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

Tapestry of the Storyteller

TMoriarty has developed a following here at The Scheherazade Chronicles.  He is The Phantom of My Blog. He tidies up, hangs fresh headers, cooks, cleans up after parties, and recently he built a folly with the help of Russian immigrant laborers on the blog grounds. But he doesn’t dust.

Sometimes I bake a salmon dinner with basmati rice and steamed artichokes and we sit at the blog round table, eating and drinking wine by candlelight, tossing morsels to his black, fluffy dog, Dickens, listening to music and talking long into the night.

One time, Moriarty simmered his homemade borscht all morning while he was in the back kitchen sweeping up enormous droppings of Japanese blog spam, bagging it into large, black lawn bags and hefting them outside. “You let this stuff pile up and it gets all greasy,” he said.

In between holding the back door open for him, I sat in an old wooden straight back chair and stroked Dickens. I stroked the white patch under his chin, scratched deep behind his ear, finished by running my hand along his back, ruffling his coat. He shook, then, sending pieces of disconnected Japanese character strokes flying, like loose spider legs.

“He rolled in the spam,” said Moriarty.

I think Moriarty’s and my discussion in the cupola one evening about the masqueraders attracted the Japanese blog spammers.

The borscht is particularly good at lunch with chunks of baguette on a cold, snowy day when Moriarty says he has misplaced the blog snow shovels once again. In any case, visitors observe our discussion and sometimes join in and comment.

On a late afternoon I sat down by the stream until the sun got low in the western sky, and I thought I must go inside. About to arise from my rock, I look up. I see dear Moriarty’s face filling a windowpane in the cupola, Moriarty who would be dismayed to learn he is but an illusion. Wildly gesturing, waving his arm, he is pointing to someplace over my shoulder. I turn, and there is the Blue Deer, the Blue Deer with her blue and white spotted fawn, Batik.

Moriarty hasn’t been around during this 2015 A-Z Blogging Challenge. With his banjo and Dickens, he has taken this time off  and gone to visit his family in Willynilly, Arkansas. His family recently retired to the Arkansas Ozarks although they hail originally from one of those towns in Eastern Massachusetts. Moriarty tells me that during his vacation he has received many fan texts. He is grateful and says thank you.

Samantha Mozart

Spizzle Jitney

SI commented on someone’s kitchen blog that I was growing low-fat, shredded cheese in my garden. Or so that’s how the words came out. That was in August 2011.

This is when my mother Emma’s dementia decline has reached the stage where she doesn’t say many words anymore. She hasn’t admonished me lately, even, with “You get your hands off my walker!” She just hits and kicks – oh, and sticks out her tongue. One day, though, as I am seating her at the dining room table and instructing her to put her feet under the table rather than to the side of the chair, she scolds, “Get your feet out of my way!” It is the chair legs. I am standing behind her chair.

Back in 2008, when Emma was still somewhat cognizant, and she had just gotten her walker, she didn’t fall for a while and she was still able to communicate and do some things for herself. Nevertheless, over the next year or so, some words came out funny, like the time my friend R came over and cooked dinner for us. When she was done eating, Emma got up from the table, took her walker, and as she passed behind R, still sitting at the table opposite me, said, “Spizzle jitney.”

“Spizzle jitney…?” said R.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said.

“What does that mean?” he asked.  She used to refer to her walker as her Caddy, like the Cadillacs she owned, so R wondered if she was referring to her walker. “Or, is she saying that it’s a jitney?” he speculated.

“No. I think she was thanking you, telling you ‘Special dinner,’” I replied. I still think that’s what she was trying to say. She doesn’t say much now, in August 2011, except “Thank you,” “Nice to see you” and “You leave my walker alone,” but back then, two to four years earlier, she would talk a little and some words and phrases came out funny.

Samantha Mozart

Round Table Nights

RBy October 2011, Emma, in her final stages of dementia, had six months to live. She had lived 97 years, yet, all that she had been, all that she had done, from her childhood summers on her Aunt Mary’s farm near Atlantic City to her laying down her last watercolor sketch, unfinished, upstairs in our den, seemed to me to have faded before the colors dried.

I sat at my blog’s big oak round table – the kind with the claw feet – that October 19 evening with a group of writer and musician friends. We engaged in a candlelight discourse and passed around the bottles of wine. “Life is short,” I remarked. Jane Austen snickered up her sleeve, the three Brontë sisters giggled so uncontrollably they had to leave the table early. I think I even heard Mr. Rochester chortle from his back room. Wolfgang sniggered into his lace cuffs and slapped himself on the frontal lobe sending a cloud of apricot powder from his wig sailing above the table. Franz Schubert stopped picking at his fish, pulled out his handkerchief, slid off his spectacles and wiped the tears of mirth from his lenses. Ludwig said, “Sorry. Could you repeat that?” Anton Chekhov coughed into his handkerchief and Leo Tolstoy rushed to his side. Alexander Scriabin reflected, “Before I nicked myself shaving, I was just about to create that exquisite mystic polychromatic sound and light show that Mick and Keith would have loved: we were going to record the performance on moving pictures.”

