Every day, 86-year old Brian Haron visits his 83-year-old wife in her care home and feeds her. He sits with Barbara for hours, stroking her hand. They drink tea together.
Barbara recognises Brian but most of the time she lives in a world of her own.
As they sit and communicate wordlessly, their love shines through after 62 years of marriage.
He said they were of that generation “which took its vows seriously”.
They got married on December 24, 1955 in Britain where Brian was stationed with the Royal Australian Navy.
She was English and he was Australian and they moved to Sydney, to the worry of her English family, one of whom worried that there was no electricity in Australia. Her family thought they would never see her again.
For the married couple, marriage was for life and nothing would separate them.
Not distance, for example, because Brian spent six or seven months of each of the next twenty years at sea. “It either makes or breaks a marriage”, he said.
Barbara brought up four children. They now have 14 grandchildren.
There isn’t a magical secret that explains the longevity of their marriage. “We are just compatible”, he says at the Glenwood home or RFBI Glen Innes Masonic Village, as it’s more formally called.
Did they have rows? “People who say they’ve never had a row in 63 years of marriage either have a bad memory or are fibbers”, he said.
But marriage is about riding the rough with the smooth: “We played the deck of cards we were dealt”, he said.
Barbara and Brian are a particular case. He was away a lot and that might have strengthened or destroyed some marriages.
What seems clear is that there are no magical formulas for keeping a relationship strong. What works for some – like distance in Brian and Barbara’s case – would be the kiss of death for others.
But there are general principles. The staff at the home observe the lives of the people they care for at the end of those lives and they see what has worked and what didn’t in relationships. And they have relationships of their own.
They seem wise. Lee McCarney who has been married for thirty years said: “Make sure you marry your best mate. Over thirty years, love changes – lust, infatuation – but friendship only gets stronger”.
Jane Claxton who is a long-lasting loving relationship said: “It’s about allowing each other to be themselves as well as partners. If they don’t love you the way you are, they’ll find someone else.”
General Manager, Bernard Beatty, said: “You need your own space. Don’t smother the otehr person. You can smother them with love and the other person will just run away.”
And their consensus was that sex had to be good.