'I was so excited to get married – then time stood still'

‘He was on the floor with paramedics giving him CPR,’ says Sarah Foreland, of the moment she saw her father-in-law fighting for his life. ‘It felt as if time stood still.’

It should have been one of the happiest days of Sarah’s life. After so much planning, she was marrying her partner of four years.

The couple had planned a weekend of celebrations, starting with an intimate ceremony with 20 of their closest friends and family, followed by a big party the next day.

But shortly after Sarah, from Ringwood, said ‘I do’, tragedy struck. Her new father-in-law John had a cardiac arrest – and died two days later.

Now, Sarah, 36, is raising money for the British Heart Foundation in memory of John, who she describes as ‘an optimist, who lived life to the fullest.’

Sarah first met John back in 2018, when she started dating her now husband.

She says: ‘My husband and I met in August 2018 on Bumble, and fell in love fast, so it was only a few months before I met his mum and stepdad, John.

‘He was very charismatic, very engaging, always had a story to tell, always making jokes, and liked everyone around him to be happy.

‘He was a huge character and a huge part of our family.’

The couple got engaged in August 2021, and planned a two-day wedding weekend over the August bank holiday in 2022. Everyone was looking forward to the big day – including John.

‘He was very excited,’ says Sarah. ‘His main job was making sure my husband and my stepson got to the registry office on time – he wasn’t always known for being on time, so it was definitely a running joke for us to keep reminding him!

‘He was very supportive of our relationship and very excited for the day. He was very proud to see my husband settled and happy.’

Sarah and her husband married in front of their nearest and dearest. She says: ‘The ceremony was very emotional – we both cried a lot of happy tears through our vows.

‘We walked out of the registry office on a high, just so happy to be married, relieved for all the planning to be done, and also excited to get to lunch to spend time with our family. Everyone was in great spirits.’

The couple planned to have lunch, before spending the night at their wedding venue, where the party would take place the next day.

But after lunch, Sarah and her new husband learnt the terrible news.

She says: ‘After the lunch, we had drinks and sat in the beer garden. People started to head home to prep for day two of the wedding weekend. Meanwhile, my husband and I got changed out of our outfits.

‘We rejoined the remaining friends in the garden, and started to see traffic building up on road and thought it was weird.

‘Then we got call saying there had been a car accident involving John, my mother-in-law and stepson. I hadn’t had a drink so I jumped in the car with my husband and drove two minutes down the road. We weren’t expecting anything like what we saw. We thought perhaps it was a ding between John and another car. 

‘When we turned up, we saw John was out of the car and on the floor with his shirt open and paramedics giving CPR. It was harrowing to see.

‘It was as if time stood still.’

The couple later learnt that John had been two minutes from the venue when he collapsed at the wheel.

Incredibly there were paramedics in a car behind and they started performing CPR and used a defibrillator. Then, John was rushed to hospital for further treatment.

Sarah says: ‘We decided to go home as we didn’t want to stay at the wedding venue in case we needed to go to the hospital. We kept up with people on text and calls.

‘John had always been fairly fit and healthy. He loved to play sports like squash and golf. There was no indication anything was wrong, and he’d seemed fine the whole day. 

‘We held onto the hope that John has always been such a lucky guy, he’ll pull through this.’

John was put on life support and all his family could do was wait.

‘We didn’t know what to do about the second day of the wedding,’ says Sarah. ‘The family said to carry on as John loved a party and we felt that “when” he came round he would be devastated to have ruined a party, so we tried to put on a brave face.’

But tragically, John wasn’t going to make it.

Sarah says: ‘After our speeches we found out the devastating news that his life support would be turned off the next day.

‘My husband went up to our room at the venue and I compartmentalised what was happening, and tried and keep our guests’ spirits up without letting them know what was going on behind the scenes.’

John died two days later, on August 29 2022, aged just 68. He was survived by his wife of 20 years, his two children, two stepchildren, and three grandchildren – he was also about to become a grandfather for the fourth time.

‘It was a very difficult time,’ says Sarah. ‘John was such a big part of everyone’s life.’

Now, as the couple’s first wedding anniversary, and the first anniversary of John’s death, nears, it will be a difficult time for the family.

Sarah and her husband decided to have a vow renewal earlier this month in order to have a ‘new’ wedding date – meaning August will be when the family remember and celebrate John’s life. 

Sarah says: ‘We had our vow renewal on 10 June, a date which previously had no specific meaning.

‘We felt it was important because it takes the pressure off of us feeling like we have to celebrate on the one year anniversary, especially if we really don’t feel like it. We are both still grieving and still processing everything that happened that day.’

And, to honour her father-in-law, Sarah will be taking on the British Heart Foundation’s Pier to Pier Swim, a 1.4 mile swimming event from Bournemouth Pier, ending in Boscombe Pier.

Sarah, who is a keen swimmer and has taken part in the event twice before, said: ‘John is my inspiration for taking on this year’s swim. We’d planned on taking part in the Bournemouth Pier to Pier before the pandemic.

‘Unfortunately, we never got to do it together, so I wanted to honour him by doing it this year in his name. I know he’ll be with me in spirit.’

The challenge, sponsored by Jazz Apples, takes place on Saturday 1 July. Sarah will be joining nearly 2,000 swimmers, to help fund groundbreaking research into new cures and treatments for heart and circulatory conditions.  

There are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year and the survival rate is less than one in 10. However, early CPR and defibrillation can more than double the chances of survival in some cases.

Sarah adds: ‘BHF’s Pier to Pier is a great swimming event and it’s important to me and the family to raise money for the BHF as well as awareness of these heart conditions.’ 

 Roisin Greenup, senior event manager at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We never fail to be inspired by the incredible stories of our supporters. Despite her devastating loss, Sarah is still zipping up her wetsuit and fastening her goggles to help make a difference to those with heart and circulatory diseases and continue to make medical advancements in this area.   

‘Every single stroke our swimmers take will help to power science with the potential to beat heart and circulatory diseases. We’re extremely grateful for Sarah’s support and can’t wait to cheer her over the finish line.’

To help Sarah reach her fundraising target, visit her JustGiving page here.  

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