A love that endures
Joe Kuzma hugs his wife, Audrey, as they sit in a family visiting area at Paddock Ridge Assisted Living and Memory Care. Joe, 74, and Audrey, 86, have been married for 31 years and Audrey was a successful real estate agent in Ocala. Now, Audrey is in memory care at Paddock Ridge and her husband comes to visit with her every day. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Joe and Audrey Kuzma have been married for 31 years, and despite Audrey suffering memory loss and sometimes not recognizing Joe, he refuses to let their love fade.
At the end of 2020, Joe moved Audrey to Paddock Ridge, an assisted living community in Ocala, after she wandered away from home and got lost on several occasions. It was a blow for Joe, but he does all he can to make his wife happy.
“She’s been at Paddock Ridge for six months, and I visit her every day. We sing songs, go for rides, go to dinner and get ice cream. We like to sit outside and sing. Audrey’s favorite song is ‘Can’t Take My Eyes off You’ by Frankie Valli. She really likes tuxedo cake, so I bring her a piece of that often,” he said.
They first met in Wethersfield, Connecticut, more than 30 years ago. Audrey was a real estate agent and sold Joe a home. Though Audrey was married at the time and Joe had a girlfriend, he was immediately struck by her class and grace.
The two couples went to dinner together to celebrate the home sale.
“While we were at dinner, a strong feeling came over me that her husband was going to pass away and I was going to marry Audrey,” Joe recalled. “I didn’t really believe in marriage at the time, so I remember being surprised at that feeling. It sounds strange, but I kept a picture of Audrey from the paper by my bed. I even got my real estate license because of her. There was always just something about her.”
The two didn’t see each other again until two years later when Audrey showed up at an auto garage Joe owned. When he asked about her husband, she broke into tears. He had died.
Still, it wasn’t until sometime later, when Audrey invited Joe on a river cruise, that they fell in love.
“Audrey won a cruise up and down the Connecticut River for Labor Day weekend. We did not know each other very well, but her coworker insisted that she invite me. I was nervous,” he said. “I remember hearing music upstairs, and she wanted to go. It was a wedding, and we were not invited, but Audrey insisted that we check it out. She loved the music, so I asked her to dance. I fell in love with her on that cruise. Just six months later, in 1990, we were married,” he said.
The newlyweds lived in Connecticut for a few years, but Joe developed breathing issues, and they moved to Ocala for the climate.
“Audrey never wanted to move, so I told her to try it for two years, and if she did not like it, we would move back. Within two years, she could have run for mayor and won; she knew everybody. She was very well-liked,” he said.
Audrey developed macular degeneration. She continued to lose her sight and hearing over the years and now sees and hears very little. Compounded with her memory loss, it is hard for Joe to get through to her sometimes. But he never stops trying.
“A question I am often asked is how do we keep love going? I have a big picture of Audrey near my computer. Every night, I sing at least 10 songs to her. It reaffirms how beautiful she is, both physically and internally. She may not be there, but I’m singing to her,” he said.
He’s also asking for prayers.
Joe has put up six billboards around Ocala. All read: “Be still and know that I am God. Please pray the Lord will heal my lovely wife, Audrey Kuzma.” The billboards include a photo of Audrey.
“I want to have people pray for her if they can. If someone can help her, I think that is amazing. It’s in God’s hands,” he said.
Meanwhile, he will keep his daily visits and will continue to sing to the love of his life.