Love in the age of Alzheimer's: Ray and Belle married anew

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 19, 2013 

Ray Breakey loved his wife so much that he married her twice.

Ray and Annabelle - who goes by "Belle" - were married the first time on Nov. 15, 1947. Besides the minister, the only observers were their mothers and two friends who served as witnesses.

Sixty-one years later, on the same date, Ray and Belle went through a second marriage ceremony, complete with a replica three-tier wedding cake and more than 50 family members present, mostly their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

They had a second ceremony because Belle, who has had Alzheimer's disease for more than 15 years, no longer recognized her husband. But she agreed to marry the man that family members tactfully called "the other Raymond," and the ceremony put her troubled mind at ease about sharing her life with him.

"Somehow that little piece of being married had been lost, and now it was back again," said Gail Hanna of Bellingham, one of Ray and Belle's children.

FELL FOR BELLE

Raymond Breakey was born and raised in rural Whatcom County. Belle Higginson grew up in a small town at the north end of Vancouver Island but attended high school in Abbotsford, B.C.

They met when 19-year-old Ray went to Canada with an uncle, Mel Murphy, to do some work for Mel's family. Belle, who was Mel's cousin, was there.

When Ray mounted an old horse, Mel gave the animal a swat and it began to buck. Ray was tossed into the air and landed near Belle, who was reading a book under a tree.

They began dating, but their romance was put on hold when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Ray enlisted in the U.S. Navy the next day and served in the South Pacific, where he learned to fly and collected memories that he didn't talk about much after the war.

Once back home, Ray waited until Belle finished nursing school, then they were married. He and Mel started Fountain Motors, an auto dealership in Bellingham that evolved into Fountain Rental.

Ray and Belle had four kids of their own and also raised a much-younger brother and sister of Belle after her mom died.

Forty years ago, he and Belle bought acreage on Dewey Road with ample room for horses. Ray built their inviting country home, with exposed beams, wood paneling and a stone fireplace.

Many of the grown Breakey children still live close by, including Gail, 60, who lives a few minutes away. Large family get-togethers were a regular event at the Breakey household, where the focus on family is self-evident: Nearly three dozen framed photos of grandchildren and great-grandchildren line the fireplace mantel and several shelves.

AT HOME TO THE END

When Belle began showing signs of dementia, the family rallied to help her stay at home. While Ray was at work, even after he was long past normal retirement age, Gail spent time with her mom.

"I've been here nonstop for 15 years," she said.

Belle's condition deteriorated. One winter, confused, she wandered away from the house. But Ray remained determined to keep her at home rather than put her in a care facility.

"Dad stuck by her like glue," Gail said.

Then, one morning, Belle saw Ray and asked, "Who is he?'"

"She thought he was adorable," Gail said, "but she wasn't going to let him stay in her bed."

Luckily, Belle agreed to marry the adorable fellow. For the second ceremony, the family had a spring inserted into a gold band so the ring would fit over Belle's now-arthritic wedding finger. She still wears it.

Three months after the second ceremony, Ray was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Doctors said he had a few months to live, maybe longer if he underwent a complex surgical procedure. Despite his advanced age, Ray agreed to the surgery.

"He said, 'I gotta take care of my wife,'" Gail recalled. "He wanted to stay for Mom."

When Ray began chemotherapy after surgery, the family hired full-time caregivers for Belle. Taking care of Belle remained foremost in Ray's mind even as he entered the hospital hours before his death on Sept. 11, 2010. He was 89.

His ashes were spread on the family farm, where Belle still lives, thanks to her caregivers and family members who spend time with her.

Before she became ill, Belle would call her husband "Raymond" if she was upset or was teasing him. Otherwise, he was Ray.

Now 88, Belle spends much of her time napping. She's not as restive as she used to be, but when something upsets her, she still calls out for her Raymond.


LOVE POEM

"True Love, Belle and Ray"

Love first hit,

When off a horse Ray lit,

At the feet of the beautiful Belle.

Five years go fast,

WWII has come and gone past,

When Ray found his long lost Belle.

Marriage, six kids,

Hard work, lots of loving they did,

With his loving wife, Belle.

Time takes a toll,

Aging into the grandparent role,

At the side of his beautiful Belle.

She doesn't remember,

He won't to the disease surrender,

He proposes and reweds his lovely Belle.

Cancer has come,

And he finally succumbs,

Leaving his lonely & beautiful wife Belle.

-- Gail Hanna, Bellingham

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

Bellingham Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service