Leeds couple married for nearly 60 years are reunited in care home after year-long wait

A devoted husband who has finally been able to reunite with his wife after an agonising year apart said holding her hand once more was like “winning the lottery”.

Tuesday, 9th March 2021, 6:00 am

The heartwarming encounter between Frank and Sheila Whitelow, who have been married for nearly 60 years, was made possible due to the easing of Covid-19 care home restrictions which came into effect on Monday to allow a named relative to visit - and hold hands with - a loved one indoors.

Frank, 88, told the Yorkshire Evening Post he shed tears of joy as he sat next to Sheila at Carr Croft Care Home in Meanwood and was finally able to hold her hand in his.

He said: “I went in and we just sat holding hands and it was like winning the lottery, in fact it was better. I’ve waited a long time for that.

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The heartwarming moment Frank and Sheila Whitelow are reunited at Carr Croft Care Home in Meanwood. Picture: Simon Hulme

“I can’t tell you the feeling I had. I did shed a few tears.”

The couple, of Chapel Allerton, have been separated since Sheila fell and broke her leg early last year, before the pandemic hit.

Until then they had only ever spent one week apart during their long marriage.

Despite not being able to drive, Frank visited his wife every day in hospital until the rules suddenly changed with the arrival of Covid-19 and all visits were stopped.

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Sheila, who has dementia and Parkinson’s disease, was then moved to a care home in Bradford for rehabilitation before arriving at Carr Croft Care Home in Chapel Allerton in July 2020.

By this point, Frank was so desperate to see her, he arranged for a taxi to take him to the care home’s car park so he could be there when the ambulance arrived to admit her.

Since then the couple have had two outdoor meetings - one on Christmas Day and one on her birthday, on February 21 - but each lasted just two minutes because of the cold weather.

So Frank said being able to see her indoors was “another world”.

“I was absolutely elated. In fact I didn’t sleep last night to be honest.

“It was nice just to hold her hand. When she realised who I was the big smile came and she was excited. It makes me feel a lot better. I think now I have seen her, it’s something that I can’t put into words.”

Sheila’s condition has sadly deteriorated over the past year but Frank has never let a day go by where he hasn’t rung to speak to her over the phone.

He said: “It’s very important to me. I don’t want her to think I’ve forgotten her.

“I think of her every second. We’ve been married 59 years come September.

“It’s been quite lonely. But the thought of seeing her helps a lot. It’s difficult. Life is not as good as it could be actually.”

Frank said before the pandemic, the couple, who don’t have any children, would regularly go out for coffee or ride the bus to destinations such as Ripon, Huddersfield and Castleford - and always holding hands.

He said: “We are quite a couple in Chapel Allerton because we always went around together, always holding hands together.

“The number of people who have stopped in the street and said how lovely it is to see us holding hands.

“If we didn’t hold hands it wasn't right actually.”

He added: “I’m absolutely 100 per cent devoted to her. She’s what I’m living for now.

“I have great empathy for people who are in the same situation. It’s an awful position to be in and I feel for the people who have lost relatives and weren’t able to see them at the last minute.

“I would like to see her every day. I’m hoping she might be able to come home some time. It’s my one wish in life - to get her home if I can. I know I can look after her. When you feel so strongly about someone as I do you can summon strength up - that will keep you going. You find strength that you didn’t really know you had.

“All I want is that lady back in my life.”

Jodie Boucher, registered manager at Carr Croft, said: “It was quite overwhelming because it’s the first physical contact that we have had and to see the pleasure that it brought Frank and Sheila is so rewarding - that we have finally been able to make that happen.

“Everybody has been excited, waiting for today to come to start having visitors again. It just can’t come soon enough.”

She added: “For me, Sheila has deteriorated and I wanted to reunite them again while we still can. The thought of him not touching his wife’s hand again and something happening to her.

“It’s just the right thing to do.”

*The new rules:

Care home residents across England are now able to receive indoor visits from a nominated friend or relative.

The rules, which came into effect on March 8, allow each resident to nominate one person to visit them, and those with the highest care needs are able to receive more frequent visits.

Visitors will be tested prior to visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.

Government guidance says hand-holding is permitted but hugs and kissing are not, to help reduce the chance of spreading the virus.

Visiting is not conditional on the resident or visitor having been vaccinated, but this is "strongly recommended", it says.

Outdoor visits, window visits and those in pods will also continue so residents can see other loved ones.

It is around a year since some care homes first closed their doors, several weeks ahead of the first lockdown on March 23.

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