Covid splits couple married for 50 years this Valentine’s Day

A husband and wife married for "more than 50 years" are just one couple to be cruelly separated this Valentine's Day because of the pandemic.

Millions of couples and families will be celebrating the romantic annual holiday together this year, despite not being able to go out for a celebratory meal or mark it how they usually would.

But almost one year on from when the pandemic started, there will be countless families torn apart by the virus and forced to spend it apart because of social distancing rules.

Here in Merseyside there are many families who have not been able to hug their relatives living in care homes since the pandemic began, with some people unable to even visit their partner this year.

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Care homes and staff have done their best throughout the year to be there for people who can't be with their loved ones on their birthday, Christmas and now Valentine's Day.

John Kelly, manager of Walton Manor Residential and Nursing Home, said: "We've got many married couples whose partners don't live here and they're separated.

"Some of them have been married for their whole life, about 50 years, and it's just tragic and sad they can't be together."

Manager of Walton Manor Residential and Nursing Home, John Kelly, and his team

Terry Stone, from Hoylake, said he has not seen his wife, Marie Merrin, 38, since March 10.

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Mare lives in an Aigburth care home and has Huntingdon's Disease. Terry, 51, said Marie is particularly vulnerable and even if she caught a cold it could be fatal.

The couple have been unable to see each other during the pandemic and won't be able to this Valentine's Day.

Terry said: "I've not seen my wife since the 10th of March last year and I miss her so much every day.

"Her home opened up for a couple of weeks [and] they were doing the visits outside in the cold. Because of my wife's condition, if she got a cold or any other infection, it could kill her.

"She [and] I made the very hard decision not to visit."

Despite the couple's best efforts, Marie contracted coronavirus in April and Terry was told the risk was too great to send Marie to hospital as they would "keep her comfortable" at the care home, if her health was to deteriorate.

He said: "That was the worst time in my entire life, luckily she just got through it.

"I can't wait for the day I see her again. Putting Marie in care was the hardest thing I've ever done, I tried caring for her at home but her needs were more than I could give her.

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"I made her a promise I'd always make sure she is happy and safe. Everyday I wish I could have saved her from Covid-19. The only good thing was she pulled through."

Facing an incredibly tough year, Terry said he couldn't have got through these difficult times without the dedication of the carers in Marie's home.

He said: "The staff and managers at her home have been amazing. They have been following the rules and before the lockdown they were not just looking after Marie, but they were looking after residents' families as well.

"To be honest with you, if it was not for the support I got from all the staff I don't think I would have coped."

Nursing staff Clap for Carers at Whiston Hospital.(Pic Andrew Teebay).

Anthony Ainsworth's parents both lived in Walton Manor Care Home and he said it was important to the family they could be together.

Sadly, Anthony's dad, Tony Ainsworth, 68, died two years ago, before the pandemic.

Mum Ann, 66, is still receiving what Anthony called "amazing care" at Walton Manor, but he is one of many people to still be separated from a relative.

His family, who he said are very close, won't be able to see Ann, from Anfield, on Valentine's Day either and in the last year they've only been able to communicate through a screen.

Anthony, 39, said: "When you're a family as close as we are, we used to do everything together and we'd see them every day.

"The only way we've been able to see her [Ann] is behind a plastic screen. I know some people get angry that you can't get into see loved ones, but there's rules in place for a reason and we've got to consider that.

"But don't get me wrong, we've absolutely missed her so much. Even though the dementia has a grip of my mum, we know and she knows we've been.

"We used to go and see her every day, it was what we did.

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"Christmas was pretty sad, because we're a very close family as I say. She used to have Christmas dinner with us and even if she didn't know what was going on, we did. It just wasn't the same."

Ann has recently received her first dose of the vaccine, Anthony said, and although he can't physically see her like he used to, the care she's received has helped the family get through a challenging year.

He said: "I can't fault that care home and it's down to John Kelly and the staff, I'd go as far to say they're like family.

"Even if you've got a problem that's not concerning someone in the home, you can ring them and talk to them just about anything or what's on your mind.

"They'll do video calls [with residents] and you can ring up 20 times a day, there's no fuss and there's constant contact.

John Kelly said he's worked at Walton Manor for six years, but the last year has been "very difficult".

John said: "It's just been so dark, it feels like we're holding people here.

"I'm not sure if that's the right word to use, but it's just been so sad.

"I have to be careful with my words when I say people don't have choices any more, because we live in a society where we do have choices.

"I know we've all had our choices taken away, but in particular for people who can't get out themselves there hasn't been a single person here who's said 'I think this has been a good idea for us not to see our families'.

"They've all said that it should be their choice. And that's been the hard part, because it feels like we've taken away choice from them."

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He added: "We've done everything we can and I've obviously followed the procedures and our city council have tried their best. There's many good things in place so people can see their relatives, and there's testing involved now.

"But I've got many families who haven't seen their relatives for nearly a year now."

Included in the people cared for, John said there was a married couple who were "inseparable" living together, but also couples who've been married for "50 years" who are living apart and unable to visit each other.

The staff have "tried everything they can" this year though, including video calls and special treats in the care home to mark special occasions.

John added: "We've let people have a little tipple together on their birthdays, we've got little drinks we can offer people.

"And we can book people in for WhatsApp calls. It's making the best of whatever we can do."

All residents at the care home have now been vaccinated, which John said is "the light at the end of the tunnel" looking forward.

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