A love for the ages: Saskatoon couple's 50-year marriage adapts as husband's MS advances

Carol Mckay’s memories of dancing with her husband — her all-time favourite date night activity — bring a smile to her face, but they also bring tears to her eyes.

Couple struggled to cope when wheelchair made lifelong love of dancing impossible

Carol Mckay says marriage and having children with husband Ross seemed a lot simpler half a century ago, "but maybe we were naive about a lot of things." (Chelsea Laskowski/CBC News)

Carol Mckay's memories of dancing with her husband — her all-time favourite date night activity — bring a smile to her face, but they also bring tears to her eyes.

Sitting side by side, Carol and her husband Ross agree that after 50 years of marriage, the lake dances they used to go to are some of their fondest times together.

But Ross can no longer dance. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 27 years ago, which has advanced to the point that he needs a motorized scooter to get around.

His arms, although weak, still have function. But his legs "are totally useless," he said.

"That was something that was difficult, a difficult hurdle when Ross couldn't dance anymore. And I actually grieved that," Carol said, her voice catching and her face filled with emotion as she spoke.

Dancing has played a big part in their lives. It was the connection she and Ross made more than 54 years ago when they were 17.

Hear Ross and Carol discuss their marriage here:

A lasting love -- it's all most of us hope for. And for couples at a special wedding anniversary this week, it's what they got. The Sherbrooke Community Centre held a grand celebration for residents whose marriages have stood the test of time. 7:29

'I went for the dance and I stayed for the ride'

That connection took root on their very first date at a lake dance out by their hometowns of Whitewood and Burrows, Sask.

The date wasn't your typical romantic meet-cute.

The Sherbrooke Community Centre held a group wedding anniversary to celebrate many of the long marriages of its residents on July 17, including the marriage of Carol and Ross Mckay. (Sherbrooke Community Centre/Facebook)

Ross had moved away but was back for the summer and needed a date for the dance. When his friend suggested that Carol Larson was working late and might join them, Ross didn't even remember who she was.

The two had gone to school together for years, starting in Grade 7, and Ross's forgetfulness wasn't much more promising than what Carol remembered — she recalled Ross as a bit of a bully.

"I really didn't like him much at that time," Carol said with a laugh.

But by the end of the night, the two had hit it off.

"I thought I'd give it a try and, well, I went for the dance and I stayed for the ride," Carol said.

Ross wasn't very good at dancing, but they spent nearly everyday together that summer as Carol taught him the ropes.

"One thing led to another and we've been together for the last 54 years," he said.

Along the way, they took up disco dancing — much to the chagrin of their children — and took any opportunity that they could to get out and dance.

A new normal

Ross now lives at the Sherbrooke Community Centre, an assisted living facility in Saskatoon that houses people with all levels of abilities and all ages.

Decorations lit up the Sherbrooke Community Centre on July 17, as the nursing home held a group wedding anniversary for couples with long-time marriages. (Sherbrooke Community Centre/Facebook)

Ross and Carol don't mince words about the ups and downs of a long marriage. It's a marriage that has involved moving all over Alberta, before Ross retired from working as an RCMP officer, and the death of one of their three children.

"I think choices have to be made along the way: do we want to do this, do we want to continue down this road and go over the bumps and get to the other side?" Carol said, becoming emotional once again.

Ross is beginning to struggle with feeding himself, due to his multiple sclerosis.

"We worked through it. We've had to make some changes," said Ross. "There's definitely things that I — well, we both — miss being able to do. Me because of my physical limitations, and Carol, because I have them."

She was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.- Ross Mckay

They maintain a lightness and joy that is noted by the community centre staff. As Carol has transitioned into a caregiver role, she appreciates how her husband has accepted his condition and stayed jovial, patient and accepting throughout.

Ross's favourite trait of his wife is her forthrightness: how she speaks her mind, but in a considerate way.

"We just have a different, a different type of marriage, a different normal in our marriage than most, a lot of marriages," Carol said.

They say trust and honesty go hand in hand with an enduring marriage.

And the reason Ross asked Carol to marry him remain just as true today.

"She seemed like the most important person in my life," he said. "She was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with."

About the Author

Chelsea Laskowski is a web writer with CBC Saskatoon.