He married the love of his life from his hospital bed. He died hours later, surrounded by love
On 10 March, Jerry Collins quietly passed away in the University Hospital of Wales just over 24 hours after he married his partner of 11 years on his deathbed. He was just 30-years-old.
Jerry was diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve, but they still believed there was hope that he would recover – that he would go on to live a long, happy life – until just days before his death, when doctors broke the news that the cancer had spread to his lungs.
During his final days, Jerry fulfilled one of his dreams when he married Andrew Godfrey-Collins. The ceremony, while not legally binding, bonded them together in Jerry’s final moments, cementing their love for each other as one life drew to a close.
“That was actually a really wonderful moment, in the middle of it all,” Andrew tells PinkNews just weeks after losing his husband.
“He asked me, ‘Do you really want to marry a dying man?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.'”
Andrew quickly began working on making their wedding a reality, but he soon discovered that having a legally binding ceremony would be difficult at such short notice. Ultimately, they settled on a symbolic union instead of a legal one after Andrew realised that the piece of paper didn’t really matter.
“We had this ceremony and basically the chaplain came in, spoke to us for five minutes and then went away and wrote a kind of blessing that was focused on the enduring power of love. After she read that, we exchanged our own vows, and I remember the look on his face. He was just staring at me, filled with a lot of love. And the last part off his vows was, ‘And I’ll see you on the other side.’
“That was a very treasured moment. That was about the only redeeming thing in there, apart from how lovely his family were and how lovely the staff were, it was a pretty obviously awful few days.”
Jerry Collins died less than 36 hours after receiving a terminal diagnosis
The events leading up to their wedding, and Jerry’s death, could never have been predicted. In February 2020, Jerry – who lived in Cardiff – visited a dentist. He had been experiencing some swelling on the side of his face, and he was diagnosed with a condition called TMJ.
But on his third visit to the dentist months later, he was referred for an MRI, which revealed that he did not have TMJ after all. The devastating scan results showed that he had malignant melanoma. His only treatment option was immunotherapy. The diagnosis came in on Christmas Eve.
“I was completely not expecting that,” Andrew says. “At one point I even remember him saying: ‘Could it be a brain tumour?’ And I had to be like, ‘No, no, don’t panic. It’s fine. It would be very unlikely for that to happen.’ Unfortunately, unlikely things do happen.”
The next day, Andrew and Jerry spent their first Christmas together, and on 28 December, they celebrated their anniversary. It was a “bittersweet” week, Andrew says, with the cancer diagnosis hanging over them.
After Christmas, Jerry launched into treatment. In early March, while being treated for side effects in hospital, doctors noticed that Jerry was “a bit breathless”.
“It seemed like he was going into hospital for a few days again and he’d be out once they had dealt with the side effects,” Andrew says.
It was less than 36 hours from when we had a terminal diagnosis to when he passed away.
“But they kept moving him. They moved him from the cancer centre to the general hospital, and then to the ICU. On the Monday morning, I got called into the ICU. They said he needs to go on a ventilator, they thought he would survive. Then a couple of hours later, they said, ‘The scan has come back. The cancer has spread. It’s not treatable. There’s no point putting him on the ventilator. The best we can hope for is that he will be able to go home for a bit.’
Shortly after their marriage ceremony, Jerry was told he wouldn’t be able to return home to see out his final days, as his oxygen levels were “slowly tapering off”.
“It was less than 36 hours from when we had a terminal diagnosis to when he passed away,” Andrew says.
When Jerry was told that he would not recover, he had to call his parents to break the news. In that moment, he also came out as gay to them for the first time, finally telling them that he and Andrew were in a relationship. They were welcomed with open arms, and Jerry’s parents said they had known for years that they were together. Jerry’s parents and sister joined them in the ICU for his final days and he was surrounded by love when he died. His final words, were “I love you guys so much.”
‘Generous’ Jerry raised funds to feed struggling families through the pandemic
Andrew wants Jerry to be remembered for the kind, loving person he truly was. He describes his late husband as “sassy”, but says he often came across as “shy” and “bashful”.
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“He loved doing practical jokes on people. One of his friends, who was another restaurant manager, told me that whenever he had to ring her up for work on the phone, he would pretend to be a customer complaining about her. ‘I have a complaint to make about that tall, dark-haired girl. She’s a manager at your restaurant.’ She knew it was him but she had to play along just in case.”
But Jerry was also an incredibly generous person who devoted much of his life – including his final months – to giving back to communities in need. When he was diagnosed with cancer, the first thing he did was to donate £1,000 to a fund that buys laptops for school children in the Philippines. He constantly sent money back to his family in the Philippines, and he spent much of the COVID-19 pandemic raising funds to send out food packages to people in the Philippines who had been badly hit by the public health crisis.
Andrew is now raising funds in Jerry’s memory to help distribute food parcels in Caloocan City, Manila, where he grew up.
“Even people who never met him, just from little stories about him, were very touched by him,” Andrew says.
“He always brought a smile to people’s faces.”