Anita and Wolf Gottschalk are 81 and 82, respectively, and have been married for 62 years and have never been apart; that is until now.
A picture of Mr. and Mrs. Gottschalk holding hands and crying has gone viral and sparked a debate after it was shared on Facebook by their granddaughter, Ashley Bartyik.
The photo, which was titled the “saddest photo I have ever taken,” showed the elderly couple, Wolf Gottschalk in a wheelchair wiping away tears while Anita Gottschalk is on a sofa doing the same.
That heartbreaking scene of Anita and Wolf Gottschalk saying goodbye, weeping, and feeling hopeless takes place every day. The reason? Canada’s health-care bureaucracy.
For the past eight months, they have been living in separate nursing homes, prompting Miss Bartyik to drive over an hour every day so Anita Gottschalk can see her husband, who has now been diagnosed with lymphoma in addition to his dementia. The routine goes like this.
Mrs. Gottschalk picks up Boston cream doughnuts and mocha coffee, brings them to the man she loves, they talk, listen to German music and they cry when it is time to say goodbye. Why aren’t they in the same nursing home?
In January, after Mr. Gottschalk was hospitalized for congestive heart failure, he was taken to Yale Road Centre, a transitional facility. It was supposed to be a brief stay, but due to other health issues and because he was hospitalized numerous times again, Fraser Health Authority was not able to move him to Residences at Morgan Heights where Anita Gottschalk is staying.
The family has been pleading with officials at Residences at Morgan Heights to help them with the matter, in vain. Bartyik said that health workers deemed her grandfather too sick to go home to his wife. The granddaughter stated she is confused because the complex is set up for residents like her grandfather, who have health needs, so she has no idea why they will not take him. Bartyik shared:
“My grandfather needs more complex care, so he will have a nurse with him, whereas my grandmother doesn’t need that. Morgan Heights offers both under the same roof. She could tuck him into bed at night and then go back to her room.”
Tired of watching her grandparent cry every day, Bartyik wrote a lengthy post on Facebook and asked her family and friends to repost it so Fraser Health Authority would reunite the two lovers. She got more than a few reposts; the story went viral, and millions of people worldwide have read it.
The young woman received hundreds of messages with some wanting to donate money, and few New Yorkers even offered to put her grandparents up in a private home. Bartyik said she appreciated all the suggestions, but she wants the couple to stay in Canada because this is the place they call home. She explained:
“They married in Germany in 1954, after knowing each other just three months. They soon moved to Canada to look for work and along the way found a welcoming home. In a small town near Vancouver, they built a life and raised a family, organized events for the German multicultural society and earned a reputation for their excellent dancing. They camped with their grandchildren and celebrated anniversaries as a family.”
A spokeswoman from Fraser Health released a statement after the PR nightmare begun. It said:
“The challenge with the Gottschalks is that the options for nursing home placement are limited because Anita has already moved into a facility, the Residence at Morgan Heights, which currently has no open beds. Fraser Health asked the family to consider moving Anita and Wolf into a different home, but they wanted to keep them at Morgan Heights.”
After days of bad media coverage, a woman from Fraser Health finally called Bartyik to say that Mr. Gottschalk had been moved to the top of the list. The woman stated that they are working tirelessly, but couldn’t offer a concrete timeline on the move. A spokeswoman for Fraser added:
“This is a heartbreaking situation for the family, and it’s quite upsetting for us as well.We are committed to reuniting the couple and we hope to do so within the next few weeks.”
Here is the viral Facebook post:
“Friends please read! This is The saddest photo I have ever taken. This is my Omi and my Opi. As you can see they are both wiping away tears! But why? It was taken in Surrey at Yale road, a transitional facility for people waiting to get into nursing homes, that’s where my Opi is! After 62 years together in marriage they have been separated for 8 months due to backlogs and delays by our health care system, whom have the power to have my grandpa moved to the same care facility as my grandmother. They cry every time they see each other, and it is heartbreaking. To make it worse, TODAY he was diagnosed with Lymphoma. Besides that limiting his time and making this more urgent, His Dementia is growing ever stronger each day, but his memory of my grandmother has not faded a inch…yet. We are afraid however that if they are living apart much longer, his memory of her won’t stay. This has been a strain on our family, making the 30 minute commute to bring her to see him, every second day, so he does not forget her. Now with the news of cancer, our fight to have them in the same facility is even more urgent. He isn’t even getting proper care where he is, including no physical therapy which we were promised (the only reason he is in a wheelchair is because it has been 8 months of no walking!!) They deserve this! Financially, physically and emotionally exhausted, me and my family are begging for your help my friends. We have contacted our local MLA, called Fraser Health and done in person inquiries, but none of our questions and concerns have been answered. We want justice for my grandparents who after 62 years together deserve to spend their last moments in the same building. Please share this and tag anyone that needs to see this post to get the help we need! @fraserhealthauthority.”
The story has sparked a conversation about the need to reform some parts of the system.