For Better or for Worse

“Conviction is worthless til it convert itself into conduct.”

-Thomas Carlyle

She’s the firstborn sibling. As is commonly the case with the oldest child she was prompt, courteous, and responsible. A very good student. She made it easy at school for her younger siblings, because the teachers cut them a few breaks thanks to the positive experience they had with her. She had a ton of friends; was into every sport; every club. The kind of child every parent wants to have.

She did well in life. Excellent grades through high school and college. Finished her master’s degree; got a job teaching at the local university, where her parents also taught. After a year or two she decided to leave the country to study for her doctor’s degree.

All this time the only thing that (maybe) was missing from her life was a serious boyfriend. In those days many people felt that women should think of a mate first. She had gone through a couple of boyfriends, but they had a lot of trouble accepting her success and her smarts. Things did not go well. When she wrote home to say that she had met a wonderful man her parents were cautiously optimistic.

She flew home for the Christmas holiday. The next day a young man showed up at her house. Her Spanish friend had decided to surprise her. He bought a ticket, boarded a plane, and arrived at the airport having no idea of how to get to her home. He took a cab and asked the driver to take him to the hotel closest to her home. He did not realize that he was checking into a house of ill repute. Then he walked a mile to her house.

She was overwhelmed. Her parents and siblings were impressed. A room was quickly emptied out so that he could leave the seedy hotel. The next evening they slept under the same roof; something they have done for almost all the time for the past 46 years.

In a way an odd couple. She’s the ebullient one. She’ll blurt out her opinions. He’s quite cerebral. The best read person I’ve ever met. Ask him what they use for currency in Indonesia, or who just got elected prime minister in some forlorn African country. He’ll know the answer. Then he’ll give you a prolonged dissertation on the subject at hand.

She continued with her studies. Two doctor’s degrees. An appointment at a local university. Lectures and visiting professorships in three continents. He also has two degrees. A computer wiz; he did very well as an employed person but decided to found his own firm. In typical fashion he often “forgot” to bill or undercharged for his services. She felt that money was important. But I never saw them argue over the point.

We continued to get along well. There was one instance when she took me aside.

“I know that you’ve accomplished a lot. I’m very happy for you. But I don’t think that you give me enough credit for what I’ve done. Maybe because I’m a woman.”

I was stunned. I’m supposed to be the big women’s rights advocate. I remained silent for a while.

Remember how I was raised. I was a college freshman at 15. I finished the year with a 3.8 average. My father told me that I had humiliated him. Maybe I don’t think that praise is important. Sorry.

She quickly accepted the apology. Almost as if she were embarrassed that she had complained.

Two daughters followed. To no one’s surprise they were brilliant; funny; very comfortable in their own skin. There are three grandchildren. Beautiful; humorous; loving. They know twice as much about computers as I do. They are fluent in three languages. Whenever I have the good fortune of spending a few hours with them I have a sense of peace about the future of the world.

A few years ago she came to visit. I immediately noticed something was wrong. She repeated herself. Her lectures meandered a bit. Not as supremely self-confident as I knew her. As I drove her to the airport I decided to counsel her.

You’re not yourself. You’re forgetting things; repeating yourself. Please see a neurologist.

She was angry at me for months. She refused to get medical attention. For a while her colleagues at work covered for her; luckily she reached retirement age before matters came to a head.

Things have gone downhill. She can no longer walk. Or talk. Or take care of her daily living activities. She spends her days and nights in a chair. Her husband, the careful and devoted man that he is, devotes all of his time to her care.

I went to visit recently.

She has had excellent care. You know that you don’t need to keep this up. Everyone would understand if you felt that this is too much.

“I have never been happier. I have the extraordinary opportunity to be able to devote my life to someone who needs me.”

I would have balked if anyone else had told me this. But he’s a special man. I believe him. He looks good and fit in his mid to late 70’s. You’d never be able to guess his age.

He cooked lunch for me and my wife. His wife was wheeled to the table; he always talks to her as if she had not changed. We talked about history and economics; our favorite subjects. As we got ready to leave he spoke.

“If there is anything in this house that you’d like to keep to remind you of your sister just take it.”

There is a beautiful LLadro collection. There are jewels, and photos. She had very nice dresses and scarves. I can’t think of anything that I want. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but it just didn’t feel right. We had never wanted anything that the other had. We were raised surrounded by books and little else. Very few “things.”

I’m old. I don’t need or want anything. The best present that she could have given to me is her grandchildren. I’m overwhelmed with joy every time that I see them. If you and your daughters continue to give me free access to them I will be satisfied. I’ll be smiling when I board the plane to go home. They are precious beyond description.

The new replaces the old. My very fond memories of my extraordinary sister and her saintly husband will be augmented by the good times that I will have with her daughters and the grandkids. Yes; there will be sadness and stress. But it’s all good. It’s life.

Dr. Ana Garriga
Dr. Ana Garriga is next to me; Drs. Margarita Garriga and Maria C. Garriga are also at the table.

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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Irene Cowan

    Paco, I enjoyed reading this story of your sister and brother in law. You have have the memories of her past and the children & her grandchildren to make memories for the future. She will live on through them.

  2. Cordell Webb

    Nothing better than love and family. A beautiful story about your sister and her family. You have great memories of the past, present and into the future. Thank you for a story well told.

  3. Maggie Isern

    I’ve known them for all my life. They are part of my family. Paquito its beautiful what you wrote. Very sad for what had happened. She’s an Angel.

  4. Betty Townsend

    It is so hard to watch someone go down hill and you just can’t help. Enjoy you sisters family, always.