Dear Wendy

Thank you for being you, for using your character and innate kindness, your gentle voice, your fluent, wise and wonderful words to raise awareness of living, and dying, with dementia.  You were my hero (or heroine).  I hope you know that.  Though I physically met you only a handful of times, I was knocked sideways when I heard about your death, from you, in your perfectly phrased, posthumous letter to us all, your final hug in a mug.

I was first drawn to you by your blog, Which Me Am I Today; your clever, witty, chatty yet profound writing mesmerised me, later your captivating photographs raised you even higher in my estimation.   You were – how odd it is to talk about you in the past tense – a tremendously talented woman and in your own quiet, understated way you used your natural communication skills (which remained unrivalled even as your foe, dementia, tried to rob you of them) to decrease the stigma surrounding it.

You were generous enough to appear twice on my podcast, the second time was last September when, poignantly, our subject matter was death and dying, about which you wrote with typical fluency, honesty and insight in your final book, One Last Thing.

As ever you were at pains to express that your opinions were just that, simply your view.  As ever, you spoke complete Yorkshire common sense.   You were, I now realise, devoid of the faintest scintilla of arrogance yet rock solid in your beliefs.   Good on you.

For as long as you could, you maintained the upper hand and saw off your adversary in some style.   You created beautiful photographs, you wrote three, highly acclaimed books that sold worldwide, two of them remained at the top of the bestseller list for months, landing powerful blows on your combatant. Shame they couldn’t land a killer punch.

You spoke publicly, brilliantly, at conferences, on TV and radio, you wrote and gave interviews in national newspapers and magazines.   Your language remained thoughtful, balanced, firm, even as it began to slow.

One of Wendy’s many, wonderful photographs.

Having faced up to fear, you no longer feared anything.  You gained strength and confidence and, crucially, you maintained your sense of self (perhaps even increased it).  When we spoke last September, you stressed the ultimate importance to you of choice and control, and what would happen when you lost them.  And in One Last Thing you summed it up:

“As dementia dilutes my personhood, I cling to those things that make me who I am – a mum, a blogger a walker and a photographer.   For me, once those parts of me have been taken by this cruel disease, I’ll have lost my personhood and would prefer death to an existence of snapshots of joy, as the time spent in confusion would far outnumber those moments”.

I must admit, when I read in your penultimate blog, written just days ago, that you had got yourself in a bit of a pickle (such a “you” phrase), that you had fallen downstairs and spent the week living your “worst nightmare” in Hull Royal Infirmary, I was worried.  Because you had never made any secret of the fact that your cut off point, the line in the sand when you no longer wanted to live with dementia, was being admitted to hospital.

But reading on I saw that you had been discharged, I knew that your daughters – the two most important people in your life – would be there to support you, and I was heartened to see that your good friend Philly Hare was staying with you.

I should have known Wendy.  You would never be swayed or be diverted from your long-held decision.  You were – sorry, I refuse to say were – you are so strong.  You’d had the uncomfortable conversations with your daughters months ago, they’d questioned you over your wishes and you’d answered each scenario gently and confidently, seen the understanding dawning in their eyes.  As you said, in One Last Thing,  “I felt immense pride, relief and, yes, love, as they told me individually that they understood my wishes”.

So, as I say, I should have known.  Of course I should have known that you’d call time on dementia before it robbed you of your final choice.  It shouldn’t have come as a shock last night when, on my way out for the evening I glanced at Twitter (or X), read your farewell letter, choked back the tears, then simply gave into them, letting them fall swiftly.  And I remembered the passage you read to close our conversation last year.  It comforted me.  Here it is:

“If dementia has made me more daring, if it has helped me to walk across hot coals, jump out of an aeroplane, to skydive or stand on the wings of a plane as it soars six hundred feet in the sky, then I will see that for what it is: a gift.  When it is time to release that hard grasp on life, when it is time to open your fingers a little, to feel more insistently the sands of time running through them, then there is no fear because you feel more deeply that what will be, will be, for all of us”.

Thank you for everything Wendy.  Your legacy is immense and it will live on.

Pippa x

PS If anyone has a larger or better photo of Wendy that they wouldn’t mind me using could they contact me, and if you would like to hear Wendy chatting to me last September, you can listen here: