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Wheeling Couple Battles Separation During COVID pandemic

Couple Battles Separation During COVID pandemic

Photo Provided Wheeling residents Irene “Renee” and John Anderson have been married since 1949 and had experienced few days apart until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

WHEELING — John and Irene “Renee” Anderson of Wheeling are living their wedding vows even more devoutly today as they did when they pledged to one another more than 70 years ago. Add in COVID-19 and “for better and for worse” became “for worse and for a little less worse.”

Renee, 91, has been a resident of the Home of Good Shepherd Nursing Home in Wheeling for just over a year. John, 93, lives in the Braddock Apartments located within the nursing home facility so he can remain close to his beloved spouse.

When caring for Renee, who suffers from dementia and other health concerns, became too much for John to handle himself, he sold their forever home in Shawnee Hills. Renee became a resident of Good Shepherd and he took up residence in the nearby apartments so he could be close to her.

For a while, things were OK with the arrangement as John could keep company with his wife in her room every day.

Daughter Lori Myers said her father “could spend hours each day with Mom keeping her company. He would help her eat and make sure she maintained her nutrition.”

And then COVID struck and in-person visits were not permitted for months. Lori said this became distressingly hard on her parents.

“Dad honestly can see Mom’s window from his apartment and tells me he believes he can hear her crying,” Lori said. “He was so sad that he could not be with her on Christmas so he wrote her a letter that a nurse then read to her.”

In the letter John wrote, “There is no magic button to bring what was beautiful in our past to where we are today and that is painful. We do have our memories and know that we were blessed. We have had 70 years of a very good marriage and especially four good children – Tom, Lori, Terri and Jack – a great heritage and blessing to have. … I love you and would not want to have married any other woman. Love, John.”

John even purchased a stuffed toy dog for Renee to keep her company when he could not be with her. He also speaks to her over the phone, but that human touch is still missing.

“When you have somebody close to you for 70 years and then you’re cut off, it’s very difficult,” John commented. “It’s pretty lonesome.”

However, John sometimes takes his supper tray to a room where he can dine with several of the nuns who reside in the apartments. Other than that, John said he stays busy watching history programs on TV and YouTube and reading on his Kindle. He no longer drives but has the services offered by the facility for transportation.

The couple has seven grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. John said he does his best to keep track of their birthdays.

John worked for Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel as chief metallurgist for four years and as head of quality control for Youngstown Sheet and Tube. He is a Navy veteran having served on the battleship North Carolina toward the end of World War II. Renee was a homemaker who loved to paint. Her beautiful oil paintings could be found throughout their home.

The Andersons have rarely been apart since they married on Aug. 6, 1949. John said he is encouraged because he was able to garner an appointment for the upcoming vaccine program at the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department.

“I kept calling and held on a long time until someone answered. I will get my first shot on Monday. I’m hoping that after I get the second dose I will be able to be with Renee. She already has received both doses.”

John said there are still challenges. “Renee’s memory isn’t very good. That’s the difficult part. When we’d be together I would bring up a lot of nice stories from the past, and while she agrees with me, she doesn’t add anything.”

John refuses to give up. Once armed with the vaccine, he hopes to continue his daily visits with Renee. Their love and years of commitment have withstood many of life’s difficulties and now the pandemic. John said he hopes their story will encourage others to not give up.

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