Manitoba

'Don't forget, I love you': Couple married 64 years split apart as husband admitted to care home

A Manitoba couple that has been together for 64 years has been split up as one of them continues to sit on a waitlist weeks after the other was admitted to a care home in Winnipeg.

Lorraine Glenesk on waitlist for weeks to join husband, Syd, in 24-hour care facility

Syd (left) and Lorraine (right) hadn't spent more than a couple days apart in the nearly 65 years they've been married before Syd's recent move, their daughter Kathy Glenesk says. (Kathy Glenesk)

A Manitoba couple that has been together for 64 years has been split up as one of them continues to sit on a waitlist weeks after the other was admitted to a care home in Winnipeg.

"It really hurts to see," Kathy Glenesk, daughter of Syd and Lorraine Glenesk, said Friday.

Syd Glenesk was admitted into Deer Lodge Centre three weeks ago, but his wife Lorraine Glenesk has been unable to make the move with him.

"Don't forget, I love you," Syd said in a family video, viewed 12,000 times in two days on Facebook, while saying goodbye to his wife.

A Manitoba couple that has been together for 65 years has been separated as one of them sits on a waitlist weeks after the other was admitted to a care home in Winnipeg. 0:28

"I won't forget dear," Lorraine responded.

The family is appealing to Deer Lodge to expedite the waiting process so the pair, married in 1952, can be reunited.

'Teary and sad'

"It's very hard not to be teary and sad with them, because we are watching their pain," said Kathy Glenesk. "Everything that they've done has been as a team."

Syd and Lorraine both live with complex health issues. Syd had brain surgery in his 50s and has had problems with his memory ever since. He now has dementia and has relied on Lorraine for years, Kathy Glenesk said.

Lorraine (left) holds Syd's hand (second from right) as the Syd sits on Santa's lap at Christmas. (Kathy Glenesk)

Lorraine has also lived with health challenges for years. She broke her neck in 2009 and relies on a wheelchair to get around, and she was forced to retire from teaching in her 40s when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

"My dad became her physical support," Kathy Glenesk said.

Syd got into Deer Lodge sooner than others in a similar position because he is a veteran, Kathys says, which meant he was given special consideration when it came time for him to enter an assisted-living facility.

"It's very strange after all these years going into an empty apartment by myself," Lorraine said. "There's a lot of things I realized he helped me with just automatically. I had to look around for someone to help."

Fear of losing spot

The couple was first interviewed in September to determine their needs. Kathy said in order for her parents to both eventually end up in the same 24-hour care facility, one of them had to make the transition solo and the other would wait until more space opened up. 

"We've been stating all along that we really wanted them to go together, and even with my dad's dementia he's been saying, 'Wherever she goes, I go,'" Kathy said.

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      "If we waited we would lose a spot, so we just decided that this must be our best way to get them both in faster, but perhaps didn't realize that it would take mom this long," Kathy said, adding the family hasn't been given a firm timeline for when Lorraine can expect to be admitted.

      "For my mom, it's stressful for her and she's very teary and calling us multiple times in the day.… She's worried about him but it's also affecting her health and mental state."

      More separation coming

      Health officials across Canada are bracing for a wave of aging baby boomers who could place a strain on the health and home-care systems in the coming years. Separation stories like the Glenesks', then, are likely to become even more common than they already are, said Verena Menec.

      "Just looking at the demographics, this is going to happen more often," said Menec, a professor in the department of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba. 

      If there is dementia involved, losing that anchor can be a real challenge.- Verena Menec

      "The question will be, 'Will there be a response to that, and what kind of response, given that financial issues are always a problem?'"

      Menec was involved in the Age Friendly Communities research project, which sought to better understand how things like housing and accessibility make life challenging in neighbourhoods for seniors.

      Mental health conditions that develop in old age can have a dramatic effect on couples that are separated, Menec said.

      "If there is dementia involved, losing that anchor can be a real challenge," Menec said. "There could be a confusion when that familiar other is no longer around."

      Gina Trinidad, chief operating officer of long-term care for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, said the priority in these cases is to reunite couples.

      "We don't often have both spouses requiring placement at the same time," Trinidad said. "What we will do is we might prioritize the remaining spouse for placement into that same personal care home and ensure that is done as quickly as possible."

      Before that can be done, Trinidad said health officials have to ensure both people are eligible for personal care-home placement and that the desired facility has enough space free. 

      Trinidad advises families to work with care co-ordinators to facilitate the placement preferences for both spouses, "and to certainly inform us of the importance of them remaining together."

      'She's a good kisser'

      Kathy said she knows what her parents are going through isn't uncommon, and she wants their story to lead to changes in the health-care system.

      "Can we look at this as far as all couples? We don't do this to children, then why is it OK to do this with seniors, because this is very detrimental to both of them," she said.

      "We're hoping that they can look at couples as a unique situation and that we that shouldn't be treating this differently as [a] one person [case]. They are two people that need to be together to keep their social and emotional help sound."

      For now, the family plans to keep taking Lorraine for regular visits to see Syd.

      "I miss her because she's a good kisser," Syd said.​

      A Manitoba couple that has been together for 65 years has been separated as one of them sits on a waitlist weeks after the other was admitted to a care home in Winnipeg. 1:30

      With files from Kim Kaschor, Marcy Markusa and Courtney Rutherford