On July 16, Jack and Gerry Eccles in Durham, North Carolina, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with their family.
The event had a lot of the trappings you would expect of an anniversary party: There was a cake, of course, along with a photo of the couple from their wedding, and some of their nine kids, 20 grandkids and 24 great-grandkids were “in attendance.”
But there were some differences, too, that anyone trying to celebrate any major milestone in the past few months has encountered, especially since the Eccleses were in lockdown inside Hillcrest Convalescent Center.
The couple’s daughter and her husband held up an iPad outside the window, helping orchestrate the Zoom conference while the couple sat in the lobby and ate their cake. The event lasted around an hour and ended with a special message relayed by Jack.
“Mommie said something,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “I’m sure it was, ‘I love you guys.'”
This moment almost didn’t take place, as the center where Gerry lives shut down on March 12 and stopped allowing visitors. But 93-year-old Jack wasn’t about to let that get in the way of seeing his bride.
On March 12, when he showed up at Hillcrest Convalescent Center to make his usual visit, he was turned away. On March 13, he returned with some belongings and rented a room.
“We’re married,” he explained. “I want to be with her. She took care of me for 70 years, and now it’s my turn.”
As one of their children, Genece McChesney, said, “they were never apart” — and that wasn’t going to start now.
While the center was willing to rent Jack a room, it wasn’t without restrictions. Jack has to limit himself to his wife’s room or — occasionally — the lobby when he’s not in his own quarters.
He admits he hasn’t seen the sun much these last few months and spends a lot of time alone, but it’s worth it to be able to be close to his wife.
It wasn’t just about getting to see his wife, either. Jack was concerned that without him around, Gerry might stop eating and her health would decline — all while he was “outside” and unable to do anything.
He now feeds his wife her meals, and the staff has noticed a change in her demeanor. Olivia Jacobs, one of the center’s dieticians, said that his presence is a unique benefit that they can’t replicate.
“That’s something we can’t do,” Jacobs said. “We haven’t been with her for 70 years.”
“He’s always having a good day, he’s always happy to see her. … He’s with his love, and that’s where he wants to be.”
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