Above: Martha Shibilo (left) and Donna Gates sit and talk in their family home in Montague. Thanks to services from LifePath, the mother and daughter are able to age in place together.
Mother and daughter maintain their independence together in their family home
Donna Gates grew up in Franklin County. Now age 77, she lives in Montague with her mother, Martha Shibilo, who is in her 90s. But for many years, Donna lived and worked in the city.
“I left Greenfield in 1959 when I was 19 years old,” says Donna, “and moved to Washington, DC.” Donna worked for the government at first, and soon moved onto a job in the insurance industry, where she stayed for 11 years. Then it was time for a change. After graduating from a training program, Donna took a job with AT&T, where she put in 18 years. “And in my last eight years I became a building engineer, which was totally awesome and favorite job in my whole life.”
Her working years came to an end when her health changed. “At age 58 I had back surgery and couldn’t work anymore,” Donna says. Eventually she decided to move back to New England to be there for her aging mother. She inherited a house from her family and moved in next door to Martha. “This house is over 300 years old; it’s been in my family all that time,” Donna says, adding that the house was built by a grandfather several generations back.
A month after moving home, Donna traveled out of state to visit her best friend. “When I came back a week later,” Donna says, “she had been sick the whole time I was gone.” Martha ended up in the hospital, followed by a stay in a skilled nursing facility. “I did a lot of talking with social workers, and it was decided that she probably should not go home and live alone for a while. So that while stretched out.”
When Martha was ready to leave the nursing home, she moved in with Donna. “I live with my daughter,” says Martha. “Well, I just couldn’t live alone anymore. I was sort of sickly.”
In order to provide the right care for her mother to live at home with her, Donna connected with LifePath, a nonprofit agency offering options for independence to elders, caregivers, and people with disabilities. Before long, a case manager set both women up with home care services.
“Well, we have an absolutely marvelous lady who comes three times a week,” says Donna, “two hours for me, three for my mother.”
“We’ve been very lucky with the woman we have and everything,” says Martha, “extremely lucky. She comes, I take my bath, you know, personal things, too.”
“She does everything,” says Donna, “but cooking and doing laundry. She goes to the grocery store for us; she helps my mom with her showers; she makes the bed; she vacuums; she dusts. [She] does any personal healthcare needs that my mother might have.”
“And she’s very friendly and does anything you want her to do,” Martha adds.
It’s been about five years now since Martha moved in. “It’s not easy sometimes for either one of us, but personally I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s what I knew I would always end up doing.”
Martha is happy to be able to live with Donna. “Now living in my house as opposed to in her house is not uncomfortable for her,” explains Donna, “because she spent a lot of time here with her grandmother, with my great grandmother, and she actually has her room upstairs that she calls her room. It’s always been her room.”
Like Donna, Martha also spent time away from her hometown. Beginning in World War II, Martha devoted eight years to the Women’s Army Corps. “Basically other than that,” says Donna, “she has always either lived in Greenfield or Turners Falls. This is her area; this is where all her lifetime friends were. Now I could have done, as a couple of my other friends did, and have her move to DC area to be with me. That was not right. This is her environment and as long as she’s happy in her environment, she’s going to be more healthy in her environment.”
Donna appreciates that LifePath is able to help people in situations like her and her mother’s and encourages others to reach out for support. “Number one, if you need help, ask for it. Don’t ever be too proud not to ask. Everybody needs help at one point in their life. I would recommend contacting LifePath. Have them come in and evaluate you and see what your needs are. Don’t just sit there. You’ve put into this life, take from it what you can.”
Thanks to services from LifePath, Donna and Martha are able to maintain their independence living together in their family home, and it means a lot to both of them. “My experience with LifePath,” says Donna, “even talking to people on the phone, has been very positive. I have found no negative people.”
When asked to sum it all up, Donna says, “Simple. One word: secure. I’ll add a second one: grateful.”