During the twenty six long years when my great grandmother, Henriette Albertine Hensel Schumacher was confined to a wheelchair with debilitating arthritis, her husband, my great grandfather took care of her with the help of his children…especially my great aunts, Bertha and Elsa who gave up the hope of marriage and a family in their young years, for the love of their parents and with and understanding of their need. Because my great grandmother was only fifty years old when she was struck with this disease, her youngest daughters, Bertha and Elsa were only 11 and 8 years old. Those girls would barely remember a time when they were not caregivers for their mother, and later for their father too. The time went by so quickly, and suddenly they looked back and the time for having a family was long past for them.
I don’t think that most people, or at least most of those who have never been a caregiver, have any idea what a monumental job it is to care for someone. It takes a willingness to give up your own desires, hobbies, activities…basically your life, to help someone else who is not in a position to help themselves. And, it isn’t always the person who needs the care that is the most helped, but rather their spouse, who has been trying to handle it themselves, and trying to figure out what has happened to their strength, their ability to handle everything in their life, and how they could have come to a place where their only hope lies in the strength of their children, who still have the advantage of youth’s strength and energy. This was the place my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher found himself in, as the years passed and he came to the understanding that he would have to lean heavily on his two youngest daughters to keep things going.
I have to wonder if great grandpa felt a lot of guilt over what his daughters gave up in life to help him. He was such a loving, caring person, who had always been able to take care of all the needs of his family, and he just could not do this alone. He simply had no choice but to rely on them for help. He was getting older, and he was getting tired. I’m sure Bertha and Elsa would have had it no other way. These were their parents, and they loved them. Still, they never forgot the day that their dad said, “What would I do without you girls?” I know from my own experiences as a caregiver, that while you don’t need to have the patient constantly saying “thank you”, there is something to be said for hearing that your hard work has positively effected their lives. They were both rewarded in later years with wonderful husbands, and even thought it was for a short time they were blessed in that way too in the end.
In my years as a caregiver, I have had the opportunity a number of times to hear or be told that without my help, they couldn’t have stayed in their homes this long, and it does make you feel good about your work. Nevertheless, like my great aunts, I know I would do the work whether the praise came or not, because it truly is about making their lives better, and not about the praise I received. It’s all about the love I have for those I care for. I’m very proud of my great aunts, that they did what they needed to do to help their parents, and someday, I’ll have the chance to tell them that myself.
Every life and family has its ups and downs, and its major challenges. The way those challenges are handled tells you what kind of a family they really are. Sometimes, the losses, hardships, tragedies, or illnesses can break a family. They fall apart and they are unable to survive as a family. Even if that family survives, it is never the same again, but when a family is dedicated to each other, and wants the very best for each other, they will not only survive, but they will thrive. When a family is filled with love for each other, and they stubbornly refuse to give up, the truly miraculous can happen. Such a family can pick each other up after anything, and turn their lives around so that they are on solid footing again. And they will stick to it, no matter what sacrifices have to be made.
When my great grandmother, Henriette Schumacher was 50, she was struck with debilitating arthritis, that would put her in a wheel chair…off and on at first, but in the end, for fifteen years continuously until her death in 1936. In all, she would spend nineteen years in the wheel chair, during which time, my great grandfather, Carl Schumacher, along with his daughters, Bertha and Elsa took care of her. The girls were so dedicated, that they sacrificed their own chance to have children. Still, they never complained, for as Bertha said, “God gave them the children they missed, in Mina’s little daughter, Paula, and her four dear children.” Henriette never had the chance to feel like she was a burden, because of the love they showed toward her all those years. There were no regrets, because they still had their dear mother.
Bertha and Elsa spent many happy years in the company of Mina and John Spare. They had a great love for their sister and brother-in-law, and later their daughter and grandchildren. Their lives were richly blessed with their niece, and her little babies. After spending many years helping their dad care for their mom, it looked as if they would never marry, and the dream of having children of their own was now long gone. After their dad passed away on January 2, 1933, the girls continued to take care of their mom until her death on July 11, 1936. They stayed for a time in Fargo, North Dakota before moving to Boulder, Colorado. By 1948, both girls were married. Elsa married Frank Lawrence on April 29, 1944 in Boulder, Colorado. Bertha married Arthur Hallgren on May 12, 1948 in Boulder Colorado. But, the time for them to have children had come and gone. Then, Arthur Hallgren passed away just three years and seven months after they were married. It was a devastating blow, and Bertha would not marry again, but rather would spend her time with her family, especially her niece, Paula and her children; and writing her wonderful journal so that her legacy could be passed on to so many other family members. I don’t know when Elsa’s husband, Frank passed, but Bertha passed away December 22, 1984 and Elsa passed away November 23, 1992. They may not have had children, but their lives were very important to the family members whose lives were greatly enriched by the dedication of these two amazing women.