Wedding dresses and other stories

Weddings, marriages, dresses, they all loom large with the many people I have interviewed over the years. Maybe it’s a generational thing, a time when couples married for life, and that was it. Only once have I come across a woman who had regrets. She was 77 when we met and her husband of fifty years had died just six months before. I began to sympathise, but she quickly held her hand up saying: ‘No, I wish the b*****d had died years ago!’ I’m still not sure whether to laugh or cry.

I am a hopeless romantic, and time and again I am reminded of long, strong and loving marriages within this project anyway. I  really do look on in wide-eyed wonder. What does it feel like to feel secure and loved with a partner for so long? My parents divorced when I was seven, and mine lasted just 15 years. I didn’t wear a wedding dress, the rings were from Argos (returned the following day with full refund: if that’s not a portent then I don’t really know what is). But when C shows me her wedding photo of Boxing Day 1940, her looking so beautiful, I wonder if I made a mistake. Her husband stands beside her, tall, handsome, and missing one arm. He was shot months before in a cornfield on one of the battlefields of Belgium.

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I bring in four wedding dresses: they are tiny. These brides must have lost a ton of weight. Only one of the care assistants manages to squeeze into one quite comfortably, and he looks great. M, ever glamorous, is prompted to share her wedding photos. From her handbag, she takes out a sheaf of black and white pics, rimmed in white. They are from her first marriage. She is unmistakable, dimples still present, winged glasses, and knee length dress.

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D has no truck with my romance. Tiny and birdlike, and no-nonsense, she doesn’t give to smiling much, but when she does, it feels like a reward. She’s in her mid nineties now, but as a young women she ‘worked the land’ in countryside around Lincoln. I think she misses that landscape. She shakes her head at the frothy wedding dresses and elaborate veils. ‘I wore a skirt and a jumper. Didn’t need anything else.’

H married in tiny Hamnish, outside Leominster. After, the reception was held at her mother’s house, ‘sandwiches and tea and cake’. I had visited Hamnish earlier in the week to visit the church. Sadly it was locked and I was unable to see the wooden inner doors, carved by C’s father nearly a hundred years ago. Such connections within this home are beginning to surprise me.

Dementia Awareness Week 2017 With thanks to Arts Council England

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