Thomas Jefferson laid his violin and bow on the table, stared at us blankly and said, “Like – what? Oh-h-h, I’ve got cheese from the macaroni and cheese stuck on my lapel again,” taking the nib of his pen and scraping it off. He waved his free hand as if batting away gnats on a hazy Monticello summer evening: “Well, those Parisians. You know – they create those rich creamy sauces necessitating one’s quaffing extra bottles of red wine to cut the fat. In the course of events, down in Virginia you may find us gone with the wine.” Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix chorused, “Show me the way to your wine cellar.” My friend blamed her cats for depleting her wine stash. Adam Gopnik and Bernard-Henri Lévy engaged in an animated philosophical side conversation hypothesizing that if the French government elected to set the Paris arrondissements in motion spinning around the hub, would they better rotate clockwise or counterclockwise? And, how, then, would one locate the good restaurants? Would that mess up one’s GPS, for instance?

JFK accidentally hit the red button on his iPhone. Vaslav Nijinsky leaped from his chair. F. Scott Fitzgerald noted, “We can’t just let our worlds crash around us like a lot of dropped trays.” Edgar Allan Poe emptied the bowl of popcorn on the table, feeding it to the raven perched on his shoulder until the bird got stuffed and croaked flatly, “Nevermore.” There was a draft. The candle flame flickered, casting a protracted, quivering raven’s shadow across the floor. Ernest Hemingway interjected, “I hope the sun never rises.”

Dante Alighieri joined the discussion via satellite from the banks of the River Arno in Florence, speaking divine Italian but through a female translator voiceover. The effect was disconcerting. John Keats dipped his quill into his glass of red wine and began composing an ode on a vintner’s urn. Lord Byron would have elaborated, but he was on assignment in Greece. Oscar Wilde smiled enigmatically. While Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “I’m having a bad dream.”

Keith Olbermann crumpled his notes, tossed them into the empty popcorn bowl, pushed back his chair and stood up. “Good night. And good luck,” he said.

Samantha Mozart

Quintet Ending, Neverending, Beginning …

QV.

“I seek guidance,” I said to The Phantom, “and thus arrive the flute player, the iris, the osprey and The Blue Deer – stewards. Caregivers are stewards; stewards are caregivers.”

“You forget me,” he said. “Am I not your steward?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I can but imagine.”

Dusk embraced us now, at the window here in the blog cupola. The Blue Deer lifted its head, sniffed the air, and then walked off into the woods. I pulled the window shut, picked up my purple and white iris the Phantom had picked for me and we headed down the winding staircase, I behind the Phantom. In case I stumbled I hoped he would catch me. If I went first I feared he would push me. I didn’t want to flatten my iris.

When we reached the foot of the stairs, I thanked him again. We parted there. I lifted the iris to my nose. The stem had a nutmeggy smell, like his hand.

“What is your name?” I called after him.

“Moriarty,” he called back.

~ fin de siècle ~

Samantha Mozart

The Phantom and the Blue Deer

PIV.

Emma loved flowers. She would have loved the flowers in our garden this year. They were exceptionally lush – yellow daffodils, deep pink tulips and pure white, fragrant yellow roses, and pale purple irises that grew as dense as trees in a forest. I looked down at the windowsill here in the blog cupola . “So, you were out picking flowers?” I said to the Phantom. “That’s a beautiful iris.”

“I picked it for you,” he said, in his low tone. “Iris is the goddess of the rainbow, thus implying that her presence is a sign of hope, and the wind-footed messenger of the gods to humankind, according to Greek mythology. She flies upon the wind and moves like a blast of bright air.”

“Like an orb,” I mused.

I was surprised that he had thought to pick me an iris. More likely, as had been his wont I suspected he would nudge me over the sill and out the open window. I was touched by his kindness.

“Thank you,” I said.

Then, “Blue, dear,” said the Phantom.

“What?”

“A blue deer. Look.” He pointed.

In the meadow, over near the woods, in a shaft of soft light, stood a blue deer, nosing the ground, foraging for food at twilight.

The wind picked up, then. The stream flowed fast on the wind with little white caps like water in a channel. The man had gone from the bank. The music continued to play, slow, meditative, but lush: now strings joined the flute – violins and deep cellos, and satiny brass, and reeds – clarinets and saxophones –, and double reeds – English horns and bassoons –, then an accompanying chorus of voices. Haunting. Where was the man with the dark reedy hair?

“He’s gone,” said the Phantom, although I had not asked aloud. “The music of the spheres,” he said. “It emanates from the deer.

