Albina Fleishman, a Tough Lady

Performed by Cuba Gooding Jr.

Albina’s the kind of person who doesn’t like to complain, to put her troubles on you. In fact, if you asked her, she would probably say this story isn’t even about her. But this is Albina’s story, as written by Drew Pearce (Iron Man 3). Watch her story performed by Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, TV’s American Crime Story) or read it in full below.

Just before Christmas, Albina’s beloved husband Rick passed away. None of this has been easy. But… Albina believes deeply in the MPTF. So she wanted to support them the same way that they’ve supported her throughout her whole life. Albina Fleishman is a tough lady.

We have to start at the beginning — with her father, Alfeo Bocchicchio. Alfeo was an art director for TV shows, starting all the way back in 1958. It was Alfeo who made Fantasy Island a reality, who made Lee Majors look like six million dollars, and who made Charlie’s Angels look even better. He excelled at his craft for over thirty years and was a tribute to his profession.

But, in 1984, Alfeo developed colon cancer — just a year after his eldest daughter, Mary Elizabeth, had died from the same disease. Alfeo’s family was devastated, especially Albina. She had considered her big sister a hero, and now she faced losing her father, too.

But there was a bright spot: MPTF, who supported the family throughout. In fact, Albina remembers the hospital as a place she actually enjoyed visiting. “I loved everything about it,” she says now. “The people, the mood, the vibe. It just never felt like you were at the doctor.”

“I always felt cared for there,” she says with a smile.

Alfeo died six months after his cancer had been diagnosed. He spent the last days of his life at The Saban Center, where he was comfortable and under the best of care.

But this is Albina’s story. And to tell it, we also need to meet her mother, Marietta, who was first introduced to her husband-to-be at a friend’s wedding. When Alfeo spotted her, his first words were, “I’m going to marry that redhead right there”. And he did — Marietta and Alfeo were together for nearly fifty years.

Then in 1984, Alfeo passed away. Most of Marietta’s life had been devoted to that marriage, to her family — so it was a seismic shift. But… Marietta was a tough lady. Albina gets it from her.

So she reminded herself that she still had children, and now grandchildren, to live for. Then Marietta played a lot of piano, sung in senior citizen groups… and remade her life. And seeing that made Albina very happy.

Then, on Memorial Day weekend in 2006, Marietta lifted up a garden hose and suddenly a vertebra shattered in the bottom of her spine. Her health worsened immediately — and the osteoporosis triggered Alzheimer’s disease. Soon dementia became the most tenacious of the problems that Marietta was facing.

And this is Albina’s story. Because when her mother Marietta fell ill, Albina was the closest sibling, so naturally Marietta’s care fell to her. At the time, Albina was self-employed –- a session singer, inspired in part by her pianist mother. She was also raising a teenaged daughter, Sarah Elizabeth. Still, Albina juggled caring for her infirm parent with the complexity of her own life and career.

Unfortunately, that care wasn’t easy… because Albina’s mother was not an easy person. You see, Marietta had suffered abuse in her youth, and that had left its mark. She picked on people, and with the onset of Alzheimer’s, that barbed streak emerged as cruelty. Her words became increasingly hateful. And those words were mostly directed at the daughter who was sacrificing her own life to look after her.

Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s can be a thankless task, literally. The person slipping away in front of you is never going to be able to give you the moment you most crave –- the one where they turn to you, clear-eyed, and tell you how grateful they are for your care. How much they care about you.

As Albina says today, “If you’re not somebody who’s used to saying ‘I love you’ and ‘thank you,’ then once they have that disease… it’s gone. It’s not ever going to come back.”

Marietta’s illness lasted seven years. It drove a deep, painful wedge between Albina and some of her siblings. She developed intense anxiety, culminating one day in a panic attack so severe that Albina ran through her house screaming.

She was the lowest she had ever felt — like the disease that was killing her mother was doing the same to Albina, too. With nowhere else to turn, she threw a Hail Mary pass. Albina picked up the phone and called the place where, thirty years before, “she had always felt cared for”. MPTF.

Without question, within minutes, Albina was connected to a social worker named Renee Gates. “I’m losing it,” said Albina, “I just can’t do this anymore.” As she tells this story, Albina starts to tear up, then admonishes herself: “I can’t believe I’m crying right now. Pull it together, girl”.

Albina Fleishman is a tough lady. But that day, she was right on the edge. “My mother is treating me like I’m evil,” Albina told Renee. “I’m going to have a breakdown, it’s ripping my family apart, I can’t breathe, I can’t do anything.”

“Just come in tomorrow,” Renee said gently. And from that day, Albina and Renee spoke every single week for the next four years. The social worker offered constant, long-term support through the Elder Connection program.

“Renee knew the holes you can fall… and she listened,” says Albina. And that’s why this is Albina’s story. Because Albina is a tough lady, but nobody’s that tough. What Albina went through –- first with her sister, then her father, then with the long decline of her mother — that’s the kind of thing that anyone might need a little help with. So that’s why Albina’s here. To make sure we know exactly how lucky she was –- how lucky we all are — to have MPTF.

As Albina herself says, “If it weren’t for Renee Gates, I would never have made it. I would’ve had a divorce, I would’ve had a breakdown.”

Albina pauses. Tells herself she’s not going to cry again. Because Albina Fleishman is a tough lady. So instead… she takes a breath. Then she smiles. “You know, the MPTF literally saved my life,” says Albina.

And that is the best ending this story could have.

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