An Unorthodox Way to Afford Care

From the cast recording of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda sings about the influence of Alexander Hamilton from his birth in a “forgotten spot in the Caribbean”. In history books about the island of Nevis, scholars write about Christopher Columbus, the slave trade, sugar industry, and, The Hermitage, the oldest surviving house in the Caribbean (thanks to the steel strength of the rare hardwood lignum vitae). On The Hermitage Inn website, read about the transition into a family owned and operated boutique inn whose guests post reviews online:

… the last of the true plantation inns and that it feels ‘West Indian’ and not something out of a ‘Caribbean brochure’
We value the beauty and uniqueness, the people, peace and quiet, and the incredible hospitality at Hermitage.
A place that “feels” like our own. The plants and animals, the history (of both Hermitage and Nevis), the food, the rum punch, the pig roast, the incredible light and breeze, those gorgeous, quiet beaches…
The Hermitage, Nevis, West Indies

Missing are the typical trappings of chain establishments. There are no televisions in the rooms, no uniform decor, thanks to the cooling tradewinds, no air conditioners and their accompanying hum (the white noise in the background at so many tropical resorts). In contrast and abundance, you’ll see the monkeys playing in the trees, hear the tree frogs sweetly cricketing at night, feel the gentle Caribbean breeze, and smell the night jasmine in the air. For me, a fairly Zen experience in lush tropical paradise.

In 1970, my parents, rescued this ruin of a house from the jungle tentacles. Nine years later they sold their home in Pennsylvania and moved the four of us kids to Nevis permanently. Mom and Dad would manage a small hotel not far from what was now our home. After years of hosting family and friends, The Hermitage opened for paying guests in 1985, and has been growing ever since. Mom often commented “the world comes to Nevis”. That might have been the night she hosted Donatella Versace, Chris O’Donnell, Robert Plant or Joe Biden or any of the other international celebrities. Certainly, it was true last December when Justin Trudeau and his family arrived.

My brother, Richie, now manages the Inn, supported by his wife, Annie, in the moments she steals away from my little nieces. Personally replying to inquiries, everyone meets Richie virtually, and then IRL as he tries to greet every guest on arrival, offering his ebullient smile, quick laughter and sensory soothing rum punch.

Walking the grounds of Hermitage, or holding court in the bar many evenings, my father, Richard is easy to identify by the little dog following him, an odd looking creature whose faithfulness is diverted only by stray goats, or, his fetish for flip-flops (the dog, not my dad).

My mother is never seen, but her presence is inescapable, and her legacy undeniable in the heart warming smiles, the quick-witted laughter, the genuine concern for you to feel welcomed and, truly, at home, to consider Hermitage your Caribbean country home.

While it is not secret, Mom’s condition is not openly discussed. Not because of any sense of shame but to continue her legacy that, as a guest, your experience comes first, and foremost.

Mom was only 58, in 2003, when she was diagnosed with (ESOD) Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. With medication and supportive coping strategies, the effects of the disease were held at bay for several years. But the path of the neurological destruction is unstoppable. Since 2011, her brain no longer able to process the signals from her eyes or to control her limbs, she has been essentially blind, increasingly immobile and entirely dependent.

She is however, the recipient of the same level of care and attention she showered on her family, friends, guests and strangers. A bevy of strong, capable and warm-hearted women provide full personal care for her. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, this level of attention and care is something Mom would never have asked for, wanted, or even accepted, for herself. But, Dad provides it through the efforts of The Hermitage; the business Mom started, together they built, and Richie now leads.

Small, resort inns are not highly profitable. They do provide a different quality of life, and, in Nevis, access to a workforce of caregivers that would be impossible to afford in the United States. Indeed, even in this third word economy, is still excessively expensive. So, the family pulls together and pitches in wherever possible.

My sisters and I, from our homes in Connecticut and Pennsylvania visit often and provide administrative, marketing and sales support remotely. Over the years, extended family members, aunts, uncles, cousins, have put their collectively hardworking and fun-loving shoulders to the hospitality plow. My niece, Tori, joins the team officially in November.

The long serving staff is family, too, sisters, aunts, nieces, daughters, sons, working side by side, covering shifts and responsibilities for one another. Almost everyone is related by some form of cousin once removed. Because most arrive on foot or local public transportation, each evening, a driver takes everyone home.

All this connection and community brings with it a lot of opportunities for celebration both spontaneous and planned — weddings, birthdays, christenings, national holidays, island holidays, or even just “days”. Often the festivities spill over and subsume guests, chairs are drawn up, extra drinks are ordered, space on the dance floor is gently elbowed open.

The atmosphere, it embraces you as you arrive and you feel transported to a calm, peaceful and welcoming place.
I love the main house and how you are able to wander through and enjoy the library and grounds, nowhere feels off limits, everyone is so friendly. I love it.
We love feeling far away from every care in the world, yet very cared for by everyone at Hermitage.

For all the long slow sorrow of Alzheimer’s and the physical and emotional toll of caregiving that will only comfort, never cure, for our family it continues to be energizing and revitalizing to create a space for others’ respite and recovery. Fostering the refuel of adrenalin for other caregivers, stimulating the curiosity in adventure seekers, providing the solace, safe haven, or solo retreat truly is our pleasure, and, importantly, our purpose.

It’s what Mom would have wanted, and, it’s how we keep her alive.

Consider The Hermitage your Caribbean country home. For more than 30 years The Hermitage has built a reputation for focusing on the delights of others visiting the beautiful island and smiling, caring people of Nevis. www.hermitagenevis.com 869.469.3477