5175 Tamiani Trail, Naples, FL
NAPLES — This Father’s Day, Mary Shaughnessy will be in the company of her 94-year-old dad. She’s with him, in fact, every day.
For many with an aging parent, this might sound like an extraordinary opportunity, a true treasure, a rare gift. Mary agrees it’s all of those things.
It’s also her job.
In March, Mary became the new executive director of Barrington Terrace, a 100-resident assisted living community in East Naples. One week before her arrival, her father, Retired United States Naval Commander Edward J. Shaughnessy, also moved into the facility.
It was his entirely his choice. As recently as last fall, Edward continued to live alone in the Shaughnessy family home in Northern Virginia. But when he didn’t recover from an August surgery as easily as expected, it was time to consider other alternatives. Round-the-clock home care proved too expensive for her practical father, Mary says.
But with a daughter in Florida who was also a veteran assisted-living center administrator, a southern sojourn seemed like an ideal solution. Edward said he would try it for three months. That was in October.
“He came for a respite stay and has been here ever since,” Mary says.
The right move
She isn’t complaining. Mary grew up in a large family — she’s number six of eight children — but she moved to Naples with her husband, Bill Wickham, and their daughters in 1991. The chance to be close to her father again was almost irresistible.
“I think because I hadn’t lived near home for most of my adult life, it was a wonderful opportunity for me and my girls to have more time with their grandfather, their Pops,” she says.
There were questions of what the move meant to her siblings. Adult children are often divided about how to handle a parent in need of increasingly constant care. In Edward’s case, several of Mary’s siblings lived nearby in Virginia and were able to help out while he stayed in his home of 40 years.
That kind of arrangement can’t work forever, though.
“It was clear that it was going to be difficult,” she says.
Yet Edward’s decision came as a relief to her four brothers and three sisters. And Edward, happily, has settled in to Barrington Terrace without missing a beat. With his walker, he regularly navigates the campus for short strolls. For a quieter pastime, he writes letters in his tight, cramped longhand, which Mary then types. Sometimes, she has no idea what he originally he wrote. Sometimes, she jokes, neither does Edward.
He spends a lot of time ruminating on baseball, one of his favorite subjects.
“Here, you have the time to just sit and think,” Edward says.
He has become a bit of a social butterfly, too. He flirts with the staff, many of whom have taken to calling him “Commander,” and recalls the Barrington Terrace Senior Prom as an “excellent” event, probably in no small part because he was named to the prom court. When Mary teases her father that she was never nominated to any prom courts, he’s quick to reassure her.
“It’s coming,” he counsels.
His room is painted pale blue and decorated with family photographs, pictures of Mary’s late mother — also a Mary — and Edward as a young man in his Naval uniform or at home plate, swinging a bat. There’s a row of fedoras on top of his television stand; her father was always a dapper dresser, Mary says. It’s one of his defining traits, along with his quick sense of Irish humor and his unfaltering Catholic faith.
Walking the line
At home in Virginia, Edward attended Mass daily. He has had to forgo that since coming to Florida, which Mary knows pains him. But there are concessions to be made for this arrangement, and not only for Edward. Her father sacrificed some of his independence, but they’re both learning to find and walk the line that inevitably exists when one’s daughter is also the head of the facility where one lives.
“I have to be careful to keep my role separate,” Mary says.
Fortunately, Mary describes her father as having an innate ability not to meddle. He’s interested in her work, but removed. If something bothers him about the center, he’ll tell her — but then promptly ask her not to intervene on his behalf.
In return, Mary tries to cultivate the same polite distance about her father’s life.
It hasn’t always been easy, she admits. There are times when the impulse to behave like his parent seizes her. Once, he took off his shoes in a public part of the facility and left them there overnight, which made her want to scold him. A staff member gently reminded her that he can remove his shoes anywhere he wants — Barrington Terrace is his home now.
“The lessons that I know so well are sometimes hard to translate when you’re working with your own family,” she concedes.
In the end, she believes re-learning those lessons in this new, more personal way will make her a better executive director.
“You want to think you’re pretty empathetic,” she says. “But seeing the operation or seeing the community through your father’s eyes allows you to be more empathetic.”
The clock ticks on
And the reason for Edward being at Barrington Terrace always returns to sustain her. Her father is 94, still frail from surgery. She knows he doesn’t have years to live; Edward knows it, too. As an administrator, she appreciates the statistics: The average length of stay in an assisted living facility is just 24 months.
Father and daughter don’t avoid discussing the inevitable.
Edward isn’t afraid. That helps Mary not to be afraid, either.
“You know it’s limited, “she says, “but how lucky I am to be with Dad in this time is how it balances for me.”