A Valentine to some of “the village” that raised me

By Elspeth Gilmore

Cheri emailed us months in advance: Save the date for her birthday dinner in January. She would be living with my mom back in New York for the winter and she wanted to celebrate with us.

Cheri started taking care of me and my little brother when I was 5, my brother 2. My mother hired her to help with childcare because my father had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Cheri lived nearby, went on vacations with us, did bathtime with us, helped my mom to raise us. She became an Occupational Therapist, but even when she didn’t take care of us anymore, she had already chosen us as family. We would see her on vacations back from college, and she would come to birthdays or holidays. She is now GrammyCher to my brothers kids, and is a friend and an aunt and a mother me and my brother.

Me, Glendene and my mom in Barbados for Glendene’s 80th birthday party.

Whereas Cheri helped take care of us kids, Glendene supported my father so my mother could focus more attention on me and my brother. She had taken on full-time care for my father when his Alzheimer’s advanced. A few years ago, when she turned 80, My mom and a close friend and I visited Glendene in Barbados to celebrate with her. It was my first time on the island since I was 10 years old, and I remember driving down winding dark roads to a small bed and breakfast in the area where my father had lived.

Glendene and my mom at a fish fry, St. John, Barbados.

I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for these women, helping to raise me and supporting my family. It is so clear how much of an impact we have all had on each other — including the years there was an employer-employee relationship, but extending well beyond to the years since, when we have become chosen family who keep track of each other, depend on each other, and love each other in the way that comes out of an experience of time and loss and interdependence.

It turned out that Glendene would be in NYC this January, back from Barbados for medical appointments; my mother, the mastermind behind all of our relationships and the anchor of our family, arranged for her to join Cheri’s birthday dinner.

(L to R) Cheri, Glendene, me, my partner Liz, and my mom at dinner in Brooklyn, New York.

Sitting around the table at the restaurant with her, Cheri, my mother, and my partner Liz, I felt so lucky to have these powerful women in my life. I was reminded once again that it takes a village — whether those people come into our lives through work, family, good luck or difficult circumstances — to live and to thrive, and that we all do so much better when we have a community of support, in all its loving complexity. The question now is how to make sure that everybody in our society has one.

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