New romance: Hubert, 85, loves Mildred, 73

Wedding: Love blooms afresh, in time for Valentine's Day.

February 09, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - The Sarah Neuman Center is a nursing home in Mamaroneck, N.Y., part of the Jewish Home and Hospital network. Its 300 beds are occupied by the old and the frail, people mostly winding down their lives, thinking more about yesterday than tomorrow.

One of them is Hubert Spurr, 85. It could rightly be said that love brought Spurr into the nursing home and then abandoned him there.

His wife, Lucy, arrived first. She was his second wife, and they had been married for more than 20 years. Their love was an enviable love, an incandescent love. And then Alzheimer's chose her.

Spurr cared for her at their Westchester home until it was no longer possible, and in May 2001 she moved into the nursing home.

Most of his life, Spurr worked as a telegrapher, retiring at 64 from United Press International. Then he fished and traveled a lot with his wife. He couldn't bear the thought of separation. Soon after his wife's arrival, he moved into her room and continued to care for her. It was who he was.

This was their life, until Sept. 10 of last year, when Mrs. Spurr, at 92, died in Mr. Spurr's arms. His own will died with her. He missed her so much that he cried every day.

Five times a week, a sullen Spurr reported to physical therapy. One morning at the beginning of October, he was early. He found himself next to a woman named Mildred Bobe. She was 73, a youngster in a home where the average age is 88.

When he gazed at her, he could see she was as consumed with grief as he was. And he could see something else: black eyes that hypnotized him. Oh, did he adore those eyes.

Until her health betrayed her, she had enjoyed a contented life. She worked as a data entry supervisor at Salomon Brothers and lived with her three cats - Ivory, Ebony and Max - in Flushing, Queens.

She had known love, but never marriage. Life unfolds that way for some people, and she was untroubled about it.

Then her health deteriorated - she had several heart attacks - and she left her job in 1986 and slowed down. She joined the local Kiwanis Club and became its president. She fraternized with neighbors. It kept her busy and happy.

Her health worsened. She had a weak heart, diabetes, high blood pressure, a malfunctioning kidney. She had help come in. One day, she found herself on the floor and unable to get up. Her older sister in White Plains tried to care for her, but it was too much. At the end of May of last year, Bobe reluctantly entered Sarah Neuman.

She hated being away from her home. Here she was confronted with all the dreaded afflictions of old age: disability, dependency, loneliness.

When she went to occupational therapy, she would have a hood or towel draped over her head and she often fell asleep. She couldn't muster the strength to brush her teeth.

As they waited their turns at that first encounter, Spurr began talking to her. He encouraged her to really work on her rehabilitation; it would make a difference in her life. He used to hunt and fish, and he regaled her with stories on those subjects. Bobe found his descriptions engrossing. She liked this man. "And he's a handsome-looking man," she said.

She perked up. "He told me I have beautiful eyes," she said. "I fell for that. Even after all these years, I fell for that."

They began spending time together, talking during their therapy sessions, doing activities together. He found himself renewed: "I wanted to live again," He began to understand that old age was still about hope.

But a change of plans was afoot. Her sister, Rochelle Rospigliosi, was moving to Seattle with her husband and wanted to take Bobe along to live with them in their new home. Toward the end of October, Bobe shared this news with Spurr.

Distraught, he tried to talk her out of it. It wouldn't work; how could she be sure she would get the right medications, have her meals made just the way they had to be made? It seemed all too risky. She couldn't go.

And of course there was another factor. Something was going on inside him. He would never have thought it possible. His 85-year-old heart was in love again. Feelings were stirring in her as well, yet the prospect of being back in a community was a potent lure. She planned to go to Seattle.

One day at the end of October, Spurr suggested they visit the nursing home's gift shop. While she browsed, he whispered to the proprietor, "Give me the most expensive ring you've got."

The woman pulled it out. He liked its look, the best in the shop, $18. He slipped it on Bobe's finger. "I don't want you to go to Seattle," he told her. "Stay here and marry me." At once, she said, "Yes."

Both of them came to the nursing home expecting to wait out the end of their lives. Neither suspected they would discover a new beginning.

To improve on the $18 ring, Spurr had his daughter get a nicer engagement ring for Bobe.

Thursday, the day before Valentine's Day, was chosen as the wedding date. The home's rabbi will preside over a civil ceremony, followed by a reception that the home will cater. All the residents are invited.

Through the halls of the nursing home they wheel, their faces alive with joy. They are rarely apart. He gets behind her in his wheelchair and pushes hers.

They go to bingo together; they attend a cooking class. They watch TV in his room, though she leaves at 8:30 because her roommate goes to bed early and she doesn't want to disturb her.

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