Up Beat is a new section of the Bangor Daily News dedicated to uplifting stories. Look for tales of people helping people and things that will make you smile.
When Cary Butterfield was a junior at Brewer High School nearly six decades ago, his older brother let him tag along on a drive to visit his girlfriend on Mount Desert Island. On one of those trips he was introduced to a junior from Bar Harbor High School.
“I don’t know if it was love at first sight for her,” Cary Butterfield said this week. “But it sure was for me.”
That junior was Charlene Arnold, and after dating for three years, the couple got married in 1967. In the ensuing 53 years, through good times, bad times and juggling home and work life, not much could keep the two lovebirds apart.
Not even the massive stroke Charlene Butterfield suffered two years ago that forced her to move into assisted and rehabilitation living at The Brewer Center for Health and Rehabilitation.
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From the first day Charlene Butterfield checked into the facility, Cary Butterfield went every day to visit with his wife. Some days he was there twice a day.
While there, the couple would talk or silently hold hands. The stroke left Charlene Butterfield without the use of her left side, and different medications have further reduced her physical abilities. On days when even the simplests tasks were a struggle for Charlene Butterfield, her husband was there for breakfast and lunch, feeding his wife.
Then March came and Cary Butterfield was told his visits with Charlene Butterfield would have to be curtailed due to measures the facility was taking to control any spread of COVID-19. Soon after that, he was told no visitors were being allowed into the building until further notice.
Did that stop Cary Butterfield? Heck no.
He’s still going every day, rain or shine, to visit with his wife. But ever since the Brewer facility banned visitors, they have had to communicate through a closed glass window. These days Cary Butterfield stands on one side outdoors and Charlene Butterfield is on the other side inside.
“I will wake up some mornings and see it’s raining and figure he must not be going in,” their daughter Michelle Libby said. “Then I get this call from Dad saying he is on his way home from seeing Mom. If you ask anyone who works there, they will tell you he’s there every single day.”
For their part, the staff at Brewer Rehab are doing what they can to help the Butterfields maintain some form of contact.
“Everyone needs to maintain contact with their loved ones,” Tamera Leland, Brewer Center for Health and Rehabilitation administrator, said. “We do the best we can to help them do that.”
Those efforts include helping family and friends connect to residents over the phone, by video chats or, in the case of the Butterfields, helping Charlene Butterfield to stand so she and Cary Butterfield could see eye-to-eye through the glass.
“Last week she told us she wanted to hold Dad’s hand,” Libby said. “When he went for his next visit, the therapist helped her stand up and, with [the therapist’s assistance] Mom was able to put her hand on one side of the glass and Dad put his hand up on the other side.”
Someone inside the facility snapped a photo of that touching moment and gave it to Libby. She posted it on her Facebook page, and at once comments from near and far started pouring in from people touched by that silent show of affection.
“Those comments made me feel so warm,” Libby said. “It is so heartbreaking they can’t be together.”
Cary Butterfield retired six years ago from a lifetime working in the Maine woods as a lumberman, and around the same time Charlene Butterfield retired from her job in a nursery school.
“When they were working my mom also did everything around the house,” Libby said. “When she had to go into the facility, my dad did not know how to do a load of laundry and had to teach himself how to cook.”
A success now at both, Cary Butterfield is often the target of good-humored scoldings from the staff at the Brewer facility who blame him for expanded waistlines thanks to the baked treats he would bring in to share.
And as much as the daily benefits boost the spirits of the Butterfields, Leland said they have a similar impact on the staff there.
“It’s very heartwarming to see them together,” Leland said. “It really helps us and makes us feel good to know they are still able to connect every day.”
Some days Cary Butterfield is able to talk to his wife through the window by phone, other days they just stand and silently communicate with looks through the glass.
A good marriage takes work, Cary Butterfield said, adding that the secret to their 53 years together was working at their marriage every single day.
“We’ve had a really good life,” he said. “But we never faced anything like this.”
The obstacles presented by COVID-19 are going to be in place for a while, but for as long as they are, Cary Butterfield — who will tell you with a laugh he was named after Cary Grant — will keep making his daily visits to his wife.
“I was there this morning and she looked pretty good,” Cary Butterfield said. “When I go I tell her I love her and we blow kisses through the glass back and forth to each other. I tell her I’m being good.”
Do you know of an uplifting story in Maine? Bangor Daily News Features writer Julia Bayly is on the lookout for Up Beat stories of people, places or things that bring smiles and laughter to your day. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.