In a touching account, Gregor Collins tells how the brief years he spent with Holocaust survivor Maria Altmann changed his world
A man who fell in love with a woman sixty years older than himself has told of his special relationship with her that transcended age.
It all began in 2007 when Gregor Collins was 32, and a friend convinced him to interview for a job as a caregiver to 92-year-old Maria Altmann.
Reluctantly, he attended the interview in Los Angles - but what he did not know was that his life would be transformed forever after meeting the Austrian woman who had survived the holocaust.
He said: "I’d never seen someone so elegant, yet there was something childlike about her too.
"She had an insatiable curiosity about everything. We sat down together as if we were the only two people in the room.
"And she listened to me not with her ears but with her heart. On that morning my life changed, and believe me, I don’t just let any girl sweep me off my feet.
"I set everything aside for the next three years until her death, the first of someone I truly loved in my entire life. Our connection was immediate. It was like we had met in another life."
Collins, an actor and writer, feels that his relationship with Maria was the most significant of his life.
He said: "Despite the age difference between us, I would daily forget she was what others may consider old. We both felt like we were in our 20s, and we would admit that to each other regularly, without it ever getting uncomfortable. It was just perfectly magical.
"My friends were really supportive and were all eager to meet her. I was very selective about who I introduced her to, though.
"It was like I was taking them to meet my new girlfriend, and all the butterflies that come with that. The last thing I wanted was for a woman with such gentility, who in many ways saw me as perfect, to see me with a bunch of goons."
Four years later - after the couple shared a relationship over 37 months - Maria died on February 7, 2011.
"I stood there and watched her take her last breaths," he added.
"I didn’t want Maria before I met her, but I needed her once I did. We were exactly what we both needed. At the funeral her daughter Margie came up to me and said: “You were the last great love of my mother’s life.” To hear it said aloud from a family member brought tears of gratitude, and humility - that I had the chance to make someone’s last three years on earth a pleasure.
"Since I met Maria I’ve done some of the best creative work of my life.
"She guides me in everything I do. True love never ends."
Collins wrote of his experiences in The Accidental Caregiver: How I Met, Loved, and Lost Legendary Holocaust Refugee Maria Altmann