In Memory of My Great-Aunt Claudette, My First and Best Mentor

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.

Aunt Claudette

Aunt Claudette

  1. #1 by Tom on October 28, 2012 - 19:10

    What a tribute, Mary Beth… my condolences to you and your family.

  2. #2 by Mary Beth Raven on October 28, 2012 - 20:06

    Thanks Tom. The part I didn’t write was that she was also a master at making you feel guilty – to guilt you into doing the right thing. and she told us not to cry when she died. and I am trying not to cry, because if I do, I imagine her up in heaving, going ” “heh! I still got it! that skill of making people feel guillty,.. even tyough I’m dead!!” ” 🙂

  3. #3 by Patti Anastasia on October 29, 2012 - 06:41

    Mary Beth, This is beautiful. My heart aches for you. She was a very wise woman, but trust me that she didn’t know what she was talking about when she said don’t cry. What she really meant was that she wants you to celebrate her life and you will do that, but part of that celebration is to accept and acknowledge the sadness that comes with the end of her life. My dad also had a wonderful life, but the hole that he left just sometimes has to be filled with tears, sometime a few, sometime a lot. It is also filled with laughter and joy, but letting the sadness out through tears really helps to get to place where there is laughter and joy. Like the ones I am crying right now for both of us. It’s the right thing to do.

  4. #4 by Alicia Flanders on October 29, 2012 - 09:17

    Mary Beth, I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your dear Aunt Claudette. I feel that I have come to know and love her through your many Aunt Claudette stories. She is truly a remarkable woman who will always be in your heart, if not in your head.

    It is alright to cry for the loss of someone you love. I am sure from heaven Aunt Claudette will understand and be happy you are expressing your feelings in the healthy age-old way that has helped people feel and transform their grief over the millennia. I believe Aunt Claudette did not want you to feel sorry for her because she died. Faith tells us she is in a better place, but you can feel sorry for yourself and your loss of her in this world. That is a natural and healthy response to the loss of a loved one and a tribute to the caring and love you felt for them.

    Please extend my sympathies and prayers to you and your family.

  5. #5 by Michael Kobrowski on January 3, 2013 - 15:08

    She sounds like a great person and mensch. “Put it in perspective” is something my dad taught me as well. Not with words, after his experiences in WWII he became a very quiet man, but when he talked about the time it was deep and profound and you were able to feel the terror and horror. And to compare that what we “struggle” through does put it in perspective.

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