Gene and Helen Galipeau may have lived the consummate love story of their generation.
Both born in 1924, they met and fell in love during World War II. That love grew during nearly 72 years of marriage and culminated in ultimate devotion to each other during their final day on Earth.
They had met at a USO dance at the Navy Yard in Boston, where Gene had worked briefly. Like his three brothers and young men throughout the country, Gene enlisted in the military during the early days of the United States’ involvement in World War II. He was only 17.
As a U.S. Marine, Gene saw action on several Pacific Theater battlefields. He suffered serious injuries and received the Purple Heart twice. He had a metal plate implanted in his skull and was discharged with 100 percent disability.
Gene and Helen wed in December 1944 while Gene was on leave. Upon Gene’s discharge and return home a year later, Helen took care of him and they later started a family. Daughter Helen was born first, followed by Gene (a.k.a. Sonny), David, and Dorothy (a.k.a. Dottie). They lived in Stoneham, MA, where Gene became Commander of the American Legion and his devoted wife joined the Legion’s Auxiliary.
“They were practically inseparable,” said Dottie.
Helen’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease
When she was in her late 70s, Helen developed Alzheimer’s disease. Dottie, who works in long-term care, helped her father take care of his loving wife. Over 10 years, the disease progressed to the point where they needed more help, so they called Care Dimensions. The hospice team cared for Helen at home. After being recertified for hospice a few times, Helen was stable enough to come off the service. While Gene saw this as a victory, his exuberance and Helen’s rebound were short-lived as she began to decline again.
“We thought we were going to lose her” recalled Dottie, who had become her mom’s primary caregiver. “Dad couldn’t pick her up anymore, so I learned to do it.” Helen went back on hospice with Care Dimensions.
In sickness and in health
Last fall, both Helen and Gene were 92 and still living in their Stoneham home. Gene had congestive heart failure and chronic kidney disease. “Dad started to decline very quickly,” said Dottie. “He couldn’t swallow anymore.” He was admitted onto hospice with Care Dimensions two days after Helen’s re-admission in October 2016. Dottie and several family members pulled together to ensure that Gene and Helen could remain together in their home.
“My cousin and sister-in-law are nurses and we took shifts tending to my parents’ needs,” said Dottie. “Other family members pitched in, too. We were there 24/7.” Despite their efforts and the care from the hospice team, the situation became unsustainable in November as Gene’s and Helen’s conditions worsened. Dottie recalls her dad was having a particularly bad day when “an angel showed up.”
Care Dimensions Nurse Immacula Denis assessed the situation. “She knew we couldn’t manage them both anymore,” said Dottie. “She contacted the physician, who asked if we wanted to see if a bed was available at the Kaplan Family Hospice House for my dad.” That would address part of the issue, but Dottie wanted to keep her parents together, as they had been for more than 71 years.
While Gene was being admitted to the Kaplan House, Care Dimensions staff located a respite bed for Helen in another room there. Helen’s bed was moved into Gene’s room so they could be together.
“Everything just fell into place,” Dottie said.
“All the staff members at Kaplan House were very professional and kind-hearted,” added brother David, who stayed with his parents overnight. “They were very concerned about our needs.”
When Dottie and Sonny came in the next morning, they observed that both parents were sleeping comfortably.
“I held my dad’s hand when he passed at 10:15,” said Dottie. “Nurses at my workplace had told me that when someone dies, it’s customary to open the window as a symbol of letting the spirit go. I opened the window, and my mother’s breathing became labored. She died 45 minutes later while my brother Sonny was holding her hand.
“My father was a Marine and they never leave anybody behind,” Dottie continued. “Mom didn’t want to leave him, so she went to be with him 45 minutes after he died.”
As noted in their joint obituary: “All because two people fell in love, infinite love, happily ever after.”
For three years, Care Dimensions was there for Helen and Gene when they really needed us. Your support enables us to provide the very best end-of-life care possible.