XXXVI. Farther Away

Daylight has come. I look out my window to find the cinnabar-colored leaves of the dogwood embossed against silver tinged loblolly pine needles half hidden in a yellow-silver drape of fog. Strange, now in November bereft of half its leaves, the dogwood appears farther away from the house. In summer when the tree is dense with green leaves or in spring voluptuous with white blossoms, it lightly kisses the face of our house.

Our house is cold and damp this morning, wrapped in its shroud of fog. The fire siren at the hose company one block over has gone off twice in a half hour. The fog is dense on the highway. I hope the people are all right.

A separation from a loved one is anguishing. Marcel Proust writes in In Search of Lost Time about a young boy who has to go up to his room to bed early without kissing his mother goodnight because she is hosting a dinner party for an important guest. He agonizes over the separation and its coming duration spanning across the long, deep night until morning. She will not come up to his room to kiss him later. He gazes out at her and the dinner party guests from his window. How can he reach her? He contrives to write her a note and send it to her at table through a servant. For that forbidden and unfriendly dining-room, where but a moment ago the ice itself – with burned nuts in it – and the finger-bowls seemed to me to be concealing pleasures that were mischievous and of a mortal sadness because Mamma was tasting of them and I was far away, had opened its doors to me and, like a ripe fruit which bursts through its skin, was going to pour out into my intoxicated heart the gushing sweetness of Mamma’s attention while she was reading what I had written. Now I was no longer separated from her; the barriers were down; an exquisite thread was binding us. Besides, that was not all, for surely Mamma would come.

Mamma did not come. The servant delivered the letter. The mother read it. She did not respond. Later in life, as adults, we may employ such emissary to meet someone. I tried that once, many years ago, and it worked. But once was enough. For, I might imagine, as Proust goes on to write, they’re all at a party, the infernal scene of gaiety in the thick of which we had been imagining swarms of enemies perverse and seductive, beguiling away from us, even making laugh at us, the woman [or man] whom we love. –As out of reach as Jay Gatsby’s green light across the bay. I choose not to be the one gazing out from the shore. From the shore of birth to the shore of death is not so vast a distance, even though I have outlived Scott Fitzgerald by a decade, or two, or so. From the young boy despairing of not having contact with his Mamma over the long night to remembrances of things past that occurred seemingly yesterday, our perspective of time changes as we age.

Changing the current chronology of events vis-à-vis my composing this particular journal chapter, today is November 15; I began writing this on November 7. A train of events has run through this week decoupling my thoughts and making this post late on arrival; I alighted upon some of these events in my previous chapter – to which I yielded midway through writing this one –; others I’ll sidetrack for now, but this: Again yesterday, without notifying us of our appointment change, they sent our regular Hospice team nurse, Tess, elsewhere. Again, I must rationalize (I am good at is making excuses for others) that she was needed more urgently for another patient because she is an outstanding nurse; but this punctures a hole in our team and severs the thread of communication. By the time I see Tess again, next week or the week after or whenever, I may have forgotten where we left off, meaning that in their team meetings they may be discussing scenarios concocted in their heads – as often happens everywhere these days – rather than facts; this concerns me because Emma is up for recertification any day now. If she is not recertified, then her Medicare Hospice support will discontinue. Meantime, our Hospice sent a substitute Tess, if such a one exists, whom I asked to check the bandaged laceration on Emma’s arm. She did. As with all people Emma’s age, Emma’s skin is like delicate tissue paper and tears easily, leaving exposed raw tissue. I am concerned about infection. The wound is healing well. But when the nurse rewrapped the bandage, she wrapped it so loosely that when our aide arrived three hours later, the bandage had slipped down Emma’s arm. The aide wrapped it anew. This aide had wrapped it previously, and the bandage stayed. The carelessness of one nurse makes me wonder about other nurses; and do I really want this nurse to attend me in a hospital?

