A Family Both Sick AND Inspiring

by Bill Brenner on January 26, 2011

A friend from work was telling me the other day about one of his relatives, who is always ready to tell him about all her daily medical problems. I was ready to laugh. Then I realized I used to do the same thing.

This post is about me and family members who always had trouble keeping our illnesses to ourselves.

It’s also a post about my cousin Melanie, who has every reason to do the same but holds her head high instead, inspiring the hell out of her cousin.

Mood music:


I’ve had plenty of reasons over the years to complain: Crohn’s Disease flare-ups, a shattered back, migraines and all kinds of aches and pains caused by the extra weight out-of-control binge eating left me with. There was also a lot of physical pain caused by deep episodes of depression.

I used to complain about these things all the time, especially around family.

Part of me thought that was simply what you did around family. I remember Nana and Papa, my maternal grandparents, and my great-grandmother, Granny, always complaining about how sick they were. I didn’t mind quite as much, because they more than made up for it by making me laugh. Granny especially had a sharp tongue.

My first memories of Granny are from the basement in the old house in Revere. I’ve written about that basement as my hiding place, but a decade before I took the space over Granny lived there.

We would sneak down there in search of doughnuts and cereal in the little boxes. I’d bring my friends downstairs and ask her to do the teeth trick, where she’d push her dentures out and back in again.

She had a couple different dogs during that period. One was a vicious  little scamp named Gigi, who met an untimely death after swallowing a pill Granny had dropped on the floor. I forget the second dog’s name, but I do remember he was docile and ugly. In fact, the day he arrived Granny laughed so hard over his appearance that she went into a crying fit.

One night my mother had Laurie Cabot, the witch of Salem, over to read palms. She refused to read Granny’s palm because Granny wouldn’t stop laughing at her. That’s how the story has been told over the years, anyway. I believe it.

I do know Cabot was in my house, because I snooped a bit that night. I was supposed to be in bed but there was too much commotion and noise that evening.

That was the 1970s.

Granny eventually moved to an elderly apartment building at the other end of Revere Beach.

Granny used to delight me with stories of her younger years. She ran a nightclub in Boston that a lot of drag queens and mobsters hung out in. There was the story of a large snake found in a bathroom toilet, and when the movie “Johnny Dangerously” came out she laughed herself to tears. The mobsters in the film were just like the characters she used to deal with. Yes, she told me, the mobsters did do a lot of nodding. Speaking of “Johnny Dangerously,” Granny always reminded me of Ma Kelly.

Papa had a pretty sharp wit as well. That and the fact that he was a WWII hero made me feel that he was entitled to bitch about his ailments. I had less patience with Nana over such things, but I should have been more patient. I owed her that much. But I was in a brutally selfish state of mind in her final years. I regret it.

Both would probably not be happy with me today, given my lack of communication with Ma. But that’s life. And we are starting to talk again.

All of which brings me to my cousin Melanie.

We’ve always enjoyed poking fun at her because she likes to play the airhead. Or at least she used to. But I think that all along she’s been smarter than most of us. She’s always been the ray of sunshine in the family, always positive, always smiling.

She’ll tell me I’m wrong, but that’s always how I’ve ALWAYS seen her. All the way back to when she was a toddler.

Now she’s suffering from diseased kidneys and other maladies, and I’m told she’s eventually going to need a kidney transplant. She recently started dialysis treatments.

NOT ONCE have I heard her complain, nor have I seen her complain about it on Facebook, where plenty of people like to whine over far less serious things.

People have written well wishes on her Facebook wall and she says thanks to people individually.

You want to see courage?

She’s it.

Her mom — my aunt — suffered in similar fashion several years back but God decided her work on Earth was far from finished. She’s still around, taking care of my uncle and being the beacon of light she’s always been — a trait she passed on to her daughter.

I love you, too, Aunt Laura.

All you folks out there who are uptight because life isn’t going your way: You have my sympathy, and I hope things turn out OK.

But take comfort in the fact that others have it worse than you and they still project a happy attitude — whether they really feel the happiness inside or not. That takes a strength many of us don’t possess. But we can always find some of that strength for ourselves. We’re all works in progress, after all.

Take a good look at them.

Then follow the advice of a friend from the security industry who once gave the following advice to some storm-weary travelers on Twitter:

Take the balls out of your purse and ride.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Emma White (@TheRealSupermum) December 9, 2011 at 11:58 am

Beautifully written x Very inspiring x I have to say I often moan but I am truly grateful for all I have x There are so many out there having to face harder things than me x

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