AFC Client Turns 104: Maria’s Story

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When we went to visit Maria Depina, she was sound asleep. She was up the night before singing and dancing, according to her daughter and caregiver, Maria Pina. That’s not out of character for Depina, who turned 104 in November.

“She always liked to dress, use a lot of perfume, and go to church – and dance!” said Pina, through a translator. “She still likes to open her closet and check her clothes, to make sure everything’s there.”

Depina was born in Cape Verde, as was her daughter. Depina came to the US in 1989, after her son and daughter emigrated. Before coming to America, she traveled often, visiting the islands that comprise Cape Verde, as well Portugal, Zimbabwe, and other countries. She now lives in Everett with her daughter, grandchild, and great-grandchildren, and has family in Bridgeport, Brockton, and Dorchester who often come to visit.

Maria Pina (left) and her mother, Maria Depina. AFC PHOTO

After Depina was diagnosed with dementia five years ago, her daughter quit her job to provide round-the-clock care. As soon as Pina realized that her mother couldn’t be home alone, she became her primary caregiver with the support of the Adult Family Care Program (AFC). She says it wasn’t a question whether or not to care for her mother at home.

“In my culture, the parents always stay with the family – they never go to some sort of nursing facility or assisted living,” said Pina.

Pina said support and training from the AFC program has been very important. AFC Social Worker Carly Ellis and AFC Community Health Nurse Ronald Lim visit monthly, to check in on Depina and talk with Pina about how things are going.

“I’ve learned a lot from the Adult Family Care Program,” said Pina. “I’ve recommended it to other families.”

Before caring for her mother, Pina worked for 20 years in a nursing home, and met many sad and lonely residents who would have rather been at home. She used to exhort her coworkers to give the best possible care, because one day, they might find themselves in the same position. Ellis, the family’s AFC social worker, said Pina’s dedication of care is inspiring.

“I have witnessed an incredible bond between a mother and daughter,” said Ellis. “Pina stays up all night long with Depina, and only rests when she’s sleeping. Pina is very patient with Depina, and never appears agitated or stressed.”

“The AFC program has been beneficial for this family for many reasons, including the two weeks of paid respite time, which has allowed Pina to take a break from her responsibilities and to take care of herself, while her grandson provides care,” added Ellis.

Longevity runs in the family, said Pina. Her uncles lived to 101 and 102, and a few weeks before Depina turned 104, her cousin in Cape Verde celebrated her 111th birthday. Pina hopes that her mother can beat that milestone.

“She’s 104, and she’s never been in the hospital overnight,” said Pina. “I want to ask God for more years of life for my mother.”