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the story of the African violet queen

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That is a little story I read quite a while ago in reference to psychiatrist Milton Erickson. I just thought some of you might enjoy it.

A favorite aunt of one of Erickson's colleagues was living in Milwaukee and had become quite seriously depressed. When Erickson gave a lecture there, the colleague asked him to visit the aunt and see if he could help her.

The woman had inherited a fortune and lived in the family mansion. But she lived all alone, never having married, and by now had lost most of her close relatives. She was in her sixties and had medical problems that put her in a wheelchair and severely curtailed her social activities. She had begun to hint to her nephew that she was thinking of suicide.

After Erickson finished his lecture, he took a taxi to the aunt's house. She was expecting him, having been told by her nephew that he was coming. She met Erickson at the door and gave him a tour of the large house. She had had the house remodeled to allow wheelchair access, but other than that, it appeared as if nothing had been changed since the 1890s. The furniture and household decorations showed a faded glory, smelling of must. Erickson was struck by the fact that all the curtains were kept closed, making the house a depressing place indeed.

The aunt saved the very best for last, however, and finally ushered Erickson into the greenhouse nursery attached to the house. This was her pride and joy; she had a green thumb and spent many happy hours working with the plants. She proudly showed him her latest project—taking cuttings from her African violets and starting new plants.

In the discussion that followed, Erickson found out that the woman was very isolated. She had previously been quite active in her local church, but since her confinement to a wheelchair she attended church only on Sundays. Because there was no wheelchair access to the church, she hired her handyman to give her a ride to church and lift her into the building after services had started, so she wouldn't disrupt the flow of foot traffic into the church. She also left before services had ended, again so she wouldn't block traffic.

After hearing her story, Erickson told her that her nephew was worried about how depressed she had become. She admitted that it had become quite serious. But Erickson told her that he thought depression was not really the problem. It was clear to him that her problem was that she was not being a very good Christian. She was taken aback by this and began to bristle, until he explained. "Here you are with all this money, time on your hands, and a green thumb. And it's all going to waste. What I recommend is that you get a copy of your church membership list and then look in the latest church bulletin. You'll find announcements of births, illnesses, graduations, engagements, and marriages in there—all the happy and sad events in the life of people in the congregation. Make a number of African violet cuttings and get them well established. Then repot them in gift pots and have your handyman drive you to the homes of people who are affected by these happy or sad events. Bring them a plant and your congratulations or condolences and comfort, whichever is appropriate to the situation." Hearing this, the woman agreed that perhaps she had fallen down in her Christian duty and agreed to do more.

Twenty years later, as I was sitting in Erickson's office, he pulled out one of his scrap-books and showed me an article from the Milwaukee Journal (or whatever the local paper was called). It was a feature article with a large headline that read "African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Dies, Mourned by Thousands." The article detailed the life of this incredibly caring woman who had become famous for her trademark flowers and her charitable work with people in the community for the ten years preceding her death.

From O'Hanlon B, " Do One Thing Different"
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