“The Blue Deer reminds us that we must be stewards of our environment. The Blue Deer is a dream vision, it is a dream of finding one’s spiritual path and of healing not only oneself but also the world and environment from pollution. The Blue Deer guides us to help others.”

“I am deeply honored by his visit,” said I.

The Phantom spoke: “I vacuumed your blog for you, organized it, hung a new header and cleaned up the clutter while you were outside ruminating on the precise color of the tulips, and that “tulip” comes from the Persian word for turban.

“You tend towards understanding the realms of wisdom and healing through nature,” he continued.

“The seeds of a summer garden,” said I, “the tender green stalks upon which the caterpillar crawls before it metamorphoses into a butterfly. I’m trying to plant these seeds now.”

“Maybe you’re harvesting them,” said the phantom.

To be continued …

Samantha Mozart

The Osprey

OIII.

The aria ended. The Phantom and I stood in silence there at the open window of the blog cupola. The man continued to play his flute. We floated on the evening

My mind drifted back to last summer, 2011. I thought of my little family that I took care of: Every morning getting my mother, Emma, up and dressed, during her last stages of dementia; helping her step down the sixteen stairs with their narrow treads and her iron grip on the balusters; getting her to the table to eat the breakfast she once prepared for herself – orange juice, oatmeal or Cheerios with bananas, strawberries and/or blueberries in skim milk. I thought of the times I’d prepare lunch for myself and run it up the back stairs to my studio, racing Jetta, Emma’s blue teacup poodle, who would run up the front stairs because the back stairs were too steep for her, and we’d see who got to my studio first so she could have her treat. Then Jetta got sick and I had her put to sleep in December 2012, four months before Emma’s passing.  Then Emma got tired, so very tired. “I don’t know how I got here,” she said in her agitated state in January. “How do I get out of here?” I could see it coming. So did our hospice team. Their attention shifted away from her and to me.

Just then an osprey circled the field and flew straight at the Phantom and me standing at the cupola window, like we were in the control tower and it was coming in for a landing. The black mask across its eyes looked like the painted bands that wrap around the windshield and windows of a commercial jetliner.

“The Lone Raptor,” said the Phantom, “on his wings of tarnished silver.”

The osprey came close to the window, nodded, veered off to its left and was gone.

I remembered Emma as she was, before dementia tarnished her mind. Now, in June 2012, five, six, seven weeks after Emma’s passing I have found myself thinking, “Hmm, here I am all by myself, no little dog, no mother to care for, a house that suddenly got really big: Besides my writing, what do I do now? What is my spiritual path? My spiritual advisors tell me to continue my caregiving. How do I do that? What do I do?”

All the old thoughts stacked up on the roof of my mind like factory chimneys.

To be continued …

Samantha Mozart

 

 

Nutmeggy

NII.  June 2012:

I climbed the narrow winding wooden staircase into the cupola of my blog, gripping the graying white painted walls as I went. In the small box of a place at the top I walked over to one of the rows of windows lining each side. A cobweb from a yellowing gauze curtain stuck on my forearm. I pulled a tissue from my pocket and brushed it away with other webs lacing the corners of the sill. A tiny black spider suddenly homeless scampered across the sill, over a little ramp, like a mini motorcycle jump, where the paint had chipped, and down into a seam in the faded white beadboard wall. I cracked open a window. The curtain lifted on the breeze like a bird of prey from its nest. The sweet smell of meadow grass wafted to my senses, and from somewhere in the coming night a faint music played.

I stood and looked out. In the almost twilight, I surveyed the vast realm of my experiences, and thought of the path I would pursue now.

The refracted light of the setting sun colored the sky orange and before it, across the tall-grass meadow, I saw the mist rising off the broad stream. Down near the stream a bed of irises grew wild – pale purple, deep purple with white centers – they were the most striking –, pink, white, yellow, many colors. Nearby, a lone man with long, dark, reedy hair sat on the bank playing his flute.

Contemplating near and far, my gaze trailed off to the far side of the stream into the distant woods, and as the light faded I began to dream, to drift on a reverie. And then out of nowhere it winged to nest in my senses, music I had never heard: with purity and grace it came – an aria – Chi il bel sogno di Doretta, the beautiful dream of Doretta, Puccini: La Rondine (The Swallow). The aria lifted me into a spiritual space, the heart of where I stay for now.

Just there in the half-light, I felt a draft. I smelled nutmeg. Something brushed against me. I shivered.

“Ah, the music of the night,” a subtle, deep, monotone spoke. A low talker. The Phantom of My Blog. He stood beside me. He laid a deep purple iris on the sill. He smelled of nutmeg. He always smelled of nutmeg. “You shiver. Maybe you need a sweater.”

To be continued …

Samantha Mozart