February 14 — Valentine’s Day — is the designated day of love.
And while lovers around the world celebrate with grand gestures, flowers, cards and chocolates, closer to home there are people demonstrating their commitment with an enduring devotion to one another.
Weekend Life met three couples at Menarock Life Aged Care in Shepparton, all of whom have very different stories. But they all have one common theme — age and ill-health has not diminished their love, or their capacity to care.
ROBERT (MACCA) MCDONALD AND JUDY LLOYD
A shared interest in country music was the first thing Macca, 74, and Judy, 77, realised they had in common.
That was six months ago, when Macca first moved into the Shepparton facility, and since then they have been inseparable.
Proving that love is possible at any age, they spend their time talking, enjoying music, watching television — Judge Judy is a favourite — and walking arm-in-arm around the complex.
The staff and some of the other residents call them ‘the love birds’ but they don’t mind.
“Well I do love him,” Judy said.
“It just makes me feel proud,” Macca added.
Judy was married for 30 years before she and her husband divorced, and is a mother of two, grandmother of six and great-grandmother of two, while Macca never married but had a long-term partner who passed away.
“We both feel really lucky to have found that (love) again,” Macca said.
“We love the country music and I used to see Judy around at some of the shows.
“I recognised her when I moved in here, I’ve known her for a while but now I know her better, we’ve been top friends ever since,” he said.
Judy said Macca was kind, loving and “always there for me”.
“He’s my best friend, it’s made me so much happier having someone here every day; my family just love him,” she said.
Macca, who occasionally plays the guitar and sings for the residents, says whenever he’s feeling down he sees Judy and she gets him out of his slump.
“You think about the old times, your family and friends; but then you realise they’re gone but it’s okay because Judy’s here,” he said.
RUTH AND RICKY BOWLES
The life Ruth and Ricky had planned when they married in Mooroopna on May 13, 1978, has panned out very differently, but their story is testament to their vows of ‘in sickness and in health’.
On the day of the youngest of their four children's third birthday, the couple was given the devastating news that Ricky had a brain tumour.
Aged just 32, the intelligent and articulate spare parts salesman underwent brain surgery to remove the tumour, leaving him with a neurological deficit — impacting his short-term memory and making him unable to return to his former workplace.
“Before the surgery Ricky could reel part numbers off the top of his head, but afterwards he couldn’t retain information so found it very hard to learn new things,” Ruth said.
“We’ve since learnt that people who have brain surgery can have a significantly higher risk of dementia, and Ricky was diagnosed with dementia in 2013.”
Unable to return to work after the initial surgery, Ricky pottered around restoring an old car and worked at Connect GV’s Billabong Nursery, and as his health declined, Ruth’s role as his carer became more demanding.
Six years ago, when Ricky was 56, Ruth — now 61 — had little choice but to place him in care.
“I didn’t want to but I just couldn’t care for him at home anymore,” Ruth said.
The grandmother of two now makes weekly visits from her Invergordon home, and while Ricky’s memory is declining he still knows her, and recognises people and places from the past from the old photographs she brings in to show him.
“It’s important to me that I come in here and be happy; have a smile on my face because that makes him happy,” Ruth said.
“His loss of mobility means Ricky has limited use of his arms, but when I came in on Monday I got a hug and that was just amazing.”
Ruth said she didn’t think the care she had given her husband was that remarkable until a nurse pointed out to her that she had been his carer for 20 years.
“He’s my husband, he’s the only one for me, there’s no-one else,” Ruth said.
KEN KNIGHT AND MERV STOKES
The day after Valentine’s Day, on February 15, 72-year-old Ken and 77-year-old Merv will celebrate 36 years together.
For the majority of that time they have lived and worked together — first on Merv’s Katandra dairy farm and later breeding and showing their beloved British Alpine goats.
But all that changed 18 months ago when Ken made the difficult decision to place his partner in care, 12 months after Merv was diagnosed with dementia.
“I battled along at home but he just got too hard to handle,” Ken said.
“It was heartbreaking, I cried for days.”
The separation has been the toughest chapter of their lives together.
“My mum and dad were very old-fashioned, but they not only accepted Merv, they loved him,” Ken said.
“Mum thought the world of him, she would cook him roast dinners and cakes, and Merv was a very knowledgeable man, my dad would sit and talk to him for hours.
“I didn’t meet Merv’s dad, he died before we met, but his mum was very accepting.”
Initially looking for companionship, Ken said they “clicked” when they first met and learnt they had much in common, including farm life and a love of animals.
He said some people were “a bit stand-offish” about their relationship and believes the same-sex marriage laws are a positive step.
“Back then, when I met Merv that (marriage) wasn’t talked about, people frowned upon you,” Ken said.
He visits Merv every day, arriving before noon to help him have lunch and spend the afternoon watching television and keeping him company, usually with their faithful fox terrier Bessie in tow.
“I always bring him in some treats; Merv loves custard tarts and iced donuts, and soft drink,” Ken said.
Some days Merv doesn’t know who Ken is but that doesn’t deter him from his daily visits.
“We’ve had a happy and very full life; we’ve always depended upon each other and stuck together,” Ken said.