Thursday, August 4, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Transcending Tragedy--A Tribute to My Great-Grandmother, Hattie Connolly Christler

This post was originally posted on my Israel/Swedish blog on September 17, 2010. While looking through my archives today, I found this. I needed the reminder that the post gave me. Its one of my favorite pieces I have ever written about my family.
My great-grandmother was an extraordinary women. Until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know anything about her beyond her name and few minor details.
I had the privilege to meet with her daughter, my great-aunt, and learned more about this woman who was a mystery to me.
Before Hattie, my great-grandmother, was 21, she had been married, divorced, lost a toddler to pneumonia, and had given another son up for adoption because she couldn’t feed herself, let alone a small boy. I could surely write page after page about the tragedies of these events. And they were tragedies of pain more than what most of us could think we could bear. I don’t want to dwell on the tragedies of Hattie’s life, but rather focus on the way she transcended tragedy to live a full life complete with happiness and renewal.
Hattie had courage. When she divorced her first husband because of his heavy drinking and carousing, she did so without support from her family. To divorce in the early 1900’s was tantamount to becoming a complete social outcast. It was expensive and difficult to do. But Hattie believed that the right thing to do for herself and for her children was to divorce a man who was not a good husband. It takes courage to go against the cultural rules of one’s society and even more difficult to defy one’s family and face the attendant consequences.
Hattie had strength to made decisions that were difficult and painful. I suppose this also suggests a certain level of pragmatism. When she gave up her son for adoption, I know it wrenched at her heart and hurt for decades after, but she did what she could to take care of her son and give him a stable home.
Hattie had hope. She was only 21 when she married my great-grandfather. He had lost his first wife to an accident and was left with 5 small children. Hattie had hope and trust that she could love again and find a man that was worthy of loving. Hattie and Lockwood were married for over 50 years. I think it requires hope to love again after such a disastrous first marriage.
Hattie was cheerful and patient. Hattie suffered from a stroke 20 years before her death. Her speech never recovered and she was not able to  utter a word for 20 years. Yet, she was patient with others, cheerful and happy. She never became surly, angry or discouraged with her inability to verbally communicate.  
Hattie went on to have three more children, two boys and one girl. One of the boys was my grandfather. She eventually repaired the broken relationship with her parents. She was a stalwart wife and mother, standing by her husband and children through the years. My great-aunt, Hattie’s daughter, remembers her as being very cheerful–especially through the ordeal of having a stroke.
Over the years, Hattie faced the ordinary gamut of human challenges. Deaths, accidents, war, uncertainty, family discord, poverty, etc. Yet she faced her challenges with grace and dignity. While it would be easy to frame her life within the tragedies that she dealt with, I think it would be far more productive and uplifting to view her in the framework of transcendance and as a model of courage. I am grateful to claim this woman as my great-grandmother.

Do you have an ancestor whose story (both good and bad) inspires and encourages you? 


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