My great-aunt Claudette Forand Schofield passed away this weekend, at the respectable age of 97. She was my first mentor in that, growing up in the 60′s, most of the women I knew stayed at home with the kids. Aunt Claudette, however, was a full-time nurse at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, in addition to being a farmer’s wife. From her I learned that is was OK — even terrific– to have a passion for something – in her case, nursing- in addition to your family.
Yet, I also learned from her that family is everything. When my mother was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer at age 42 (when I was 18), it was Aunt Claudette who dropped everything and came right over to help us, to advocate for us, and to educate us. She even persuaded her son Joe – also a nurse – to come and take the night shift when we provided hospice care for my mom at home.
To me, her most memorable quality was “Pragmatic grit/put it in perspective. “ I am sure that the “pragmatic grit” came from being a child of the depression and then from having been an Army nurse in WWII. For example, when mom was first diagnosed and given 6 months to live, I remember Aunt Claudette saying something like “6 months is a long time. You have time to show her you love her. Any of us could die in a car crash tomorrow. So stop crying and go make dinner.”
Another time, I called her and told her how I had a bad day because I had to lay someone off. To which she responded something like “that is indeed unfortunate, but he’s still alive and will find another job. A bad day for me was when I was in France in the war and had a dying patient. I held up a picture of his wife to look at until he died.”
Yet another time, I called her from the airport, on my way to a conference. I compalined about the overnight flight to Germany, during which the company expected me to “sleep” and then do a full day’s work. She asked “Germany? where in Germany? ” and I told her “this small city called Karlsruhe, you’ve probably never heard of it. ” Heh. and she said “Oh yes, I’ve been there. At the end of the war, we set up a field hospital in the Castle and I remember being up all night assisting operations.”
She was a feminist in her own way. When the town of Vergennes, VT put up a memorial to WWII veterans, her name was not on the monument. Only men’s names were on the monument. I am not quite sure what she did, but she persuaded the town that since she was a Captain in the Army as a Nurse and that she saw active duty in the European theater, that her name deserved to go on he momument. So they added her name! Go, Aunt Claudette!
Go, Aunt Claudette. Go to heaven for your well -deserved rest. Thank you for everything you have taught me.