By Lauren Searson
When family and friends reflect on Ava Marie Kennedy’s life, one word comes to mind: dance. “She loved dancing,” said her daughter, Lynne Kennedy. “She taught my father how to dance when they met in high school.” So when Ava needed nursing care later in life, it was important to find a setting that would allow her to dance and enjoy music. Fortunately, that is exactly what she found at Mt. Vernon Nursing and Rehab Center (MVNRC) in Alexandria, Va.
Ava’s interests did not stop at dancing. Born in Brooklyn, NY, she was an actress in high school and played on the varsity basketball team. Though they met as teenagers, she and her husband Bill married after college and started their life together on Long Island. While raising two daughters, Ava pursued golfing, bowling, bridge and knitting, and found time to take in performances in NYC.
“My parents went as much as they could to the theater,” said Lynne. “They just plain had a good time in life.”
When Bill passed away in 2001, Ava’s daughters found an independent living community in New York where she could be near her oldest child, Judy.
Things took a turn when Ava lost her sight in 2011 due to glaucoma. As a result, Judy increasingly visited Ava while Lynne, a Virginia resident, would travel to New York once a month for several days. This worked for the family until 2013, when Judy had a stroke. Knowing her sister could no longer look after her mother, Lynne and her spouse, Joan Darrah, immediately went to New York and brought Ava back to live with them.
“We hadn’t planned for this since things were working so well on Long Island,” said Joan. “When we first moved her here, we had no idea how long she would be in Virginia, but moving her in with us was clearly what we needed to do.”
Although they turned the lower level of their home into a more accessible apartment for Ava and sought assistance from Old Dominion Home Care, it soon became evident they would need to find a long-term care housing solution.
“We realized early on it was emotionally and physically exhausting caring for a blind 99-year-old,” said Joan. “I’m a retired Naval officer and Lynne’s a retired reference librarian; we have many skill sets but no medical ability whatsoever.”
An elder care advisor recommended family-owned Mt. Vernon Nursing and Rehab Center. “She said to us, ‘If she were my mother, that’s where I would want her to be,’” said Joan. The same recommendation came from a work colleague and a support group called Caring Associates at their Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.
MVNRC has a multidisciplinary team of nurses, therapists, nutritionists and social workers that work together to provide post-acute care, rehabilitation therapies and longterm care. With the added benefit of the community being a mere ten minutes from their home, Lynne and Joan were convinced it was the perfect new home for their mother.
“When she was with us, we would take her out to restaurants, shopping or gambling in Baltimore,” said Lynne. “We wanted to make sure that wherever she moved, there would be activities and things to keep her engaged and entertained.”
With an array of social opportunities, Ava often boasted about activities at MVNRC, particularly the live music and an antique car show. Residents can also enjoy monthly birthday parties, games, pet visits and a variety of clubs.
“There was music all the time and people singing to her; she talked about dancing with this person or that person and it was really wonderful,” said Lynne.
The certified nursing assistants also put Lynne and Joan’s minds at ease, as the care they provided went beyond a job and quickly became a friendship with Ava and her family. Part of the MVNRC mission is to understand the unique capabilities and limitations of residents and provide highly focused, individualized care and rehabilitation. The entire MVNRC staff worked together to provide a comfortable and accommodating environment for Ava that included sitting with her at mealtimes, describing her food and guiding her, as well as arranging for a television and headset in her room for her to listen to golf and music.
“Never once did we feel like we were just a number; we were Ava Kennedy’s family,” said Joan. “That was incredibly important because we felt like there was an entire team, an extended family that was helping us make things good for Ava.”
Although Ava passed away during her time at MVNRC, Lynne and Joan will never forget the non-stop care Ava received until her last day. Most importantly, she never stopped dancing at a place that welcomed her with open arms.
“We felt the entire experience was positive from the moment Ava checked in,” said Lynne. “As soon as we walked in, there was a wonderful welcoming committee. We literally felt like we were coming home.”