SINGAPORE - A decade-long love story ended happily ever after on Saturday (March 28) when Mr Tom Iljas, 81, and Madam Liong May Swan, 78, 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 their original wedding plans.
The couple had initially arranged to solemnise their marriage at a restaurant in Dempsey Hill but Madam Liong suffered a stroke in March and this was followed by the strict measures on social distancing imposed by the Government in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Instead of postponing the wedding, they 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, including Sons And Daughters Of Bangka and Sisters In Paradise. Both Mr Iljas and Madam Liong have children from earlier marriages, and are widowed.
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 both shared many common interests - particularly in history and literature - that developed into spirited discussions of Madam Liong's books.
This long-distance relationship blossomed into a decade-long romance, which began when Madam Liong travelled to Sweden to meet Mr Iljas for the first time. They have since kept this long-distance relationship going by crossing continents and oceans multiple times over the years, just to see each other.
After the hospital was notified on Wednesday (March 25) 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.
"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," said Madam Liong.
"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," she said.
Their marriage will likely put an end to years of the two having to shuttle back and forth from Singapore and Sweden.
"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," said Madam Liong's son, Mr Teo Choo Chuan, 57.
"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," Mr Teo said.