Mary Beth Griffith: Her ‘Gift’ Prepared Her
If her name sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re a member of the “Confidence for Caregivers” support group on Facebook. That’s where I met her. And because I’m always intrigued with people’s life stories, I asked Caregivers’ host/administrator and support coach, Cheryl Huto, which members might welcome an interview. Cheryl gave me Mary Beth’s name; I contacted her and Mary Beth agreed. I’ll be seeking more caretakers, to write about, in future.
You see, I think it’s important to shine a spotlight on caretakers. Let’s face it: Most of us know one another by the snippets we add, documenting our difficulties, our occasional joys, the journey we share. I seek to flesh out the individuals in our group.
So, who is Mary Beth Griffith?
Well, she’s a 67 year old Pocono, Pennsylvania (yep—the Honeymoon region) woman who’s been together with her husband for 50 years (he’s 73). As an aside, I’d learn she and I are both native Rhode Islanders; she was born in Providence, RI, in Lying-In Hospital, while I was born there 8 years earlier.
Mary Beth’s father was a salesman for Ked sneakers (we girls in the 50’s all loved our Keds sneakers), hence her family moved to Staten Island, New York, when Dad was assigned the NY City and surrounding sales region.
In the summers, her family went to the Jersey Shore which she recalls as “the best beaches.” But she’s still got significant family in little Rhody (nickname for Rhode Island).
She was 17 when she met Jeff. They married when she was 23.
Mary Beth’s a registered nurse who worked as the charge nurse on an Alzheimer unit on Staten Island. When her son was young, she worked “per diem” (by the day), assigned to the infamous 4thfloor where no other staff preferred to work for it housed dementia patients. The amazing part? Mary Beth loved working there.
That’s where she found her calling, as she comforted and attended to those afflicted with dementia. Where other staff found these patients terrifying (for their unpredictability), she welcomed the chance to comfort and ease their suffering. She felt her calling “a gift.”
In the years ahead, her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. at age 67. Now, he is bedridden, residing at a Vets facility since November of 2019. It takes Mary Beth 45 minutes to travel to his location to visit.
And like many of our partners, Jeff had been an accomplished guy. He worked as an emergency generator technician assigned to Russia, Siberia, Prince Sultan’s new palace in Medina (only used during the 5 days of Ramadan), the Statue of liberty, the 9/11 power hook up, to name some. He even worked on famed oceanographer Jacque Cousteau’s boat, “Calypso.”
As a Marine, he’d served in Viet Nam where he was a tank repairman, loader and gunner but years later, he developed PTSD. Night terrors became regular. The man who used to “fix everything” at home suddenly became the opposite. The garage, his once pristine workspace, became a dumpsite (many see a lapse in formerly ordered behavior as one of the first signs of dementia). He was diagnosed with severe PTSD and then Alzheimer’s.
When driving became a problem, Mary Beth hid the keys, the guns, the ammo, while Jeff responded in anger.
They argued and tensions mounted, while Mary Beth’s own health failed when she suffered a mini stroke. She did what many of us must do—finally, when we determine we cannot care for our loved one alone.
She made the wrenching decision to put Jeff in a supervised residence facility.
Now, Mary Beth finds tranquility in visiting Jeff, knowing he’s safe.
And she’s developed a new hobby of painting rocks, decorating them, giving them to family and friends, signifying major milestones in the recipients’ lives.
She’s still reaching out and comforting… just as she did as a young nurse on the dementia unit.
Mary Beth Griffith: One of America’s “Caretaker Army.”