As You Like It: The Unsinkable Molly Brown


My mom always compares herself to Maggie Brown, otherwise known as the Unsinkable Molly Brown. Molly was traveling on the Titanic when it hit the iceberg. She refused to leave, helping others to board the lifeboats, and had to be convinced to get into Lifeboat No. 6. She was dubbed the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” by historians because not only did she help in the ship’s evacuation; she also took an oar in her lifeboat and insisted that the crewman in charge go back to try and save more people.

Born poor to a family of Irish immigrants, she married J.J. Brown, who became wealthy after their marriage when he discovered a substantial ore seam. Molly was an amazing woman. In 1901 she was one of the first students to enroll at the Carnegie Institute in New York. She became fluent in French, German and Russian. In 1909 she ran for the U. S. Senate. Throughout her life she used her wealth to fight for women’s rights and suffrage and to improve social services. She worked with Judge Lindsey to help destitute children and establish the United States’ first juvenile court, which helped form the basis of the modern U.S. juvenile court system.

I’m not sure that mom knows Margaret’s entire history, but she does admire her for being a survivor who never let anything bring her down — who always picked herself up and moved on. That pretty much describes my mom as well. She may not have run for Senate, but she has accomplished amazing things in her life despite the horrors that she lived through. Now mom is facing the challenge of getting older. But she still sees herself as unsinkable and I’m on the sidelines cheering her on.

Mom lives in independent senior housing near us. She exercises every day, including practicing Tai Chi, but her greatest love is walking. Even now, when she depends on a rolling walker, which she calls her Mercedes, she tools around at a pretty good clip. But her greatest challenge these days is her balance, which can desert her without warning.

Last June on her 88th birthday, she woke up feeling weak. Steve and I were with her in her apartment when she walked to the window. Suddenly she lost her balance and fell over, hitting a table. She broke three ribs. I always tell her that she never does anything halfway. She couldn’t just pull a muscle or perhaps fracture one rib — nope, mom goes for breaking the whole rack. When people heard about her accident they winced and said, “Oh, broken ribs. That’s so painful and you can’t do anything for them but wait till they heal.” The doctors were determined to give her pain killers, but she would only take Tylenol. Within a week she was off the Tylenol and buzzing around the rehab place like a speed demon. Each day when we came to visit we would have to search for her because she was always out somewhere strolling. She was the marvel of the floor.

Then, a few weeks ago, once again while Steve was within six inches of her, she fell — this time on the pavement. When I got to the emergency room and saw her I nearly keeled over and had to run for a chair before I fainted. She looked like someone had worked her over.

She took one look at my white face and said, “So I guess I must look gorgeous!”

I answered, “Well mom, I would cancel that beauty pageant appearance that you had planned.”

Shatz just looked at the two of us and laughed. He knew that we needed our silly jokes to get us through. But when she told me that she wanted a mirror to see what she looked like, I put my foot down.

“You don’t need to see what you look like right now,” I told her.

“Hey you know me,” she answered. “The Unsinkable Molly Brown!”

Later on, as we waited in the hall for her to be admitted, she suddenly said, “You know, all these ambulance drivers are really handsome!” One of the nurses heard her and cracked up. I smiled, relieved to see that her spirit was getting her through this latest setback. I sure could have used some of that spirit. In the end she had to get seven stitches over her eye and suffered a fractured pelvis. Once again we waited for her stay in the hospital to end so we could get her to rehab and home.

But this time has been harder. Because of her fractured pelvis, walking, the one thing that gets her through the rough patches, is painful. When we come to visit she looks sad or exhausted, and my heart hurts to see her this way. We bring her food and flowers, take her for walks, talk to her, and that helps for a bit. But some of her spirit seems to have abandoned her. Each morning when I wake up I say a prayer that today will be the day that she feels a bit stronger, today will be the day when she will look at me with that look I know and love so well — the one that says, “Don’t worry, I’m not giving up. After all, I’m the Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Because I can’t even allow myself to think that she isn’t.

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avatar Posted by on Jan 4 2012. Filed under As You Like It, Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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