This afternoon, just as I was going to post this chapter, I encountered Emma sitting up in bed, having thrown off her covers. Her pattern the past two months has been to sleep all afternoon. When I asked her if she was all right, she began talking. Twice in the past two weeks, when our music therapist has visited, Emma has begun talking a blue streak, apparently wanting to get up. This afternoon, she told me, “I think I had a spell.” This sent up flares in my mind. She has said that to me in years past – once when she had her mini stroke and on occasion more recently when she first exhibited signs of dementia, and she would fall or not remember how to do something. I thought her blood pressure was up. I called Hospice for a nurse and Tess came hastily. While we were waiting for her, Emma told me to tell my brother, who lives in North Carolina, said she was cold (I pulled her covers up snugly), and asked me if I had made up with the cat. “We don’t have a cat,” I said, “but here’s Jetta,” and I laid her hand on her little poodle. She said things that didn’t make sense, as if she were hallucinating or had been dreaming. She said she sat down and then she didn’t know what happened after that. She seemed to think she was in the doctor’s office but said she couldn’t remember the doctor’s name. She said she was sorry to cause us so much trouble. I said it was no trouble, that’s what we’re here for, to take care of her. When Tess arrived, she took Emma’s blood pressure and it was 155/100, high for her. Tess contacted the doctor and he said to double her blood pressure medication for today. Emma seems to be resting comfortably now, two hours since the event, but she is not sleeping. I am monitoring her until the aide arrives in an hour to feed her dinner and prepare her for the night.

I suppose I sound whiny – or just plain wintry. It’s not meant to be, though it sounds so; I report these occurrences, for you might have experienced similar or may yet, in the capacity of a caregiver, health care professional, patient, or friend of a patient, and my words are meant to be supportive and compassionate: I know, I know, it’s all right. I once worked with the sweetest Mexican coworker, who owned a rancho in Mexico, was illiterate and spoke little English: “It’s O.K. It’s O.K.,” he would say, no matter what happened to cause me great frustration. “It’s O.K.” Then I’d smile. He was so comforting.

As a writer, I am the bridge; I am the messenger. Human life is all about an exchange of information and ideas.

I write these pages here on my blog for the sheer joy of writing. I observe, learn what’s going on, process it in my mind and tell you the story. Thus, I hand you the note, an exquisite thread … binding us. You may unfold it and read it at will; you do not have to respond. I must admit, though, I love receiving your comments. I revel in a good dialog. So, here we are, human beings, navigating our ways through the Brussels sprouts and liver slathered in onions to get to the ice with the burned nuts in it.

I wrote a lot of notes and letters to Emma over the years, and she responded. When I was 9 and my brother 6, she went to the door with her suitcase. She was leaving home. I clutched her arm, begged her not to leave. My brother sat at the foot of the staircase and observed. She was displeased with Daddy. She left. I cried despairingly. The thought of separation yawned into eternity. She spent the night at the YWCA. She came home the next day. One day soon we will be separated for good. I was separated for good from Daddy on September 16, 2004. I still turn to him every now and then to ask him something; then I realize I can’t (I don’t think). Emma is still here, the mechanisms of her body continuing to function, albeit slowly shutting down, yet neither can I turn to her for discussion – mostly she just lies in bed and stares at the ceiling. I must confess I do not contact my friends and family as often as I might; many are gone and more will go.

I will forever be able to contact you, though, telepathically through my writing. Even after I am gone, these words will be here. (Unless you fling them into a flaming hearth or press delete.) One of our health aides says she observes Emma’s eyes following something around the room, and then up the stairs. Maybe it’s the Woman in White, our neighborhood specter caregiver. Up the street, next door to the large yard where the Woman in White commonly walks, lives a Hospice nurse who works with dementia and Alzheimer’s patients. The nurse says she believes these patients do receive visits from these specters. Maybe they do and it is we who need to visit our intuition, so that we will see them, too, when they manifest in our presence.

The days are short this time of year. The heavy drape of night has fallen; the branches of the dogwood outside my window appear as the compassionate, multi-armed Hindu Goddess Kali. If we gaze from a different window, you know, change our mental presets, we could teleport ourselves to the presence of a loved one rather than sending notes through a messenger. Or we could just text them.

–Samantha Mozart, November 7-15, 2011