Make Us Part of Your Story: Aurel & Maja

Aurel, 77, at Chartwell since 2012, with daughter Maja

As Aurel and his daughter Maja tell it, life in the Dittrich family was a beautiful one growing up, filled with a kaleidoscope of precious memories together—like the clan gathering around the kitchen table to blow out candles on a home-made birthday cake, or boating along a crystal-blue lake in the Laurentians. The Croatian-born Chartwell resident and his wife, Zora, had two children in total, including Maja, the oldest. “Maja was my miracle baby,” Aurel smiles, a sparkle in his eye. “She was born on my birthday. Everyone who knows Maja knows how wonderful she is: she’s perfect to me.” Maja teases that she is indeed perfect, but her description of her father is equally as loving. “My dad is such an interesting man. Disciplined, yet funny, a hard-worker, yet loves to unwind with a glass of wine and a paint brush,” she says, adding: “He’s the patriarch of the family; a caring father and a model grandfather.” An accomplished painter, carver and piano player, Aurel even constructed the family’s cottage from the ground up, a place where they enjoyed many summers swimming, canoeing, and making every dinner into a big occasion.

Six years ago, it was Zora’s health that led the family to consider retirement living. After a visit to the hospital, her doctor suggested the option, prompting their son, Mike, to recommend Chartwell Stonehaven, a seniors’ home he was already familiar with. After discovering the residence was supported by a pharmacy, as well as nurses and visiting doctors on hand, Aurel and Zora decided to make the move. As Maja explains, the family felt comforted by the decision. “Mom needed that extra care, and neither Dad nor the family could give her the round-the-clock support she needed,” she reveals. “We felt Mom and Dad would be safe there with staff available to assist them when we couldn’t.” Though Zora adapted well to their new home, she sadly passed away two months later. Aurel was left with a big decision. “I decided to move back to my house, thinking I had no reason to stay at the residence,” he explains. “But I quickly changed my mind again. It was too lonely on my own, so I returned and chose an independent apartment for myself.”

Today, Aurel’s suite is lined with the artwork he’s spent his life crafting. Carrying on Zora’s love of cooking, he still enjoys preparing meals from time to time, though he looks forward to Sunday dinners with Maja’s family and the occasional trip to Swiss Chalet. He is anything but lonely now, as he’s a well-known figure in the home as a resident ambassador who welcomes new arrivals. “I like introducing new people to staff and other residents, and inviting them to some of the activities offered here. I especially enjoy getting them out on the dance floor with me,” he winks. “I tell them, ‘If you need anything, you come and knock on my door.’ For me, meeting new people is fantastic; I like to make them laugh by reading from my joke book or pretending to cheat at cards.”

Seeing her father so happy, and a valued part of the home, Maja remarks on the peace of mind she and her family feel. “We never worry about Dad, not when he’s so well taken care of and having such fun. It’s like a little resort here; every time I visit there’s another party going on!” Aurel shares in his family’s peace of mind too, and feels grateful to have found a place where he can say with confidence he feels at home. “Moving was the right decision, because I love it here,” he expresses proudly. “I’m going to go out and change the sign out front from ‘Stonehaven’ to ‘Stoneheaven,’ because this place is full of little angels.”