The Scheherazade Chronicles


“… the gap between compassion and surrender is love’s darkest, deepest region.”

–Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence

Once upon a time in the faraway land of my childhood, my mother held me on her lap in the rocking chair and read me nursery rhymes. When I got a little older she read me fairy tales. She gave me her childhood books, two I still have – Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and The Arabian Nights. This latter is a big book, imaginatively illustrated in potent colors, bound in deep green, with a paste down illustration on the cover and smooth pages I love to run my hands over. She bought me the My Book House books, the 1937 edition — nursery rhymes, fairy tales and classics edited by Olive Beaupre Miller, a set of 12 books, graded for age and reading level, from Mother Goose to Shakespeare. Mother kept the books in their carton, buried in a closet, and periodically throughout the years she would give me one the next level up. When she wasn’t around, I excavated them and explored them on my own. I opened a book, rubbed my eyes and on the carpet of my imagination, I flew to distant lands and far-gone times, into the vivid pictures in the storytellers’ minds. I plugged dikes, lived in the Village of Cream Puffs, watched with James Watt the steam pressure raise the lid on his pot of boiling water and marveled at Paul Bunyon’s blue ox. In other books, I learned the mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion and found out whom Mr. Rochester was keeping in his back room.

My father and his brother, my uncle, recounted funny anecdotes: When their parents went out for the evening, my father and their friend locked my uncle in the closet because he wouldn’t stop playing his saxophone; when their parents came home they unlocked the closet, and my uncle, so angry, came out punching at the two boys, but missed and punched a notch in the door frame. One year my father and uncle, teenagers, decided to keep the Christmas tree up until Washington’s birthday; then they put it in the fireplace. Flames shot halfway across the long living room. “Tell us that story again,” we’d say, “about when … when you, Uncle Bob, took the family out for a Sunday drive in the black Packard, the one the chauffeur, because our grandfather didn’t drive, polished only the side facing the house when it was parked in the driveway, when you pulled up across the street from the drug store, said ‘I’ll be right back,’ went in, came out, and without saying a word, drove off. When later the family learned you had gone in and eaten an ice cream.”

What great fortune have I to come aground at this lifetime and encounter this treasure chest of stories, each story a precious gem.

Storytelling. Everybody has a story to tell. Storytelling is as old as humankind, handed down through generations. Historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin said, “I am obsessed with the importance of story. The way we learn from parents and grandparents who pass stories on. Stories have a beginning, middle and an end. Something has meaning when you’re telling stories.”

A very long time ago, in ancient Persia, the Sultan, upon learning that his wife and his brother’s wife had been unfaithful, deduced that all maidens once married became unfaithful, so each night he took a new maiden for his bride and then in the morning had his vizier behead her.

To save the maidens, Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offered herself to the Sultan. Each night Scheherazade told the Sultan a story, but she didn’t finish it; so the Sultan couldn’t behead her because he wanted to hear how it ended. He brought her back night after night, until finally he realized that not all women are unfaithful.

I hope you will find meaning in a  story here that will save your day, a story you will find comforting and supporting, transporting or flat out  funny. This is my purpose in keeping this blog.

I love telling stories. That’s why I write. I have been writing stories since I was very young. If I’m not writing, when I meet you I’ll tell you a story, anyway. I started this blog, then called “Salmon Salad and Mozart: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal,” because I wanted to tell you the story of my mother Emma’s and my journey through her dementia. I wanted you to know you are not alone. I was Emma’s sole, unpaid, caregiver for a decade. Only in the end did we get the help we needed. Emma was finally released from her long suffering on April 11, 2012, at 97. Then, she flew away like one of the many beautiful butterflies she loved and painted in her watercolor images displayed in various forms, all over the house. Even her clothes had butterfly prints. If you are interested, you can read our story in my many blog posts here in the archives and in my two books, Begins the Night Music: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume I and To What Green Altar: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journal, Volume II. You can buy my books by clicking on the icons in the sidebars. This will take you through to Amazon.com. If you do it this way, in addition to Amazon’s paying me a royalty on the sale, they pay me a small commission.

