By: Cody Bowersock
When asked to think of your biggest supporter, most of us can think of a family member or friend who we go to when we need to talk or need advice.
For Bridget Kennedy that person is Mary Ann Brown.
I’m going to do my best to give as accurate of a picture as possible of the relationship of Bridget and Mary Ann. Neither Mary Ann nor Bridget could remember the exact year so to figure out the timeframe, Mary Ann remembers that Bridget, now 62, was around 14 years old. Bridget was living in a children’s foster home in the Shawnee area when she met Mary Ann. Mary Ann asked Bridget if she would like to live in a group home (for individuals with developmental disabilities). Bridget agreed and this was the beginning of a long friendship that started with Mary Ann as ‘paid staff’ and developed into a lifelong family relationship.
Bridget was one of 14 children in her family, but says she never really had a strong relationship with her family. Bridget says that her parents didn’t teach her how to do “things”, so Mary Ann did. She taught Bridget how to do laundry, clean her house, make a grocery list, and cook among many other things. Mary Ann later began taking Bridget to visit her family. She even began taking Bridget to the prison so she could visit with her nephew. When Bridget asked Mary Ann if she would be willing to go to the prison, Mary Ann didn’t hesitate to agree to meet her nephew. Bridget asked Mary Ann a lot of questions about her family and she always wanted to see pictures. Mary Ann decided to invite Bridget over to meet her family. Mary Ann knew how important it was for Bridget to meet Mary Ann’s family, and the same for Mary Ann to know Bridget’s family.
Bridget has run the gauntlet of life events, and Mary Ann has been there for support through all of them. Bridget moved out of the group home, and into R&R Apartments where she later met Donald Kennedy. Bridget and Donald got married and moved into their own place. Mary Ann was Bridget and Donald’s provider and helped them in their home with basic home care needs. She also took them out to eat and shopping. This continued to be the way it was until Bridget’s husband, Donald, passed away. Jen Goins, ACBDD SSA Supervisor, was Bridget’s SSA at that time. She remembers that “Mary Ann was a tremendous support to Bridget upon Donald’s passing. She was the primary person that helped Bridget set up Donald’s funeral and spent a lot of extra time with Bridget to work through the whole process of sorting through Donald’s things and establishing a new household as a single lady.”
Eventually Bridget decided it was time for a housemate and with this change Bridget began working with a different provider agency and no longer had Mary Ann as a paid staff. At this time Bridget switched to a new SSA, as well. For most people in Mary Ann’s position their involvement would end when the person decided to change agency providers. However, Mary Ann isn’t your typical provider, and Bridget wouldn’t allow Mary Ann to walk away that easily. Mary Ann was well into her 80s and still providing supports to individuals, such as Bridget.
Eventually Mary Ann was no longer Bridget’s paid provider staff and she accepted the role of “natural support” and was an advocate for Bridget. Even though Mary Ann was not being paid to spend time with Bridget, she continued to visit Bridget at her home and help her with whatever was needed. Mary Ann was a support in Bridget’s life and Bridget relied on Mary Ann for advice and help in this new chapter of Bridget’s life. Katie Thompson, ACBDD SSA who worked with Bridget in the past, says that the companionship of a housemate was good for Bridget but the staff hours that came with the housemate was not working for her. Bridget lived with her housemate and worked with the new staff for a while but eventually Bridget grew unhappy. Bridget could give many reasons that she wasn’t happy with the staff but ultimately the reason for the change was because the staff wasn’t Mary Ann.
Bridget started the process of changing her life and, as expected, Mary Ann was there to support Bridget along the way. Mary Ann helped Bridget find an apartment so she could live on her own again. Bridget made the change so she could have Mary Ann be her sole provider again. Katie says that Mary Ann made her schedule work for Bridget; sometimes it was only an hour or two, sometimes it was longer, but it was always based on what Bridget needed. How person-centered is that?! While one-on-one services may have only been a day or two a week, Bridget was sure to call Mary Ann every day after work to talk about her day. Sometimes to complain, sometimes to talk about the good parts of her day, but regardless of how the conversation was going to go, Mary Ann always took Bridget’s call and was the support that Bridget needed. Katie says that Mary Ann has been there for Bridget nearly all her life: through all of Bridget’s moves, changes and journeys, which for Bridget has been a lot. Mary Ann has tried to teach Bridget, guide her and show her how to be as good of a person as she can become. Katie says that Bridget looks after others, she shares with others, she is giving, and always says “thank you” when others go out their way for her. Bridget works hard and understands the importance of taking care of her home and life. Katie describes Mary Ann and Bridget’s relationship like family. Katie remembers Bridget’s review meetings where Bridget and Mary Ann would nitpick at each other like a mother and daughter, but she noticed that Mary Ann could say things to Bridget that no one else ever could. Mary Ann understands Bridget in a way that no one else ever will.
Fast forward to 2016, Mary Ann is now retired from providing services and Bridget is working with a different agency provider. Bridget still lives in the apartment that Mary Ann helped her find. Through the years, Mary Ann continued to involve Bridget in everything she did with her family: picnics, family reunions, etc. Bridget still calls Mary Ann every day when she gets home from work and Mary Ann still takes each call.
Earlier this year Mary Ann broke the news to Bridget that she was planning to move to Florida so she could be closer to her children and grandchildren. Mary Ann’s husband passed away earlier this year. This move has caused a lot of stress and anxiety for Bridget. Mary Ann has had many conversations with Bridget leading up to this move. Mary Ann assured Bridget that she still expects to talk with Bridget on the phone every night. Mary Ann told her that she will fly to Ohio to visit Bridget and that she expects Bridget to fly to Florida to visit her. Mary Ann understands that Bridget needs to see where Mary Ann is living and how she is doing in Florida. Bridget and Mary Ann have known each other for so long that Bridget calls Mary Ann “mom”, a fitting title for what Mary Ann has filled in Bridget’s life. When asked what she thinks is important for others to know about Mary Ann, Bridget got a big smile and said “Oh Boy! I don’t know. She’s done so much.” Bridget went on to say that Mary Ann did a lot for her and a lot of other people. Bridget said that Mary Ann always kept busy helping others. Mary Ann made it a point to be more than “staff” to the people she served. Mary Ann opened herself up to others and allowed them to see more than just her professional side. Mary Ann is leaving a void in the Lima area that is surely too large to be filled by one person.
Finally, Bridget was told that Mary Ann will be able to read this in Florida and asked what she would like for Mary Ann to know. Bridget, with another big smile, says “that I love her and my life is a lot better because of her”.