Our Stories: Trish McHale
Trish McHale was shy, and never quite understood how she came to be the youngest member of the most outgoing family in town. Her older brothers, Bill and Joe, were comfortable being the center of attention, enough to lead crowds in song at Christmastime with just a moment’s notice when they were preteens. Where they were comfortable and jovial as the focal point of large gatherings, Trish was more bashful and nervous. She would jokingly tell her family that she thought they may have adopted her, too, when they rescued their dog, Suzie. It made more sense to her than the possibility of sharing the same DNA as her extroverted, unreserved relatives.
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and raised in Little Falls, New Jersey, the McHales were raised in a tight knit Catholic household. When attending parochial school as a child, Trish was referred to by her instructors by her full name, Mary Patricia, although she would finally be called by her preferred nickname after transferring to public school. She attended Montclair State University in the early 1960s, earning a degree in Social Work, and spent some time working in orphanages and with the less fortunate. Along the way, she found a position as a driving instructor, and became a beloved member of the driving school’s team. She made a career out of the position for the next 28 years.
Trish lived in an apartment in Paterson, New Jersey, not far from where she grew up. Following the deaths of her parents and enduring personal trauma of her own, she became more reticent and self-effacing, although it made her an excellent listener and, thus, an easy friend to many. However, at one point, her brother, Joe, had trouble reaching her by phone. When he finally got in touch, she told him that she was fine, she just forgot to plug her landline into the wall. It would be the first indication that Trish was showing early signs of dementia.
As time went on, Trish was routinely getting lost, which made her unable to continue in her role as a driving instructor. For the next three years, Joe visited her every few days and helped with daily tasks like grocery shopping and routine care. When her roommate decided to move and Trish could no longer live on her own, her family looked for an assisted living facility that could help. They found only two options that weren’t extravagantly expensive. One, in Passaic County, was untenable—dirty, overcrowded, and lacking in quality care, Trish’s siblings could not imagine housing their delicate sister in those conditions. The other was Bright Side Manor. As Joe remembers, “Bright Side offered us a miracle.” They were greeted with smiles and told that they could use Medicaid to pay for Trish’s care. In a warm, safe, and gentle environment, Joe and Bill knew their sister would be cared for and loved.
Trish flourished under her care at Bright Side. She attended every religious service offered, and began making friends quickly. As time passed, she became unable to recognize her brothers. Now 70 years old, she spends her days wearing comfortable nightgowns that were chosen by Joe after consulting with Bright Side Manor staff about the best clothing options for someone in her condition. Nevertheless, she still sometimes smiles when someone walks in the room, and until recently, Trish remembered the lyrics to much of the music she encountered in regular programming at Bright Side Manor. She would sing along every time, as though her mind returned to her when Elvis played. It’s a far cry from the little girl who couldn’t imagine being the center of attention during those Christmas carols on stage with her brothers, no doubt brought out by the care and love that Joe describes as “the core of Bright Side Manor.”