Five months into writing my blog I suspected that someone was visiting my blog, padding around in the alcoves, chambers, catwalks and labyrinths – in the latter, among whom Stephen King calls the boys in the basement – of my blog and I did not know you were here. You were here watching me. I could hear the floor creak, a muffled chuckle, smell nutmeg. You were here learning and knowing all about me while I knew nothing about you, because you did not leave your calling card, your comment. I knew then there was a Phantom of My Blog. Then one day I was up on the catwalk, getting an overview of the action when the Phantom of My Blog came up behind me and nudged me over the edge. I grabbed hold of a rope in the fly system. Not being much for rope climbing, I slid rapidly down to the knot at the end and got rope burn on the palms of my hands. At the end of my rope, I determined I had to let go and fall where I may….

Healthcare personnel for Emma were often unreliable and incommunicative. Often they left me stranded. When I let go of the end of my rope, I seemed to have landed amidst of a heap of backdrops. It was hard to know which scene I was in, what my role was; moreover, when I recited my lines, my audience did not comprehend. I thought I was speaking English to an English-speaking audience. I recognized the futility of becoming the director of my own play; I had made one hundred false starts, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, always interrupted by a change in scene.

Since then, the Phantom has appeared in various scenes in my blog; he hangs fresh headers, sweeps up spam, doesn’t dust, plays the banjo and has a black, fluffy dog named Dickens. The Phantom’s name is Moriarty. Into my blog he creeps….

Over the months since Emma’s passing, I have transitioned this blog into “The Scheherazade Chronicles.” The Scheherazade Chronicles is dedicated to human interest and to the development and support of storytelling and to raising awareness of and promoting access to the humanities for the edification and elevation of the consciousness of humankind.

Please … come in, make yourself at home. Pour yourself a glass of wine, sit with Moriarty and me in the light of the candle at the round table, listen to the music in the right sidebar player, climb up the winding staircase to the cupola and from the windows survey our tall grass meadow down to the stream and the woods beyond. Maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of the blue deer; they have become a small herd now, an uncommon herd.

—Samantha Mozart

“The Unseen Traveler” — By T. J. Banks

This is a story of a great love and a powerful connection, one to keep in your heart, always.  It is exquisitely written by my good friend T.J. Banks. It is her story.

The Unseen Traveler

By T. J. Banks

(From The Way-Back Files: Until We Meet Again. Guideposts, 2003.)

The rain that early July Tuesday had been monsoon-like, forcing me to pull over to the side of the road at one point during my travels. By 7:15 p. m., it had stopped, but the roads were still dangerously slick. I’d just gotten off the phone with my husband, Tim, and could tell from his voice that the swing shift he’d worked the night before had finally started catching up with him. “You sound like you need to be off the road,” I’d remarked, telling him to skip the trip to the store he’d been about to make.

“I really want to be home,” he’d said just before signing off.

A funny queasiness took hold of me shortly afterwards. I wandered restlessly about the house, then headed up to our three-year-old son Zeke’s room and began reading to him. I happened to look up at one point and went even sicker inside. The walls of the room began pulsing, the colors in the wallpaper draining away.

A few hours later, my in-laws came to tell me that Tim’s van had crashed into a telephone pole, killing him instantly. The time of death was 7:31. (“I can’t say for sure,” a friend said later when I told her the wallpaper story, “but I’ll bet you that’s when Tim died.”)

Pain set in, followed by an eerie numbness, a winter of the soul like nothing I’d ever known before. I made the funeral arrangements, picked out the monument, gave away many of Tim’s belongings, and probated the will, hoping that once these things were done, I would somehow come back to life. I was a ghost wandering through a lonely dark wood, searching desperately for a clearing, some space between the branches that a ray of light could pierce through.

Two weeks after Tim died, I came back from running some errands and went up to my room to lie down. I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I’d just rest a bit in the cool shadowy room while my mother took care of Zeke downstairs.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a white-gold light appeared to the left of the headboard. It hung in mid-air, glowing like a flame and deepening in intensity as I gazed into the heart of it. The light flickered and danced before my eyes, then slowly…ever so slowly…faded away.

I sat up, amazed. The room, as I’ve said, was a shadowy one, thanks to the huge oak tree shading the window directly across from the bed: in the past, I’d hung crystals in that window in vain attempts to work a little rainbow magic. There was no prism in the window now, only an enormous aloe plant snaking its arms against the pains…and, anyway, a prism would’ve cast its rainbows against the walls, ceiling, and floor. It wouldn’t have conjured up that firefly flame that hung suspended in the air, beckoning and reassuring me….

