My mother has a wonderful life. Even if she doesn’t know it.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 18, 2018

This is the season for United Way’s workplace campaign, in which employed individuals in companies of every size are asked to make a pledge, make one-time donations and/or volunteer in efforts to strengthen organizations within their respective communities. The following was written by Wendy Wilson, the family member of a participant of Trinity Living Center who has benefited from the adult day services it provides.

A little TLC makes a life worth living

Jean Wilson and TLC staff member Amy Murphy work on an art project.

By Wendy Wilson

The classic film “African Queen” hit American movie theaters the year I was born, 1951. The film tells the story of a strait-laced spinster missionary in the African Congo (played by Katherine Hepburn) and a gin-swilling tugboat captain (Humphrey Bogart) who team up to sabotage a Nazi warship anchored hundreds of miles downriver. The constantly bickering odd couple sneak past German fortifications and deadly rapids and eventually find themselves stuck in a mucky swamp. With the boat’s motor broken, Bogart must get in the water and physically pull the boat through the weeds. Climbing into the boat for a short break, he and Hepburn are horrified: he’s covered with leeches. As Hepburn powders and plucks off the parasites, Bogart utters one of my favorite lines in any film: “If there’s anything in the world I hate, it’s leeches! The little devils!” But it quickly becomes apparent that if Hepburn and Bogart are going to reach their goal, Bogart must climb back into the water and carry on. A shadow passes over his face – one of resignation, fatigue, duty, and love (because of course by now he and Hepburn have fallen in love), and he gets back into the fetid water.

This describes some of my personal feelings about caregiving for my 91-year-old mother. Thanks to TLC, however, my burden is shared by the professional, sensitive women on its staff.

Both my elderly parents moved in with me in 2010, less than a year after I moved to Salisbury. Dad died at Glenn A. Kiser Hospice House three years later. My mother, in late-stage Alzheimer’s, was given six months to live in 2013, and yet – like Bogart and Hepburn – has continued to soldier on with what her neurologist described as “a spirit to live” he’d never seen before in someone with so much loss of brain function. Compared to her, the Energizer Bunny resembles a sloth.

Mom began attending Trinity Living Center one, then two days a week. As her need for constant supervision, as well as socialization, increased, she became a full-time participant in Trinity Living Center’s adult day program on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, open Monday through Friday (except holidays) from 7:15 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.

Well-intentioned neighbors and acquaintances often inquire kindly after Mom’s health, then shake their heads and make a comment along the lines of, “Such a shame. She has no quality of life.”

While Alzheimer’s, and dementia in general, is a horrible disease with far-reaching effects on entire families, my reply is invariably, “Actually, my mother has a wonderful life – she just doesn’t know it.” Much of the credit is due to her attendance at TLC

Her day there always begins with a warm greeting and a big smile from the staff member sitting at the front desk. Despite her lack of cognition, Mom still responds with delight. Breakfast is served until 9 a.m. and a choice between two different and delicious hot lunches is offered. Mom is taken by the hand and brought into the main activity room, which is adjacent to a large sunroom as well as a secured outdoor patio area. This brightly-lit room is aptly named, for there’s always something going on: from the morning’s pledge of allegiance and prayers to exercise, art and music, and games of all sorts (Bingo’s a favorite, and it comes with prizes!). There are quizzes and quiet discussions about times past, cooking (and tasting) demonstrations, and even sports: basketball and corn hole, but no football, as far as I know. There are mini-concerts with live bands, musical entertainment, spa days, costume parties, holiday celebrations, and even field trips. Bathing and beauty services also are available.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC, and funding from United Way, my mother has a wonderful life. Even if she doesn’t know it. But I do.

Characteristically modest, the staff members asked me not to make this article about them, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share what I’ve witnessed over the past several years.

A registered nurse monitors the health and well being of every single participant, manages reams of paperwork, and administers medicines according to doctors’ prescriptions, and consults with family members in a mutual sharing of information and strategies to manage myriad problems.

My mother’s moods are variable, not only from day to day, but sometimes from minute to minute. Now multiply that situation by up to 40 attendees presenting various levels of cognition, mobility, and personality. Talk about a challenge, and yet – I have never seen the TLC ladies grimace or gripe or sweat. They are unvaryingly upbeat and positive, not only in dealing with attendees, but also with each other. This sets a tone in the environment that models behavior among the participants themselves, who in turn are kind and thoughtful and even tolerant of each other’s quirks and foibles. (My mother is a persistent babbler, yet a group of attendees take turns sitting with her, listening, smiling and responding as best they can.)

The delivery of elder health care is not standardized in our country; in many ways, we all are at the mercy of the personal work ethics of elder care providers. Yet keeping attendees safe and feeling secure is but the foundation of how the ladies of TLC define their jobs. They open their hearts to create a genuine sense of family, of belonging. Even people with advanced Alzheimer’s, such as my mother, somehow sense that. Although we haven’t discussed it, I sense that setting this high mark of authentic caring comes at considerable personal cost for the TLC staff. Great love always puts you at risk for sorrow, and with this demographic, the emotional consequences in walking with people in mental and physical decline, broken bones, and end of life are inevitable.

And yet, every single day on the job, Christina, Patty, Suzanne, Amy, Andrea, Brittany, Dorothy, Jessica, Robin, Meta and Jody choose to love the people they serve. People who are stubborn or ornery or unhappy or trapped in a delusion that they must leave for the airport or get home to see their mother RIGHT NOW! People who refuse to eat or drink, even as their bodies are desperate for nourishment. People who are inconsolable. Or incontinent. Repeatedly.

Thanks to the ladies at TLC, and funding from United Way, my mother has a wonderful life. Even if she doesn’t know it.

That’s what differentiates my situation from beleaguered Humphrey Bogart’s character: because every day when I get into the water – with the demands and problems and stresses of caregiving threatening to suck the life out of me – the ladies of TLC are right there with me. Supporting me, encouraging me, advising me, and even comforting me.
And I know without a doubt, they will be there until the end of my mother’s journey.

For more information about how Trinity Living Center puts United Way contributions to excellent use, please visit or call 704-637-3940, or to make a donation to Rowan County United Way, please visit

Submitted by Katie Scarvey for Lutheran Services Carolinas

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