"They have not forgotten how to love each other, “ says Sylvia Blanchard as she watches her parents, Bertha and Harris Manning, in their apartment at Catholic Charities’ Bishop Conway Supportive Living Residence. “Sixty-five years and still going strong."
Both Harris and Bertha suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease. While their short-term memories are limited, they recognize each other and continue to care for one another. During our interview, Bertha went to the sink to get a cup of water and automatically brought one to Harris. He offered her part of the banana he was eating.
Bertha and Harris celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary last month. Married in Arkansas, where they met just after WWII, the Mannings traveled together to Chicago in the 1950s to build a life together. They were entrepreneurs and ran several businesses: A gas station in Maywood, a nightclub on Chicago’s West Side, a glass cutting company, and a lawn care service. Foster parents who adopted several children, the Mannings brought Sylvia to live with them when she was just three.
Sylvia recalls a family life filled with discipline and culture. Her mother was strict, but also enrolled Sylvia in piano lessons, attended PTA meetings at Sylvia’s school, and was a soloist at their church. Bertha also enjoyed driving the Cadillac cars Harris would give her every few years. The family took fishing vacations around Illinois. Sylvia remembers watching her parents fish together.
“In just about everything they’d do you could see their love for each other,” she says. “We love her too,” Harris says of his devoted daughter who takes three buses from her suburban home to visit her parents regularly.
At age 86, Harris deftly navigates his walker around the supportive living residence he and Bertha, 87, moved to six months ago.
“Support one to the other, make things happen for both of you,” Harris says when asked what advice he has for married couples. What is the secret to his long marriage? “Blessings from the Lord,” Harris replies, smiling.
“They are each other’s best friend,” Sylvia says. “They have not forgotten the vows they took or how to pray.”
Faith was a large part of Sylvia’s upbringing. Her parents worked hard Monday through Saturday, but Sunday was reserved for church and time at home.
Bertha used to tell Sylvia how her mother instructed her to ask the Lord for a good husband. “I did what Mama said,” Bertha would say. Watching Bertha and Harris together today, it is clear that Mama was right.
“I am so at peace with how they are being cared for,” Sylvia Blanchard says of her parents, Bertha and Haris Manning, who moved into Catholic Charities’ Bishop Conway Residence inJune, 2011. The couple had had lived in a senior independent living apartment complex for ten years, but were both suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease and could no longer prepare food or perform daily household duties, even with some in-home help from a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
The Mannings live on a low fixed income, so finding an affordable option was critical. With help from staff at the senior apartment building, the couple and Sylvia found Bishop Conway Residence.
Bishop Conway Residenceis a licensed supportive living community that offers a comfortable, dignified lifestyle for seniors who need a helping hand with the activities of daily living.
At Bishop Conway, residents live in apartments with kitchenettes and full bathrooms that have safety features like step-in showers and pull cords for emergencies. Residents enjoy three freshly-made meals each day, plus snacks. Medication management, 24-hour staffing and nursing assistance, coordination of physician, pharmacy, therapy, home health and hospice service supports residents’ well-being. Housekeeping and laundry service are provided weekly, and residents receive personal care assistance for bathing, dressing, grooming and ambulation. Apartments are well-maintained and come furnished. Basic cable TV is included in all units. Daily activities in the common room near the ground-level garden are tailored to residents’ interests and needs.
If a senior has a fixed annual income of less than $33,000 they may qualify for financial assistance. Medicaid and VA benefits are accepted.
Initially, Sylvia was afraid her parents would not adjust to their new home when they moved to Bishop Conway Residence last summer. However, she was pleasantly surprised when they seemed to settle right in and by July 4th were enjoying a cookout with other residents and