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The Story of "Momma J"

By: Commonwealth Senior Living / 26 Aug 2022
The Story of

When asking families what the greatest challenge in caring for an aging loved one is for their family, 15.7% said it was the challenge of balancing care for a parent with work and home life. We know our associates chose a career in senior living to improve the lives of seniors, but for those who have walked a very similar path to so many of the families we serve have and will walk in the future, their passion runs even deeper. These associates have had firsthand experience in managing the exact challenge so many of our families said they face. 

So, we asked these associates to share the details of their own personal journey in supporting a loved one needing care. This includes everything from their initial apprehensions, who was impacted during their journey, and their triumphs along the way, to what they wish they had known looking back. Our hope is that sharing these details will help families beginning their journey overcome similar obstacles.  

Today we'd like to share a story from one of our very own associates, Stephanie Johnston, Sales Specialist, on her family's experience with moving her mother-in-law into senior living. 

The Story of "Momma J" 

"Let me tell you a little story about 'Momma J.' My father-in-law, Wendall, and mother-in-law, Judy, were inseparable. She was known to many as 'Miss Jacksonville' in her prime and had the pictures to prove it. For anyone that knew and loved one, she was 'Momma J' to them. In their retirement years, they often socialized with friends and partook in a different restaurant at almost every meal. When you saw one, you saw them both. They loved to enjoy conversations and see familiar faces. During their working years, they were very ingrained in people's lives as Wendal taught at the local high school and Judy ran the food services division.  

The passing of my father-in-law impacted our entire world. When this happened, we were faced with the ultimate decision of what next steps we needed to take to ensure the safety of my mother-in-law, Judy. She had a cognitive impairment and Wendall was her primary source of daily love, dedication, socialization, and care. We quickly realized he was managing her care needs in such a way that we didn't see all the daily needs she required of him. After all, she was the love of his life, and her dignity was of the highest importance to him and our family. 

We pulled together as a family and rotated shifts to ensure Judy was never alone. My husband is one of four brothers who were all raised to value family and their connections with their parents. To say their family is close would be an understatement. When you think of the ideal situation of having four sons, four daughters-in-law, and many grandchildren, the overlapping schedules are still challenging.  

Judy's granddaughter moved in with her for a period while finishing school and working at the local fire department. Even with life as a caregiver, shifts still needed to be considered. Her granddaughter was also building her own life and we knew the importance of ensuring she could continue to grow her relationships and have time to herself. She valued time with her granny. 

Judy moved into Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House and was a proud resident from July of 2019 to July of 2021. During this time, she loved a good meal from Chef Andre, Dining Services Director. She loved life and many things, but Andre always remembered she had one exception, carrots. She enjoyed the special pop-ins from her son, Rodney, when he cooked her favorite food, soft shell crabs.  

Her entire family is centrally located in Gloucester County.  Judy's four sons made her extremely proud by continuing their journey near her.  She lived her life to brag about her sons and their accomplishments.  I believe the success of her sons started at the kitchen table.  That was the one place she was sure they would gather so she could have their full attention. I can only imagine how much her grocery bills were with four growing sons who played sports. She was known to remind everyone about each son and how their families were doing. Her sons, W.L. a retired Hampton Fire Dept Battalion Chief, Rodney, a supervisor at WestRock, Spencer, a NASA Engineer, and A.J. a Master Trooper with the Virginia State Police, have one united opinion and often say, 'We couldn't have asked for a better mom.'  She was also very proud to call her daughters-in-law the daughters she had never had. All her grandchildren live in the Gloucester area and would visit her at her community as well.   

Looking back, I believe moving into a community setting was so valuable to her that we could have decided to make a choice sooner. Her granddaughter knew she wanted to stay in her home, so she did her best to honor those wishes. After the move, Judy was able to obtain physical therapy regularly and participate in programming. These added benefits allowed her to participate in activities she didn't have an interest in previously. My husband often told me, 'She's not an arts and crafts person.' Through dedicated attention and approach, Jazmin, the Program Director at Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House, could pull her out of her shell to join in the fun. I loved coming to work and sharing fun videos of Judy with her sons. She loved to hear about their hunting stories, and she loved her little dog, Trixie.  Another one of Judy's traits was her unmatched humor level. She always made us laugh in the community with her quick comebacks. In the video below you can see her making a 'Sitting in the tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G. joke!' 

The family was so proud of her second family we called her 'Pineapple Family.' The associates adored her and enjoyed sharing memories of their high school days when she experienced them growing up. It was a pleasure to have peace of mind knowing she was happy, loved, and cared for. She would often tell our associates to simply call her 'Granny' or 'Momma J' as she welcomed them as her own family. 

I was part of the Commonwealth family during our journey. Our company empowered me with regular dementia training and skillset for caregiver support. As a subject matter expert, I counsel, guide, and love families through this daily journey. I was so thankful to find understanding in the process and lean on my company for advice. The experience has only enhanced my ability to care for other families. Being able to reassure new families seeking guidance is valuable when your family can relate to their feelings and experiences. Every family's journey is different and unique, but the impact and true dedication I can offer families through their journey is something I hold dear to my heart. 

The 'Why' behind my decision to be a lifelong member of the Commonwealth Senior Living family is evident. I am reminded every day that the helping hand, advice, and ability to provide a living home is a memory that will live with that family forever. I'm humbled at the ability to be that person for them. One of my favorite moments in the journey is being able to stop and thank the caregiver for their efforts to love and care for them thus far. They often put themselves second, so simply thanking them on behalf of their loved ones as they may not be able to thank them themselves is genuinely life changing. The relief and recognition on their face when they know they have a helping hand is the number one reason for my 'Why.'" 

If this story resonates with you and your own family's journey, we'd love to support you in any way we can. Click the button below to contact the community nearest you today. 

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