48-year old man in love with his grandfather’s 103-year-old widow

A 48-year-old lawyer from Estonia pleading to stay in Australia to be with his 103-year-old girlfriend understands why some sceptics may not believe their love is real.

Mart Soeson has been in a relationship with Elfriede Riit since 2013 and the couple lived together until she was forced to move into a nursing home in 2022.

Ms Riit, who was also born in Estonia, is the widow of Mr Soeson’s grandfather – she was his second wife – and will celebrate her 104th birthday later in February.

The couple insists their 55-year age gap is irrelevant and they should be allowed to continue their ‘exclusive committed long-term’ romance for whatever time Ms Riit has left to live.

‘What started out as a wholesome bond I had with my late grandfather’s widow slowly but surely turned into a very meaningful and loving relationship,’ Mr Soeson said.

Mr Soeson is seeking to gain ermanent Australian residency on the basis that Ms Riit is his partner but his visa application has been refused.

He was not formally told why that visa application was rejected but believed the Department of Home Affairs was suspicious about the legitimacy of his union with Ms Riit.

‘Yes, I know we have the age gap,’ Mr Soeson told Daily Mail Australia.

‘And I know it’s an issue for some people.

‘But generally, age gap is an issue in case of older woman and younger man. It’s never an issue in case of older man and young woman but I’m not able to change that attitude.’

Mr Soeson has now taken his case to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal which he attended on Wednesday with Ms Riit and three supporters to have the matter heard.

That hearing did not go ahead at the tribunal’s Sydney office because Ms Riit, who Mr Soeson had carried from a Maxi Cab to a wheelchair, was too distressed to take part in the proceedings.

Outside the tribunal over a coffee, Mr Soeson described meeting Ms Riit in early 1996 when he came to Australia to study advanced English.

Ms Riit knew of Mr Soeson as her late husband Alfred’s grandson and invited him to stay at her home at Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west.

It was not love at first sight and ‘nothing happened overnight’, according to Mr Soeson, but the pair soon became friends and that connection grew.

‘She offered me guidance and support and companionship,’ Mr Soeson wrote in a statutory declaration that forms part of his appeal.

‘We had much in common and many reasons to spend time together under the circumstances.’

Mr Soeson returned to Estonia but came back to Australia on holidays in 2000 and 2007 to see Ms Riit, for whom by then he ‘cared greatly’ and ‘missed immensely’.

‘During these two trips my bond with Elfriede grew stronger, and when I returned to Estonia I felt a sense of longing for Elfriede’s companionship,’ his statement said.

‘I enjoyed my visits immensely and seeing her made me feel much more fulfilled and happier in my life.

‘Upon returning from my trip to Austria in 2007 I could not shake the feeling that I was missing something in my life and that something was Elfriede.’

Mr Soeson took annual leave to make further trips to Sydney in 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2012/13 for the sole purpose of seeing Ms Riit.

During that last visit the pair recognised their feelings for each other had deepened and moved beyond friendship.

‘Having spent the last five holiday season together the relationship between Elfriede and I had become extremely close,’ Mr Soeson’s statement said.

‘Elfriede was completely in love with me and I was feeling the same way about her.’

Mr Soeson said Ms Riit showed her love for him by spending more time in the kitchen cooking his favourite dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

‘Elfriede and I also became physically closer, and she constantly hugged me and paid attention to me in ways that she hadn’t before,’ he said.

Mr Soeson considered his romantic relationship with Ms Riit to have commenced in January 2013 when she was 92 and he was 37.

‘Elfriede felt very lonely and helpless before we met,’ he said in his statement.

‘I brought the joy, happiness and security for her life since we started to share our life together.’

Ms Riit, an Australian citizen who fled Europe after World War II, had been alone since the death of her husband in 1987.

Asked on Wednesday if she wanted Mr Soeson to go back to Estonia, she cried out: ‘No!’

Ms Riit said in her own statutory declaration that by January 2013, ‘I realised that my feelings for Mart have developed far past that of a friendship’.

‘I had fallen in love with him and this was something I needed to express,’ she said.

‘I was alone, I wanted a partner by my side, someone who cared about me and would be there to relish with me in the good times and support me through the difficult times and I know that I had found that in Mart.’

The next step for Mr Soeson was to quit his legal career in Estonia and move to Australia to live with Ms Riit at Bankstown, which he did in September 2018.

‘I quickly started planning as I knew that it would be difficult to move all my affairs, belongings and life to Australian to live with my partner permanently,’ he said in his statement.

By the time the couple was cohabitating, Ms Riit was 98 and according to Mr Soeson, who was 43, still ‘extremely active’. They lived together until Ms Riit moved into an aged care facility in September 2022.

‘This was a reluctant decision for both of us but a necessary one due to her health and the recommendations of her health professionals,’ Mr Soeson said in his statement.

‘The changes in Elfriede’s living conditions have not changed our relationship. We love each other and are still spiritually and emotionally connected.’

Mr Soeson first applied for permanent residency in March 2016, was granted a temporary visa in July 2017 but his permanent (partner) visa was refused just before Christmas in 2018.

He hoped the tribunal would accept he was in a ‘genuine de facto relationship’ with Ms Riit and allow him to stay in Australia.

‘Love doesn’t ask the age,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. ‘We have still strong relationship. We want to stay together as she hasn’t decades left.’

Mr Sloeson had to make considerable sacrifices to start a new life with Ms Riit in Australia. His legal credentials were not recognised and he has worked part-time as a painter.

‘Elfriede and I have been together in an exclusive committed long-term romantic relationship since January 2013,’ he wrote in his statement.

‘I relocated to Australia and have sacrificed many years for the wellbeing of Elfriede and for our genuine commitment. She views me as her husband despite us never formally and civilly marrying.’

Ms Riit, who does not have any children, is on the age pension and the couple pools those payments with Mr Soeson’s wages to cover their living expenses.

‘There are no grand plans for the future, we move forward step by step and are thankful what life brings us,’ Mr Soeson said in his statement.

Mr Soeson regularly visits Ms Riit at her nursing home where he brings her favourite foods: chocolate, berries and other fruits.

They attend concerts, chapel services, watch television together, go out to have coffee with friends and visit medical specialists.

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