By Adam Raider
Domenic Twohill of Wallingford lovingly remembers how his mother, a single parent in an age when being a single parent was less common, worked two jobs in order to provide for her children. In her 90s, Faye Garcia remained the headstrong matriarch, determined to be as self-sufficient as possible.
“For years,” Domenic recalled, “my wife, Patricia, and I encouraged my mother to move in with us but her stock answer was, ‘I’ve never interfered before and I’m not going to interfere now.’ That’s how she was. We’d bring her to our home every Sunday, and either myself or my cousin Elvira would stop by during the week to check on her, but she insisted on living alone.”
But then Faye suffered a series of falls at her home, all in the middle of the night. The third time, she broke her leg. After a hospital stay in the spring of 2008, she was discharged to Masonicare Health Center for rehab.
“We convinced her that this was the best place for her to do her rehab,” Domenic recalled, “because it’s just minutes from our house and it would be very easy for us to visit and spend time with her. Prior to that, I’d had no experience with Masonicare, other than driving past it every day. I had no idea of the size of the organization or the scope of the services offered.”
Faye was assigned to the rehab unit on the fourth floor of the Health Center.
“A few weeks after my mother got there,” Domenic said, “we spoke to one of her physical therapists and a doctor who’d cared for her and the consensus was that the chances of my mother being able to go back home and live independently were nil.”
Getting Faye to understand that she could no longer care for herself wouldn’t be easy, and Domenic admits that he didn’t look forward to having that conversation. He worried about how she might respond, and agonized over where and when to broach the subject. And then …
“We were visiting her one Sunday afternoon,” he said, “and they were having an ice cream social in her unit. I remember that it was a nice day, so we took my mother downstairs and went outside with our ice cream. We sat on a bench in front of the Health Center. Out of the blue, my mother turned to us and said, ‘I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m probably better off living here.’ My wife and I looked at each other and we knew in that moment that our prayers had been answered.”
Faye transitioned to the long-term care unit on the fifth floor, or “Ramage 5” as it’s also known. She lived there for four and a half years until her passing on December 28, 2012 at age 96.
Reflecting on his mother’s time at the Health Center, Domenic is grateful that Faye was in the hands of an organization that places so much emphasis on caring for the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of its residents and patients. He praises the staff for creating an environment in which it was possible for Faye to enjoy her final years.
“All of a sudden,” he said, “this woman who wouldn’t even let us arrange transportation for her to go to her local senior center became Mrs. Sociability. She did arts and crafts, she played Bingo and Pokeno, she took cooking classes, she went to all the music programs – you name it. When I’d call her every morning at 9:00, she’d run through the list of things she was going to do that day. In terms of being able to do things and interact with other people, those might have been four of the best years of her life.”
“Faye was with us for a number of years and became part of the family,” said Gail Kallinich, a Social Worker at Masonicare Health Center. “She was a character – a very independent-minded lady who was very particular about how she liked to keep herself and her room. The staff worked really hard to maintain her comfort and dignity. It helped that her family was so supportive. They were strong advocates for her. The communication was really good both ways. When the family had concerns about Faye, we were able to address them quickly. That improved the experience for everyone, and certainly made it less stressful for Faye. It was a real team effort.”
Faye’s health declined in her final months as she battled dementia. She eventually appeared to lose the ability to communicate.
“She had this blank expression and she’d just stare straight ahead,” Domenic said. “I’d visit her every day and sit with her, babbling on about my day, but she’d never say a word. Finally, on Christmas morning, I was there for about 45 minutes. Getting ready to leave, I leaned over to kiss her goodbye as I always did, and then she turned her head and looked at me, and in a voice as clear and strong as you can imagine, she said ‘I love you.’ Those were the last words my mother spoke. I will always have that moment to carry forward.”