A beautiful wedding photo hangs just below the nameplate outside Jimmy Hooper’s room in the Bluejay Gardens wing at Covenant Health’s St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital. The black and white image, taken more than 60 years ago, captures a young couple’s beaming smiles and radiant love for each other. Much has changed for the couple since they were wed on July 10, 1959 but one thing has remained constant. Renate and Jimmy Hooper are still very much in love.
Jimmy’s face lights up when Renate comes for a visit. He smiles down at her as she brushes stray cookie crumbs off his trousers. He looks at her with a relieved shrug as she steps in to help calm his agitation - the outbursts come more often now as Jimmy’s advanced dementia worsens.
Jimmy no longer recognizes Renate as his wife. The conversations have become more unfamiliar and disjointed. While the debilitating disease has wiped away Jimmy’s memories, the adoring gaze and love for Renate has transcended a condition that tests even the strongest of bonds.
“We met in the most romantic and unusual way,” Renate smiles as she relays how the couple met on a train in the German countryside in the mid-1950s.
Renate laughs, saying she somehow got into the “wrong” train car full of rambunctious British soldiers. Renate was only 17 at the time. She caught Jimmy’s eye and before long the couple were engaged in conversation; Jimmy offering to round up a few fellow soldiers to assist Renate with her heavy luggage. The train trip ended with a promise to meet again the following weekend outside that very station for a “date”.
Renate nearly lost her nerve. She remembers leaving Jimmy waiting well past the agreed-upon meeting time. Nevertheless, when she arrived at the station, he was waiting for her.
“In our house manners mattered,” explains Renate.
She said that it would have been impolite to stand up the kind and helpful stranger who came to her aid during that chance train trip just a few days earlier.
Renate was smitten by Jimmy’s pleasant and easygoing attitude. The couple began dating, enduring disapproving glances from neighbours curious about the British soldier’s interest in a German teen.
Jimmy was a soldier with the British Royal Air Force, stationed in Germany, when the couple met.
Jimmy and Renate were married on July 10, 1959.
"They had very stern ideas about how a young woman should behave,” says Renate. “We couldn’t even be seen holding hands.”
Four years later, the couple were married. They settled in England and their family grew. The couple had three children early in their marriage.
Before the eldest turned five, the Hoopers moved partway across the globe to South Africa. Jimmy’s work as a mechanical engineer kept him in Capetown for the next decade or so; before the family moved again. This time to London, Ont. where they resided briefly before moving across the country to Edmonton.
Jimmy spent the remainder of his career employed with an aircraft parts supplier based at the former City Centre Airport. Their children grew up, attended post-secondary schooling and ventured out on their own.
Now Jimmy and Renate have four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The photo hanging on the wall in Jimmy’s room is testament to the love shared by this family.
But it’s a love that has endured one of the most difficult challenges a family can experience. Alzheimer’s Disease is often referred to as the “family disease” by medical experts and advocates.
“I found myself very alone,” Renate says, recalling her struggle to come to terms with Jimmy’s illness.
She was hesitant to share what was going on with her family and friends.
“I was grappling with the fact of ‘what is happening to him’”, she explains. “He could be aggressive which was not how he was.”
Several years before he moved into continuing care, Jimmy began withdrawing from family and friends. He no longer wanted to chat on the phone with relatives and stopped going for the walks he typically enjoyed.
It was after Jimmy suffered a head injury in a fall down the stairs, that Renate knew that life was going to be dramatically different for their family.
As he lay at the bottom of the circular staircase in the foyer of the couple’s condominium complex, ambulance crews arrived on the scene. Jimmy was rushed to hospital where he endured several months of tests and exams before he moved into continuing care.
Jimmy now lives in the dementia unit at St. Joseph’s where Renate spends much of her time by his side. At 82, it’s not as easy for Renate to get around as it used to be but she isn’t daunted by the bus trips she takes to the south Edmonton continuing care facility. And she's thankful for the many rides offered to her by friends and neighbours.
Renate seeks comfort in the recreational activities; like the concerts in the great hall and the gardening program for residents and volunteers, that provide residents like Jimmy with the compassionate care and programs vital to supporting residents and their families. Often in the summer, Renate will wheel Jimmy out to the garden where he enjoys watching her transplant flowers and care for the greenery. For Renate, the activity takes her back to a happier time when they used to garden together outside their home.
While it’s been a struggle watching Jimmy’s health decline and some days are more difficult than others, Renate says she finds strength in her role as caregiver. She says she always felt treasured and cared for by her husband and she’s intent on caring for him. She finds comfort in the small signs of familiarity when she arrives for her visits. The wide smile that lights up Jimmy’s face and that adoring gaze as she joins him for coffee in the dining room.
“You’re trying to be strong but when you have compassion inside you, it doesn’t just stop.”
It’s about value, she adds. She says Jimmy always valued her and she will always do the same.
Covenant Foundation is proud to raise funds and provide supports for Compassionate Care and Programs that provide dignity and greater quality of life for people with dementia and their families. Click here to make your gift today.
Written By: Laura Ehrkamp