Toronto couple reunited for 14th wedding anniversary after spending nearly half their marriage apart

An elderly Toronto couple spent their 14th wedding anniversary hand-in-hand after health issues and skyrocketing wait-lists for long-term care facilities have kept them apart for nearly half their marriage.

Karl Froehr and Jen Brown are fighting to be together amid lengthy wait-lists for long-term care

Jennifer Brown, 79, and husband Karl Froehr, 87, celebrated their 14th wedding anniversary together after spending nearly half their marriage apart. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

An elderly Toronto couple spent their 14th wedding anniversary hand-in-hand after health issues and skyrocketing wait-lists for long-term care facilities have kept them apart for nearly half their marriage.

"It's just not acceptable, especially at our age," said Jennifer Brown.

Their story, first reported in the Toronto Star, pointed out the complexity of long-term health care for some older couples.  CBC News spoke to the couple to learn more about their plight.

"We get very lonely. We miss each other terribly." 

Brown and her husband, Karl Froehr, have been married since 2003 but have been a couple for more than three decades.

The Toronto husband and wife say their only wish is to spend their remaining years together. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Froehr, 87, has lived in long-term care since a severe stroke in early 2012 left him requiring round-the-clock care. 

Brown, 79, lives in a downtown co-op, and comes across town once a week by the TTC's Wheel-Trans service to spend time with her husband — a routine they're tired of. 

"When you've lived together for almost 30 years, their absence is searing," said Brown. 

"Oh, it's horrendous, just horrendous," added Froehr in tears.  

Brown has been on a priority waiting list since January to join her husband at Lakeside Long-Term Care Centre, but doesn't know when she will be accepted there, if ever. 

"It really is extremely difficult," said Brown.

"We just became so used to having somebody there to talk to throughout the day, to watch a movie or show together. We were just joined at the hip."

Jennifer Brown and Karl Froehr were married in 2003. (Submitted by Jennifer Brown)

The couple met at an airport terminal as they both waited for a flight to New York. 

"There's a tap on my shoulder and there's this, believe it, totally gorgeous man who says to me, 'Excuse me, but I think we both work at the same place,'" Brown recalled. 

But it was many years before they finally became a couple.

"When we finally did meet again, we never looked back," she said. 

'I may not be around'

Their wish on their wedding anniversary is simple — to see more of each other. 

"All we want is to be together," she explained, adding they communicate best when they're holding hands and looking at one another because the stroke affected Froehr's movements and his speech. 

"I'd like to see more of her," he said. 

Karl Froehr, left, has been living in long-term care since he had a stroke in 2012. (Submitted by Jennifer Brown)

The wait time to get into Lakeside can reach as much as 20 months.

However, their case is likely to be given priority given their circumstances.

"Nobody can tell me when it might be," she said. "It could be a few weeks or it could be a few years. I may not be around." 

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says it is developing a solution to end unpredictable wait times for spouses in a move that will reunite them sooner. 

Spokesperson Mark Nesbitt said in an email statement to CBC Toronto, "the ministry is proposing to designate a small number of 'reunification priority access' beds in every long-term care home" that would create more space for spouses who meet the criteria for care. 

"Prioritization on the waiting list for reunification priority access beds would rank those separated the longest at the top of the waiting list," he said. 

Officials are currently drafting legislation to amend the Long-Term Care Homes Act, Nesbitt added.  

"We love each other. We enjoy each other's company, but we want more of it," said Brown. 

This story has been edited from its original version. Portions of it did not meet CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.


Amara McLaughlin

Producer, CBC News

Amara McLaughlin is a social producer with CBC News, CBC Marketplace and The Fifth Estate in Toronto.

With files from Lorenda Reddekopp