Real Life

Dream wedding: My last days of happiness

Brave Pauline was gifted her fantasy wedding

It should have been the happiest day of their lives, but when longtime loves Pauline and Gordon Mitchell finally exchanged vows, the ceremony was a tearful one.

West Aucklander Pauline, 57, is living on borrowed time. In May, doctors gave her three to six months to live after finding an aggressive pancreatic cancer that had spread to her liver. Chemotherapy will extend her life, but only if she can survive the gruelling treatment itself.

Pauline and Gordon had been together for two decades before their wedding in August, which was organised as a surprise for Pauline. But their love story goes back even further than that.

“I’ve loved her since I was 16,” reveals Gordon, 50, who was friends with Pauline’s younger brother and spent a lot of time with her family growing up. “She has always been home.”

Pauline is led down the aisle by her son Craig, 34, followed closely by daughters Kelly, 32, Sharlene, 29, and Anneliese, 23.

Pauline married young and had four children, before walking out of her unhappy relationship 20 years ago and into the arms of a grown-up Gordon. “Being with Gordon was the happiest I’d been in a really long time,” remembers Pauline, “but if someone had told me the year previous that we would end up together, I would have said, ‘No way!’”

Gordon wasn’t worried about pairing up with an older woman who had four kids and no plans to have any more. He insists Pauline was all he’d ever wanted.

Over the years, the couple planned on getting hitched, but with their engineering company and ever-growing family, now including 10 grandchildren, there never seemed to be enough time or money to move ahead with the idea. So finding out Pauline was about to enter the fight of her life was a bitter pill to swallow.

‘I’m lost’

“Man, I’ve been punched in the guts before, but I’ve never been hit like that,” recalls Gordon. “I’m lost. I keep waiting to wake up and find out it was just a bad dream. We’ve been through so much, I don’t want to believe this could be the end of our story.”

Sitting in their living room for our Woman’s Day interview, frail Pauline can hardly speak through her tears as she explains the toll cancer has taken on her mind, body and spirit.

“I want to stick around for my kids and for Gordy. I want to see my grandkids grow up and get married. I’m not ready to leave yet,” she manages. “It’s something you don’t think is going to happen to you,” adds Gordon. “You hear that all the time, but it’s true.”

“I don’t want to believe it and I’m going to fight it,” Pauline vows. “Whatever it takes, I will do it.”

Close family members made this heart-shaped cake for the couple.

Gordon and a few family members and friends had spent three weeks organising the surprise wedding, but on the morning of the big day, Pauline was very ill. She only struggled out of bed after Gordon broke the news of their impending nuptials, telling her, “I’m going to marry you this afternoon.”

“I was speechless!” tells Pauline, who describes the ceremony at the Riverhead tavern, just north of Auckland, as “perfect”. Gordon adds, “It was an overcast afternoon, but man, that place was glowing. It was magic.”

He is very grateful to everyone who helped out, including those who aided financially via a Givealittle page set up for Pauline. He says, “I am blown away by the generosity out there. So many people donated their money and time for us.”

As for the future, he and Pauline are taking things day by day. “We’ll keep pushing on and doing what we’re doing,” Gordon insists. “All we’ve ever wanted was to get married. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to say we’re fighting this thing as husband and wife.”

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