Manuel Galea turned 67 on July 27. His wife of 32 years, Rita, 60, got the surprise of her life when she saw him at Casa Marija, her home for the past two years.

Manuel and Rita hadn’t been able to see each other at all throughout the pandemic due to COVID-19 restrictions in elderly care homes.

About two months ago, Manuel decided to move to Casa Marija to be with Rita for good.

During a recent telephone call to his wife, he told her that he would be visiting her soon. She was ecstatic to hear the good news. But little did she imagine that her husband was in the same building, calling her from the third floor – one floor up from her room – where he was following quarantine procedures as a new resident.

“It was a very emotional reunion,” says Anna Curmi, the home’s active ageing coordinator, who is close to the couple.

Life dealt the married couple a terrible blow 12 years ago when Rita suffered a mental illness and had to be placed in care at Mount Carmel Hospital, where she spent eight years. She then moved to Sa Maison retirement home in Pietà for two years, before finally moving again to Casa Marija.

Manuel was devastated when his wife got ill. Visiting Rita every single day after work, with a heavy heart he returned to an empty house, had to cook and cope on his own. “I missed her dearly,” he says. Having no children, the couple, from Żejtun, have always had each other for company.

Rita’s illness has been a major stumbling block in the couple’s marriage “even though there has never been anyone else and she is still the only woman I love… and will always be,” says Manuel.

Rita became unwell after her mother-in-law passed away. “I was very close to her. She was like a second mother to me. My life without her seemed bare and meaningless. I felt lonely and depressed. Seeing us so close, everyone thought I was her daughter. Losing her meant losing everything,” Rita says with tears in her eyes. “Especially around this time of the year, we used to enjoy picking capers. I have lovely memories of days out in the fields together. Those were beautiful times.”

Being alone at home without Rita for so many years has been a bitter experience for Manuel. But now that the couple are finally together for the first time in many years as husband and wife is “truly a blessing,” he says.

“I feel so much better. I couldn’t ask for more. The future looks brighter.”