April 12, 2012 in Washington Voices

Couple sharing dance of life

Friendship deepened during years of caring for parents
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photoBuy this photo

Gail and Ed Newman, of Spokane, met through a dance class and will celebrate their eighth anniversary on May 1.
(Full-size photo)

They danced together.

They laughed together.

They cared for her dying parents together.

They were the best of friends, and Gail Newman was positive that’s all they would ever be.

She met Ed Newman in 1995 at a ballroom dance class at Spokane Falls Community College. Ed was the assistant instructor. “I’ve always been a dancer,” Gail said. “My granddad taught me to dance.”

When she saw an ad for the class, she immediately signed up. Gail had moved into her parents’ home to care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her father had myriad health issues as well, and refused to consider assisted living or in-home medical care.

The burden fell to Gail, who gave up her career as a medical social worker to care for her parents. “Most of my friends disappeared,” she said. “When you’re a caregiver you don’t have a life. It’s devastating physically, emotionally and financially.”

Dance class gave her a way to get out of the house and forge new friendships. One of those friends was Ed Newman.

“After my divorce, my oldest daughter was getting married,” Ed said. “She wanted to have a band and I told her I wouldn’t pay for a band unless she learned to dance.”

When his daughter and her fiancé signed up for dance class, Ed, who had previously taken dancing lessons, went along as a volunteer instructor. He stayed with the program long after his daughter learned to dance.

“People made lasting friendships in that class,” Gail said. On the weekends many of them would go out dancing together.

However, as her parents’ health declined, Gail began missing a lot of social activities. “I was suddenly isolated again,” she said. “I couldn’t get out like I used to.”

Unbeknownst to her, Ed’s father had end-stage Alzheimer’s. Ed moved his parents from Indiana to live with him, so he could help care for his dad. With his parents occupying both bedrooms in his two-bedroom house, Ed took to sleeping on the sofa – when he could rest.

Often when his dad finally settled down, Ed drove to his office. “My partners would come in and find me sleeping at my desk,” he said.

Finally, the strain was too much. Ed’s mother wanted to return to Indiana, so he found a nursing home for his dad there, and his parents moved out. His father died within six weeks.

Ed’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled that grueling, grief-filled time. When he heard that Gail was caring for both her parents, he knew better than most what she was going though. He began stopping by her house, offering a listening ear and practical assistance.

One night in particular stands out for both of them. Like many Alzheimer’s patients, Gail’s mom suffered from sundowning: nighttime disorientation and agitation. On this night, her father, who had advanced diabetes, began hallucinating. Gail said, “He was trying to get into his car because he was sure the Davenport Hotel had taken his furniture. My mom was sundowning and trying to get out of the house.”

That’s when Ed showed up. Gail recalled, “He saw how exhausted I was and he said, ‘I’m staying the night. I’ll sleep on the couch – you go to bed.’ ”

For him the issue was simple. Gail needed help and he was her friend. “There was no way I could leave her by herself. I knew she wouldn’t ask for help, so I just pushed my way in,” he said.

He began staying over several times a week, allowing Gail to get some much-needed rest. She said, “I think at that time I knew he was in love with me. He never said, but I just knew.”

She made it clear that she loved him as a friend – period. That made no difference to Ed. When Gail’s father died at home, Ed had just left her house and was on his way out of town for business, yet when she called he turned his car around and rushed to her side.

Ed was with her when her mother suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. “He picked her up, put her in the car and drove to the hospital,” Gail recalled.

The stroke damaged her mother’s brain and affected her ability to walk. Gail said, “She went straight from the hospital to a nursing home. She died in August 2003.”

Ed revealed his feelings to Gail but she reiterated that all she felt for him was friendship. As she discussed Ed with a friend, her friend said something startling. She said, “Gail you shouldn’t neglect the rose in your backyard because you think you need orchids.”

So, Gail sat down to write a list of qualities she wanted in a life partner. “I wrote, tall, slender, dark-haired … ,” she giggled. Ed is 5 feet 5 inches tall and has thinning gray hair.

But when she listed character qualities like morals, values and goals, Ed topped the list. “Then I started thinking what would my life be like if he wasn’t a part of it? I couldn’t imagine it.” She smiled. “One night I asked him to kiss me. He did and that sealed the deal.”

On his birthday, Dec. 24, 2003, Ed proposed and Gail accepted.

They married May 1, 2004, at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church.

Marriage to Ed brought Gail unexpected rewards. “I was never able to have children, but when I married him he had two grown daughters and grandchildren.” She loves being “Nana.”

Ed is 67, Gail 58, and they still love to laugh and dance together. They’re still the best of friends. And at last Gail has the family and the lasting love she longed for. She looked at Ed and smiled. “He’s brought me nothing but joy.”


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