Couple renews vows after husband living with Alzheimer’s proposes, again
Lisa Marshall, 55, from Andover, Connecticut, found her Prince Charming not once, but twice in her husband, Peter, 56.
They were friends who lost touch but reconnected years later in a whirlwind romance. For eight years, they dated long-distance, traveling for rendezvous that felt like mini-honeymoons. Then came their actual honeymoon in 2009, following a breathtaking beachside wedding in Turks and Caicos.
Lisa cherishes their history, even though her husband can’t remember it. Peter was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s in 2018, and the details of their relationship have slowly been stolen away.
This heartbreaking fact became clear one night in December 2020, when Lisa and Peter settled down to watch TV. A touching wedding scene made Lisa cry, and after ribbing her a little for the display, Peter turned serious, nervous even, and asked Lisa a question that had started their marriage years ago.
“Peter pointed at the TV and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And I said, ‘Do what?’ And he pointed again and had this huge grin on his face. I said, ‘Get married? Are you asking me to marry you?’ And he said, ‘Yes!’” Lisa says.
Peter no longer remembered that Lisa was his wife. “I couldn’t decide if I should cry for the loss or cry for being proposed to again,” Lisa says. “He was so genuine and so vulnerable. He found in his heart that place that loves me, which has been undying throughout this.”
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Alzheimer’s caregivers are often given the advice to meet people living with the disease where they are — in their reality. So Lisa told Peter of course she’d marry him, and then figured they’d just move on.
But after sharing what had happened with their children — the couple have five adult kids from previous marriages — Lisa’s daughter Sarah Brehant, 32, insisted that she should actually get married again. In February 2021, as Peter started to decline more rapidly, Lisa realized time was running short to celebrate their love. With a mantra of “no regrets,” Lisa told Sarah — who runs a wedding planning business — that she and Peter wanted to renew their vows.
Sarah reached out to trusted vendors about her parents’ story, and everyone — the event hall, florists, calligraphers, musicians, caterers — generously volunteered or donated thousands of dollars in services for the occasion. The dementia specialist who works with Lisa even officiated the ceremony, which took place on April 26 in front of a small group of family and friends. They danced, laughed, loved and lived before the clock struck midnight.
“I felt Cinderella-ish. It was magical,” Lisa says. “From the moment Peter saw me walking down this long room to him and into the night, he was very present and lucid, enamored even, as if it was our first wedding. He was so happy.”
Lisa chronicled the vow renewal on her Facebook blog "Oh, Hello Alzheimer’s,"
which she started in 2019 to highlight the challenges and occasional lighter moments of caring for a spouse living with Alzheimer’s.
When someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they’re still the same person, but family and friends may be uncertain how to respond and may shy away.
Lisa uses her blog to help educate people about the disease, raise money for Alzheimer’s research and connect with other caregivers. The blog’s more than 16,000 followers find comfort, inspiration and community in knowing they are not alone.
While it has become a source of support, Lisa created the blog from a place of grief and panic. “I was screaming for help. ‘Oh, my God, do you see what is happening to my husband, my Prince Charming? Somebody help me!’” Lisa says.
The day-to-day reality for a dementia caregiver is no fairytale, a fact “Oh, Hello Alzheimer’s” often shows. In one entry, Lisa recounts Peter’s frequent conversations with an imaginary friend in the mirror; in another, she shares the first time Peter could no longer recall her name.
“I want to link arms with other caregivers because when Peter was diagnosed, I felt like there was a deficit. I didn’t know what to look for, who to talk to,” Lisa says.
Her blog followers are also coming together to fight back. Lisa started an “Oh, Hello Alzheimer’s” Walk to End Alzheimer’s® team, which has raised over $55,000 for care, support and research.
Peter continues to decline and doesn’t remember his second wedding to Lisa — or even who she is beyond a trusted caregiver.
When they look at their vow renewal pictures together, Peter doesn’t recognize himself. But Lisa treasures that magical day, and during the hardest times recalls one of many touching moments:
“Peter gave me a kiss, leaned in and said in my ear, ‘Thank you for staying.’”