After 52 years of marriage, Dave and Irene Stallard are as devoted to each other as they were the day they met in college – connected by a lifetime of happy memories.
Nothing could separate them; neither the stroke that hit Dave 16 years ago, nor the heart problems that nearly killed him ten years later, nor the vascular dementia that crept on him cruelly.
Nothing until it is blocked.
The picture of Irene, 74, kneeling by the fence in front of her husband's nursing home and grabbing the railing as she looked down at Dave sitting in his wheelchair in the garden below was heartbreaking.
Accepted by her daughter, Miranda Gore Browne, she spoke more forcefully than any words of desperation from those who were separated from their loved ones in nursing homes in order to keep cherished connections alive.
Nothing could separate them; neither the stroke that hit Dave 16 years ago, nor the heart problems that nearly killed him ten years later, nor the vascular dementia that crept on him cruelly. Nothing until it is blocked
“We haven't been able to see Dad since the lockdown began in March. His room overlooked the courtyard of the house, not the garden, so we couldn't even see him through a window, ”says Miranda.
“Mama called the nursing home in May and asked if they could roll him out into the garden so she could see him.
"She called me on May 3rd and said," You're going to take Dad into the garden, would you come over? "
“I had just got there and was getting out of the car when I saw Mum kneeling there. I remember thinking, "Gosh, this is real love" and just had to take a picture.
“Mom was a teacher for 25 years and she knelt down to be at Dad's level, just as she did with babies in her class, and I found it incredibly moving.
“I didn't want to do anything with the photo other than send it to our family to say, 'We saw Dad,' but then my brother said, 'I can't stop thinking about this picture. "
The arresting picture, first posted by the Mail this week, has become a defining image of our campaign for loved ones reuniting for Christmas.
"My only intention when I shared it on Twitter was to highlight my parents' dedication. It wasn't political," says Miranda.
“We had a positive, emotional moment with Dad so I was very shocked at the reaction to the power of it.
After 52 years of marriage, Dave and Irene Stallard are as devoted to each other as they were the day they met in college – connected by a lifetime of happy memories
“It is amazing that such a simple picture of love has the power to change the world. People have told us that it will stop them and open their eyes.
"When I took this picture of mom and dad, I had no idea it was going to be so much bigger than just us."
Miranda says the hardest part during the Covid crisis was the forced separation between her parents.
“We had another site visit on Dad's birthday on May 7th, and they have continued since then. After the lockdown was eased in July, Mom and I were allowed to make short visits to a pavilion in the garden every two weeks, but she misses Dad so much and it felt too long between visits. & # 39;
Miranda, better known to date as a finalist in the first series of The Great British Bake Off and a successful cookery writer, has nothing but praise for the nursing home that has been looking after her father since February 2019.
Both she and her mother Irene are incredibly grateful to the carers for protecting 79-year-old Dave from Covid during this pandemic and allowing them as much contact as government guidelines allow. What more can they do, she asks, when their hands are tied?
It is the "inhuman" situation that results from all the rules and regulations – which leads to the forced separation dragging on – that diverted Miranda's attention from baking to campaigning.
When she wrote about the issue on her Instagram page, she received a flurry of support as she expressed frustration that "we could all be in pubs together after the lockdown but we couldn't see Dad ".
Her story was one of many poignant stories highlighted in the mail. Miranda speaks for every other relative when she says that all older residents suffer from a lack of contact with their families, but that dementia sufferers are even more in need – without them, cognitive decline is known to accelerate.
"It's really hard to know how much Dad has gotten worse because we can only see him for half an hour every week or every other week," says Miranda.
The other day Mom was so happy to see him. She hadn't seen him in two weeks and he was really down, wouldn't look up.
She struggled to talk because there was so much pressure. She thought, "I only have half an hour." Like everyone else in this situation, we are concerned about the lack of stimulation.
“We know we are a lot luckier than some people who were only allowed window visits because we could sit in the garden with him.
“It has been so troubling to so many people, and the ones who have deteriorated the most are the ones who haven't had that human contact.
“Dad still knows who we are and can talk, but every time we go we worry because they can lose weight pretty quickly.
“It's also very difficult when dad has moments of clarity and wants to know why we can no longer see him.
"I said to him a few weeks ago, 'don't worry, mom is coming next week so you won't be alone for long' and he said, 'surely you can do better and take more precautions? & # 39;
“I try not to let the sad side in because once it does it is harder and I try to create powerful moments to share with my two brothers, one of whom Dad couldn't see at all because of local locks. & # 39;
Irene, Miranda, and their brothers Paul, 49, and Tim, 42, long for the opportunity to continue making memories with Dave before his condition makes it impossible. They want to add to all of those childhood memories that they fondly remember with their father because they stay intact in his long-term memory and bring him back to them.
Dave Stallard was born on the Isle of Wight to a dairy farmer and fell in love with Irene while she was a student teacher at London College, where he had recently completed an electrical and engineering course.
He had a successful career as a railroad engineer before moving into management.
