A blessing is sometimes a matter of being in the right place at the right time. For Barbara McKee and her family, the right place since 2019 has been Masonic Village at Sewickley.
Barbara and her husband, Bill, lived in western Pennsylvania for 61 years before moving to Missouri, where they stayed 16 years to be closer to their son, who later passed away, and his children. In 2018, 10 years after Bill passed away, Barbara decided to return to Pennsylvania. While there were other senior living facilities closer to her other son, Shawn McKee, who lived in Indiana, Barbara did not want to be a burden on him. She and Bill had visited Masonic Village at Sewickley prior to his passing, and she always kept it in the back of her mind as an option. So, in 2019, she decided to move there.
“Mom told me she liked the fact that you start out in an apartment, and if you need to go into personal care or nursing care, you can, and the price won’t change,” Shawn said. “That was very attractive to her.”
In January of 2023, this choice became a reality when Barbara was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a cancerous tumor that grows quickly in the brain. After her surgery and a short hospital stay, Shawn; his wife, Deborah; and his sister-in-law, Deb, were weighing all the options. Ultimately, Barbara was moved to the Sturgeon Health Care Center at Masonic Village. She passed away six months later, on Aug. 29, 2023.
“Up to a month before mom died, we thought she might return to her apartment, but she had lost the ability to move her left arm and leg, and she was in a wheelchair. But there was never any pressure from Masonic Village to decide,” Shawn said. “I could see other places where it would have been financially beneficial to rent her apartment immediately, but that was never a discussion.”
Barbara was extremely happy in her apartment and was very active in the Masonic Village community. She was outgoing and knew everyone, Shawn said. “It was the best decision to move there because she got to immerse herself with other people.”
When it came time to move his mother to nursing care, Shawn was unsure how it would go but was pleasantly surprised.
“Mom had never relied on anyone for anything in her 80 years,” he said. “She was very independent. She liked helping people. Now that she was the one who needed help, we weren’t sure how it was going to go. But the nurses and aides connected with my mother like it was their own mother or grandmother. They went above the typical job description to serve my mom. It was refreshing and comforting to know that people could give this level of care.”
Shawn and Deborah traveled to visit his mother every other week, spending three or four days at a time. They stayed in her apartment, which made it easier for them to walk to the health care center. Sometimes, they’d spend eight or nine hours a day with Barbara. They couldn’t believe the consistently outstanding care she received from every nurse and aide who came in.
“My mom really loved some of the [employees],” he said. “They would sit and ask questions about her life. The deep connection she had with them – I wasn’t expecting that. They treated her not like a patient but like a loved one they deeply cared for. It was more than a job [for them]; it seemed like a passion.”
Even though all the staff knew Barbara’s diagnosis was terminal, and the eventual outcome was inevitable, they went “above and beyond” to keep Barbara happy and strong, both physically and mentally, whether it was through physical therapy, helping her read a book or teaching her to use an iPad to send messages to family members.
“This could have been a very negative experience, but it wasn’t,” Shawn said. “It certainly made the trip back to Indiana and being six hours away very comforting [to me] during a difficult time. I’ll never forget it.”