Kim MacInnis is no stranger to writing, as a Professor and Chairperson of Sociology at Bridgewater State University, she recently published the textbook: Social Problems: Societal Crisis, Capitalism and Democracy as well as numerous articles related to her areas of study. She is also the author of two thrillers: Hurting Girls and Presumed Safe, but her new book, Grapes for Christmas, was her most challenging writing project yet, writing the story of her mother’s (and her family’s) battle with ALS.
My mother grew up in a village with a population of 900 people called Port Hood and situated in Nova Scotia. She raised me and my four siblings as a single mother with a single salary. She was tough, independent and resourceful. We loved her very much. She also extended that toughness when it came to the patients under her care. She expected the best from her staff and it was very clear at her place of work that the residents were to be treated with the utmost respect. She also went above and beyond to care for many residents and people who lived in and around our community.
For example, she risked her life one night by going out into a blizzard on a snowmobile to deliver insulin to a man who desperately needed it. She took care of everyone, even those who didn’t have anyone else to care for them. People in the village called her to have stiches removed, bandages changed, etc. She was well loved in our community.
Her kindness extended beyond our community as well. She was part of a group who became pen pals for women in prison. She visited many of the women so she could understand how to help them. Her heart broke for the women because they were generally imprisoned for non-violent property crimes and were separated from their children. She advocated for changes in prison policies for women so they could receive education and training and not be separated from their children.
As a single mother with five kids, we didn’t have a lot. My mom wanted to teach us how to be excited about the simple things as simple as grapes. She couldn’t afford grapes year-round so she bought grapes only at Christmas. This helped us to focus less on material things and more on the memories of fun, family and tradition.
We were always eager to eat those grapes!
When we learned of the diagnosis, I travelled between Massachusetts and Nova Scotia to help care for Mom as did my siblings. It gave me a chance to strengthen our bond but it also provided additional opportunities to talk again with friends and family members and share stories about Mom and growing up. I wanted to capture all of the memories of my Mom before we lost her, and not dwell on the progression of her ALS.
I wanted to write a book that celebrated her life and her unique outlook on life, and capture her limitless kindness that she showed everyone she met. I have so many examples. As the Director of Nursing Care at the Inverary Manor, she made an extraordinary effort to learn everything she could about her residents, but paid special attention to those who did not have family or friends, or any real resources of their own. She would buy nice clothes and jewelry for residents who passed away and who did not have nice clothes for the wake, so they could look their best.
One resident, Elizabeth, was a war bride from Scotland. Her daughter lived far away and couldn’t afford to visit her. Mom would visit her after hours and spoil her. If Elizabeth thought the nurses weren’t listening to her, she would yell to Mom. Mom would pretend to chastise the nurses (who went along with this) to make Elizabeth feel important.
Mom was instrumental in helping some seniors accepted as residents at the Manor who normally couldn’t afford to live there. All residents had to pay a small amount each month and some people in surrounding communities, who needed 24-hour care but had no money, and often became Mom’s priorities.
Mom also arranged lobster dinners for the residents (all donated at Mom’s request) and Christmas parties with musicians for the residents every year.
The biggest thing I learned is not to place importance on things, but place importance on time; time spent with family and friends. We really place too much importance on the things we can get, a new house, car, the latest technology, and no one is ever satisfied. We always want more things. But time is far more valuable than any material objects you can buy. Nothing could never replace or substitute my time with my mother.
This book would be great for anyone, but especially those who are caregivers for those with terminal illnesses or people afflicted with serious illnesses. It is so easy to get distressed and focus on the illness instead of the life of the afflicted person. I think that experiencing how my Mom saw the world, and her limitless kindness that is so hard to find in today’s angry culture will resonate with readers. She focused on what is right within a person instead of what is wrong, where many of us tend to focus on the latter. I think it is so important to cultivate an atmosphere where death is not in the air and to enjoy each day with the person you’re caring for and not think about the inevitable.
The hardest part was writing about the last time I saw Mom and when she died. It was hard hearing that she probably knew she had ALS a while before we knew about it. She worked with residents who suffered from it all of the time, so she knew the signs, but still wanted to shield us from it. This was so typical of my mother; to protect us from worry and sorrow. I felt bad knowing she kept something like this private because we would have been there for her.
Dealing with traumatic injury or illness doesn’t have to be doom and gloom. That makes it hard for the patient and the caregivers to get through it spiritually or simply on a day- to- day basis. But many times, caregivers are often surprised by and completely overwhelmed with facing an illness or debilitating injury, so they tend to forget this. As the Director of Nursing Care, my Mom took care of many people with ALS and other degenerative illnesses and she would help the caretakers remember how the patients lived, not how they died. She was a very spiritual person and always prayed for everyone. She was of great comfort to many.
The book shows the reader how to focus on caring for the person to make the situation as good as possible and focus on keeping things as normal as possible, and most of all to be humane about caring for those who are dying.
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