Penny and her partner, Wiz, have been together for thirty-two years, but the fact that they never married had always played on Penny's mum, Barbara’s, mind. “It was a generational thing,” explains Penny, “plus I think she worried that she’d never get the chance to be the mother of the bride.”
Barbara had been on the re-sales list for lease purchase properties at Cote Lane. But by the time she was ready to move in, Penny knew that she was unwell. “Mum was living on her own in her house in Salisbury."
"She was doing all the things that you hear about people doing when they are in the early stages of dementia. She wasn’t coping, but was refusing to receive any help."
"There was the inevitable crisis in the end and she had to go into a nursing home because she was poorly. It turned out to be a blessing as the decision of convincing mum she needed help was taken out of our hands.”
Up and out
After a couple of happy years in the Trust’s Sundials Dementia Care Wing, Barbara moved into The Russets Dementia Care Home at the Trust's Sandford Station Retirement Village.
Says Penny: “It's incredible, absolutely incredible - how the dementia care provided by the Trust made a difference. It was the stimulus. Suddenly there was all this stuff going on around her."
"The default setting each day at The Russets is up and out into shared area. There she was watching people, people talking to her and lots of things are going on."
"It's like she came back to us. That’s when I thought I’d have to do something about her taking part in us getting married. Before that I thought she wouldn’t realise what was going on anyway.”
Unfortunately, when the big day came, Barbara was not well enough to make the trip up to the registry office in Bristol.
It was then that Penny had the idea of organising a second ceremony, especially for her mum at The Russets. She approached St Monica Trust’s pastoral care leader, Helena McKinnon, who thought it was a great idea.
The second ceremony would take the form of a Christian blessing and be held in the clubhouse, with the service performed jointly by Helena and Sandford’s parish priest, Julie Simms.
Lead therapist, Julie Drew, then stepped in. She not only arranged the catering and sent invites out to residents, but even roped her own mother in to create all the flower arrangements.
The task of decorating the hall was solved by simply reusing the decorations leftover from the Royal Wedding in April.
A right royal Russets' wedding
The blessing itself proved to be a resounding success with Penny, Wiz, their two daughters (Hannah and Lucy), Barbara and residents from The Russets gathered expectantly in the Clubhouse on a glorious May afternoon.
It was a traditional wedding service and featured a number of Barbara’s favourite hymns, including ‘He Who Would Valiant Be’ and ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’.
Penny was over-joyed with how it went: “It was wonderful - all I could have hoped for because I thought: “if she’s not feeling well on the day or she’s tired or she wants to go to the loo or something then it will be ruined completely.”
"But she was utterly there in the moment. We chose two hymns that she really knew. Mum’s been a church-goer all her life so we knew it would be relevant to her that there was a vicar."
"She was good friends with the first woman Dean in Salisbury Cathedral and was a great champion of women in the church, so having two ladies there would have meant a lot to her.”
The blessing was concluded with Penny presenting the mother of the bride with a special bouquet. Barbara fulfilled her duties as mother of the bride to perfection by promptly bursting into tears.
This, in turn, set off Penny, Wiz, Hannah, Lucy and at least half the congregation. As Penny bent down to hug her mum, Barbara whispered in her daughter’s ear, “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”