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New West couples renew their love

Royal City Manor hosts wedding vow renewal ceremony
Royal City Manor
Frank and Gerry Gardiner were one of five couples who took part in a wedding vow renewal ceremony at Royal City Manor on June 20. They'll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July.

Frank and Gerry Gardiner’s marriage has taken them through good times and bad, sickness and health – and they’re still smiling.

The Gardiners will be marking their 50th wedding anniversary in July, but they celebrated their marital milestone by renewing their wedding vows on June 20 at Royal City Manor.

“I just wanted to do it. I was shooting for July actually, until this came along,” Frank told the Record. “It’s something I’ve thought about for years, that we’d renew sometime or other. Things came together.”

Along with the Gardiners, four other couples living at Royal City Manor renewed their wedding vows at the recent celebration: Ernie and Susan Sochasky (45 years); David and Mavis Wilson (60 years); George and Clarice White (65 years); and Ken and Eileen MacLean (68 years).

Frank and Gerry married 50 years ago in North Burnaby, after meeting when he was slinging beer at a Legion in Burnaby. It wasn’t long before the lovebirds decided to marry.

“We both look at each other and think, ‘Well jeez, where did the time go?’” Frank says.

Gerry moved to Royal City Manor after falling and breaking her hip; Frank followed, after suffering an aneurism and going through a long rehabilitation that included learning to walk again. They were pleased to be reunited at the long-term care facility in New Westminster.

“At least now that we are together, life is easier to take than it was,” he says. “She puts it this way, ‘You’re my buddy’ and I agree with her. We are buddies.”

Gerry, 77, is grateful she’s able to live in the same home as her 75-year-old.

“I wouldn’t be without him,” Gerry smiles.

Shannon Johnson, director of care, says keeping couples together fits with Royal City Manor’s “person-centred care” philosophy. She notes that couples are often split up when they go into long-term care.

“Can you imagine living at Royal City Manor and your wife is living at Deltaview and you’ve been together 50 years?” Johnson asks. “I find couples live longer when they are together. The average lifespan across the country in long-term care is 1.5 years. Our facility is 4.75 years. We are triple the average here. I truly believe it’s from keeping couples together and encouraging residents and families to be together and minimizing poly-pharmacy.”

In an effort to keep couples together, Royal City Manor sometimes moves other residents – with con-sent from them and their families. As part of its person-centre care philosophy, the long-term care facility strives to create an environment that’s as much like home as possible.

“Person-centred care is about finding out what that person likes,” Johnson says. “If someone was into hobby trains, let’s get them out and involved in that. Don’t make them like something. If someone was on a farm all their life and was up at five in the morning, why are you making them stay in bed until seven?

“If someone was up watching TV every night until two in the morning, why when they come into care would we force them to go to bed at six at night? That’s not quality of care. That’s not giving people choice, that’s directing what’s best for the staff.”

Royal City Manor is currently home to 165 residents aged 26 to 104, with about 85 per cent of them having some form of cognitive impairment.

Many of the home’s residents attended the June 20 wedding vow renewal ceremony that took place in the courtyard.

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, staff and residents at Royal City Manor were busy making bouquets and headbands for the ladies and boutonnieres for the men, and pouf paper flower decorations.

“It’s about feeling good,” Johnson says. “No matter whether you have cognitive impairment or not, you still need touch, you still need love, you still need companionship. These people happen to be married and renewing their vows.”

If couples expressed a desire to participate in the wedding vow renewal ceremony but changed their mind on the big day, they were not compelled to take part.

“With cognitive impairment you have good days and you have bad days,” Johnson explains. “You have moments with more lucidity, and some with less. It depends on the type of dementia.”

Royal City Manor hopes to hold another event next year.

“They may not remember it the next day, but for the moment in time they are special,” said Leslie Torresan, manager of recreation. “Their love is being cherished and celebrated. Most of them will remember.”

On the big day, residents and children of residents served in the wedding procession in Royal City Manor’s courtyard, which was decorated for the occasion.

Surrounded by family and friends from Royal City Manor, five couples renewed their vows and enjoyed a post-ceremony celebration that included toasts, cake and entertainment.

In the weeks leading up to the ceremony, Torresan met with the couples and learned a bit about lives and their marriage, and enjoyed watching their eyes light up as they reflected on their lives together.  Snippets of those stories were read out at the wedding vow renewal ceremony.

 “There is no secret,” David Wilson told Torresan. “We love each other, and that’s all there is to it.”

Torresan has been involved with similar ceremonies at other facilities and was pleased to help get one going at Royal City Manor.

“If after we do this and one of them was to pass, they have this,” she says. “They’ll have the memories.”

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