After his early retirement he worked as a consultant and traveled abroad to advise other countries on their rail networks.
“We had a very swallow and Amazonian childhood with so many adventures. We had a motorhome and a boat and it was great fun when Dad threw us off piers in the Lake District to test life jackets and sail in Chichester Harbor, ”recalls Miranda.
As an engineer, he was always out in the garden, trying to get an outboard motor running in a container filled with water or in the driveway to change the motorhome engine. He would build small steam engines with my brother. He was Professor Brainstorm.
"Mom and Dad were never the type to sit still for long, and because we had train passes, we went on day trips to Cambridge or York."
Dave's first stroke 16 years ago was always a picture of health and shocked the family. It happened the week Miranda gave birth to her oldest child, Thomas. However, he appeared to be recovering completely.
He and Irene couldn't have been more proud when Miranda, a grocery buyer at Marks & Spencer, reached the finals of the first Great British Bake Off in 2010 and embarked on a new career as a cookery writer and food columnist.
However, six years ago, after a referral to a chest doctor with alleged pneumonia, it was discovered that Dave had serious heart disease that required surgery. He collapsed at home in West Sussex before it could be carried out.
"He was taken to Worthing Hospital, and after all these brain scans, we were told that the bleeding in his brain was so significant that they didn't think he was going to recover," says Miranda, who like Thomas has a daughter, Eleanor  and son Henry .
They had intubated him and put him in intensive care, and I called my brothers, one of whom was involved in a research project in China, to come here because we didn't think he would make it, but somehow he survived. The next day they took out the tube and he was still alive.
"I said to the counselor, 'If you can bring him by the end of the week, I'll bring his favorite cake," and I stood at home and literally cried into his favorite Victoria sponge and thought, "I am I will never do it for him again. & # 39; I put it in a Tupperware box and he could barely lift his head and had to be spoon-fed, but I could see the jam dripping down his chin and he was so happy.
He was in the intensive care unit for ten days and then was taken to a ward, then to rehab, and then back home. After that, we felt every day with him as a blessing. & # 39;
Dave was diagnosed with vascular dementia six years ago and was lovingly cared for at home for five years until his condition worsened to the point that Irene could no longer cope with it.
"It was very difficult to make the decision to take care of Dad, but it allowed Mum to relate to him instead of just being his carer," says Miranda. “No matter how difficult it was, we tried to cherish all the special moments, so we've had many family events since he was diagnosed with dementia.
“Dad was a big part of my youngest Henry's baptism. Then, for our mother's 70th birthday, we had a party in the garden. For their 50th wedding anniversary we booked the town hall and I made all the food.
“It's about creating memories, even though it wasn't easy and it was really hard for mom. I think I'm a bit obsessed with it, and when he went to a nursing home we decided to keep those memories going.
"We didn't want him to be stuck there and doing nothing. One day we drove to the Downs – I sat in the back like a kid – and I had ice cream rolls and a picnic basket made," says Miranda, who visited her father twice a week before Covid Week and always took a homemade cake or biscuit with me.
“Mama drove it to me too. He couldn't get out of the car so the kids got in the back and talked to him, took out crispy cakes we had made and at Christmas he came to us and it was wonderful when we all worked as a team.
We had a really good time with Dad until the lockdown. It was really special, but he hasn't been out since the first week of March.
Miranda says the hardest part during the Covid crisis was the forced separation between her parents. The couple is pictured above on their wedding day in 1968
"When mum got the call that there was a lockdown it was all very sudden and we thought 'hopefully it won't be too long' and tried to stay positive.
"We talked endlessly about bringing him home." But we felt better if he stayed at home where he was safe. We knew all of the caregivers and how good they were. We'd spent ages making his room beautiful.
I emailed everyone I knew asking them to send him a postcard, and mom created a keepsake box of childhood things to take home. Mom was amazing. She was always super capable. She is a church elder, teacher, governor, and councilor, but the longer the separation went on, the more difficult it was for her.
“I think it should have happened that the government should have allowed a relative to be appointed as a caregiver, especially for people with dementia, and that they contact under the same rules that nursing home staff follow.
"Mom would have been very willing to be tested, self-isolating, and wearing PPE to be around Dad from the start."
This week, Nursing Secretary Helen Whately announced to MPs during a debate at Westminster Hall that a Covid-19 test pilot for families and friends of nursing home residents would begin on Monday in 30 nursing homes across four localities.
The minister admitted that she had "sleepless nights" due to the suffering caused by the interruption of visits to nursing homes. & # 39;
To protect residents from Covid outbreaks while giving them the benefit of seeing their relatives, she said, "It's incredibly hard to find a balance."
Miranda wished there had been a quicker response to the problem and the Rights for Residents campaign group hadn't had as much trouble getting heard.
"If it's quick, it's brilliant," says Miranda.
“But it has come very slowly, and for some people it is already too late. We are not visitors – we are a family. A nursing home is an alternative to a home and should be in a place that we can access. Giving the nursing homes the support to make this possible should have happened much earlier. & # 39;