This week we said goodbye to Bea Bretl. She was 97 and had seen a lot of life. One of her daughters, Monica Rehberg, had the foresight to talk Bea into writing her life story to share with family. This was done 20 years ago. And what a treasure her family now has. Bea raised a wonderful big family. When she moved in, she had 8 children, 18 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. I understand there are now more on the way! Every family member we met was a delight. I remember telling Bea that I enjoyed meeting every child, grandchild and great grandchild that had visited. She smiled and said, “Not a black sheep among them. I like to think I had something to do with that.” I congratulated her and said “Way to go Bea!” and she gave me a spontaneous high 5.
By the time Bea moved in with us, she had dementia, was unable to walk and she was already in hospice care. I was told she had worked as an editor into her 80s and volunteered and lived a busy life into her early 90s. Her family had put together a photo album of pictures from her 90th birthday party. There were many people in attendance and Bea was standing tall and looked vibrant in every picture. Her beautiful smiles and expressive face were delightful. Her world began to get smaller when memory problems began to surface a few years before moving in with us. And she was later hit hard by Covid. For a time she lost the ability to talk and feed herself and she permanently lost the ability to walk. She sometimes cried when staff helped her with basic care needs such as getting ready for the day or going back to bed. Her tears seemed to be primarily from not wanting to need help and secondarily from arthritic pain. Talking about this helped. She sometimes said, “I never thought I would need this kind of help. What happened to me?” For a person that was volunteering and having fun with friends into her early 90s, dependance was a bitter pill to swallow. When I met her, she had a lovely caregiver in her home named Mimi. Bea’s needs were expertly met by Mimi, but Bea was lonely. Covid meant fewer visitors. And Bea could no longer get up and go as much as she would have liked.
When I called her family to let them know that Bea’s name had come up on our waiting list, there was excitement about the thought of her being in an intergenerational setting. The hope was that of alleviating some of her loneliness. Yet, Bea had a great caregiver in Mimi, so this was not an easy decision. I was told that all 8 children would be making the decision together. I have been a nurse for over four decades and the thought of 8 people making a decision together sounded overwhelming. I have known families of two that could not agree on care decisions. I asked if there was a time frame for how long this decision would take. Monica assured me that as amazing as it might sound, they would be able to do this fairly quickly. And they did. Monica had some questions for me to answer right away and then she said there would likely be more after their family call that evening. Monica would get back with me to get more information and they would likely make their decision after that. And that is exactly how it happened. I remain deeply amazed by this family’s ability to work together. In fact a coworker suggested the family’s ability to work together should probably be made into an exhibit in the Smithsonian to help the rest of the world learn how to work well together!
As we moved forward I explained to the family that they had the option to decorate Bea’s room to her liking. I heard from a few siblings that Monica would make the decorating plans, some brothers would paint and some would help move things in and the sisters would finish setting things up. And just like that, they had her room set up beautifully.
Their ability to work together is beautiful to behold. I asked Monica how she thought they became such a smooth functioning family. She said that her Mother always noticed who was good at what. Their Father had died young and the family needed to work together. She felt that Bea really showed them how. Bea knew who to call for help with different kinds of problems. It appeared to me that the siblings enjoyed each other’s strengths. They all seemed to be proud of each other, talking fondly of each other’s gifts. From my perspective, they could solve problems and work together seamlessly.
This family is a perfect example of a high functioning community. Different perspectives are taken into account as problems and solutions are examined. And then the group decides together on the best approach. Work tasks are divided based on the strengths of each community member. Beautiful. High Five Bea! You taught them well.
This family team is a part of Hope & A Future’s history, and their legacy will live on in an important way. Over 40 years ago, when Monica and her then fiance’ and now husband were looking for a home in the country–Bea found this property and encouraged them to look at it. Back then it was out in the country. But, it was not far from Bea’s home. And Bea knew Monica and Michael could not only save this place, but make it beautiful. Monica has amazing vision for design and we thank her for the beautiful addition she and Michael put on the original farmhouse. Because of their big family, Monica hoped this could be a place all of them could come to and she imagined a traffic flow pattern from kitchen to dining area that we benefit from today. Michael has many skills for home remodeling and we can thank him and some of the Bretl brothers as well as Bea herself for their work. I am told that Bea helped scrape off old wallpaper. If Monica and Michael had not made this upgrade I wonder if this old farmhouse would still be here. And even if it was, without the upgrade we would not have been able to use it. It would not have been accessible without their addition. Their addition was accessible enough for us to get started before Hope & A Future was able to add the accessible wing. In addition, Michael has done historical research on this property, which is quite a story. We hope to have him share it with us again sometime soon. We are blessed and grateful for Bea’s time with us and for the time we had with her wonderful family.
Bea’s long life included life without plumbing and electricity, surviving the depression–working hard as a child in a family that had to move forward without a father. I think Bea’s Mother likely passed on skills of overcoming and high standards for work well done to this family. Bea’s story portrays her mother as a woman up against many obstacles with an overcoming spirit, natural intelligence and faith.
My favorite time spent with Bea was watching her watch children and spending time with her after dinner, talking around the table. Bea was no longer lonely here. She loved it when her family and especially great grandchildren visited. And she enjoyed watching Leon, the three year old who lives here. Bea’s great grandchildren enjoyed playing and seeing the chickens when they visited. Bea flourished with intergenerational activity going on around her! And she enjoyed conversations after the evening meal. Her faith was very important to her and she had many devotionals and prayer books that she poured over. We would sometimes read them as a group and occasionally she read them to us. And then we would talk about them. Even with dementia her deep wisdom and sense of humor would shine. As did her love for her husband and family. She also had a fun dry wit. Yet in some of these conversations she expressed some lingering concerns that maybe she didn’t measure up to God’s standards. But by the time she passed, I believe she came to the peace that God loves her as his child. And she certainly loved children! On September 10th, I stayed up late to make sure she was comfortable. At about 12:30 AM I decided I would get some sleep. Before I left her room, I stopped to pray and asked that any lingering fears about God’s love for her be swept away. I then went to do a little paperwork and peeked in on her 20 minutes later to find that she had left us. I thought, “Well done Bea.” In the morning her oldest and youngest came to say good-bye and escort her out of our home. Bea lived a long and good life and I am grateful that I was able to share some of it with her and her family.
Early on September 11th when 3 year old Leon was told that Grandma Bea had died, he said, “Grandma Bea was sad in her bed.” Even he knew she wanted to get up and go! And now she has! Into eternity where the forever begins!