SURREY — It was a beautiful day – inside and out – at the Morgan Heights seniors care facility Thursday as two Surrey seniors were reunited.
Wolfram and Anita Gottschalk, who have been married for 62 years, were separated within the Fraser Health system earlier this year. The couple’s story made national headlines earlier this summer.
“It was amazing,” granddaughter Ashley Kaila Bartyik told the Now. “My grandfather put out his arms as he sometimes does, with dementia you lose your ability to express yourself freely through words, so he does a lot of hand motions and clapping. But his arms went up right away and he said ‘kleine maus,’ a German phrase for ‘little mouse.'”
And they kissed.
“Then she said, ‘I finally have you, I finally have you.’
“It was a beautiful moment.”
The experience has been emotionally and physically challenging on her grandparents, said Bartyik, who quit her job in July to step in and help.
They became depressed and ridden with anxiety, said Bartyik, and her grandmother become almost immobile, unable to get in and out of a vehicle.
“They really missed each other.”
The couple met in Dusseldorf, Germany 62 years ago. They were married and immigrated to Canada within a year. He worked as a brick layer. She, in retail, until becoming a stay-at-home-mom.
The two were inseparable until he fell ill last January and was hospitalized due to congestive heart failure, among other ailments.
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This image (pictured) of the couple in tears on Aug. 23 was shared more than 10,000 times on Facebook.
“With his dementia, his congestive heart failure, wound care, it all became too much for our family and my grandmother to do,” explained Bartyik.
He was then placed in a transitional facility. He bumped back and forth between hospital and transitional facilities for the next eight months,” she said.
“He was there alone.”
Meanwhile, her grandmother, not wanting to be apart from her love, put herself on the wait list to get into a care home.
“She ended up being placed before him,” Bartyik explained. “She’s been at her place for 10 weeks now. Finally yesterday they were reunited.
“It was really painful. When you literally can’t help the situation, it’s heart breaking,” she added.
Bartyik took to the media to tell the story this summer.
“The point was making it clear that there shouldn’t be a priority. Whether you’re in private or subsidized care,” she said.
She’s glad her family’s experience has raised awareness to an issue that affects other couples.
“I want to continue doing it,” she remarked. “I’ve had so many families reach out to me who are dealing with the same thing.”
Of course, she couldn’t be happier that her grandparents are together again.
And, as luck would have it, Bartyik and her parents live within five minutes of the care home. As do other family members – even some great grandchildren.
“It really is the best outcome.”