Grace Belsky, age 105: Finding beauty all around her

February 2016

Grace Belsky with her daughter Gracie and volunteer Will HolsingerIn 1910, no one would have predicted that the sickly infant raised in a fifth-floor New York City walkup would go on to become a great-grandmother. But Grace Belsky, now 105 and one of our oldest hospice patients, is full of surprises.

Having survived a long string of childhood illnesses, Grace eventually fell in love with the neighbor boy who carried her skates. They made a striking couple – the 6’ 2” George alongside Grace, just 5’ 1”.

But by the time of the Great Depression, Grace’s father was out of work – and so were George and his father. Grace, an accounting manager at AT&T, was the only one in either family with an income, and she became the sole supporter of the two families.

Grace’s job, like many at the time, was reserved for single women. Her income was critical, so when George and Grace got married, they hid it from everyone, including their families and – importantly – her employer.

George and Grace Belsky in ManhattanGrace’s irrepressible smile is extra broad when she tells the story of their wedding day. The couple snuck out on a rainy day in 1932, riding the subway to New York’s City Hall. Grace laughs, “my shoes were wet, and the marble floor was wet, and you know what happened – I fell down on my behind.”
Once George found employment, the young couple went public with their marriage. Despite the slippery beginning, it lasted 68 happy
years. “We went through a whole lot together,” Grace said, “He was the love of my life.”

In their retirement, the couple – both in their 80s – drove across the country to live near their only child, Gracie, in San Mateo. In 2010, as a widow and a colon cancer survivor, Grace moved to a residential care facility.

Last summer when her cancer recurred, Grace – together with her internist, radiologist, and daughter, Gracie – agreed not to pursue further treatment. Gracie had seen the relief hospice provided to her husband at the end of his life, and she knew hospice was the right thing for her mother.

So when Mission Hospice purchased the 16th Avenue property last fall, Grace became one of our first Mission House patients. “My mother had severe back and waist pain that caused her to moan and groan. That was my signal to get help, and hospice is where help is found.”

Like others in the house, Grace receives the intense care she needs in the comfort of a homelike setting, rather than facing a long hospital stay.

Her care team includes nurse Chris Brady, caregivers Rosalinda Sokhn and Alyce Sabra, LVN Marta Guardado, social worker Anthony Lupian, volunteer Will Holsinger, and spiritual counselor MK Nelson. Her daughter, who visits daily, has nothing but praise for the Mission House team. “They are so loving – they know how to make one’s last days special.”

And each day, Grace continues to find the beauty around her. An award-winning rose gardener and flower arranger, she always has flowers in her room. “The world is beautiful – all you have to do is look for it.”