The June after Tim died, Zeke and I traveled to Prince Edward Island. It was the vacation that Tim and I had planned for the three of us to take for what would have been our tenth anniversary. It was a tough trip on my own with a four-year-old, and Zeke was homesick. So I cut the vacation short and drove the rental car to Charlottetown the day before our re-scheduled flight. We stopped at the airport first to confirm the flight changes. The woman at the counter was genuinely charming and helpful, waiving the change fee. “Now,” she said brightly, looking up at me, “there’s a third person traveling with you?”

I did a double-take – after all, it was 1996, and surely a single parent traveling alone with a child shouldn’t be that much of a novelty – but explained the circumstances. The woman shivered. “That gives me the willies,” she admitted, as she directed us to a motel close to the airport.

I found it easily enough. The woman who ran it was just as friendly, and we chatted lightly as I filled out the necessary paperwork. “There’s a third person traveling with you?” she asked suddenly.

I guessed there was – an unseen traveler who wanted to make sure that we were all right and had landed in a good place.

Tim

Tim

^^^

T. J. Banks is the author of A TIME FOR SHADOWS, CATSONG (winner of the 2007 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award), [see CATSONG Amazon link in my left sidebar], DERV & CO., HOUDINI, & SOULEIADO. A Contributing Editor to LAJOIE, she has also worked as a stringer for the Associated Press and an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School, and elsewhere. She has received awards for her fiction & non-fiction from BYLINE, the Cat Writers’ Association, & THE WRITING SELF. Her book, SKETCH PEOPLE: STORIES ALONG THE WAY, is based on her blog of the same name. Both the book and the blog feature “conversations” or interviews with people who have stories worth telling.

Visit T.J. on her “A Time for Shadows” Facebook page or on her blog:- Sketch People.: “We all have stories to tell. SKETCH PEOPLE is a series of interviews with people about what they do — their passions, their purpose, and their adventures along the way. It’s that simple. And that fascinating.”

***

CXXXI. Music: Part 3 – “The Wallflower” and The Saga of Annie & Henry

May 14, 2015 — I was in eighth grade listening to hit songs on the radio sung by Doris Day and Perry Como, when my friend, Anne Sullivan, said, “You’ve gotta listen to this.”  It was “Roll With Me, Henry,” sung by Etta James (1938-2012), the first rock ‘n’ roll song (now commonly known as doo wop) I had ever heard. The song, I learned today, has an interesting backstory.

According to Wikipedia: The Wallflower” (also known as “Roll with Me, Henry” and “Dance with Me, Henry“) is a 1955 popular song. It was one of several answer songs to “Work with Me, Annie” and has the same 12-bar blues melody. It was written by Johnny Otis, Hank Ballard, and Etta James. Etta James recorded it for Modern Records, with uncredited vocal responses from Richard Berry, under the title “The Wallflower” and it became a rhythm and blues hit, topping the U.S. R&B chart for 4 weeks. It was popularly known as “Roll with Me Henry”. This original version was considered too risque to play on pop radio stations.
In 1955, the song was covered for the pop market by Georgia Gibbs with the title “Dance With Me Henry”. That version charted, hitting the top five of several pop charts, including number one on the Most Played In Juke Boxes chart on May 14, 1955 , spending three weeks on top of that chart.[1] In 1958, Etta James made her own cover version of “Dance With Me Henry”.

Hank Ballard (1927-2003) & The Midnighters (formerly called The Royals) released “Work With Me, Annie” on January 14, 1954. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) immediately opposed it incanting that it had crossed over to a white teenage audience and the overtly sexual lyrics were thought unsuitable for them. But efforts to ban the song failed. The song had sold a million copies as did each of the succeeding Annie songs in the trilogy (“Work With Me, Annie,” “Roll With Me, Henry” and “Annie’s Aunt Fanny.”)

The success of these recordings instigated the practice of recording double entendre and answer songs. “The Wallflower” (popularly known as “Roll With Me, Henry”) is the answer song to “Work With Me, Annie.” The Midnighters recycled the melody once more for “Henry’s Got Flat Feet (Can’t Dance No More).”

An answer or response song, as the term suggests, is a song made in answer to a previous song, usually in recorded music. This concept became widespread in blues and rhythm & blues in the 1930s through the 1950s. Country music answer songs were popular in the 1950s and ’60s, primarily recorded by female singers in response to an original male recording. Response or answer music extends through to today in hip hop, rock music and filk music.  Wikipedia defines filk music as both a musical culture, genre, and community tied to science fiction/fantasy fandom and a type of fan labor. The genre has been active since the early 1950s, and played primarily since the mid-1970s. The term (originally a typographical error) predates 1955.

