After 74 years of marriage, Groton couple faces crisis and dementia with love

Mystic — Bob Ravenelle sat in a wheelchair and talked to his wife of 74 years, Betty, who stood less than 6 feet away. But the couple were separated by the glass door in the community room at the back of Mystic Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, and they were talking on the phone.

"I can remember the day you asked me to prom," Betty said. Bob replied with a laugh, "Oh yeah. I'd already asked, uh, what's her name — "

"Beverly?" Betty offered.

"Yeah. Beverly! I'd already asked Beverly to go to the prom, and then I asked you at the same time." Bob turned from looking at Betty to looking at the Mystic Healthcare staff member taking a video of the exchange, which has since garnered more than 134,000 views on Facebook, with a smile.

"You made a good choice for your prom date," a voice from the background said, to which Bob replied, "Oh boy, did I, did I."

Since the Connecticut Department of Public Health on March 9 announced the restriction of visitors to nursing homes because of the coronavirus, the facilities have been trying to maintain contact between residents and their loved ones through FaceTime and visits between windows or glass doors.

But it's still difficult, and Bob's dementia adds another layer of confusion to what is already a confusing situation.

"He gets very delusional, and without being able to see my mother especially, he was very sad; he cries a lot," said Sherry Casagranda, his daughter. "But when he gets to see her, when he gets to talk to her, it stabilizes him, it centers him more."

Her mother also has been depressed. But Casagranda praised the staff at Mystic Healthcare, and said every day when she talks to her father, he talks about how much he loves the people there.

"They have been amazing, very accommodating," Casagranda said. "Anything they can do to make it easier for the families and the residents there, they will do it."

Bob Ravenelle is a long-term resident who has been at Mystic Healthcare since early March because of his dementia. Casagranda said he had mild dementia for years but it got worse when he and Betty tried to move to South Carolina with one of her three brothers.

"Not having that structure, for some reason, just put him over the edge," Casagranda said.

They were back up here in a week.

Bob is originally from Mystic while Betty is from New London, and they were high school sweethearts from their days at Fitch. As for the story of how they began dating, Casagranda said her father had a date for the prom but he met Betty and became smitten with her, so he asked the man who was supposed to be Betty's date if they could switch.

"The guy said, 'Sure, if you really care about her that much, go for it,'" Casagranda recalled.

Her father went on to work for Pfizer, and then the Town of Groton Police Department, and then the post office before retiring. Betty still lives in Groton.

On Tuesday, Mystic Healthcare staff talked on the phone to The Day about the precautionary measures they're taking, efforts to facilitate communication with residents' family members, and activities in the building.

Bob chimed in occasionally to talk about how his daughter — "the best thing that ever happened to us" — was born prematurely, and about how he will be getting a second great-grandchild soon. He also has 13 grandchildren, and Bob said he has been getting into genealogy.

As for life at Mystic Healthcare, rehab director Sarah Ali said even though the recreation staff can't do group activities, they've been getting creative with more one-on-one visits. She noted that the staff organized bingo with the residents playing at their doorways. Staff dressed up for St. Patrick's Day and brought ice cream to residents.

Mystic Healthcare also posted a video last Friday compiling messages from residents to their family and friends written on a whiteboard, each one beginning with, "I want you to know..."

The messages said things like, "I miss you all, and I'm getting better each day," "I'm having a great 99th birthday — Miss you," and "Can't wait to see you. I'm doing great."

e.moser@theday.com

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