NORTHWEST FLORIDA DAILY NEWS EDITOR'S NOTE: On this Valentine’s Day we bring you the stories of four pairs of “sweethearts” whose love has stood the test of time and trials. We hope you are as touched by their stories as we were.
In their 57 years together, Martha and Charles Gafford have shared three kids, eight grandchildren and one mule.
Now they’re sharing what Charles considers to be the saddest disease of all. In 2004, Martha was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
In 2010, he put her in Fort Walton Beach Rehabilitation Center, right up the street from the home they shared.
“I’ve always been a fairly strong person,” he says. “I could stand tragedy good. But I’ve shed a lot of tears over my wife’s (Alzheimer’s).”
She calls him mama if she calls him anything. He visits her every day to feed her, brush her teeth, make sure she drinks enough and soothe her if she becomes agitated.
“I feel if you have a real good husband or a real good wife — real good — if they get sick, you’re supposed to look after them,” Charles says.
He never skips a day. An internal alarm goes off about 11 a.m. and sends him up the street to visit.
She put up with him for 57 years, he says, smiling. Now it’s his turn.
When she’s agitated she calls for her mama.
He pats her soothingly and answers, “I’m right here. I’m right here.” That makes her feel better.
As much as he gives her now, he could never repay her for the gift she gave him when they were first together, he said.
She led him to Jesus.
“I don’t see how people make it through tragedy like this that don’t believe in Jesus,” he says. “When the Lord takes her, I’m not going to be behind (by) too much.”
I do, again and again
For Art and Martha Sizemore, one wedding just wasn’t enough.
In their 11-year marriage, they’ve actually gotten married 10 times, and counting.
“We like to learn about other cultures and the marriages became a way to do that,” Art says.
He expresses his affection every mealtime, telling Martha he loves her at breakfast, lunch and dinner. He says he wants to remind her that she is the most important person in the world to him.
“You have to tell each other that you love each other,” says Art, who is 88. “Love is being able to sit and chat. It’s about not arguing over the little things. And you have to know that nothing is mine or hers, it’s ours.”
Martha says companionship is worth learning to find the middle ground. In their nearly 12 years of marriage, they have only disagreed about minor issues.
“We compromise because life is too short to argue,” says Martha, who is 80. “Love is thinking of the other person and providing for their needs.”
Art and Martha had been married before they met in 2001. Two years after their spouses passed away they found each other.
Today, they travel the world on cruises and trips, throwing in a new wedding ceremony along the way.
For Valentine’s Day the pair planned to head to the Caribbean to celebrate, and hope to have another trip in September.
“The older we get, the more we see that we need help,” Martha said. “If I were alone, how much more difficult that would be.
“Our lives are so much more fulfilling and joyful because we have each other.”
Give and take
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, flowers are nice. But after 65 years of marriage, it’s the other gifts that are the most priceless.
Helen and Bud Aylor, who now live at Westwood Retirement Resort, don’t consider themselves experts on love and marriage. But they’re good at it.
They say the key is supporting each other and being kind to each other. Listening to your spouse and caring about the things that matter to them also is important.
Their marriage has survived the loss of two of their three children and 17 moves, including their latest last year into the retirement community.
“This is another adventure in our lives,” Bud says.
They met at a dance when Helen was still in high school and Bud was in the Marines.
“He was a gentleman,” Helen says softly. “He always has been a gentleman.”
They say the keys to a long marriage are basic. You have to be friends. You have to know how to give and take.
“Just be kind,” Helen says.
Those tools saw them through the saddest of days and continue to shape their marriage now that they are both in their mid-80s.
“There have been a lot of beautiful days, a lot of sunshine,” Bud says.
Gwendolyn Jones knew right away how she felt about her now husband of 35 years, Herb Jones.
She heard him laugh and she was hooked.
“He’s very gregarious,” says Gwendolyn, who is 78. “His ability to communicate not only with me and everyone else really drew me to him.”
But Gwendolyn said there were parameters when Herb first wanted to date her.
“She didn’t like that I drank or smoked, so she said she would only date me if I stopped,” 81-year-old Herb says. “It’s been 35 years since I’ve touched the stuff.”
The key to a long lasting marriage for Herb is all about compromise.
“That means if she wants to go north and I want to go south we meet in the middle,” Herb says. “If she wants fish for dinner and I want steak, we go to a restaurant with both.
“The way to a happy marriage is to not be stubborn and to not get overwhelmed by selfish intent.”
Gwendolyn said the lasting marriages are made up of respect and integrity.
“Love is not meant to be based on sexuality. I know that’s what a lot of people think,” Gwendolyn says. “Love is a relationship of trust, respect and spiritual intimacy.”
This year, Herb said he’s gotten Gwendolyn a pass to a seminar she will enjoy. And Gwendolyn said she’s got a pretty special gift for her husband.
“He’s getting a big hug, big kiss and an ‘I love you.’”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Angel McCurdy at 850-315-4432 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AngelMnwfdn.
Contact Daily News Assignment Editor Wendy Victora at 850-315-4478 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @WendyVnwfdn.