Heartbroken Grandfather Pictured Alone in Nursing Home After Being Separated from Wife of 62 Years
The family of Wolfman and Anita Gottschalk are speaking out as they fight to have the elderly couple admitted to the same nursing home
For the last 62 years, Wolfram and Anita Gottschalk have been inseparable.
But now, the Canadian couple can only see each other every other day since they’ve been forced to live in separate nursing homes.
“They can’t be apart. It’s devastating,” the couple’s son, Bill Gottschalk, tells PEOPLE. “They’re so in love that they’ve got to be together all the time.”
Anita, 81, and Wolfram, 83, of Surrey, British Columbia, have lived in separate care facilities for nearly eight months after Wolfram was hospitalized for congestive heart failure and officials declared that he needed more care than Anita was physically capable of giving, the couple’s granddaughter Ashley Bartyik tells PEOPLE.
“He was then moved to a place called Yale Road [Centre],” Bartyik says. “After a couple months, my grandmother decided that she wanted to be on a list to be moved into a nursing home as well so she could be with my grandfather.”
Anita was moved to Residence at Morgan Heights in south Surrey while Wolfram stayed in the transitional Yale Road center, waiting to be moved. However, his failing health pushed him to the bottom of the waiting list.
Now, the lovebirds see each other for just a few hours every other day – a drastic change for the pair who were never apart for more than just a few days at a time, Bartyik tells PEOPLE. A few times a week, the 29-year-old grabs her grandmother and the pair take the 40-minute drive to Wolfram’s facility.
“Every time they see each other they burst out into tears,” she says. “They’re happy to see each other, but also sad that they’re not with each other all the time.”
Along with heart issues, Wolfram suffers from dementia and was diagnosed with lymphoma on Tuesday.
“We want to make sure that with his dementia that he still remembers my grandmother,” Bartyik says. “The memory of her hasn’t faded an inch.”
“It Was Love at First Sight”
Bartyik says her grandparents first met in Germany when their parents lived in the same apartment complex.
“They were married in Germany in 1954 after knowing each other for a couple months,” she says. “It was love at first sight, kind of a whirlwind romance.”
A few months after tying the knot, the pair moved to Canada where Wolfram worked as a brick layer and Anita worked in retail before becoming a homemaker.
The couple’s son, Bill, describes his parents’ love as “phenomenal.”
“When they look at each other in the eyes, their eyes glow and they smile and they don’t even have to say anything,” he says.
“My eyes even get watery talking about it. They taught me the meaning of true love.”
Bartyik says that the couple has cherished each moment they’ve spent with each other, celebrating milestone wedding anniversaries with friends and family.
But, she says, these last few months have been devastating for the couple and their family, who are struggling to help them.
“It’s been completely heartbreaking,” she says.
A Moving Photo
After several months of watching her grandparents’ tearful goodbyes, Bartyik decided to share one of her many photos of the couple’s visits to Facebook.
“We needed the public’s help to get him moved quicker, so I thought, ‘Why not post it on Facebook?’ ” Bartyik says of the now-viral photo taken on Monday. “From there it kind of blew up.”
She wrote in the Facebook post that she decided to share the photo after her grandfather’s diagnosis.
“Now with the news of cancer, our fight to have them in the same facility is even more urgent. They deserve this! Financially, physically and emotionally exhausted, me and my family are begging for your help my friends. We want justice for my grandparents who after 62 years together deserve to spend their last moments in the same building,” Bartyik wrote.
In the photo, Anita and Wolfram are seen sitting close to each other – Anita on a couch and Wolfram in his wheelchair – as they wiped tears from their eyes.
The photo has amassed more than 6,000 shares and has made headlines, prompting the healthcare authority Fraser Health to reach out to the family. (Fraser Health officials did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.)
“They did tell us that [Wolfram] is now a priority to be reunited with my grandmother,” she says, noting that officials reached out to her on Thursday. “But they couldn’t give us an exact time on when that will happen.”
“We’re going to keep as much attention on this as possible,” she adds. “We just hope that our voice is a voice of all the family’s waiting.”