On September 20, 1914, my grandmother (who was then 17 and not yet my grandmother) married the man who would be her first husband: Vidoje Gogo.
She could not know as she stood for the photograph — a large bouquet of flowers in her left hand; her right hand resting on the shoulder of her new husband — that in just three-and-a-half year’s time, she would be transformed from the teenager that she was into a recently widowed mother of two small children — one almost two-and-a-half year-old girl, and a newborn baby boy:
The nearly two-and-a-half year-old girl would grow up to be my Aunt Millie, and like my grandmother, she too would become a mother.
Today my Aunt Millie’s younger son, Robert, passed away after what would probably be described medically as a “brief” illness, but was, if you were the one going through it, long and arduous.
As the end of my cousin’s life unfolded, each breath was an extraordinary effort, but much of my cousin’s life was an extraordinary effort, so it was a task, while not of his choosing, that he was up to.
I have written about my cousin Robert before; he once told me his favorite color was tangerine, so just over two years ago, I made this hat for him:
Then last year, I gave him this blanket:
Most recently, I gave him this claret colored hat:
The day I gave Robert his new hat, he wasn’t feeling well, but he dutifully visited with me and agreed to wear it.
Conversation did not come easily to Robert, but because his brother had recently been very ill and the long-term prognosis was (and is) grim, I made a point of talking to him that day. I did not realize that those conversations would be our last.
Born July 9, 1953, in Stanislaus County, California, my cousin Robert’s transition from late adolescence to early adulthood also marked his transition from a typical teenager to a troubled young man beset by schizophrenia — a disease that is not well understood today — and which in the late sixties and early seventies was even less well understood.
As anyone who has cared about a person with schizophrenia knows, life with this brain disorder can be very isolating, and my cousin’s habit of avoiding social interaction belied his impishness of spirit and the quick wit that went with it.
However, late in his life, my cousin Robert found a home here in North Carolina, and for the past seven years, he and his brother have lived in a board and care in Rocky Mount, about an hour east of Raleigh.
The people who run the board and care are particularly generous and not only created a stable and loving home for my cousins, but embraced them both with all of their quirks, welcoming them into their lives — taking them on trips, inviting them into their homes, and bringing them to their churches where equally generous congregants greeted them with open arms.
My cousin Robert’s life was full of challenges that I have never had to face, and I do not know that I would have the strength and fortitude needed to walk just one day in his shoes, but he but somehow he managed to move forward all 22,466 days of his life with a measure of grace that I cannot begin to match.