Gert (Gigi) O’Shea Story


The Luck of the Irish

Do you remember when placing a long distance telephone call meant ringing up a switchboard operator who used a patch cord to connect you to your party? Gigi O’Shea remembers those days well, because she was one of those operators for Boston’s New England Telephone company.

Another highlight from that era was dancing to the music of live bands and big name performers. “I met my husband dancing at Riverview Beach. I went every Friday night by subway (people didn’t have cars). Perry Como came!”

By now, you may have guessed that Gigi hails from Boston. “I grew up in South Boston,” she says. “Mostly Irish in my neighborhood. My chums growing up, their parents all had Irish accents, but mine didn’t. I went to Gate of Heaven School. The nuns there were so strict!”

Gigi and her husband, a Massachusetts native, raised their four children in Boston, where he worked as a firefighter for 34 years.

From MA to MI

So, how did the Irish Bostonian end up in Dutch Grand Rapids?

“My daughter, Claire, came out here with her family and this is where her girls went to school to be teachers,” Gigi explains. “After my husband died, I had a series of strokes because of diabetes that meant I could no longer live independently. So my family moved me here where I could get the support I needed.”

Claire and her husband, Tim, identified Beacon Hill as the best place for Gigi. She had fallen and had to have her hip replaced. Beacon Hill had the Skilled Nursing care she needed.

Everything, Plus…

“Ann Flynn, who was working with us, said she had an opening that would be coming up very similar to what we told her we wanted,” Claire recounts. “That was the incentive for my mother to get better! I used to bring her up in the wheelchair from Skilled Nursing, show her the apartment, and tell her it was going to be hers as soon as she got better.”

Gigi has a lovely apartment (“My daughter has a talent for decorating.”) adorned with childhood paintings by her grandchildren. “Aren’t these fun? They’re really cheery.”

“The grandchildren love coming to visit her because it’s like coming to a hotel,” says Tim. “And they love the snack room! They also have separate rooms where we can have our own gathering, pizza parties and things like that.”

Claire adds, “Because of Beacon Hill, we can be Mom’s family, not her primary caregivers. The staff monitors her medications, watches that she’s active and takes a personal interest in her well-being.” Gigi herself enjoys the daily activities at Beacon Hill. “I don’t just stay in my room all the time! They have exercise today. I’ll go to that. At 2:30 in the afternoon, every day, they have a program. And I like to get out for walks when there is no snow.”

“She is the queen of Wii bowling and bingo,” Claire adds, “and she goes to the movies, and the prayer service on Thursdays.”

“I watch mass on TV every Sunday at 10 a.m.” says Gigi. “And they have a chapel service here at 2:30 p.m. I go every Sunday that I’m feeling well. There’s about 25 people who come. It’s interesting—the talks they give are good.”

“The food is good, too, and you can have as much as you want,” she smiles, “which is too bad, because I’ve gained weight since I’ve been here!”

“There’s a doctor on staff, so she doesn’t have to run out for little issues,” says Tim. “And a podiatrist . . .”

“Oh, and the hair!” Claire exclaims. “That’s got to be #1 on her list! ‘What about my hair getting done once a week?’ We had to have a hair salon!”

“I’m very lucky to be here!”

Gigi had another fall a year and a half ago, where she broke her wrist, and had to visit Skilled Nursing again. “That was a hard comeback for her,” says Claire, “but she has come back. They were very good in holding the apartment for us. (That was a big concern for us.)”

Gigi admits she misses Boston. “I have times when I wish I was back out East, but I’m used to the everyday living here now, and I don’t get lonely because there is always someone here. The people I know the most are the ones I eat my meals with three times a day—Mary and Cora and Irene, and another Mary who’s on staff. I like to have people come and visit me (my daughter and granddaughters come).”

“She still has her independence,” Claire says, “and she gets to pick what she eats, and she has others to converse with. As a daughter I feel so supported. It’s been a lovely experience here.”

“It is hard to hard to find a place to be that perfect fit,” says Tim, “but they’ve done a very good job. They are very accommodating.”

“I’d recommend Beacon Hill,” Gigi says. “They would do anything for you. I’m very lucky to be here! I guess you’d say I have the luck of the Irish!”

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