BY Piper Castillo
Unlike a lot of mothers and daughters, Eva and Jocelyn Meunier always wanted to live together.
Jocelyn's independent streak convinced her early on that she didn't want to marry, and she said Catholic women of her generation "only moved out of your parents' home once there was a wedding … so I always planned to stay in my parents' house."
Even so, some might be surprised by the enduring strength of their bond. Eva is 106. Jocelyn is 84. They have lived together all along. And this year when their differing health conditions would no longer allow them to live under the same roof, they chose the next best thing: They moved next door to each other at the Palms of Largo, a 95-acre intergenerational living community on East Bay Drive.
"We decided on moving to [the Palms of Largo] because it had the two types of living we both needed,'' Jocelyn explained.
Eva moved into Sabal Palms, a nursing home and rehabilitation center on the Palms campus, where she can receive around-the-clock care if needed.
Jocelyn, who is still able to drive and continue her independent lifestyle, has moved into an apartment next door at Regal Palms, an assisted-living facility.
This is the first time a mother and daughter have been housed at Palms of Largo, said Leigh Bullen, life enrichment director at Sabal Palms.
"This is very rare," Bullen said. "I think what this brings to them is that there's a comfort zone, a sense of security knowing that they are being taken care of in a specific way, and then they can still see each other.''
Jocelyn starts most days with a visit to her mother's room. She'll pull out her walker — the same walker her mother used for many years — then walk past the pond in front of her building and around the bend to Sabal Palms. On days when she plans to go shopping after her visit, she'll drive her Buick around the bend to Sabal Palms.
These days, Eva seems content to sit quietly with her daughter during their visits. She has lost much of her vision and uses a sound-amplification device to converse with others. While she's an ardent baseball fan, she doesn't watch baseball on TV as often as she used to.
"I think it's because it is just so hard for her to see and hear,'' said Jocelyn. But "the first thing she asks me when I come in the door is how the Rays did on TV the night before."
Jocelyn also knows Eva loves to hear news or simply talk about their family in Rhode Island.
In 1952, the Meunier family moved to Florida from Woonsocket, R.I., a town with a strong French-Canadian community. The relocation was for the health of Armand Meunier, Eva's husband and Jocelyn's father. "My father had an enlarged heart, and doctors told him he'd have to move to a warmer climate or he would die,'' Jocelyn said.
First they lived in a home in St. Petersburg. Armand survived for 10 more years and died in 1961. Eventually, Eva and Jocelyn moved into a St. Petersburg condominium together.
In the 1990s both women began suffering from serious health problems, said Jocelyn, who retired from the accounting department at Allstate Insurance in 1985.
Eva was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had surgery, "but since she was already in her 90s, they told her to not have radiation or chemotherapy,'' Jocelyn said. Jocelyn was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, but it was manageable, so they stayed in the condo.
However, in January, after Eva took a serious fall and Jocelyn suffered a tough bout of bronchitis, they realized it was time to make a major change.
"We realized it was time to move, and it was difficult. My mother used to joke that the only way she'd leave our condo was feet first, but that was long before she turned even 100,'' Jocelyn said.
On Aug. 19, Eva celebrated her 106th birthday with cake, balloons, her daughter, her new neighbors in Sabal Palms, and two of her nieces, Suzanne Gray of Largo and Andree Giguere of Lakeland.
The Palms of Largo staff had a surprise for the birthday girl: a harpist who performed in her room. Music always has been special for Eva, an opera singer who performed throughout New England beginning in the 1930s.
"I've loved music all my life, and my parents used to say I sang all the time from when I was a baby,'' said Eva. "But I stopped singing when we moved to Florida. It was a time when I didn't feel like singing anymore because it was a time to take care of my husband's health."
For both women, their Catholic faith has always been front and center, said Jocelyn, an active member of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church. Eva, who was a charter member of the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle in St. Petersburg, likes to peek at a portrait of Pope John Paul II near her bedside and every Friday welcomes Eucharistic ministers from St. Catherine's to her room so she can receive weekly Communion.
Although times have changed for the two women, Jocelyn feels their close bond has kept them both strong.
"We have always known that we will stay in proximity of each other,'' she said.
Piper Castillo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.