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In Memoriam: Gladys Gonzalez-Ramos

On October 18, 1999, the members of The Hastings Center-United Hospital Fund Working Group called “The Cultures of Caregiving” were gathered in the library to begin the afternoon discussions. We had invited Gladys Gonzalez-Ramos, an associate professor of social work at New York University, to describe her experience of caregiving for her parents, who had fled Cuba in 1960. Although they had established a small business in New Jersey, they had never truly adapted to America and spoke English only haltingly. Her father had heart disease and her mother severe Parkinson’s disease.

Gladys began her story and none of us who were there that day will ever forget it. She said, “Today is the first anniversary of the day my father killed my mother and then himself.” Remarkably her narrative was full of love and forgiveness and understanding of the profound despair that led to this tragedy. Gladys’s story was published in the Hastings Center Report in 2000 titled, “The 18th of October 1999: In Memoriam.” It was later included in the volume The Cultures of Caregiving, edited by Tom Murray and me (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004) with a different title.

Now, sadly, it is Gladys herself we mourn. She died on December 22, 2010, after two years of grueling treatment for pancreatic cancer, at the age of 58. She had an illustrious career in social work, focusing on mental health, delivery of care to Hispanic children and families, and mothers’ cultural child-rearing values. She was an extraordinary teacher and mentor. After her parents’ death she began to work with patients and families affected by Parkinson’s disease and directed the development of social work, educational, and community-based programs at the NYU Langone Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center. She was also active in the National Parkinson Foundation.

At her memorial service, which she planned in detail, all the speakers described her concern for others as her lifelong mission. She took care to include all the people she loved in the service. In what was undoubtedly a rarity in an Episcopal church, at Gladys’s request her closest friend, a Jewish woman, recited the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Her work will live on, but it is Gladys herself we will miss.

Carol Levine is director of the Families and Health Care Project of the United Hospital Fund and a Hastings Center Fellow.

Published on: February 11, 2011
Published in: Caregiving

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