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Seniors show it’s never too late to fall in love

Some go on dates, park wheelchairs next to each other
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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As people get older, they must often give up activities they once enjoyed.

For Leona Schmitt, aging meant a bad hip, which means she and beau Bud Lambert can no longer go ballroom dancing. They also don’t golf anymore.

“Some things go by the wayside,” Lambert, 89, said.

But one thing he and Schmitt, 95, haven’t abandoned with old age is their ability to love. They’ve been together 14 years, having become friends following the deaths of their spouses. A year ago, they moved to the Sierra Pointe senior living facility in Roseville.

Loving later in life may not be as vibrant as young love, Schmitt said, but it still offers needed companionship and emotional intimacy. Senior couples, though, tend to avoid re-marrying, said Sierra Pointe Activities Director Tom Gray.

With aging, comes physical and mental impairments that often lead to a senior’s family becoming the responsible party. Re-marrying complicates this arrangement: Which family becomes the responsible one? Marrying also may cause problems with pensions and inheritances.

As for Schmitt and Lambert, even as their love grew, they kept their own houses and independence. They never married.

“But it didn’t interfere with our closeness,” Schmitt said.

Gray estimates there are about eight couples living in Sierra Pointe. Some moved there as partners, while others built relationships after their arrival.

Companionship leads to socialization, intellectual exchange and involvement in the community.

“It gives them a whole new reason for living,” Gray said. “It combats loneliness and isolation. Companionship is a wonderful thing and we try to encourage it.”

But they don’t overdo it. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, staff may decorate but that’s about it. A few years ago, they hosted a vow renewal for residents, but Gray said several people in the audience ended up crying — and these weren’t tears of joy.

“In some ways, Valentine’s Day is a happy time and, on the other hand, for a lot of people it brings up bad memories (of deceased spouses),” Gray said.

Residents Alex Ippolito, 66, and Joan Kopecko, 92, met in the lobby of Sierra Pointe. Neither liked staying in their rooms, so they’d hang out in the communal space and eventually began parking their wheelchairs next to one another.

They hold hands, and sometimes Ippolito’s hand “wanders,” Gray said.

As for Schmitt and Lambert, their friendship dates back to the late 1960s, when they moved with their spouses to Rocklin and lived on the same street. Her husband died in 1988 and his wife died in 1994.

“He had a little dog that he walked back and forth in front of my house,” Schmitt said. “One day, he said, ‘How’d you like to go to dinner?’”

So they went to the McClellan Officer’s Club. The following week, they went for a drive in the hills.

“Right from the beginning, we hit it off,” Schmitt said. “We just kept doing things.”

That includes a trip to Hawaii, cruises, boat rides down the American River, ballroom dancing, golf and more. Now they do Bingo, exercise and attend special events like a recent Super Bowl party. They always eat lunch and dinner together.

They also enjoy visits from family. Both have grown children and Schmitt has 19 great grandchildren.

“They’ve been very kind to us, because they see we get along nicely,” Schmitt said.

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.