At 97, Natalie’s mother Astrid is still a firecracker; she has a dry wit and an incredible sense for storytelling. But she’s not as mobile as she used to be, and many of her days would center on watching TV news for hours. When Natalie heard about Mon Ami, she was skeptical that a few visits could change their lives, but she was willing to try it out; little did she know how meaningful the time could be.
Natalie, please tell us about your mother.
Astrid is 97 years old. She was born in 1920 and spent her childhood on a naval station in Dhalgren VA. It was an unusual childhood; she was allowed to be wherever she wanted on the naval station. She had a canoe and she could go out onto the Potomac whenever she wanter. She went to William and Mary and loved it and moved on to get a Masters degree in bacteriology and worked for the FDA. She very involved with the beginnings of penicillin.
She met my father in Dhalgren. He was stationed there during the war. They fell in love, got married, moved to St Louis and had 2 children. He grew up in San Francisco and he decided he wanted to come back to the Bay Area so they left Washington University and came to Lockheed. They bought this house in 1964 and they’ve been here ever since. My father lived a very long life in this household until he was over 100 and he had a beautiful passing into the beyond. She’s been here having a wonderful time ever since.
She has a very dry wit, it’s very quick and sometimes it’s like a bullet and you don’t expect it and we all end up laughing. I think my sense of humor was created because of this quick wit she had from the time I was small. I remember it distinctly just being thrown a curve ball.
How did you hear about Mon Ami?
I heard about this through a friend who was going to a support group for primary caretakers of immediate family members and she immediately contacted me about this thinking it was a great opportunity for Mother. I emailed Joy who sent a beautiful email describing the program. I didn’t know if my mother was the type of person you were looking for – at 97 she’s very spry, it wasn’t an Alzheimer’s/dementia category. Joy wrote back and said they would love to meet her, they would love to come over and explain how the program works. She and Therese came and we just fell in love with Therese right away and it just made complete sense. We had this great idea because of the neighborhood writing group that Mother could dictate her stories to Therese who could then type them – Mother commends Therese for her incredible word processing skills and then they were creating stories all the time. Therese would then send them to me so I could print them out and then show them to Mother so she could edit them, then we would appear at the writing group and she would read them to the contingent. And it was always great.
What do you think of the visits?
At first I thought – once a week what good is that going to do? Once a week for an hour, I don’t see how that could be any help. But it turned out to be an incredible help because what happens in between visits is Mother is forming her stories, she’s thinking about what she wants to tell, she’s thinking about what’s important, organizing her notes. And she’s even gone back organizing all the stories from earlier into a binder. It’s been wonderful because it gives her a project she’s been working on and something to think about. It’s been very constructive other than, you know, what’s going on in the news.
It’s been really exciting for me because Mother has a lot of intellectual go and because of her current health status she can’t get out as much as she’s like to, and she doesn’t have as much stimulation as she could benefit from. So it’s not just the writing. There’s the option of Mother taking Therese into the garden which she deeply loves and sharing the garden with her. Mother is quite a chef – she was extremely accomplished in the kitchen and she hasn’t been cooking for a while so one of our plans is that she’ll sit in the kitchen and tell Therese what to do and we’ll bring back all these great recipes that she used to make. There’s a lot of possibilities not just with the writing but with other things that are incredibly fun for everybody.