I have fond memories of caring for a lady named *Rene, who came originally from England and trained as a Registered Nurse working in a large general hospital in London. Rene would often comment on how difficult life was for a nurse during the post-war years of the 1950s.
In those days, if you were single by the age of 30, you were considered as old spinster, left on the shelf and over the hill; and although her mum and dad would joke that they would sell her off to the highest bidder is she wasnt married by 30, Rene stood her ground and married the man of her dreams just a month before her 30th birthday.
Rene met Greg, a handsome Australian working in London, who was resettling ex-army soldiers. They met in late autumn and were married on Valentine’s Day the following year. The couple moved to Freemantle, Western Australia, in 1954, soon settling into Australian life and raising a family with three daughters.
When Greg retired, they decided to move to Tasmania, where they spent many happy holidays over the years and became a part of a beautiful community in the Huon Valley where they felt welcomed. They downsised and bought an attractive Huon home with the typical white picket fence and easy-to-maintain gardens. Together, they shared over 20 years of happy memories in the Huon Valley, continued to take their annual Pacific cruise, and every few years they returned to the UK to visit Rene’s extended family.
Greg passed away last year while Rene on the other hand began to need more daily care than the family could provide. We had the privilege of looking after her at our Huon facility until she died last year in her late eighties. Her room featured an array of lifetime mementoes with several family pictures decorating her wall.
One of the pictures that stood out the most was a photograph of Rene in her wedding dress on her wedding day. Everyone would comment about how beautiful the dress was and how stunningly happy she looked wearing it. Rene would take great pleasure in telling everyone that the dress was an original by the famous Norman Hartnell. Those unaccustomed to whom Norman Hartnell was Rene would take immense satisfaction in stating that he was Queen Elizabeth’s designer. Proudly sitting back in her chair admiring the picture and saying, “I was dressed by the best of British.”
Rene was in her late 80s and was sharp as a button and would be instantly transported back to her wedding day, when anyone brought up the subject of the wedding dress. She would meticulously recount the proceedings that led up to the wedding. From the dress to the reception and the honeymoon on-board SS. Arcadia, bound for Australia and a new life. She would always specifically talk about her bouquet, the flowers being her grandmother’s favourite; red roses, white carnations, and gypsophila, all bound together with a deep purple ribbon. Rene was very close to her grandmother and paid profound attention to honouring her in any way she could, often saying that she taught her the values and life skills.
The subject would always return to the dress and the hours of work that went into creating the bridal gown. All sequins were sewn on the dress by hand with the finest silk imported from Paris. Rene recalled how excited she was at wearing it for the first time and posing for the photographer, bursting with happiness and unable to control her overwhelming pride in the Norman Hartnell creation.
I personally believe that a person’s wedding day is such a momentous occasion, however elaborate or simple the day is and serves as great inspiration for reminiscence and recalling happy memories.
When I asked her where was the dress now, she smiled, leaned over and said, “I had three daughters, two of whom never married, focusing on their successful careers.” It was her youngest daughter who fell madly in love and married at the age of 18 who wore the dress, looking even more spectacular on her wedding day. The dress is now waiting for the next occasion, safely enclosed in the garment cover, ready for her granddaughter to get married at Christmas. Rene hoped she would still be around to see the dress adorned by another family member.
Reminiscence therapy can provide happiness and joyful experiences for the person, providing an improved sense of well-being.
My mother would happily talk about her post-war wedding and the spectacular dress made from pure white silk. Material salvaged from a wartime parachute, and was in great demand in post-war Britain when fabric was at a premium and budgets were tight, so making do with this type of fabric was deemed prudent.
Rene once said, “Nobody wants to get old, but it’s how you grow old that matters; be grateful for family and friends, and live each day as if it’s your first, not your last, because then you will have another day to look forward to.”
What are your experiences with reminiscence therapy? Let us know in the comments below.
*Name changed to protect identity