I’ve always been fascinated by my family history. It’s not so much the actual lineage as it is just imagining what life was like generations ago.
Even with distant relatives from long ago, I feel a connection to my family history, especially when I have photographs that capture so many moments in time. Like this one.
Meet Anna Marie Merget.
I grew up looking at this photograph of my maternal great-grandmother. She’s my mother’s mother’s mother. I’m just entranced by it. It was 1915. She looks casually regal and totally comfortable with herself. And all of this at the tender young age of twenty-one.
By 1916, she was dating a dapper gentleman by the name of Sidney Montgomery as evidenced by the photo he gave to her on her 22nd birthday.
On the back, he wrote
“To My Dearest Anna, With love from Sidney April 9th, 1916”
After what I’m sure was a proper courtship, Anna and Sidney were married on June 11th, 1919. I don’t know if we have any wedding photos in our crumbling old photo albums but even if we did, I’ve always loved these pictures.
A young couple so full of promise with a long life of happiness ahead of them.
Little did they know that four years later, Anna would become so crippled with arthritis that she would be confined to bed and stay bedridden for the remaining thirty years of her life.
She essentially became a quadriplegic of the worst kind. Her joints seized and she was unable to move any skeletal part of her body except for one of her folded arms, which she could raise about four inches. Her spine was stiffened and her legs were rigid. She was unable to move or be moved. She never sat in a wheelchair. She couldn’t.
And so she remained in that bed until 1954 when she passed away at the young age of sixty due to heart failure.
Unfortunately, most of what I know about my great-grandmother is anecdotal. My own grandmother (Anna’s daughter) passed away when I was only eleven years old. At that age, I lacked the adult curiosity to ask her all sorts of questions about her mother.
Instead, I’ve had to rely on my mother’s memories. She remembers visiting her grandmother only a few times. Her skin was taut and leathery. Her hands were wrinkled with age but her face was soft and smooth. With help, she would prop up a book and read to my mother. I can only imagine how those visits must have been a time of joy and frustration for everyone.
For most of those thirty years, Sidney cared for Anna by himself. It wasn’t until close to the end that he hired a nurse to assist him. Anna wasn’t able to be the wife she wanted to. Or the mother. Or the grandmother. She was given a life sentence and served it out as best she could.
I can’t say if she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. I don’t even know the details of her condition. But I do know that that Anna suffered from a disease that would ultimately impact my entire family.
Today, I know people living with both conditions. It’s still not easy. When my own joints ache, I immediately suspect some form of arthritis. Thankfully, I’ve been checked and I’m arthritis-free. I’m sharing my family story today to raise awareness about arthritis and to encourage you to get moving in honor of World Arthritis Day.
Did you know that Arthritis is the nation’s leading cause of disability? It impacts one in every five adults and affects 4 million people in the US and hundreds of millions around the world. No one deserves to live every day in pain.
While there is no cure for arthritis, The Arthritis Foundation wants to encourage all Americans to take simple steps that will prevent or decrease the pain and disability of arthritis. In partnership with the Ad Council, the Arthritis Foundation is launching the Take Action Against Arthritis initiative in support of World Arthritis Day. Observed every year on Oct. 12 since 1996, World Arthritis Day is part of a global awareness initiative by the United Nations-endorsed Bone and Joint Decade.