New Brunswick

'He just can't get enough of her': Saint John couple stay connected through window visits

After 67 years of marriage, nothing can keep Clarence and Freda Dempster apart, not even a global pandemic.

In four years, Clarence Dempster has only missed two visits with his wife Freda

A nurse at Kennebec Manor in Saint John took a photo of the couple on a recent visit. Their daughter, Nancy, says 'it looks like he is holding my mom.' (Nancy Dempster/Submitted )

After 67 years of marriage, nothing can keep Clarence and Freda Dempster apart, not even a global pandemic.

Freda lives in the Kennebec Manor, a nursing home in Millidgeville. As a precaution against COVID-19, the home has suspended in-person visits.

But that hasn't stopped Clarence from visiting Freda through the window. 

Every day, he comes by her window at 1 p.m. with a lawn chair, and the two smile and wave. Clarence even sings to her, loud enough so Freda can hear him through the glass.

Every day now, Clarence sits outside the window at the Kennebec Manor to see his wife Freda. (Sandra Cormier/Submitted)

"He just can't get enough of her," said their daughter Sandra Cormier.

Clarence, 90, and Freda 86, will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in August.

"My dad's birthday is one day, the anniversary the next day, and then four days later it's mom's birthday, so they've always had that closeness," said Cormier.

"We always say, if anything happens to mom, we know he's going to go right after."

Together, the couple have 7 children, 20 grandchildren, and over 30 great-grandchildren, said Cormier, and they also fostered children too.

"Growing up you know we ever needed something they would jump in and do their part. Not only the love for us, their own children, but the love that they showed to the foster children," said Cormier.

Clarence sings to wife, Freda

NB

1 year ago
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Clarence Dempster sings his wife, Freda's favourite song through the window. After 67 years together, two lovebirds are separated due to COVID-19. 0:46

The Saint John couple met at the Beatty Brothers, a department store where they were both working, and they have been inseparable ever since.

"She's always been his number one," said Cormier.

Cormier says her mom has a form of Parkinson's disease. After a series of bad falls in 2016 and 2017 that landed her in the hospital, she was put in a wheelchair, and then eventually in a nursing home, where she could receive better care.

Now, Freda has been in the nursing home for almost three years.

Freda and Clarence will celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary in August. (Nancy Dempster/Submitted)

"That was very, very tough for him, it still is tough to this day," said Cormier.

"He has left the nursing home in tears at times," she said. 

Cormier says her father has only missed going to visit her twice — once when there was bad weather, and another when the nursing home had to shut its doors during a flu virus outbreak. It's a fact he's very proud of.

Freda and Clarence dressed up for Halloween celebrations at the Kennebec Manor. (Nancy Dempter/Submitted)

"Just the love between the two of them, it's very touching." 

Staff at Kennebec Manor have gotten to know Clarence well. He celebrates holidays there with Freda, like Halloween and New Year's, and would take part in weekly bingo nights.

"Bingo was their thing," said Cormier.

Freda and Clarence share a New Year's Eve kiss at the Kennebec Manor. Their daughter Sandra says 'he just can't get enough of her.' (Nancy Dempster/Submitted)

Clarence would spend six hours at the nursing home every day since, even when the roads were bad.

Cormier says the nurses taking care of Freda are in some ways, both impressed and envious. 

"They'll go 'You don't realize how much he loves you, you know,'" she said. "Some people never see anybody, and you have him every day."

"She's very lucky." 

Cormier says her father was upset when he learned he wouldn't be able to visit Freda in person, and was hesitant to have his first visit with her through a window.

(Nancy Dempster/Submitted)

"I mean it gets tough on him. It's tough on her," she said. 

But now, she said it's become a part of his daily routine again.

With COVID-19 evolving and changing every day, Cormier isn't sure when Clarence will be able to hold Freda in his arms again.

"That's the sad thing is having no end in sight," said Cormier.

"I know they need to be together. Right now it can't happen but it will happen again."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Danielle McCreadie is a web reporter at CBC Fredericton. She graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax, and is originally from Alberta.

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