“WIDDERSHINS”—To go in a new direction, contrary to what is expected
By, Gerry Roe
I am a retired nurse. As a person who spent most of my adult life working in the medical field, I have always paid close attention to my family’s medical history. I know that, going back generations, men on the paternal side of my family often suffered heart attacks and the women were prone to having strokes. I have known for years that women on the maternal side of my family have often been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
Those are facts of my medical history.
I recently looked at the death certificate of my maternal grandmother Lillie Bell Fowler Isaacs. I’ve had the certificate since the 1970’s when I first started researching my genealogy. Her cause of death is listed as chronic gastritis. I’ve looked at it many times over the years and have never considered any contributing factors—even though one is clearly listed. Until now.
Premature childbirth! Those words unexpectedly jumped off the page at me. It suddenly occurred to me. This would have been her 10th pregnancy over a period of twenty-one years.
Her doctor stated on her death certificate that she had been under his care for five months and was seen by him the day that she died. I now speculate that her gastritis developed into an ulcer and the that the stress of a tenth pregnancy combined with poor nutrition is what caused her death at the young age of 40.
I don’t recall my mother ever mentioning that her mother was pregnant when she died. Her doctor didn’t say how far along she was or if the prematurely born baby was a boy or a girl.
I had another unexpected realization soon after I looked at my grandmother’s death certificate. My mother was only 16 years old when her mother died. I created a timeline of events that happened after my grandmother died. It allowed me to see that my mother married my father less than one month after my grandmother died.
Was their marriage an unexpected consequence of her mother’s death or had they planned on getting married at that time? What I do know is that my 16-year-old mother entered her marriage with custody of her little sister Beatrice (Bea) and her baby brother James (Jay). Her father William Gordon Isaacs also lived with my mother and father. He lived with them until his death which occurred about 15 months later.
This makes me very sad for my mother. I can’t imagine what it was like for her at 16 years old, to lose her mother, learn how to be married, and take care of two young children and a grieving father.