When you read through the personal journal of another person’s life, you must be prepared for the many emotions that life can produce in people. My great aunt, Bertha Schumacher Hallgren was an amazing woman, as was her younger sister, Elsa Schumacher Lawrence. They spent years working in a man’s world, and being successful at it…in fact out working them and being capable of using machinery the men couldn’t. They were considered so invaluable that the companies they worked for tried really hard not to give them any time off, as the place didn’t do so well when they were gone. The work was so emotionally draining, that the only release for them sometimes came in the form of bitter tears. Nevertheless, times were tough during the depression years, and you didn’t just walk away from a job, because the going got tough.
It wasn’t the years of hard work that seemed to be the most severe blow to Bertha, but rather the life changing moment when her sister, Elsa decided after all the years of caregiving for their parents, now both gone home to Heaven, to marry a man who was a widower ready to retire. Bertha and Elsa had made the decision, probably subconsciously, to set aside their hopes for a family and a home of their own at a very young age. They were the youngest of their parents seven children, and while the other children had married and left home, comfortable in the knowledge that the two youngest sisters were still there taking care of their aging parents, the girls knew that no one would be left if they married too. After their parents passing, the girls lived together for a number of years, before Elsa met Frank Lawrence and became engaged.
Bertha likens the situation to divorce. She had lived with her sister for 40 years, and the separation was torturous. To make matters worse, their older sister, Mina, who had always lived close, made the decision to move to Colorado to be near her daughter, Paula, while her husband, John Spare went into the CBees during World War II. Bertha talked about dividing the things she and Elsa had in the home, and looking for a smaller apartment that she could afford on her own…and she talked about the tears. For the first time in her life, Bertha was going to be alone, and she didn’t like or want this, at all.
I know how she feels to a degree. I am not alone, because I have much family, and of course, my husband, Bob Schulenberg in my life. Nevertheless, after a parent, or other patient you have cared for goes to Heaven, or even gets better, and goes about their own lives, the caregiver can find themselves at loose ends. They wonder who they are if they are not a caregiver. Then, as in Bertha’s case, the only companionship she had every really known is gone too. She felt like she had just been placed on top of a cliff, and the only way out was to fall, and the consequences of that were just as bad as staying put.
In the end, Bertha would move to Colorado with Mina and Paula, and she would meet the man she would marry. The marriages of Bertha and Elsa would not last long, because their husbands both died after a short marriage and much happiness. The girls regrouped, and once again became companions for each other. It was as if it was meant to be…as if they had never been apart. Their lives had always been intertwined, and their golden years would be spent together in their new home in Boulder, Colorado…until Bertha passed away in 1984, leaving Elsa alone until her passing in 1992.