New love after shared loss

November 23, 2020

Piedmont Gardens’ residents Helen Rubardt and Marc Rieffel both lost their spouses to dementia. Shared grief and common interests sparked a new journey together. Read this heartwarming story in the Piedmont Patch and below.

It was more fortuitous run-ins and similar interests than love at first sight for Helen Rubardt and Marc Rieffel. That, and a bond forged through the shared experience of supporting and, eventually, grieving the loss of a spouse to dementia.

“My husband transitioned to Piedmont Gardens’ memory care about a month before Marc’s wife,” said Helen. “Earlier, we actually had some meals together as couples in the communal dining hall; we were seated together at random.” After their spouses passed, fate seemed to find ways to intervene.

“We kept on meeting; looking back, it feels like very good fortune we kept running into each other,” said Marc, who continues to work full time on the mathematics faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.

“We kept finding common interests, like walking and music,” added Helen, who spent 30 years teaching singing to adults.

The pair have now been together about three years. Piedmont Gardens was very helpful in helping them create their ideal living situation.

“We each have our own apartments,” said Marc. “Helen moved into the apartment next door and the community helped us install an interior door between them. We respect each other’s space; her place is her place and mine is mine. It’s a very nice arrangement; everyone should have that.”

It truly is a modern relationship—they share 110 years of marriage between two unions each, and have a combined eight children, five stepchildren, 21 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

“Family is so important to us,” said Helen. “It’s nice we both understand our children and grandchildren are a very high priority.”

Today, amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, the two are perfect quarantine partners. When they aren’t taking daily walks together to places like the Morcom Rose Garden or enjoying an afternoon of classical or folk music, you can find them immersed in a friendly game of ping pong.

“When Marc is ready to start keeping score, we will,” laughs Helen, who is a member of the community’s ping pong team.

Most importantly, it’s a new chapter they’re writing—together.

“Whatever love we have, we can take from one relationship to another,” added Helen. “We’re good at doing that—the love we had and the love we have.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and 1 in 3 seniors die from the disease or another form of dementia.

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