While aging may change us physically, it doesn’t take away our need to love and be loved. Wherever there are people together, companionship, love and romance will exist. Senior communities are no exception.
More than 200 years ago, the British poet Lord Byron said, “Like the measles, love is most dangerous when it comes late in life.” The fact is that love is among the deepest and most profound joys a person can experience, but it also opens us up to the possibility of equally deep pain. That is the enigma and allure of love. Love and romance prospers at senior communities just as it does in other social settings. Our bodies may become frail, but our capacity for love never weakens, and this is why at senior communities long-time couples and new sweethearts alike will celebrate love itself, one of the best parts of living, on Valentine’s Day.
While some senior community residents who are single or widowed are content to remain single, others never let go of their romantic streak and countless couples have fallen head-over-heels in love at assisted living communities. A Place for Mom partner, Five Star Senior Living, which operates dozens of senior communities across the U.S., recently asked residents to share their assisted living love stories. These stories are a touching reminder that love doesn’t care about age. For example, 95 year-old Rosalind Greenweld fell in love over a game of bridge of Five Star Premier Residences in Pompano Beach:
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“At the age of 95, I met Albert at a bridge lesson we were both attending at Five Star Premier Residences of Pompano Beach. He was 91. We soon saw a great deal of each other and a beautiful relationship developed. Albert came to my apartment at 5 minutes to eight each morning to escort me to breakfast, then stayed to just passed 10 o’clock at night.”
Ms. Greenweld built up the courage to send him a letter saying why she admired him so much. Her letter read:
Why I Love You
You smile at me
You smell good
You hug me firmly
You read my thoughts
You like the way I think
We like the same music
We appreciate God’s blessing
We like each other’s jokes
You are good to your family
You have good taste
You have good manners
You show respect
You like kids and animals
You make a good appearance
Albert wrote her back:
“My dearest Rosalind:
The above loving and beautiful thoughts are exactly as I think and feel for you. This is why we are in love.
And the rest is history.
One disappointing stereotype that some people hold about senior communities is that they are the end of the road – that they are “God’s waiting room.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Senior living communities empower residents to make their second half of life as meaningful and joyful as the first. For example, the educational opportunities in the form of classes and lectures allow residents the opportunity to never stop growing spiritually and intellectually. Social opportunities at senior communities allow residents the chance to make new friends, companions and romantic partners. Residents who fall in love or make new close friends at senior communities embody this new beginning.
For instance, many residents who have lost a spouse in the past are able to find new companions at senior communities and keep love alive in their life.
Five Star Senior Living shared another love story with us that is equally as touching as Rosalind and Albert’s story:
“Nancy Vizi had been married for 25 years when her husband had fallen ill and passed away. In 2008, Nancy was looking for a place to call home and she found it here at Stratford Court of Palm Harbor.
One morning when Nancy came down for breakfast, there were no seats, and Richard being the gentlemen that he is, invited her to sit at his table. Through breakfast they found out that they had a lot in common.
On that very Friday at Happy hour, Richard had invited his brother to join him, as well as Nancy. While the music was playing, Richard’s brother asked Nancy to dance. She informed him that she had a disability and was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to dance. It just so happens that Richard’s brother is a doctor and he replied, “of course you can dance.” After the first dance with Richard’s brother, Richard asked Nancy to dance and they have been dancing ever since. It has been 4.5 years and they are just as much in love now as they were then.”
Often, the lives of older couples are not that much different than younger couples. In preparation for this article, I was hoping to interview a couple who recently married and met at American House Village Senior Living in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I discovered, though, I had missed them by a few weeks, as they had just departed to spend the winter in Florida. While I was disappointed to not be able to speak with the couple, I was pleased to hear that they were able to spend the winter in Florida. It’s a nice reminder that most senior community residents, couples and individuals alike, are not bedridden nursing home patients. They are autonomous adults who, while perhaps needing a bit of help here and there, still have the opportunity to enjoy the finer things in life – from romance to travel.
Many of these couples who fell in love at senior living had their marriages, receptions, or both at the community, which has many advantages. For instance, the couple doesn’t have to worry about renting banquet halls and dining rooms as most senior communities have appropriate spaces on site and are more than happy to freely accommodate marrying residents. What’s more, it makes it very convenient for fellow residents to attend the wedding when it is at the community where they live.
And it’s not just residents who fall in love and marry at senior communities. Sometimes it’s the staff. At Sunrise of Gilbert in Gilbert, Ariz. Lead Care Managers Valerie and Fidel fell in love. They later married and had their reception at the community:
“The event was perfectly fitting for the two lovebirds who met at Sunrise, united by their strong passion for working with seniors. As their relationship grew stronger over time, they got engaged and were recently married. The community’s Activities and Volunteer Coordinator, Chelsea Ishikawa, coordinated a wonderful wedding reception that would allow Valerie and Fidel’s Sunrise family to share in this momentous milestone in their lives.”
Even gay couples have been married at senior living. In September of 2013, Veteran Home residents John Banvard, a WW2 vet, and Gerard Nadeau, a Vietnam vet, partners for over 20 years, were married in Chula Vista, Calif. in the first ever gay wedding at a VA home. The facility director admitted that the wedding made some residents uncomfortable, but he was able to alleviate any controversy at the community: “”I told them they have the right to get married here just like everybody else.”
Of course love doesn’t always mean romance. A good friend can be just important as a romantic partner. An aphorism penned by French philosopher Francois de La Rochefoucauld says, “However rare true love may be, true friendship happens even rarer.”
Platonic friendships can be just as loving as romantic relationships, and they also blossom at senior communities. My own grandmother, a widow with moderate dementia resides at an assisted living community in the Seattle area. Her first months at the community were rough, and our family was concerned about how poorly she was adjusting initially. Losing her husband (my grandfather) was really hard on her, and she resented senior living because she perceived it as a loss of freedom and independence. That all changed when she made a new a remarkable friendship that turned her life around at the community.
Over games of Scrabble, she became close friends with an African American woman named Tia who was a Southern civil rights activist in the 1960s. My grandmother, who is white, grew up in a small West coast fishing town that lacked cultural diversity. I was so delighted and touched that my 90 something year-old grandmother had bonded with someone who came from a different background and changed her world view.
Last year on Valentine’s day, my grandmother and Tia (who has no living family of her own) gave my young daughter a quilt that they had made collaboratively. They are now inseparable, and it’s a touching reminder that one is never too old to open their mind or make a new friend. My own family considers Tia family now, and we credit her with helping my grandmother adjust to her new life.
Another touching story from a few months ago occurred at Ashwood Senior Living in Frankfort, Kentucky. At that community, all new residents are asked about an unfulfilled wish upon moving to the community. The staff tries to make that wish come true. One new resident, Ruth Sullivan, said she had always wanted a proper bridal gown. When she was married in 1946, she was clad in “a blue wool dress trimmed with black grosgrain ribbon,” which didn’t really suit her fancy tastes. She wanted an opportunity to wear that bridal gown she had always dreamed of, a dream that the community helped fulfill. She tried on three dresses, eventually choosing “a short-sleeved full-length David’s Bridal design.” While she was disappointed her late husband couldn’t be with her physically, she was confident he was there in spirit, and she got to share the special moment with other family members, “With son Tim on her arm and flowers in her hands, she posed for photos with her bridesmaids: two friends from Ashwood. Her flower girl was her great-granddaughter, Rhys Staples, age seven.”
Do you know any assisted living love stories? We welcome your comments below.