Warded and wed: Elderly couple tie the knot in hospital

Alexandra Hospital staff giving the newly-weds a bouquet of flowers. The ceremony was organised by the hospital staff in three days. Mr Tom Iljas, 81, kissing his new bride, Madam Liong May Swan, 78, at the wedding ceremony at Alexandra Hospital on S
Mr Tom Iljas, 81, kissing his new bride, Madam Liong May Swan, 78, at the wedding ceremony at Alexandra Hospital on Saturday. They couple had planned to solemnise their marriage at a restaurant but Madam Liong suffered a stroke. This was followed by the strict social distancing measures imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Alexandra Hospital staff giving the newly-weds a bouquet of flowers. The ceremony was organised by the hospital staff in three days. Mr Tom Iljas, 81, kissing his new bride, Madam Liong May Swan, 78, at the wedding ceremony at Alexandra Hospital on S
Alexandra Hospital staff giving the newly-weds a bouquet of flowers. The ceremony was organised by the hospital staff in three days. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Alexandra Hospital staff giving the newly-weds a bouquet of flowers. The ceremony was organised by the hospital staff in three days. Mr Tom Iljas, 81, kissing his new bride, Madam Liong May Swan, 78, at the wedding ceremony at Alexandra Hospital on S
Dr Daniel Lee Kok-Pheng (far left) presiding over the marriage ceremony. The nuptials were witnessed by Madam Liong's son and a family friend.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Alexandra Hospital staff giving the newly-weds a bouquet of flowers. The ceremony was organised by the hospital staff in three days. Mr Tom Iljas, 81, kissing his new bride, Madam Liong May Swan, 78, at the wedding ceremony at Alexandra Hospital on S
MR TOM ILJASST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

A stroke and social distancing rules upset their original plans, but wedding bells still ring at Alexandra Hospital

After a decade-long romance, Mr Tom Iljas, 81, and Madam Liong May Swan, 78, got their happily ever after on Saturday when they were married at a clinic in Alexandra Hospital.

The nuptials, witnessed by Madam Liong's son and a family friend, took place after a series of events upset the couple's original wedding plans.

They had planned to solemnise their marriage at a restaurant at Dempsey Hill, but Madam Liong suffered a stroke earlier this month. This was followed by the strict measures on social distancing imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of postponing the wedding, the couple decided to hold a simple ceremony, with fewer than 10 people in attendance, at Alexandra Hospital, where Madam Liong was warded.

"This wedding legitimises our relationship and is a testament to our love," said Mr Iljas. "We are just an ordinary couple and I never dreamed that this wedding could happen in such a way, thanks to those who so generously supported us."

Mr Iljas is a retired Swedish national who used to work in the logistics industry. He was deported from Indonesia in 2015 for visiting a mass grave where communists - including some members of his family - were said to be buried. Madam Liong, a former translator at the Ministry of Defence, is the author of several South-east Asian historical fiction books, such as Sons And Daughters Of Bangka and Sisters In Paradise. Both Mr Iljas and Madam Liong are widowed and have children from earlier marriages.

The couple first met in an online community 10 years ago, when Madam Liong was in her late 60s and Mr Iljas in his early 70s. They shared many common interests, particularly in history and literature, that developed into spirited discussions on Madam Liong's books.

This long-distance relationship blossomed into a romance which began when Madam Liong travelled to Sweden to meet Mr Iljas for the first time. They have kept the relationship alive, crossing continents and oceans multiple times over the years to see each other.

After Alexandra Hospital was notified last Wednesday of Madam Liong's plans to solemnise her marriage there, the ceremony was planned and organised within three days by a team of staff led by chief nurse Margaret Lee and Ms Wendy Yue, an advanced practice nurse at the specialised rehabilitation ward.

Said Madam Liong: "We have wanted to be together for years, and we did want to get married as proof in the eyes of the law and the state that we are husband and wife.

"I am full of gratitude today, and now that I am in the next stage of my life, I am hoping that I can be discharged any day soon."

Their marriage will likely put an end to years of having to shuttle back and forth between Singapore and Sweden.

DREAM WEDDING

This wedding legitimises our relationship and is a testament to our love. We are just an ordinary couple and I never dreamed that this wedding could happen in such a way, thanks to those who so generously supported us.

MR TOM ILJAS, 81, on the simple ceremony, with fewer than 10 people in attendance, at Alexandra Hospital.

Madam Liong's son Teo Choo Chuan, 57, said: "I realised that this relationship was serious, and for keeps. Travelling back and forth was taking a toll on both of them, and long-haul flights, particularly between Singapore and Stockholm, were only going to get more and more difficult.

"The plan now is for them to move to Sweden, which will be a home for both of them, as they take these next steps to start their new life together."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 30, 2020, with the headline 'Warded and wed: Elderly couple tie the knot in hospital'. Print Edition | Subscribe