I married in to a family with Cousin Gretchen. Tall tales and bigger than life reputation are all that I ever knew. She was a physician long before women were frequent members of that career and married to an attorney of renown. They lived and raised their family in a small town in Missouri. They were notables both locally and in a broader area of influence. You can only imagine the physician, attorney duo raising a smart and super achieving family in those days. I heard so many stories from my husband that filled-in a wonderful history that was enviable by any standard. No, not perfect, but story book stuff. I had one occasion to meet them both. David was handsome, charming and a great story teller and Cousin Gretchen was the gracious, articulate hostess of a beautiful home. The second occasion was at David’s funeral. Shock and sadness concerning his untimely death was unmistakable but a long well lived, almost 80-year life was celebrated.
And now, Cousin Gretchen, 87, is in a nursing home, no longer able to stay in her handicap-unfriendly domicile. Her brilliant mind in disarray and lost, her body requiring constant care. She dwells in a medical facility where she might well have attended to others. One could reflect on the many reasons why she is there. Maybe she could have taken better care of herself, exercised moderation and focused on her own health. None of that matters now. What does matter is taking the time to talk to her, as she has strength to do so, about the past. The medicine of choice is reflective listening. Asking about and remembering those wonderful times of happiness and success brings a smile to her face. After a recent visit, my husband spoke of Cousin Gretchen, not as a shriveled old lady in a care facility but as the woman who was a heroine of a great story. Old age and ill health do not diminish the life she lived. Touching those memories is a gift we can all give!