The caring example of my cousin Bob

My cousin Bob may have been as attentive to his frail Aunt Anita, my mother, if he weren’t in a wheelchair. But he might not have had the time because, at 58, he would still have been working. 

A decade ago Bob woke from back surgery in a Joliet hospital unable to move his legs. His lower body was paralyzed. 

It would be understandable if the botched operation had made Bob angry, glum, and self-pitying. He is, however, one of the most upbeat people I know. He has even found a silver lining in adversity: his two children, who were still in school when he became disabled, chose health professions. Creighton is a physical therapist and Katie an intensive-care nurse. “I don’t know if they would have gone that route if it hadn’t happened,” Bob says. “So, that’s a blessing.” 

The year after the surgery, Bob’s house was badly damaged in a fire started by lightning. The Joliet community held a fundraiser to help Bob and his wife, Denise. Through the fundraiser and insurance claims, they were able to reconstruct the house with accessible features and to buy Bob a hand-controlled SUV into which he loads his wheelchair. 

Able to drive himself again, Bob returned to his engineering job at Johnson Controls in Arlington Heights, but fitting medical and physical therapy appointments around his work schedule proved too much. He took disability benefits after a few years.

Bob visited both my parents when they were in nursing homes in 2019. In the 16 months Mom has been a widow, he calls regularly. He saw her outside when she could have outdoor visitors and keeps asking when pandemic restrictions will be lifted so that he can visit indoors. She has come to count on him and worries that she may have offended him when he hasn’t called for a while.

In some families it would not be unusual for nephews to call and visit aged or ill aunts and uncles. My family, however, isn’t so close. My mom found out about the deaths of two nephews, a sister-in-law, and a cousin through newspaper obituaries. 

My brother, sister-in-law, and I sat with Bob and his mother, Marilyn, at a luncheon after my dad’s sister’s funeral last week. As usual, Bob kept us laughing. When I left, he was joking about launching his wheelchair over stairs instead of waiting for a ramp to be lowered.

Bob was always a good guy; I don’t want to imply that misfortune changed him into a caring person. However, he does understand something about my mother that her own children can’t: what life is like when your mobility is limited. We are grateful that he has translated understanding into action.

Filed under: Life lessons

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  • Thank you for a beautiful profile of a wonderful man. He doesn't surprise me all that much, being related to you.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thank you for your kind words, Margaret.

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