‘They welcomed 19 of her family members out of Vietnam until they found a home.’: Daughter recounts parents’ selfless life before dementia

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“I thought it might be nice to share a bit of who my mom and dad were ‘BD’ (before dementia) and their affect on our community, and on the lives of people who came into their life from around the world.

I’m not sure when it started, but the door to our home seemed to be open to everyone. In 1975 we were at church and the sermon was about sending money to orphanages in Vietnam. After church, mom and dad spoke to the minister and said they did not want to send money, but they would be interested in adoption. So began the process to bring my two brother’s home from Vietnam. We were thrilled to have two more siblings and at the time didn’t realize what a gift of love they shared so freely.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

Soon after, an American who had married a Vietnamese woman contacted my parents. They welcomed 19 of her family members out of Vietnam who needed a place to stay until they found a home. We stayed at the shore during the summer (not vacationing but working our tails off) so our home was empty. They allowed 19 of them to move into our home for the summer. At the end of the summer they had not found a home yet, so we all lived together for a few weeks. Ten of us getting ready for school in the morning with one bathroom. Mattresses on the floors and meals in shifts. It was so much fun. Mom and dad loved it.

At the time I didn’t appreciate or comprehend what they were willing to do for a family they didn’t know. As an adult I try to imagine opening my home to a large family I didn’t know, nor speak my language. Giving them my home to use for the summer. Allowing them to stay when I returned. Moving my children out of their rooms to make room for them. All the while enjoying their company, learning who they are, what they had been through, laughing with them, helping them, and treating them as part of my family. I’m not sure I’m that good of a person, but I do know my mom and dad are. I do know they are unlike most!

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

Next they started having exchange students. They were from Finland, Japan, Nepal, the Netherlands and Belgium. This part of our lives was interesting , fun and had moments of teenage mayhem which often brought long family discussions around the dinner table (which we still remember and laugh about). They were as much a member of our family as any of us and our family expanded once again. They became part of all of us and have remained in our lives to this day. The world became a smaller place as the touch of mom and dad reached far beyond our home.

Being part of their community has always been important to Mom and Dad. Twenty nine years ago they thought the Memorial Day parade we used to have should be brought back so all generations never forget the price paid for our freedom. Mom and Dad worked on it together. This past Memorial Day weekend, on a hot and sunny day in our little town of Annville, Pennsylvania, with one traffic light, the 28th Annual Annville Memorial Day Parade took place and has become the largest Memorial Day Parades in the state of PA. Eight years ago they stepped down as the organizers — we had been a committee of 4 for their 20 years. I was the fundraiser, and we had a treasurer. When they were ready to retire I volunteered to take over. Over the last 8 years, I have increased our committee to 6. I am honored to continue what they began — but during the month of May — I AM TIRED!

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia
Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

A long time ago, Annville used to have a Christmas tree on Main Street. Once again mom and dad decided it would be a nice tradition to bring back, so 18 years ago they brought a Christmas tree back onto Main Street for the holidays. They also added Santa arriving by firetruck to our local theater on a Saturday morning. Families watch cartoons on the big screen as their children wait to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas and receive a gift (which mom and dad shop for all year so they get something nice). Of course the morning includes cookies and drinks too. This tradition also continues in our little town.

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

It’s a long history they have created filled with years of giving back to so many. Blessed to still have each other, I often think about the legacy they will leave behind, not only for our family, but for the community they love.

I am so thankful for the amazing example they showed us by loving so many. My dad always told us to never give something to anyone with strings attached. Give because you want to give with no expectations. He told us when you give to others you will get back tenfold. We are all proof of the truth of his words — My mom and dad are an amazing example of so many things, and by their unselfish giving to so many, they have taught me and so many others the power of love!”

Becky Gacono/Our Journey Through Our Mom’s Dementia

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Becky Gacono of Annville, Pennsylvania. She is chronicling her mother’s dementia journey on their Facebook page and in a series of posts for Love What Matters:

Family combats mom’s painful dementia journey with humor

‘They are two that have become one’: A day in the life of my mom’s dementia journey

‘It was my birthday when she no longer knew my name or who I was.’

‘His love for her is palpable’: Doting husband’s explicit instructions for wife with dementia’s morning routine

‘We finally get to the kitchen table and their sandwiches are out and ready to eat. Then this happened.’

‘I never thought I’d get to kiss an angel’: Daughter overhears midnight whispers between mom with dementia and dad

‘I realize love is the most powerful, the most exhausting, the most incredible way to live your life’

‘I tell her I have her ring and she starts crying’: Daughter recounts mom with dementia’s anguish over beloved ‘missing’ ring

‘She used to do puzzles, she can’t do them anymore’: Daughter’s tearful realization about her mother’s dementia 

‘I’ll get to her outfit later’: Daughter’s humorous attempt getting her mom with dementia to the doctor

‘This Mother’s Day I will close my eyes and she will be whole’: Daughter reflects on ‘gifts of memories’ before mom had dementia

‘Living with mom’s dementia is hard. It is emotionally draining, frustrating, exhausting. I don’t want you to think we are perfect, that all there is is love.’

‘I lost my patience with your mom. I didn’t mean to. I love your mother’: Elderly husband’s anguish of feeling ‘broken’ dealing with wife’s dementia

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