have done an amazing job in two weeks, and kept saying to get ready to cancel everything."
But the afternoon runs smoothly, with Caryn seated in a wheelchair at the front, happily watching the last of her four children marry. A smile fills her face the entire time, tears falling as her only daughter says "I do" to Rochelle, 37.
"It took Mum a lot of energy to get down here to the chapel, but she's got that determination," tells Honey, mother of son Karasharn Hunter, 14. "When I saw her crying, I had to hold back tears too."
To have and to hold: Honey is glad to have her "rock" Rochelle by her side at this poignant time.
On the morning of their nuptials, the women's Warriors player prepared with sprints up and down the hospital stairs to sweat away the nerves. She'd been up since 5am with former rest-home carer Caryn, eating a pre-wedding breakfast of hospital food before the two had their hair and make-up done.
"Mum woke at 4am and asked me to turn on the TV, so we started watching it and talking," laughs Honey, a disability sport advisor for the Halberg Foundation. "An hour later, she was like, 'Oh, it's your wedding today, aye bub? You should turn the TV off and get some rest.' So we went back to sleep for an hour before all the machines went off again."
When Caryn sees her daughter wearing a one-shoulder dress and heels – a rarity for the boots-loving sportswoman – she cries proud tears.
Honey on the field for the Kiwi Ferns. Photo: Getty
"Honey looked beautiful," says mum-of-two Rochelle, who works with youth at Te Wananga o Aotearoa. Her sporting sensation partner is equally smitten, beaming as she recalls her bride walking through the chapel door as Perfect by Ed Sheeran played.
It was in September last year the couple got engaged, while Honey was in Sydney for the NRL season. She'd been overseas five weeks when Rochelle flew over and said "yes" to her emotional proposal, after an early morning training session beside the ocean.
Almost a year later, their plans to marry next February at Hamilton Lake's rose garden were put on hold following the devastating news Honey's beloved mum was battling a rare and fast-spreading cancer.
Rochelle playing for Waikato. Photo: Getty
"Mum and I have always been really close," says Honey, whose father Chippy Hunter, 62, walked her down the aisle alongside the son she adores.
"It's also been hard for Karasharn because when he was born, Mum helped me raise him. She took him on full-time for two years when I was out of the country doing the World Series Circuit with the New Zealand Sevens team. She'll do anything for her six grandchildren."
Rochelle's boys Kieran and Tyronne, and Honey's son Karasharn.
When Rochelle learnt Caryn had cancer, it was a painful reminder of losing her own mother Christine Henry to melanoma eight years ago. It was her idea to bring the wedding forward. The Gisborne-raised mum of sons Tyronne, 18, and Kieran Smiler, 16, says like Caryn, Honey is incredibly strong.
"Mum's been really open about her cancer from day one, and asked our family to accept it and celebrate her life," tells Honey, who has played in four World Cups and been dubbed the female version of Sonny Bill Williams because of their similarities with code-hopping.
"As the days are getting on, she's tired and telling us she's ready to go. Her biggest thing was seeing me get married, but she did say, 'No pressure. Don't do it for me!'"
Caryn's smile never leaves her face as she welcomes new daughter Rochelle into her family.
As Caryn watches Honey standing with her bride at the altar, every ounce of her energy is focused on the moment. Her smile doesn't budge throughout the ceremony, before she's wheeled back upstairs to rest.
In a couple of days, she'll return to the home she's been sharing with Honey and Rochelle, to pass away surrounded by loved ones.
"Mum's happy knowing that when she's gone, Rochelle is here to look after me as much as I'll look after her," says Honey, holding her new wife's hand tightly. "Getting to share this moment with Mum is really special."

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