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Poul and Else were married for 57 years. For the last four, their granddaughter, photographer Sofie Mathiassen, documented their life together while Poul progressed through the stages of Parkinson’s disease and dementia. Else stayed by Poul’s side until his death, first in their home in Skanderborg, Denmark, and later in a nursing home when it became too hard to care for him at home. She visited every day.

Mathiassen’s photographs are an intimate window into the end of a life, and a lifelong partnership. They are testament to a specific love story, but they will also be familiar to anyone who has cared for a loved one with dementia. “Else and Poul’s story is very universal,” Mathiassen told STAT, “because it deals with themes and emotions recognizable for many people whether you have dementia or not.”

The project was recently recognized by The Bob and Diane Fund photography grant, which supports visual storytelling about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

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Caption text by Sofie Mathiassen

Alzheimer's photo essay
Poul became slower and more unbalanced physically and mentally over the past few years. Else used to lock all the doors in their house to prevent Poul from walking out at night. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“Poul was a lieutenant when I was a nurse at the hospital in Randers. Then some friends of mine invited me to the barracks for dinner, and then there was Poul. … Well, then we started seeing each other and that was it.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“One day he was brushing his teeth when he said to me: ‘I can’t control the toothbrush.’ And then it started. All the losses. So many losses. Whenever we met with friends, he would ask them their names.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
For a long time, Else took care of her husband in their home. In July 2016 he moved into a local nursing home to relieve Else. She visited him every day. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Dinnertime. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Else talking on the phone with a girlfriend about Poul’s situation. She often felt depressed and once started seeing a therapist but didn’t think that helped. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Wedding, July 1, 1961.
“Poul was in Copenhagen and I was in Randers. So, we met in Aarhus Saturday noon and got married Saturday afternoon. The pastor escorted us to the altar. There wasn’t even any organ music. It was a small wedding.”
Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“Sometimes we had small moments where we could reach [each] other.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“The staff is kind, but they never comb his hair the right way. So I have to do it, or he doesn’t look like my Poul.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
When the nurses told Else that Poul could die soon, she stayed with him all the time at the nursing home, sleeping on a mattress next to his bed. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
“You keep loving each other. No matter what, no matter sickness. He was my husband. We’ve been together all life, we were supposed to be together until we couldn’t anymore.” Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
Poul died April 9, 2018. Sofie Mathiassen
Alzheimer's photo essay
One week after Poul died, Else celebrated her 84th birthday. She lives alone in their house and plans to stay there. Sofie Mathiassen
  • Dignified. Reminder to have things in order while you can. Not so much for you but for those we leave behind.

  • Alissa:
    What a beautiful story. The love they had for each other came through in these every day photos of this couple. They show what LOVE is truly about.

  • I identify so completely with this account and am holding back my tears. My husband died 20 years ago and I am living a good life at 81 years of age. But I still actively miss him each day.

  • My mother suffered from Dementia and my father was by her side until the day she died. They were married for 68 years. 11 months after she died, my father passed away….he died of a broken heart.

  • My heart ached as the read this short, but detailed story. I too witnessed my father die from dementia. He never hugged me or spent time with myself or my siblings. He was alcoholic his entire life. The family was broken up a long time ago. I came to his aid when he became sick, and I don’t know why….I just didn’t want him to die alone. To this day I cringed when I heard of families dealing with dementia or Alzheimer’s. It is a disease that not only affects the patient, but the ones that care for him. You never forget. Thank God for all the nurses, Hospice and others that take care of them.

  • Shed tears while reading the article. I helped care for my father who died at the age of 100. I have never regretted caring for him. My only regret has been that at times I would lose patience. I was told by my sister that I was the best caregiver he had. He was the best father a daughter would desire.

  • Although he died from a terribly degrading disease, Poul was a lucky man, in that Else conveyed so much love to him all the way to the minute he died. I sincerely hope that this wonderful lady Else will also be cared for very well when her time comes. Very endearing real-life story, well-captured.

  • Really the story touched my heart with fear bec. my husband seems suffering from same disease
    Being a christian Im giving all my fears to my God who knows my future and my strenght.1 Cor.10:13 , Jer.29:11.

  • Having both a brother in-law, and father in-law, suffer from Parkinson’s and dementia, these photos truly spoke to me. The heartbreak on the wife’s face, with her deceased love, made me tear up. Beautifully done photos that thoroughly captured this terrible disease.

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