Norm and Edith Mair were born just 13 days apart.
“He always said ‘I married an older woman,'” says 86-year-old Edith, laughing. “He always chuckles about that.”
The walls of the couple’s home in a Yellowknife suburb is a testament to their 63 years of marriage. It’s embellished with an array of trinkets and framed photos of their life together.
“Never too old to be active” reads one framed newspaper clipping.
Next to it, hangs a photo of Edith and Norm with matching blue helmets, cycling the roads of Brisbane, Australia in 1997.
Together, the pair cycled about 30,000 kilometres around the world after retirement. They once biked and camped their way from Yellowknife to Edmonton. Then they cycled across Canada.
“We’ve had a wonderful life,” says Edith.
But it’s hard to say if Norm remembers any of that.
He started losing his memories about 15 years ago.
“The doctor said you have Alzheimer’s,” Edith says to Norm, holding his hand.
“Old-timers,” pipes in Norm, drawing a giggle out of his wife.
“That’s right,” she says, “We have old-timers and Alzheimer’s.”
Daily walks, hand-in-hand
Edith still talks to Norm as though he remembers.
“I’d say, ‘You remember that?'” says Edith. “And he says, ‘Oh yes.'”
“So many people are afraid to even say the word Alzheimer’s, and I was like that myself.” – Edith Mair
Norm’s dementia was slowed down by medication, says Edith, but after Norm started leaving home on his own and getting lost, she made the difficult decision of moving him to the Yellowknife-based Territorial Dementia Facility.
But that didn’t stop the couple from taking walks down Niven Lake Trail together, hand-in-hand, everyday.
“They love each other,” says Gillian Burles, their next-door neighbour of 25 years. “They were very tender and loving, and they still had fun together.”
“They’re the idea you have of a couple growing old together.”
Brought to tears by neighbour’s song
The news of Norm’s diagnosis “hit us like a sack of hammers,” says Burles.
Despite just being “over-the-fence neighbours,” only chatting once in a while, Burles felt compelled to write a song for the lovebirds next door.
Its title: I’ll remember for you.
“I started to think about the milestones that you have as a couple, you meet, and then you fall in love and then you get your house and you have your family and all the kids … All those memories that he doesn’t have anymore, but she does,” says Burles.
“And as long as she has those memories, it’s real.”
“That song was so beautiful when I first heard it, the tears were running down my cheeks because she was just saying exactly how I felt,” says Edith.
Edith hopes to share the song as an encouragement for others going through a similar experience.
“So many people are afraid to even say the word Alzheimer’s, and I was like that myself. I didn’t really want to share with people my feelings.”
“I’m hoping that will make people not so shy about coming forward because the help is out there,” she says.
“It’s an honour to watch somebody like Edith really demonstrate what those vows that we’ve taken so many years ago,” says Burles.
“She’s still living them every day.”