It appears to me that these answer/response song artists were engaging in pre-tech-age forms of flash fiction, blogging, and blog comments and replies.

Here are some YouTube links to original performances of these songs:

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters’ “Work With Me, Annie”  — a 12-bar blues song, the first in the Annie series.

Etta James, “Roll With Me, Henry

This is a later, Platters version of “Roll With Me, Henry” — or as The Platters female singer, Zola Taylor, (1938-2007) says it, “Hennery.”  This is funny — and I thought I could jitterbug. Brings back memories.

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters, “Annie Had a Baby

The Midnighters, “Annie’s Aunt Fanny

The Champions, “Annie Met Henry.”

There are no coincidences, some say, yet I stumbled on this today, May 14, 2015 , the 60th anniversary of Georgia Gibbs’s (1919-1006) “Dance With Me, Henry” topping the jukebox charts, because a fellow blogger visited my site for the first time and commented.  I responded and in turn, visited her blog — she writes about music, mostly rock ‘n’ roll (http://www.jinglejanglejungle.net).  She wrote a post about The Champs and “Tequila” and that made me think of the first rock ‘n’ roll song I had ever heard.

Samantha Mozart

A-Z Challenge Reflection 2015: One Thousand and One Tulips

A-to-Z+Reflection+[2015]+-+LgLook through the window and you will see Moriarty, the Phantom of My Blog, and me sitting on the low, stone wall by the folly, a short walk across the meadow from my blog. We are eating sandwiches and discussing the tulips growing here at the base of the wall. Dickens, Moriarty’s black, fluffy dog, lies in the grass, snapping at bees.

The warm sun and the buzzing of the bees lull me into a reverie. “The colors of the pure white tulips and the deep pink ones make me think of the richness I derived from taking up my first A to Z Blogging Challenge this year,” I say.

Moriarty takes a bite from his sandwich, tossing Dickens a piece. “I thought you didn’t want to go all back through telling your stories of your dementia caregiving for Emma, your mother, yet you went ahead and chose it as your A to Z theme.” He pours himself more lemonade from the thermos.

“I’m hoping to save the maidens,” I say. “You know, like Scheherazade did.

“The tales of the one thousand and one nights originated in Persia and then spread throughout the Middle East, Egypt and India, and were added to.” I offer my cup for a refill. “Tulip is derived from the Persian word for turban,” I tell him.

“A very long time ago, the Sultan, upon learning that his wife and his brother’s wife had been unfaithful, deduced that all maidens once married became unfaithful, so each night he took a new maiden for his bride and then in the morning had his vizier behead her.

“To save the maidens, Scheherazade, the vizier’s daughter, offered herself to the Sultan. Each night Scheherazade told the Sultan a story, but she didn’t finish it; so the Sultan couldn’t behead her because he wanted to hear how it ended. He brought her back night after night, until finally he realized that not all women are unfaithful.”

I take a sip from my cup. “Mmm, this is good. You made this lemonade this morning?”

“Yes,” says Moriarty. “Lots of sugar, lots of ice, made in a metal pitcher — the secret.”

“Like writing the A-Z posts,” I reflect.

I continue: “So, I hope that by telling and retelling my stories here of Emma’s and my journey through her dementia that they will help others in similar situations. In my days as caregiver I didn’t know where I was going or what would happen next.

“It was like that time you came up behind me on the blog catwalk and nudged me over the edge and I fell into a heap of backdrops and I didn’t know which scene I was in, what my role was. I thought I was speaking English to an English-speaking audience, but they did not comprehend.”

Moriarty smiles an enigmatic smile — or is it diabolic…?

“So, anyway,” I say, “I thought that my taking up this A to Z Challenge and retelling my stories would draw attention to my two books on Emma’s and my experiences, but I gained something far richer — the blooming of one thousand and one tulips: new acquaintances, positive support, new knowledge, extraordinary writers from around the world. And, too, for myself I derived a new self-discipline of sitting down each morning for about three hours and writing.

“I thank Arlee Bird and his co-hosts and minions for providing us this opportunity. Additionally, on non-WordPress sites, I learned to copy my comments ahead of posting them before Captcha methodically folded them and sailed them into a black hole, and to include my name and blog URL in my comments. Especially I thank those wonderful writers, who no doubt bloggy-eyed as I, took the time to visit my site and leave the most heartwarming and encouraging comments.”

