Aunt Edie was a hypochondriac.
The wife of my father’s older brother, Aunt Edie earned her reputation in my large, extended family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, first cousins, in-laws and outlaws. No matter the clan-gathering occasion, no one asked her how she was. Because . . .
Because she could bore you to death with her aches and pains in two minutes flat.
Like a spider, she never let her victim escape in less than half an hour’s recitation about her medications, her insomnia, her indigestion, her aching feet, her hair loss, an undiagnosed medical condition so rare it belonged in medical books.
A hang nail, so the gossip went, would send her to the hospital in a flash.
In my nuclear family, my parents and five siblings rarely admitted to feeling unwell. Going to the doctor cost money we didn’t have, so we went for required vaccinations and for visits to treat the scary convulsions my youngest brother began having in early infancy—and outgrew by the time he was toddling. (This condition was not one mentioned outside the immediate family. We were not Aunt Edie. We kept stiff upper lips).
When my two children were diagnosed as adolescents with Type I Diabetes, I fought the instinct to keep the disease a secret. But because I didn’t want my kids to feel ashamed or guilty—or succumb to the temptation to deny their diagnosis—I tried to speak openly with them, friends, and family about their treatment.
Sometimes my stiff upper lip wobbled, but I figured crying was allowed.
My husband grew up in a family not too dissimilar from mine regarding illness and admitting illnesses. So, for the first thirty years of our marriage, he rarely acknowledged even a sniffle. When he was diagnosed with TIAs, we consulted a good neurologist, followed his common sense and adjusted, taking in stride fifteen years later the need for three cardiac stents.
Now, we’re facing the likelihood of a cranial shunt to rebalance the fluid surrounding my husband’s brain. At first, like Aunt Edie, my husband told everyone he met—or so it seemed—about NPH (Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus). Friends and family listened, asked intelligent questions, and offered support. I feel very grateful that we live in an age when opening up about health concerns has become more “normal.”
In hindsight, I wish I’d had the foresight to benefit from current insights:
- Not everyone is fortunate enough to enjoy good health throughout life.
- Listen to others whose misfortunate is to be sick for short or long periods.
- Aunt Edie, we ‘done’ you wrong!
How—about you? Are you a parent who doesn’t want to worry the kids? Do your adult kids let you know after the fact about a serious illness affecting them or their spouse and kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.