Sister Act: Siblings Stay Together in Oakland Assisted Living

Two sets of sisters discover community life is even more fulfilling when they stick together.

Bringing along comforts from home can help ease the transition to a senior living community. In some cases, those comforts may be framed photographs, heirlooms or a favorite piece of art. For a lucky few, it may be a sibling.

Two sets of sisters have found that life at an Oakland assisted living community fulfills their care and social needs, while bringing them even closer together.

Betty and Joan O’Connor
Betty and Joan O’Connor lived together for 80 years in the Oakland home where their parents raised them—until a year and a half ago, when Betty moved into Mercy Retirement & Care Center.

Betty, 86, says that her sister Joan, 82, understood why she wanted to Betty and Joanlive in the community. “She was glad that I made the decision because I wasn’t feeling very well, and I had to have care,” Betty says.

It also, however, meant living apart for the first time—until last May, when Joan moved into an apartment one floor above her big sister.

“She missed me … [but] she came to the decision on her own,” Betty says. “She realizes, as I do, that we can’t live alone anymore; and this is a place where you have someone to help you.”

Each day, Joan stops by Betty’s room so they can walk together to every meal; and the sisters also regularly attend exercise classes. After lunch, Joan usually goes back to Betty’s room, and cousins, friends from their parish and other acquaintances often join the pair.

Betty, who used to work as a secretary, says she now sees her sister, a former probation officer, even more than when they lived in their family home. “My schedule was 9 to 5; hers was a little bit different,” Betty says. “We’re closer now than we were before because we had different jobs and interests.”

Mercy has been a good fit for the sisters, who feel secure knowing they have access to medical care—and each other.

“It’s easier to have someone you know here—and I’ve known her my whole life!” Betty says. “It’s good for us.”

Willie Hall and Vicky Cotter
Before Wilhelmina “Willie” Hall moved into Mercy, she visited her sister, Victoria “Vicky” Cotter, who’s lived at Mercy for 11 years, about once a month.

Since settling into the Oakland assisted living community herself, Willie, 89, sees her sister, 96, twice a day.

“I knew about this place; it’s been here in various stages for more than 100 years—but Vicky was the main reason I came,” Willie says. “Being here for her [was important to me].”

Willie lives in assisted living, while Vicky has transitioned into the skilled nursing Care Center. Because Mercy offers multiple levels of care in one community, the sisters are still able to spend time together as their health needs change.

For example, the pair attends Sunday morning mass together every week. Each morning, Willie reads the local newspaper to Vicky, who is experiencing macular degeneration-related vision problems.

“We mostly just chat about any news I have about how everybody in our family is doing,” Willie says. “There’s always somebody getting married or graduating.”

Occasionally, the sisters host a family get-together at Mercy and have lunch with relatives. Friends and former classmates from Oakland’s Holy Name High School also visit.

The sisters, who have traveled extensively together throughout Europe and the United States, often reminisce about their favorite trips. “I couldn’t tell you how many countries she and I visited together,” Willie says. “We have lots and lots of memories.”

Today, the sisters are making new ones at Mercy.

“I have a place where I know I’ll be well-cared for in at every stage of my life, and on top of that, to be with my sister provides additional comfort,” Willie says. “She tells me all the time that she’s very happy I came to live here.”

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