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Grace, gratitude and surprise

Guest blog post by Anna Disco

In July 2015, my mother, Kathleen Disco, became very ill with dehydration resulting from a urinary tract infection. She was hospitalized for 10 days, during which she had lost strength and was non-communicative. After several days with little sign of recovery, the hospital medical staff suggested that I consider comfort care measures for her, which were available at her home, Johanna Shores, a Presbyterian Homes & Services community in Arden Hills, Minnesota. 

It was an acutely stressful time for me. I recently had learned from my employer that my department was being closed and I would no longer have a job. At the same time, I was rehearsing for a community theater production that would open the last weekend of July. I anticipated a week of vacation during that time period, giving me the freedom to be at mom’s bedside both while in the hospital as well as after she returned to Johanna Shores where she has been living for the past year and a half.

Johanna Shores welcomed Mom’s return with grace, respect and tender care. She was bathed and changed into clean clothing and settled into her bed with soft lighting, music and a care basket presented to her by the Household Coordinator Justin Birkeli*. Each member of the staff made me feel at ease reassuring me that, if I wished, they would bring me a cot so I could remain near Mom overnight.

Kathleen and Anna Disco
I continued to spend days with my mom and returned to rehearsals in the evenings, while also seeking employment. After several days, I witnessed Mom opening her eyes and smiling at the staff who greeted her by name. Not long after that she began to talk and her appetite improved. The familiarity of her Johanna Shores home—the surroundings, the routines and, more important, the faces of the many who care for her daily—contributed Mom’s steady recovery.

On Sunday, August 2, with the play in full performance, I received word backstage during intermission that there was a surprise awaiting me in the lobby. I couldn’t believe my eyes: there in front of me sat my mother, tall, proud and beaming from ear to ear, holding a bouquet of red roses to give to me. Standing off to the side was Justin himself, who had made all the arrangements and personally accompanied Mom so that she could attend the matinee performance.

It is hardJustin Birkeli and Kathleen to convey how much joy this brought me. I never dreamed that my mom would be able to see my performance. Justin’s uncommon act of kindness and generosity touched me deeply and lifted my heart and spirit after a long and precarious journey through Mom’s health and the stress of my employment change.

Today, I am happily employed at a local hospital and Mom is back to her daily life as a resident of the Gables Care Center of Johanna Shores. I cannot say enough about the personal caring that I witnessed from Justin and the staff and volunteers of Johanna Shores. They demonstrate on a regular basis the skills, creativity and stamina to care for my mom and other older adults and their families. Then they go the extra mile to help make new memories that can be cherished for years to come.


Note from Perspectives: Kathleen Disco died peacefully on Sunday, January 31, 2016, with her daughter Anna at her side. We thank Anna for allowing us to go forward with publication of her story. On behalf of the staff of Johanna Shores and Presbyterian Homes & Services, we give thanks for Kathleen’s life and the privilege of caring for her. We encircle her family in prayer. 

*Justin Birkeli now serves as Housing Administrator at Central Towers, a PHS senior living community located in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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