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Golden years, golden bands for newlyweds

Octogenarians marry at legion

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Legionnaires and octogenarians Norm Sanders, 84, and Vina Vesinger, 87, tied the knot Saturday at Sir Sam Steele Legion on Salter Street where they first met on the dance floor. This marriage is Vesinger's fourth. She was first married at 18.

JESSICA BURTNICK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Legionnaires and octogenarians Norm Sanders, 84, and Vina Vesinger, 87, tied the knot Saturday at Sir Sam Steele Legion on Salter Street where they first met on the dance floor. This marriage is Vesinger's fourth. She was first married at 18. Photo Store

Last Saturday, Vina Vesinger put on a wedding dress for the fourth time. The 87-year-old Winnipeg bride walked down the aisle with her 84-year-old groom, Norman Sanders.

"God was good to me, he gave me wonderful husbands," said the bride who has survived three previous spouses. "I was treated like gold, they couldn't do enough for me. They're loveable and adore me; that's what I like."

The love expressed by the octogenarians (people in their 80s) at the altar will be necessary, say marriage counsellors, because people marrying in the latter stage of life can face unique challenges. Those could include failing physical health, the merger of different retirement incomes and family members who are leery about accepting a new parent or grandparents.

But, for Vesinger and Sanders, their wedding day was a time for celebration, not a time to anticipate possible relationship challenges.

"We'll be living together, happily ever after," said the proud groom. "It's all about love, and you can get married at any age."

Both Sanders and Vesinger want to live until they're at least 100.

"Nobody thinks that I'm 87 because I don't act like it, I like dancing even though we both have arthritis," she said. "I'll be able to settle down, but he better spoil me."

Both Sanders and Vesinger lost their previous spouses to cancer and heart disease. They were friends for years before marrying at Sir Sam Steele Legion on Salter Street.

"We chose the Legion because that's where we met. We both have walkers and there aren't any stairs," said Sanders.

Although some families are not immediately enthusiastic when their parents and grandparents remarry, this was not the case with Vesinger and Sanders. Her nine children and his five children came from across Canada to mark the special day. Vesinger's daughter was the maid of honour, and Sanders' son was the best man.

"My family said 'She picks up good men', but I told them 'I don't, they pick me up,' " said the bride. "But you can make any marriage work if you want to."

According to Statistics Canada data for 2008, the average age for a widowed woman to remarry was 63 and 72 for men.

Although senior couples don't have pressures such as jobs or raising children, marriage presents different challenges for newlyweds who are into their retirement years.

"We're wired to connect; that doesn't change," said Carolyn Bergen, marriage counsellor and director of Bergen & Associates Counselling. "They think they have the whole relationship thing figured out and then something surprises them. They all have relationship history, or baggage."

Financially, it can be difficult to adjust to a new partner's lifestyle, budget and retirement plan. Couples struggle to support one another when their health begins to fail, which is common among seniors. Family members can have a difficult time adjusting to the marriage, sometimes feeling loyalty to the spouse being replaced, sometimes resenting a reallocation of assets.

"It can be hard watching a parent or a grandparent fall in love with a different partner," Bergen said, who has counselled senior couples in her private practice since 1999.

She said one of the most common challenges is a lack of communication.

"That one special person's opinion is so important," Bergen said. "They come in when something breaks the connection like when they don't feel heard, loved, or worthy."

Linda Churchill, of Crescentwood Counselling Services in Winnipeg, said many senior couples who seek counselling are continuing to work on their first marriage.

"They have a strong sense of loyalty and that marriage is forever," said Churchill. "Even if they're unhappy they stick with it in Hell or high water."

One of the biggest marital issues Churchill sees among senior couples is retirement.

"Some couples aren't sure how to negotiate differences or how to be friends because they don't have a job to preoccupy them," she said. "During retirement they're suddenly trying to figure out how to be together."

"People are people whether they're a young couple or not. Senior couples are grappling with different issues like getting older, illness, mortality, the death of friends," she said. "Every couple is unique, but senior couples don't have it any easier."

elizabeth.fraser@freepress.mb.ca

Does marriage between octogenarians prove those modern philosophers -- the Beatles -- right: All you need is love? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 A2

History

Updated on Thursday, July 25, 2013 at 11:23 AM CDT: Change picture, adds the Conversation question.

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