With Valentine’s Day in February, it’s a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of love at Canterbury. Love that is shared between families, among good friends, and flourishes deeply between married partners.
For one Canterbury Manor couple, their special friendship blossomed into true love and eventually marriage. In fact, 90- year-olds Geraldine and Clifford Nelson were friends for over 50 years before they got married! Soon to celebrate 21 married years together, their love story has taken many twists and turns along the path of life.
Geraldine first met Cliff over 70 years ago as a teenager when he stayed at her family’s boarding house. “He even shared a bedroom with Jim, my future husband” she laughs. After the friends went their separate ways, Gerry was happily married to Jim and they raised three children together in Toronto. Widowed at 52, she remained single and continued to keep in touch with Cliff and his first wife Beth.
Cliff became a physician and was a devoted husband to his wife and four children. He was a medical missionary in Africa for many years, and their family eventually settled back in Edmonton. After his wife passed away he and Gerry visited, and the friendship continued to grow over the years.
Dr. Nelson in Africa
“I was a widow for 16 years and I had no intention of ever marrying again because Jim and I had a good marriage – I even suggested someone else Cliff ought to date!” she explains, “and then we went out for supper when I was back in Edmonton visiting my mother, and it ended up being a three hour dinner.
While Gerry was working in Germany at a boarding school, Cliff visited and wrote her often. When he was back in Canada, “he sent me the most wonderful love letters,” Gerry exclaims.
Similar interests made them a perfect match and soon Cliff proposed. “We had our strong religious faith, we had lived abroad, we knew each other’s family,” adds Gerry, “and just like that, it was like the light came on; I could marry him, we had so much in common.”
The couple married in the spring of 2000, close to age 70. “It was just as exciting as the first time!” says Cliff. “She’s just a gem,” he softly adds. “I often say, ‘Gerry, you’re such a kind person,’ she thinks of little things and big things and has contributed so much to our marriage.”
Gerry appreciates Cliff’s thoughtfulness as well. “When we were dating, he always opened the door for me, he was a real gentleman.” Adds Cliff, “Women crave and love trust and respect, and if a woman is treated that way by their relatives, husband and sons, they just blossom and it means so much to them.”
The couples grown children were thrilled with the relationship as well. “It’s all positive, there were no negatives here,” says Gerry’s daughter Betty Ann Stacey of Toronto. “To see them together, they are just the cutest couple. And not a lot of people in their 40’s after being married that many years would be as affectionate and as in love as they are. It’s a wonderful thing that I’m glad my kids got to witness.”
Gerry and her students at the boarding school in Germany
The couple attributes their happy marriage to positive previous life experience. “We had already been through a loving, successful marriage and knew what it took; we had raised kids, our finances were in order so you don’t struggle.” says Gerry. “Plus having lost our first spouse, we just value our friendship and our marriage so much.”
Cliff and Gerry’s love story continues on at Canterbury, where they have lived for the past two years. “As a physician I had a long term care practice and my first two patients were here in 1983,” explains Cliff. “I was very impressed and said that if I ever had a choice as to where we are going to spend our last years because we need help, it will be at Canterbury.”
The couple loves living in Canterbury Manor, where they are able to still live independently, visit with friends and neighbours, have coffee in the court and watch the lovely sunsets outside their window. “We’re very happy here,” comments Cliff, “the communication is great and Canterbury Manor is very well managed.”
These days Gerry and Cliff spend even more time deepening their bond, as Gerry’s role has shifted to helping Cliff who’s faced some health challenges. “She’s really my caregiver now, and that’s not an easy job,” he says, “but I am so grateful for it and she does it wonderfully well.”
After many years of friendship, the joy Gerry and Cliff have experienced as a married couple was worth the wait. They have a beautiful large blended family and enjoy reflecting on their full life of faith, love, trips and adventures they have had over the years. “It’s just been great,” says Gerry, “we’re so glad that we can spend quiet time here now at Canterbury. We have a nap together in the afternoon and prayer time together in bed at night; we just thank God for another day together. We wouldn’t be happier anywhere else.”