“Some of them said they liked me,” says Moriarty.

I smile.

“Will you take up the Challenge again next year?” he asks. “Can’t you make less mess with the drafts?”

“With the drafts, I doubt it,” I say. “As for taking up the challenge next year, yes, I’d like to, b—-”

Suddenly Dickens spots a rabbit and takes off after it.

“Dickens!  Dickens, come!”  commands Moriarty. “Dickens!”
Dickens keeps on running. “Dickens!

“He’s saying, ‘I’m not him,'” says Moriarty.

“There goes a character, running off ahead, chasing rabbits without me,” I reply.

Samantha Mozart

______________

Here are some good friends and terrific writers and thinkers I met along the way:

Susan Scott — http://gardenofedenblog.com

Patricia Garcia — http://www.patgarciaandeverythingmustchange.com/

Gwynn Rogers — http://gwynnsgritandgrin.com

Hilary Melton-Butcher —  http://positiveletters.blogspot.com/

Sara Snider — http://saracsnider.com/

Fee — http://weewhitehoose.co.uk/

Kern Windwraith — http://www.oddparticle.com

Annalisa Crawford — http://annalisacrawford.blogspot.co.uk/

Celine Jeanjean — http://celinejeanjean.com

###

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Zephyr at Dawn – Round Table Nights II

ZO, Revered One, I have told you 25 tales, and now, in the middle of this night, I shall to tell you one more.

So, here at the round table, before the candle burns down, thus I begin this Scheherazade chronicle: A man walked down the dusty yellow street between the low white houses. He wore a long white shirt belted in woven thread of gold, turquoise silk balloon pants and camel hide sandals. On his head was a turban that rather resembled a pumpkin in both color and design, with a small stem-like dome at the crown. He was a pasha or somebody like that. In one hand, where one would expect a staff or sword, he carried a bottle of Zinfandel, Red Zinfandel. In the other a brass oil lamp needing polishing.

A beautiful young maiden strolled toward him. Instantly he was smitten. He waylaid her and struck up a conversation. He thought, Shall I bed her or behead her? For, surely I will not wed her. She is too pretty. I shall bed her and then behead her, for she is like all the others, always wanting nothing but my riches and once she gets them she will be unfaithful.  The maiden had no idea what was going on in his head. She thought him rather handsome, but that his big pumpkin hat must weigh down his brain.

“My dear,” said he to the maiden, “Come with me to my——”

“Bfff; bfff. … Biff.”

Oh — it’s Dickens. Excuse me. Let me get up from the table and let him in. Moriarty, the Phantom of my Blog, is back, his arrival heralded by his black, fluffy dog, Dickens. I open the heavy metal security door of my blog. A soft breeze out of the west has picked up.

“Moriarty. Welcome back. How was your trip to Arkansas? How is your family? No wonder you didn’t open the door yourself. Your hands are full.

“What is that you’re carrying?” I ask him as he enters the blog.

Suddenly, Dickens steps out of the shadows and walks in front of Moriarty. Moriarty trips and the thing he is carrying flies into the air. I catch it.

“Moriarty. It’s a zither. You’ve brought back a zither.”

“I found it in a roadside yard sale when I was in Missouri,” he says.

“I thought you went to Arkansas.”

“I did, but I have to drive through a corner of Missouri to get there.”

“Oh, right.”

I hold the zither by the window in the light eminating from the sun about to rise above the horizon. “It looks in pretty good condition from what little I know about zithers,” I say.

“I’m going to take zither lessons,” he says. “I’ll become a zitherist. —-

“{{{     }}}  What is this mess all over the place? You’ve got papers strewn everywhere. This is awful.”

“It’s my A to Zs,” I say. “I’ve written them all the way to Z. These are my notes and drafts and Outliers.”

“Outliers? What are the outliers?”

“The Outliers are my darlings that wouldn’t fit into my tales but I didn’t want to kill, so I saved them in my Scheherazade Chronicles ‘Outliers’ file, for other tales.”

“And everything’s so dusty,” he says. “Why haven’t you dusted?”

“Because, I was totally immersed in writing the A to Zs. Everything else fell by the wayside.”

“Well, you’re going to have to dust, but let’s get started cleaning up these papers.

