Life Care Center family celebrates life in the face of loss

In funerals, the focus is often towards the deceased person’s life and celebrating what they had accomplished rather than the passing itself. For those in their later years, birthdays can often carry the same kind of weight, but angled just a bit differently.

The oldest resident at Life Care Center of Elizabethton, Jewel Brister, will turn 103 this Sunday, March 17.

Sharron Kwaitkowski, her daughter, said the birthday celebration is an event as many family members as possible attend.

“My son lives out of the state,” Kwaitkowski said. “We are trying to work around his schedule so he can make it.”

Brister has moved in and out of East Tennessee for most of her life, but came to permanently reside in Elizabethton in 2010 in order to be closer to the rest of the immediate family.

“She kept coming back to live near her granddaughter,” she said.

Kwaitkowski’s daughter, Renya Austin, said the celebration is bittersweet.

“It is a double-edged sword,” Austin said. “It is amazing she has lived this long, but we know she missed Grandpa.”

Brister’s husband died in 2001, a loss Kwaitkowski said affected her mother deeply.

Both she and Austin described Brister’s marriage as full of love.

“They went through World War II,” Austin said. “They were so strong together. They had the kind of relationship we should all strive for.”

When Brister’s husband died, Kwaitkowski said Brister clung to her in response.

“Mom was an only child,” Kwaitkowski said. “When Grandpa passed, she felt like it was her responsibility to take care of me.”

The family gathers every year to celebrate Brister’s birthday, each one carrying the possibility of being the last.

“We know it may not happen next year,” Austin said. “We are going to miss her.”

Kwaitkowski said seeing her mother keep going all these years can be tough.

“She is a strong-willed person,” she said. “She does not want to leave me.”

In spite of that determination, they both said they felt Brister truly wants to see her husband again.

“She is grasping for Grandpa,” Austin said. “They had a true love.”

The occasion is not meant to be a somber one, however. A birthday is a birthday, and Kwaitkowski said the date is worthy of genuine celebration.

“It is a milestone for her,” she said. “Each year is valued more than the year before.”

SportsPlus

Local news

Single-vehicle accident claims the life of 15-year-old

Local news

Tennessee tourism breaks $30B in visitor spending in 2023, creating a record tax benefit for Tennesseans

Local news

Vanderbilt Transplant Center finishes fiscal year with record 809 solid organ transplants

Local news

Watauga Valley RR Museum adds extra fall excursion through the Smokies

Local news

East TN health centers’ community gardens: More than fresh produce

Local news

State House candidates give views on guns, vouchers, other issues

Local news

Local musician nominated for two top IBMA awards

Local news

Back-to-School Bash set for July 27 

Local news

June pending home sales flat

Local news

How to prepare your child for a great start to the school year

Local news

A Life Lived: Doug Childers was devoted to his family and church

Local news

Covered Bridge Jams Concert to feature The Bullseye Band

Local news

Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy earns accreditation

Local news

Carter, Unicoi early voting turnout slow, low – not so in Johnson

Local news

Carter County Schools announce administrative changes for 2024-25 school year

Local news

Tennessee gas prices hold steady, remain at $3.11

Local news

Tennessee delegates back Harris as Biden drops out of Presidential race

Local news

Suspected Johnson City serial rapist Sean Williams faces first trial on escape charges

Local news

Johnson City Fire Department to host child safety seat check

Local news

Second Harvest Food Bank of NE Tennessee receives donation

Local news

Regional rehab facility lauded as place of restoration, hope

Local news

Elizabethton Police Department promotes two officers to new rank

Community

Fish and Chicken Feast Aug. 3 at Boozy Creek

Local news

Tax free weekend in Tennessee is coming up