Hilary and Pauline in their living room. Hilary rests her head on Pauline's shoulder and holds her hand.

Dementia is another challenge for our relationship, but we're in it together

Hilary and Pauline met in 1955, but weren't able to legally get married until 2017. Now Pauline has vascular dementia, the couple explains how vital dementia support is helping them keep their most important vows.

Pauline and I met in 1955 when I was 16 and she was 17, while I was on a family holiday. It was somewhere new and unknown at the time, and lo and behold, Pauline walked along the beach.

From the first time we met, there was chemistry.

It didn't matter that Pauline was a girl, I just was in love with her as a person.

But we were unable to have a full relationship. My mum disapproved of same sex couples - which was a common opinion.

An old photograph of young Hilary and Pauline, with their arm round one another

Hilary and Pauline felt a strong connection from the moment they met as young girls.

In the UK at the time, being gay was illegal for men and same sex marriage did not exist. But despite disapproval, we continued to see each other. It wasn’t long before I knew we were soul mates.

It was only when I was 70 and my mother had died that I began to feel really free to be myself.

Making a commitment

Pauline and I exchanged rings and made a commitment to each other in 1970, but I was just thinking we were never going to get married. We eventually moved in together in 1971 when we bought our first house, and it was here that we raised our daughter and son.

In 2014, the law was passed making same sex marriage legal. It was Christmas Eve in 2016 when Pauline said 'I'm now proposing that we get married'.

And I said 'oh my god, finally. Finally we're getting married'.

She proposed to me in bed, not even down on one knee!

Hilary and Pauline sit in armchairs, holding hands and smiling

Hilary and Pauline were able to get legally married in 2017.

And in 2017, we got married. It was the happiest day of our lives.

The very fact that we are now wife and wife, we're so grateful. Life has taught us to be grateful, because we've battled everything along the way.

Noticing the signs

Possibly the year following our wedding, there were things that I could notice. Pauline didn't want to get out of bed sometimes, and couldn't remember things we had on, like appointments.

And then it came to the point where it had to be spoken about.

In 2019, Pauline was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. The diagnosis was a shock, even though we both suspected it.

Pauline was used to having a lot of independence and control over things. She had been the Director of Social Services and was used to helping others, not being the one needing the help.

Learning to live with dementia

We've always known we were together in it. Pauline doesn't want it to be something that, after all these years, breaks us. And she doesn't have to say it, but she says 'I'm so sorry this has happened'.

She doesn't want to think that I'll ever find that I can't cope. And I just try and show her every day.

When the love is there, you'll climb every mountain.

We are now both in our mid 80’s, are very active and have children and a grandchild to keep us busy.

Hilary and Pauline sit closely together outside on a bench, smiling at eachother

The couple try to keep active following Pauline's diagnosis.

Dementia support is out there

We were introduced to an Alzheimer’s Society service called Singing for the Brain, and we find that an enormous support.

There is another couple we’re friends with at Singing for the Brain. At one particular session, the husband turned to me, when Pauline was dancing with his wife, and said, 'you'd never know they have dementia, would you?' That's why we love going.

So many people that have dementia think that there's nothing for them and the help isn't there. But the help is there.

We don't feel alone in this journey. And nobody must be afraid of asking for that help if they need it.

We've no doubts that Alzheimer's Society are behind us. Maggie, our dementia adviser, was the person who came and she was there to offer us any help and advice. We just knew she was there for us, and she really understood our relationship.

Pauline is changing everyday, though she hasn't shocked me with anything yet.

We have vows to each other almost every night, before we go to sleep. You never know if you're both going to wake up in the morning, so you have to have said it all.

We both know equally that we're in it together.

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What a lovely story of love defying the prejudices of the 1950s. I am so glad life has moved on from that narrow minded time
What a beautiful story. You are inspiring. I hope you stay strong in the future. This is very hard to live with Xxx