Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.
Edith and Eddie got married in Virginia, United States, aged 96 and 95.
Since tying the knot, both Edith and Eddie have found a new reason to get up in the morning. At the start of each day, he helps her put in her teeth. They enjoy exercising and relaxing by the river.
But this love story is being disrupted by a feud over legal guardianship that threatens to tear the couple apart.
By Laura Checkoway
For me, the story of Edith and Eddie began with a photograph. A friend texted a photo of “America’s oldest interracial newlyweds” that was circulating online after they got married at ages 95 and 96.
This unlikely fairy-tale love story hovered in great contrast to a nightmarish reality.
I kept looking at the photo and wanting to know more about them. Finding love at that time in life seemed so special yet so simple. Why wouldn’t we expect to fall in love at any age? Why did we see this as an anomaly?
I entered Edith and Eddie’s lives anticipating tender sweetness. There was surely plenty of that between the couple: their life together was filled with affection and faith. They were always holding hands.
However, it became apparent that this unlikely fairy-tale love story hovered in great contrast to a nightmarish reality.
Edith’s daughters were feuding over what was best for their mother. Edith had been diagnosed with mild dementia and she and Eddie were in danger of being torn apart. With the daughters unable to reach an agreement, a court appointed a legal guardian for Edith, someone she had never met. Stripped of her own decision making, Edith was now a ward of the state.
Things quickly took a dramatic turn as Edith and Eddie’s lives were abruptly disrupted, their wishes entirely disregarded.
Returning home from a heart-wrenching shoot, I researched guardianship abuse, which is an issue I hadn’t been aware of. I learned that what happened to Edith is happening to elders across the country. I became anxious to understand the system that allows this to occur, and became even more anxious by what I found.
Court-appointed guardians can exploit the people they are supposed to protect, benefitting from their institutionalisation because the guardians are paid from the elders’ estate with very little oversight and accountability. These cases are life-altering, as well as emotionally and financially depleting.
It’s quite common for an elder to be deemed incapacitated, taken from their house and put in a nursing home, with the guardian, in turn, profiting from the sale of their house. Yet most people remain unaware of the potential for guardianship abuse until it happens to them.
Alison E. Hirschel, Director of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative, explains: “Our clients are so often caught between warring family members and are powerless against professional guardians who are appointed when family members disagree – and sometimes even when the family members don’t disagree and would be appropriate guardians. Like the guardian in this case, the professional guardians often know little or nothing about the people for whom they are responsible and make decisions based on their own convenience or for reasons that have nothing to do with the welfare and preferences of the alleged incapacitated person.”
What happens when someone’s life is taken out of their own hands? Who has their best interest in mind? Edith Eddie represents millions of American families who have experienced elder care disputes.
After seeing the film, many audience members have expressed anger, bewilderment and a deep personal connection to what they witnessed. One viewer, Joe Riener, shared his perspective:
“I couldn’t allow for how much suffering the two of them experienced in their extreme helplessness. People caused other people great pain. Despite a lifetime of reading and thinking about such issues, seeing it still disturbs me. I hope making your film allows you to focus your grief in ways that may move us to protect these vulnerable human beings from the host of predators out there.”
This is my hope for all viewers of the film, too.