At her home in Lewiston last week, Rachel Desgrosseilliers looks through a binder containing information about one of the elderly people she helps, which includes assisting them with end-of-life planning. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — Rachel Desgrosseilliers witnessed her parents taking care of their aging parents, so it was natural for her to do the same for her mother.

“That is how we were brought up — we take care of our elders,” Desgrosseilliers said.

Her mother wished to live at home until she died. She lived to 100, with her five children sharing the responsibility of honoring their mother’s wish.

But that’s not always possible these days.

“Families used to be a nucleus and we all moved around each other,” Desgrosseilliers said in a recent phone interview. “For us it was just automatic. We are family and that’s what you do for family.”

But nowadays it’s more complicated. Families are smaller and children often live too far away to care for their parents.


So when a longtime friend who had no family asked for help, Desgrosseilliers agreed.

She has the skills, including a master’s degree in hospital and health administration, and she has the experience.

“It seems that throughout my life and careers, I have had the opportunity to engage with senior members of our communities wherever I was,” she said.

In the early 1970s, she developed a volunteer group of people who would visit elder shut-ins. In the late 1970s, she ran Marcotte Nursing Home in Lewiston, which was a boarding home, assisted living facility, nursing home and hospice all in one.

She later worked as a health care consultant for the city’s first walk-in clinic.

And as the executive director of Museum L-A (2004-19), Desgrosseilliers “had the privilege of listening to and recording many life stories of our elder workers in the mills, shoe shops and brickyards,” she said.


She now is helping two women, ages 94 and 95, with the challenges of aging, and she has taught a Senior College class on how to prepare for aging and death.

The class at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College was the most well-attended of the Senior College classes, she said. She has given the same lecture several times from York to Rumford.

“One of the things I hear the most from people needing to get help in the home or move to a nursing home or are dying is that they are not prepared, and the stress and strife it places on family or the ones left is horrendous,” she said.

And that’s not right, she said.

“We are standing on the shoulders of community giants,” she said, referring to many of the community’s elders, “and we thank them by putting lots of stress on them — living poorly, alone, having to deal with a confusing system and most of all often ignored as having no more value.”

Her mission is to help these people and their caregivers prepare by having an end-of-life plan.


In helping her two friends put their affairs in order, Desgrosseilliers tried to find a checklist of what to gather, but she could not find anything adequate.

“I finally decided to create my own, which turned out to be a godsend for many people,” she said.

The list includes a personal information sheet, powers of attorney for health directives and financial matters, an updated will, a list of key professional contacts, a list of family and friends to contact upon passing, choice of funeral home and arrangements, important documents such as deeds and car titles, financial information and a list of what to pay, close or cancel. She said it’s also important to work on decluttering: Enjoy the gift of giving.

“Key is that you have honest talks with your children or trusted one about what you want,” Desgrosseilliers said. “Don’t let them talk you out of this. Encourage the younger generations to do this also. So many young people are dying now.”

Being prepared is the way to have control of your own end of life, she said.

“Be truthful with yourselves, then make sure you sit with either your children, your spouse or whoever you choose to be your advocate and take time to go through different scenarios and discuss it.

“Many children don’t want to hear it, but you must make them understand that this is something you need for your own peace.”

Desgrosseilliers, 78, doesn’t charge a fee for her help, but she can’t take on more people, she said.

“People ask, but it’s a lot of work and I have to do justice to those I’m helping now,” she said. “There’s a real need.”

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