Every day, Stan Fryer sings Anne Murray’s Could I Have This Dance to his wife, Shirley.
It’s a reminder of when they met, back in 1946, and how they danced the night away.
“I really feel that song was sung for us,” the White Rock senior said Monday.
“I think we knew right from the start when we danced, that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together.
“I can still feel us dancing on the floor. When you have memories like that, that’s what keeps you going.”
Stan, 89, has told the story of his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease many times since she was diagnosed in 2002. At the time, they had been married 54 years.
And while the news was “absolutely devastating”, Stan said Shirley made the decision to face the disease head-on and talk openly about it. So, he made the decision to make sure she never had any stress, supporting and caring for her as the disease took its progressive toll, slowly stealing her memories and abilities.
“I never realized how much I love my wife until I began to see her die in front of me,” he said.
It’s a love that Stan’s grandson, Arun, is confident is the reason his grandmother has done as well as she has over the years.
And, it’s a story the filmmaker is determined to share, through a documentary he hopes will show a different side to the heartbreaking disease.
Arun, 40, admits that Before She’s Gone didn’t start out as a love story; he had simply wanted to celebrate his grandfather as a caregiver. The idea evolved with the help of his fiancée, Ana Carrizales, who saw something more in the footage.
“This is not a preconceived notion that we had for the film, it sort of grew organically,” he said. “The more we dove into how he cares for her… it just kept coming back to how much he loves her.”
Stan cared for Shirley at home until just over a year ago, when he was hit with a bout of viral pneumonia, and warned by his doctor that his days were numbered if he continued on as-is.
“I took all the stress, and that’s what runs you down,” Stan said. “But it was worth it, still worth it. I’ve given her a few more years.”
Stan continues to visit Shirley every day, telling her he loves her dozens of times each visit, because she forgets. And while Shirley doesn’t recall their 67 years of marriage, she still lights up at the sight of her husband.
Arun believes the message in Before She’s Gone will resonate with many.
“It’s really the patience that he shows, that’s what we’re trying to pitch,” Arun said.
“It’s almost too easy to show the heartbreak.”
Arun has received $5,000 in funding for the project from the National Film Board, and last month, launched an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign to raise another $7,500; as of Monday, $3,132 had been donated. Five per cent of funds raised will benefit the Alzheimer Society of BC.
The film, with original music by singer/songwriter Jason Mitchell, will be pitched to the Vancouver and Toronto film festivals, and posted online for the public to access at no cost, he said.
Stan, who facilitates a group for other caregivers, didn’t hesitate when asked what message he hopes people will take away from Before She’s Gone.
“I hope it brings a message to a lot of people that are going through Alzheimer’s as a caregiver to realize how important it is to love a person, because if they don’t love, they don’t have the patience,” he said.
“I say, I don’t have patience, I just have love. Love is patient, love is kind, love is good.
“Love is really what sets you apart from other people when you have that.”