'Saddest photo I have ever taken.' Seniors heartbroken by nursing home separation
Published Thursday, August 25, 2016 8:47AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, August 25, 2016 2:02PM EDT
After more than six decades of marriage, an elderly couple in Surrey, B.C. is being forced to live apart because of a lack of space at the same care home. And their family is concerned the couple's heartbreak is only worsening their failing health.
Wolf and Anita Gottschalk have been married since 1954, rarely spending time apart, says their granddaughter Ashley Bartyik.
"After 62 years together, they're inseparable. They do everything together,” she says.
But for the past eight months, the Gottschalks have had to live in separate care homes.
Wolf is on a waitlist to move into nursing home where his wife is cared for, called The Residence at Morgan Heights, but the Fraser Health Authority can't say when that will happen.
So for now, the couple spends their days missing each other. Every second day, family members drive Anita 30 minutes to see her husband. But each of these reunions inevitably ends in tears.
“My grandma can't even kiss him goodnight now. He calls out for her when he sees her,” says Bartyik.
She recently posted a photo to Facebook of the despondent couple, crying in a visiting room, that has now been shared nearly 3,000 times.
“They cry every time they see each other, and it is heartbreaking,” she writes in the post, calling it “the saddest photo I have ever taken.”
Adding to the heartache is the fact that Wolf is in the early stages of dementia. And on Tuesday, the family found out he also has lymphoma.
Bartyik hoped her photo would be shared 100 times on Facebook; instead, it’s been shared nearly 3,000 times.
She told CTV News Channel Thursday she has also received close to 200 private messages from strangers. Some have thanked her for speaking up about this problem; others have offered tips and suggestions to work through the system and get some answers.
Bartyik says she hoped the photo would get noticed.
“I wanted the world to see what we see every two days when we bring my grandmother to see my grandfather – the raw emotion, the sadness, the anger,” she said.
With Wolf needing much more care than Anita, it’s not clear whether his wife’s nursing home will be able to accommodate him. Fraser Health says it has been working to get the couple together, but notes that not a single care space has opened up at The Morgan since Anita moved in.
“We certainly understand how heartbreaking this is for the family. It’s upsetting for us as well,” spokeswoman Tasleem Juma told CTV News in an email.
“We continue to work to reunite this couple and hope to do so in the next few weeks,” she added.
Bartyik says while she’s heard from several MLAs who have told her they want to help and that they are disgusted with how her family has been treated, she still hasn’t heard directly from Fraser Health.
“They haven’t reached out at all to us,” she said.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Ben Miljure