Monday, January 30, 2017

Word of the Week - 152


My maternal grandmother was a battlefield nurse in World War I.  When, in her 60s, she became ill she was admitted to the Veteran's Hospital in West Los Angeles.  Long before freeways went from Pasadena to those far reaches, my father drove our family over one night a week so my mother and I could visit her.  Dressed in my Easter suit, I passed for the minimum age allowed to call on patients.  On one of our visits, she was not in her bed nor anywhere to be found around the ward.  No once could tell us where she might be.  We were apprehensive, as she was nearly blind and had recently lost a leg to diabetes.  We waited beside her bed as they screened a movie for the women.  I think it was something with Elvis Presley.

Eventually an attendant wheeled her back and I'm sure we hissed our questions at her, trying not to talk over the movie.  Where have you been?  We were so worried.  Etc.  Her calm response was, "I've been out cheering up the sick people."

I think of her often, as I knew her and as the young Gertrude Holden of Boston, sailing to France after graduating nursing school at what was then Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.  In addition to "cheering up the sick people," she was known to have said on numerous occasions, "It isn't Boston but it IS Massachusetts," both of which I have borrowed and quoted all my adult life, probably to the annoyance of those who have listened to me the most.

The thought of her, of her ability to find something of value in what to many of us would seem worthless, the model she was that told me no matter what, if we draw breath we have something to offer others, helps me at times when I begin to sag or doubt.  If we are without words, we can listen.  We can offer a hand to hold.  We can refuse to be discouraged.  We can whistle, we can sing, we can be very clear about what matters most, about what is our truth.

I know that hospital ward, which once felt so cavernous, which I would swear reached into distant and shadowy corners on our night visits, would no longer appear so large.  I remember the relief my mom and I felt as we caught sight of her, seeming to return again from the battlefields, from very far away, her face, her spirit beaming.  I hope some of her lives on in me.


Melissa Green said...

I love this story of Gertrud Holden, her memorable sayings, your description of the ward as if she were still returning from the battlefields of France. What a stellar example you had, and yes, she does live in you--in your blog posts, in your Word of the Week, in the music you share, in the pithy memorable turns of phrase that you've 'pulled out of the air' (as MY granny used to say). Thank you for always being on the side of the angels--and for reminding us that we always have something to offer others, no matter the state we're in, no matter if it feels like comfort the size of a small pea, it is NOT nothing--and we can't gauge the good it will do--that is not our job--our job is only to offer it, and let it settle in the other as it will. xoxo

Marylinn Kelly said...

Melissa - Thank you so much. We DO always have something to offer, so I believe. How can we tell when that small pea of kindness, of compassion, will be just the right size for sadness in another. If we continue to bring whatever we have that looks like love, I don't think we will go wrong. So glad you are here, too, on the side of the angels. xo

Elle Clancy said...

What a lovely post! Reminds me of my grandmother, who was my idol and remains my shining star in so many ways.

Your blog is also lovely....think I found it from a note you left on Summer's End (and I do hope Rebecca is okay).

Marylinn Kelly said...

Elle - Hello and thank you so much. What you said is true of my grandmother also. I feel as you do about Rebecca and need to get to Summer's End more often than I have. I know we both hold her in our thoughts. So nice to meet you. xo