You know her from her column, "Suddenly Single," in which she shares her musings about life after divorce. Razor sharp wit with an edge of sarcasm and a hint of melancholy punctuate her daily existence, as chronicled in the pages of Pink magazine each month. Step inside her real world, and see a softer side.
Sally Kerr-Dineen has made bold choices in her life, the latest being to take both her mother and 87-year-old grandmother (Nana) under her wing and into her home. In addition to her elders, she has her 19-year old son, Luke, and 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, in house.
While it might sound like one extended slumber party, with multiple generations seeking a comfort zone, it's not exactly The Brady Bunch. "The first couple of weeks were like a family reunion," said Sally. "Then, after the novelty wore off, it got really hard. The house was full of tension. It was miserable."
But that was before Nana's condition was diagnosed as Alzheimer's. "Once we knew what it was, a calm came over the house," said Sally. "Not knowing is far worse than knowing. Maybe you can't fix it, but you can make a plan for dealing with it."
A partial plan was in place even before the official diagnosis. For the past five years, Nana lived with Sally's mother in Poughkeepsie, New York. As bitter cold winters became too much to bear and health concerns mounted, Sally purchased a seven-bedroom home with the intention of opening her arms and doors to them. The time came in November, 2007, when her Hilton Head Island home became "family central."
"It's no choice. You take care of your family," said Sally. "It's great for my kids to see that this is how a family works."
Sally admits that there are days when she longs for her previous level of privacy and freedom. "I've been footloose and fancy-free for the last 12 years," she said. "When you're a caregiver, it's your life. I've had my times of 'Oh poor, pitiful me.' I wasn't doing anybody any good. I had to pull myself up."
Pulling herself up meant taking control-setting some ground rules and enlisting her children's cooperation. Schedules are coordinated, and everyone takes turns staying home with Nana. The answer is always, "Yes, I will."
"Luke has really stepped up to the plate. Sophie has, too. It's nice that they get to have a relationship with her and also get to know their grandmother," said Sally.
"This has always been a happy house-revolving door-kids in and out. When my mother and grandmother moved in, that came to a halt," she continued. "Now that everyone is settling into the new situation, the energy has returned. It's found its operating level."
As Mother's Day approaches, 2008 will be a special year for Sally with four generations celebrating under one roof! Salty tears cloud her aquamarine eyes, waiting for the dam to break. "The hardest thing is, we can't make Nana better," she said. "The easiest thing is, we can make her feel comfortable and cared for. It's rewarding. I know that my mother is no longer struggling in the cold. Everyone is safe and we're all here together."
The key to making it work? "Patience and fortitude." Sally is looking into the many avenues available for help. Meanwhile, she's found a couple of good coping mechanisms: "I go to the gym. And a nice, cold glass of Chardonnay doesn't hurt a bit!"
Hometown: Upstate New York Lived in London: from 1989 until moving to HHI five years ago. Family: mother, Sally; grandmother, Florence (Nana); son, Luke; daughter, Sophie Describes herself as: fun-loving and "good crazy." In her spare time, find her: writing, cooking, needlepointing and playing golf. Future goal: to turn this experience into a book. Person she admires most: her mom Advice for multigenerational households: "Deal with it with compassion, but keep control. Don't let the situation overtake the house."