A sun-bathed garden, the smiles of friends and family, and exchanging romantic vows with the man she loves – Shelley Sheppard’s wedding day last Saturday was everything she could have hoped for and more.
“It was the best day of my life. I’ve never felt as happy and it surpassed all my dreams,” she says.
Dan Lambourne Photography The Sun gave Shelley, 44, a wedding day to remember
Yet within 24 hours of that special day – arranged by us as part of our Putting It Right campaign, which aims to fix readers’ problems and reward unsung heroes – Shelley, 44, was already struggling to remember it.
The mother-of-five, who is the fifth person to benefit from our campaign, was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease six months ago – devastating news which she and her family are still trying to accept.
The uncertainty of Shelley’s future is exactly why she and husband Paul, 49, wanted to renew their wedding vows.
Sadly The Sun can’t take Shelley’s disease away, but we were able to give the couple the chance to reaffirm their vows as part of our new campaign.
Dan Lambourne Photography Shelley and hubby Paul were married in 2002, but it was a more low-key affair
“We’re very grateful to The Sun for giving us a day we could never have had otherwise, and certainly not on the grand scale of Saturday,” says Paul, a supermarket manager near the family home near Newark in Nottinghamshire.
They hope the photographs from their happy day will be a comfort to Shelley through whatever lies ahead for her and the people who love her.
With her blonde hair and bubbly personality, she looks far too young to have been stricken by a disease more commonly associated with older people.
Yet Shelley’s already struggling with her short-term memory: she forgets simple words and routines, so her husband and daughters use blackboards, Post-Its and signs and texts to remind her of important daily events.
Dan Lambourne Photography Shelley’s shock diagnosis has devastated her family and friends
The terrible news of Shelley’s diagnosis is something they have to live with every day, and creating happy moments is what Saturday’s renewal of vows was all about.
Even if Shelley can’t remember them, she’ll be able to cherish photographs, videos and the personal messages written by wedding guests in a special book.
“One of the main reasons I wanted us to renew our vows is because I wanted Paul to see me in a wedding dress,” says Shelley, who wore a suit for their registry office wedding in 2002.
“I remember he had the biggest smile I’ve ever seen then he burst into tears!”
Dan Lambourne Photography Shelley looked stunning in her bridal gown
Paul was blown away by how she looked.
“The highlight of the entire day was seeing Shelley in her wedding dress. It was a complete surprise and she looked just stunning.
“She walked down a path made into an aisle to the song we played at our wedding, Uncle Kracker’s Follow Me.
“Our two four-year-old grandsons, Layton and Jaiden, walked with her. I didn’t see Shelley until she was standing next to me, and I couldn’t stop the tears at that point.
“It was a very moving moment, especially as the sun broke through the clouds at exactly that moment.
“Shelley looked gorgeous. Absolutely amazing.”
Happy times: Shelley and Paul pictured before her diagnosis
She wore a floor-length strapless white gown, train and veil studded with diamantes.
Her five daughters – Alesha, 24, Chloe, 23, Keira, 20, Kaylea, 17, and 15-year-old Shannon – were her bridesmaids, dressed in pale-grey gowns.
An emotional day
There were tears and smiles as the couple walked back down the aisle together to Iris by The Goo Goo Dolls, in the gardens at Thoresby Hall country house near their home near Newark, Nottinghamshire.
“We gathered for drinks then a cream tea in the gallery and had about 40 people back at ours later on,” says Paul who, like his young grandsons Layton (Keira’s son) and Jaiden (Chloe’s son), wore a grey three-piece suit and pocket watch for the big day.
Dan Lambourne Photography Shelleys five daughters made beautiful bridesmaids
Shelley says it was important to her that they renewed their vows.
“We don’t know what’s ahead of us so we wanted to reaffirm the promises we made at our wedding.
We made vows to our daughters as well: Paul promised the girls he’ll always be there for them and strong for them.”
When I ask Shelley what she said in her vows, she tells me: “I can’t remember. I’m already losing parts of the day.”
Often thought of as a disease of older people, around four per cent of people with Alzheimer’s are under 65.
This is called early-onset Alzheimer’s, usually affecting people in their 40s, 50s and early 60s.
Alzheimer’s is a physical disease affecting the brain: symptoms can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.
Dan Lambourne Photography The couple renewed their vows in the gardens at Thoresby Hall country house
For years Shelley refused to believe anything was wrong, even accusing her family of ganging up on her when they noticed lapses in her memory.
Her diagnosis came last November after her family worried about her forgetting her daughters’ parents’ evenings.
“There have been a lot of tears. It’s having a huge impact on life and it’s only going to get worse over time,” Shelley says.
“We’re just taking every day as it comes. We are just trying to get through.”
Paul has been a strong source of support to his wife
Kind Shelley was a carer for her mother before she died aged 72 in November 2015.
Paul believes the trauma of witnessing her mother’s decline then death in their own front room has played a part in her illness.
He tries to stay positive.
“We all had such a fantastic day on Saturday, and we’ll preserve the memory with photograph albums and video that we can keep showing to Shelley,” he says.