“Guess what I saw while I was driving across the Chesapeake through Maryland back from Arkansas?” he says as he picks up a page and wads it up. “Sinbad’s ship. It was in dry dock. They were replacing the rotted wooden boards and all the ribs. The sea really battered it.”

He tosses the wadded page into the trash basket. Dickens snatches it out and runs with it.

“Hey!” I say. “What’s on that page?! I may need it. Let me see it! Is that my ‘Outliers’ page?”

I chase after Dickens, running through the kitchen. I quick glance at the clock on the microwave. I forgot, in the night I had heated up the mac and cheese Thomas Jefferson had left on his recent visit. It was still in the microwave.

I find it unsettling when I want to know the time and I glance at the microwave clock and it says “END.”

Samantha Mozart

Yet … It May Not Be What You Think It Is

YGoing all back through my dementia caregiving experience with Emma, my mother, who passed on three years ago, seemed an unnecessary journey. I hesitated, therefore, to take up the A-Z Blogging Challenge this year and write on that dementia caregiving theme again.

And then I thought, oh well, maybe I’ll draw some attention to the two books I have published on the subject and earn enough in royalties to buy an occasional lunch.

Yet … it may not be what you think it is.

When I lived in Los Angeles, we used to play this game called “Guess what was on this corner last week,” for every week, or nearly that often, buildings and businesses came and went; the population increased by the thousands monthly and the dusty pueblo I had moved to in 1967 got a music center and other cultural venues, new highrise buildings, extended airport runways, and it changed and evolved.  All the while, the city was in the process of what it was becoming next.

Didn’t I know by this stage in my life, therefore, that this would be the experience I would undergo writing these A-Zs? Probably I entertained that awareness somewhere in the dusty outskirts of my mind. I am the constant in the change. The music comes from within the process, the playing of the notes of the unfinished symphony, as Sara Snider (Sara C. Snider) pointed out on Susan Scott’s Garden of Eden Blog.

In this A-Z process, I have made new acquaintances, read some terrific writing, gained new thought insights and — yes — developed a new self discipline and dedication towards my writing. I feel enriched and bolstered by the kind support of other writers I have met along the way.

So I leave you today with another Alexandra Streliski performance, which seems to match the sentiment.  Start this video at about 2:15 so you avoid all the French-language chatter, unless you speak French, then you may find it interesting, and stay until you see the snow scenes outside the window. (And, is the singer’s name really Alex Nevsky, as in Alexander Nevsky, and what’s he doing singing in Montreal? No wonder he calls himself Alex:  Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, 13 May 1221 – 14 November 1263. Wikipedia.)

This video builds, beginning in one tone of feeling and ending in another.

This minimalist music that Alexandra Streliski and others of her genre compose is defined as “melancholy and light,” and it seems to resonate with the process, the playing of the notes inside the warm café, the comings and goings in the snow, the lifetime departures.  Are we standing on the platform waving our loved one goodbye or are we greeting a warm new turn in a constant relationship?

Samantha Mozart

Xmas

XEmma, my mother, loved giving parties. She spent hours in the kitchen preparing all the food, then sat at the head of the table, serving her guests a gourmet fare set with fine china and silverware on a white linen tablecloth. In the last years of Emma’s life, I gave Christmas parties. Emma loved meeting my friends.

I spent a week decorating the eight-foot tree, but my parties were potluck served on paper plates with plastic utensils.

By December 2011, Emma, 97, was situated in her hospital bed in the living room, in the final stages of dementia. She had four months to live, though we didn’t know how long at the time. My friends asked me if I was going to have a party this year. Now that we had 30-hour-a-week Attendant Services Care for Emma, largely attended to by reliable, capable, loving Daphne, I thought I would have the time and said yes.

The day before the party, Daphne said, “I want to get Emma up and dressed for the party.”

I groaned.

“No, no, I’ll do it,” said Daphne. “I’ll do everything.” And Daphne did. She helped me set up for the party, got Emma up and dressed in red, her best color, hair styled, red lipstick on.

My friends came bearing food, drink, and honey from their own bees. These are extraordinary people — artists, teachers, healthcare professionals, environmental stewards, humanitarians, spiritual leaders, all accomplished in their fields. One friend played his guitar and sang original songs and sea shanties.  My friends look forward to the warm camaraderie of these annual events.

Emma sat at the head of the table, smiled and ate, with Daphne’s attentive care. Then she tired and began to list in her chair, so Daphne took her into the other room and settled her into bed.

