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The holidays can be a lovely, vibrant time, but they can also be a lonely time, especially for grandparents or older adults who have recently experienced loss. At The Springs Living, a senior housing community, being surrounded by family and friends helps makes the holidays a happier, although reflective, time. It can also be a time of unexpected romance, as lovebirds Barb and Chuck found out.
Barbara Taylor is a world traveler, having spent much of her life moving between various countries and never tiring of meeting new people. When her husband died in 2005 after 57 years of marriage and a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, Barbara knew she needed to structure the next phase of her life in a way that would put her in touch with others. After being her husband’s primary caretaker for several years, she says, “I had to be somewhere that I could take better care of myself.”
Barbara chose to move to The Springs at Carman Oaks in Lake Oswego, for opportunities for social interaction. “The loneliness was hard after my husband passed, and it continued to be a challenge when I first moved here. But there are so many social events, I can’t seem to live without being involved in people’s lives.”
It was fitting for Barbara to become chair of the welcoming committee, where she helps new residents settle in — many of whom may have recently lost a spouse or are coming from another state to be closer to their children. “There’s a lot of listening and checking in,” she says.
Erin Christ, resident relations manager, connects with residents regularly. “During the hardest times, when a loved one passes, we help in any way we can. It’s a naturally overwhelming process,” Christ says. She adds, “The holidays can be especially hard. There’s no set time period for grief.”
Chuck Bushey was one such resident, when his wife of 59 years passed away. “Anyone has a hard time adjusting, but you just have to recognize this as a new stage of your life, go on from there and develop new aspects of it,” he says. Having always enjoyed swimming, he started doing it three times a week as a sort of therapy in the wake of his loss. (Chuck has since won three national championships in his age bracket.)
A few months after his wife passed, Chuck was given a free ticket to a performance at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. When he stepped onto the bus that would take residents to the show, he found the last available seat next to Barbara.
“I was floored when this man got on the bus, as I’d never seen him before,” says Barbara. “I thought I knew everyone here.” They talked all the way to the concert. “I didn’t expect to hear from him, but somehow he got my phone number and called to invite me to the pool he swam at.”
“I don’t often remember names, but I remembered hers,” says Chuck. “I would have been persistent either way,” he adds, with a sparkle in his eye as he looks to Barbara.
The two began going to the pool together and became friends. Slowly, their feelings grew beyond friendship. Two years ago, when Chuck was 91 and Barbara 82, they exchanged vows. “We were very lucky to meet, and for our friendship to grow into love,” says Barbara as she reaches out for Chuck’s hand. “I really get a kick out of him, and feel so fortunate.”
The couple are as enamored with each other as you’d expect any newlywed couple to be. “I always look forward to seeing her, learning about her and sharing things with her, and I want to do that for the rest of my life,” says Chuck.
The two have successfully merged different lives. World-traveler Barbara has a knack for meeting new people, while Chuck lived for 45 years in a house he built, plays bridge and sticks to a regular swimming regimen. “We’re different people with different tastes, and yet we make it work,” says Chuck.
“People say it’s a different chapter in your life. But I say it’s a different book,” says Barbara. “We do have disagreements and I’m comfortable telling him how I like things.”
“And I have to give in—except when I don’t,” laughs Chuck.
“The thing that makes it work is that we love each other,” says Barbara. “We are blessed to be where we are.”
While Barbara and Chuck are writing a new “book” of life together, the holidays are a time for them and their fellow residents, friends and family to celebrate, reflect and give thanks, within a supportive community.
Julie Beals is a local writer.