Joe O’Leary and Colleen Pritoni

Joe O'Leary is interviewed by his colleague Colleen Pritoni about how his life changed after the passing away of his son and becoming the caregiver of his grandson. He also discusses his involvement with support groups for grandfamilies.

Colleen: What would you say you love about your family? What do you love about your family?

Joe: Well, I think as far as the immediate family, the three of us, things have really changed since we’ve been raising Brady James. When you have just the two of us which it was for quite a long time life was a little simpler and life was very good. Of course, it was a tragedy to lose a child and it took us a while to deal with that, however bringing Brady James into the immediate family has added a whole new dimension to our life. It certainly radically changed my role.

Joe: So that’s certainly a big added dimension that Brady James has brought. But just the spontaneity, the joy that he brings, the humor that he brings is really great. So, I would say it’s characterized, our immediate family today is probably characterized a lot by love, a lot by good compatibility, but a lot of care. And Brady James is very expressive and he must tell us he loves us 20 times a day I would say which is pretty cool.

Colleen: And now that you’ve started your support group in the next town over from where you live you’re now… Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you’ve met some other grandparents raising grandchildren in your community and what some of their stories are like?

Joe: Sure. But first I would like to say there were two very clear, and I’ll never forget, takeaways from that session that you conducted. When you had all the representatives of the various local and state agencies up in front of the room as resources the room was pretty crowded. There was a good group of people there, mostly minority, mostly Black, African Americans, women overwhelmingly. And as they began to speak themselves and talk about their own concerns I realized a couple of things. One, I realized that although there are so many resources, federally and state and local that are in place, it’s not very easy at all to try to coordinate when you are the potential recipient of these services to figure out how do you access them and how do they conflict with each other and who comes first and so forth and so on. And the frustration of these women was very, very clear. So that was one big takeaway.

Joe: Another one was how fortunate that we were in our family because I’m retired so I don’t have to go to a job. We only have one grandchild that we’re caring for not two, three, or four. There are two of us, I’m not a single grandfather or Marian’s not a single grandmother. Many, many people in that room were single grandmothers with multiple kids and had jobs and younger than I so that they didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. They had to go out and work. And so getting these kids would not only the burden of caring for the children but also figuring out how these children are going to be cared for when they went to work. So, their salary basically got cut in half and that was a big wake up for me.

This segment was produced by StoryCorps, a non-profit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

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