Daphne left and the guests left except two couples. The five of us sat in the living room, with Emma resting there in her bed behind us, and talked for another two hours. I think Emma enjoyed that. She seemed peaceful and probably drifting into and out of sleep; I recalled how she used to enjoy sitting with her guests at table or in the living room talking into the evening after a meal.

Christmas is a time for giving and these are the irreplaceable offerings of my friends who came to my annual Christmas party that December night.

Samantha Mozart

The Woman in White

WMy Attendant Services aide had a friend drive her to our house one day when her car wasn’t working. This was seven months before Emma’s passing and just after we had situated her in the hospital bed in the living room. The aide’s young girlfriend had recently undergone surgery that sent a blood clot to her brain, so then she had to have a brain operation. After that she had a stroke (after she was at my house) that left her with limited mobility in one leg. While this young woman was here, however, she was sitting in the dining room with the aide and me and she was very antsy. She had to get up and go wait outside. One evening two weeks later our aide asked me if I knew the history of my house. It was built in 1894. I said, somewhat. She told me that her friend had to get up and leave because she saw in our dining room a woman dressed in a long white gown, “not a nightgown, but a long, white flowing dress;” the woman had dark hair.

I said, “Oh, The Woman in White. Everybody’s seen her.” (Most often walking in the yard between the two historic homes a few houses up, in the next block. And for generations. Her story has been published in books.) It gave me goosebumps. That is absolute confirmation of the existence of The Woman in White. This young friend of our aide was not from our town and could have no knowledge of the Woman in White legend. I had seen shadows in the house recently, assumed it was a ghost and let it go on its way. I had seen Emma smiling at or speaking to someone I couldn’t see. I rather assumed it was another of our deceased relatives here to visit Emma: “Cousins Alice and Doris were here today. Did you see them?” she would say to me a year or so earlier when she could still speak. One caregiver said that she believes the dead are more alive than we, because they are no longer inhibited by this tough material world. Many hospice and nursing home nurses have told me that it is quite common for their patients to see those long-deceased loved ones, and these nurses believe that the visitors are actually there.

About 25 percent of the population of our historic town are ghosts, it would seem. We all see them, especially the children see them. Most of them are friendly spirits; some, the children, are pranksters. I ask any who live in a historic home around here and each has a ghost story to tell. The Woman in White is probably the same woman and shadow that my next-door neighbor’s grandsons have seen in their bedroom opposite mine. A workman in one, unoccupied, of the aforementioned historic homes up the street would buy a small box of doughnuts each morning, set it on the kitchen stove and go about his work. When he returned to the kitchen, the doughnuts were set out, one on each of the burners of the stove (not lit). It’s somehow comforting to have this Woman in White. I had only sensed her since Emma began sleeping in the hospital bed in the living room.

My friend Jackie said, “Oh, that is so cool. … It is like she is attracted to people not well. A Caregiver.”

This fits because one of the two houses up the street was a former doctor’s office (with a leather floor in the examining room) and the other is said to have served as a Revolutionary War infirmary and later is thought to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Our Woman in White came to the end of her life long ago, yet kept on. It is as if she digitally remastered herself to continue comforting the ill.

Samantha Mozart

The View from the Cupola

VThere’s a piano piece called “Le Départ,” “The Departure.” by Alexandra Streliski, a pianist and composer from Montreal.

One commenter of the YouTube video I have placed below said, “This music describes eternity.”

 

When I stand at the window in the cupola of my blog and gaze out over the tall grass meadow down to the stream and the woods beyond, I think of those I have known who have departed this life before me.

When my grandmother was in her sixties, I remember her sitting in a chair in the living room and saying wistfully, “All my friends are dead.” I’ve never forgotten that. It is one of the reasons I value my friendships so closely. I haven’t forgotten my grandmother; I haven’t forgotten either of them, nor any of my family members that have gone on ahead of me.

Often, near the end, the dying enter a process of departure, still here and already there. I often wondered where my mother Emma’s soul or spirit went in her final stage of dementia. Sometimes I actually sensed her hovering around – usually her former bright and cheerful self getting up in the morning, yellow sunshine streaming through her bedroom windows, and having things to attend to around the house, her toy poodles to feed, or clothes to choose and lay out to wear for a luncheon with her friends, or telling me something. It was as if she got up out of her body and came around every now and then. And this I experienced only in the last two weeks of her life. Maybe, too, it was my letting go, a clearing.

