The first time Shirley saw Len, he was dressed to impress in the cowboy duds he wore as part of his one-man country western show. She and a friend had gone to the local radio station to see a bunch of singing groups perform, and there was this good-looking fellow playing his guitar and yodelling his country songs.
“She thought he was pretty cute,” laughs Gail as Shirley recounts the story of her first glimpse of the dapper cowboy who she would marry and live a wonderful life with for 72 years.
The sepia-toned photo of a young Len in his western garb with a twinkle in his eye hangs prominently in the living room of the suite they shared at Magnolia Gardens. It’s been two years since Len and Shirley moved into their ground floor suite apartment that borders on the lush gardens and sparkling pond in the back courtyard. They loved it immediately.
“I was very happy to move here,” says Shirley. “Everybody is just so nice, and it’s a wonderful place to be.” Len loved it too. “He was well-liked here, with all his jokes,” she recalls fondly. “He made lots of friends.”
Sadly Len’s health deteriorated in the months after they moved and eventually Shirley and Gail were no longer able to look after his needs. It was a relief to be able to move Len into a private room in the Care Centre, just a short walk down the hall from the suite he had shared with Shirley.
“In the last few days of Dad’s life, mom couldn’t have coped with all his needs,” Gail admits. “To have the Care Centre right here was amazing, Mom was able to go to him any time, and it was so special that his friends could come and visit him.”
“It was such a gift, and a privilege, to be able to support Shirley and Gail as Len’s life came to an end,” shares Sue Wilson, Director of Care. “Shirley was able to rest in between visits safe in the knowledge that Len was safe. She was able to be with Len right up until the very end, which was so very important for her, and us.”
Family and friends surrounded Len in his last days, and that was a bright spot in the midst of his wife and daughter’s shared grief. Len wanted that kind of peace for Shirley too; he wanted her to continue to live in the place that brought them joy. “At the end,” says Shirley recounts, “he said to me, ‘Don’t you move from there. You stay there.’” Gail chimes in, “He needed the comfort of knowing that his wife was safe. I think it just speaks volumes of their love for one another.”
Pam Murphy, who has run the day to day operations at Magnolia Gardens for 17 years resonates with the need for couples to stay together as their needs change. “This is very personal for me. When my parents moved into a seniors environment they required different levels of care, but after 70 years of marriage, separation would have been traumatic for them, “ she says. “I understand how comforting it is for couples like Len and Shirley to have their needs met under the same roof.”
Gail takes her own comfort in knowing that her mom is living in a place where she is happy, well cared for. “I know she’s safe here. And this place simplifies life for her,” she says. “She still tidies and does things around the house, but living here helps her save her strength for the important things.”
As she nears her 89th birthday, Shirley is full of laughter, grace and kindness; looking for opportunities to make new friends and share joyful moments with people she loves. “I admire her,” says Gail proudly. “It’s a huge privilege for me to help Mom and Dad run their race, I have no regrets.” And Gail is thrilled to entrust the care of her mom to the team at Magnolia Gardens, a place they both love.
“You can’t find another place like this,” says Shirley with conviction, “I like everything about it, and especially the people!” And then, with a twinkle in her eye that would have made Len proud, she proclaims, “I give it a Big Number One, and I give it ten stars!”