Caregiving doesn’t end with the passing of the cared for. Suddenly, there’s this person standing in your midst, and it’s you. It’s like meeting someone who’s departed on a long journey and has now returned unexpectedly. You have to get to know yourself again; for, although caregivers are repeatedly reminded by the observers to take care of ourselves, take time for ourselves, we don’t. There really isn’t time. So, you begin a new relationship with yourself. And, then, of course, there’s the family to contend with, who may have found fault with everything you did caregiving in their absence, and the paperwork and finances — all the fallout. It takes four years to regain normalcy, say most former caregivers. I am finding it so.

Of course, there’s the grieving. There is no set limit to the length of time for grieving. Some say the second year is harder than the first. Thus so in my experience. Realistically, you never stop grieving the departed; the process just changes. You never stop caring.

Some of my friends have passed on. I miss them very much. I wish I could pick up the phone or turn to them and say something. When I think of them, is that like posting a thought on the wall of the universe, and somewhere they’ll pick it up? I miss many friends whom I presume are still living. The winds of change over the years drove us apart. I have forgotten none of them. Some I connect with on Facebook after years gusting by like lifetimes. It’s like, “So, hey, how’re ya doing in this lifetime?” It’s very cool. A happy reconnecting.

Samantha Mozart

 

Unconditional Love and Support

UHello, Roos. In early March 2012, one month before Emma’s passing, I posed this question to a LinkedIn women writers group: “Caregivers: What are your experiences? As a sole caregiver for my mother, 97, who has dementia, I find caregiving to be spiritually life changing, among other things.” I thought it would be a good way to promote the book I had just published about Emma’s and my long journey through these turbulent nighttime seas.

To my astonishment, these writers’ response was overwhelming. I  am profoundly touched by their caregiving experiences and their honesty. Comments flooded in from all over the world, from Camaroon and Kenya, from Turkey, from every continent. The discussion group continued for two years and gathered over 7,500 comments, until LinkedIn changed its group format.

The outpouring of comments and loving support is due largely, I feel, to the catharsis of caregivers being able to tell their stories to likeminded, sympathetic listeners – there seem to be not just one story per caregiver, but many and varied, at once sad and funny.

I had thought long that these caregiving stories needed to be told – not only for the caregivers but also for the suffering for whom they care, the ones who were once vibrant, leading vital lives like the rest of us, the ones who have lost their dignity, who feel trapped and that they have become burdens, the ones whose tickets have been collected, those just ahead of us in line. Scary, isn’t it. Lifeboats can sail only so far. But here in our group we had reached a safe harbor of unconditional love and support.

Early on our discussion group journey eight, extraordinary, caring women jumped onboard and the nine of us embarked on a lively, almost daily conversation, beginning with caregiving and writing and evolving into gardening, family, recipes and sometimes just downright silly stuff. Three years later we remain close friends.

The daughter of one of us works with kangaroos in Australia. Some of us sponsored kangaroos, therefore, and we began calling ourselves The Roos. Each of us took a color; for example, I am Turquoise Roo. We are all the colors of the iris, the rainbow, if you will, and the flower that represents spiritual evolution. We are far flung, living in New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Canada and on both coasts of the United States, North and South.

Although we talk on the phone and Skype, none of us has met in person, but all of us believe one day we will. Thelma & Louise dreams persist even among — or maybe especially among — us women of a certain age: a road trip in a VW bus (multicolored), winning the lotto, meeting in each other’s country as soon as the my private jet gets out of the hangar with the mechanicals fixed. I even thought of swimming to New Zealand from Delaware.

I had decided I was pretty much done with writing about caregiving, I thought. But my Roo friends wouldn’t let me drop anchor in that cove. They prodded me with the stem end of a deep purple iris to join them in taking up the A-Z Blogging Challenge for 2015. I didn’t want to go all back through my caregiving experience, but revisiting it has been enlightening and I have met some superb writers along the way.

I need to give a special nod to my three prodding Roo friends who have taken up the 2015 A-Z Blogging Challenge: Susan Scott, Garden of Eden Blog; Patricia Garcia, Everything Must Change; and Gwynn Rogers, Gwynn’s Grit and Grin.

Thank you, Roos, as always, for your continued unconditional love and support. Truly, without you I don’t know how I could have gotten through those last days with my mother and the months following her passing.

Samantha Mozart