Part 4 – Uncovering History

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

There are specific tastes that I associate with the arrival of summer in Maine:

    • A perfectly ripe strawberry,
    • A warm juicy peach,
    • A handful of native blueberries,
    • And an ear (or 2) of just picked butter and sugar sweet corn.

Maybe it is a failure of expectation or a failure of memory but these tastes  seem to no longer exist.

Maybe what I should have been longing for is – an apple. apple.jpg

On Memorial Day the fragrance of lilacs envelops Peaks Island. By Indigenous People’s Day, the all-encompassing smell is of apple cider vinegar. Gnarled trees dot the landscape of the island. Like cemetery grave markers, they indicate locations of former orchards. Some are hidden by invasive bittersweet or native hops winding their way around trunks and branches.

In the autumn, ‘windfalls’ – apples blown down from a tree by the wind – carpet the island. They provide a steady source of food for the deer and the turkeys.  The neighborhood list-serve encourages anyone who wants apples to ‘come and take ‘em’ – as many as you want. There are de-facto apple ‘gleaners’ who gather specific windfalls to use in their favorite recipes.

Apples ground

Growing up in New England, we celebrated Johnny Appleseed Day in September. I read the story of Johnny Appleseed, the barefoot wanderer, who wore a pot on his head and planted apple trees across America. Many of us learned of his exploits watching a 1948 Disney feature, Melody Time,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=484AJlOnOnc

In reality, John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed was a shrewd businessman in the 1800’s who established orchards along the path of the westward expansion.

Starting in 1792, anyone willing to form a permanent homestead on the wilderness beyond Ohio’s first permanent settlement would be granted 100 acres of land. To prove their homesteads to be permanent, settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years.

Chapman realized he could do the difficult work of planting and cultivating these orchards. He would sell them when the homesteaders arrived, and then head to more undeveloped land.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263/

Although most of us are unable to identify a specific apple variety, a taste test determines whether it should be eaten raw, made into a pie, a crumble, apple cake, applesauce or even apple cider – sometimes even hard cider.

 

Almost  all apples grown during the early years of this country and westward expansion were turned into hard cider. Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider. In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water.  Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire

There are 7,500 varieties of apples in existence throughout the world —2,500 of which are grown in the United States. The Maine Heritage Orchard is a ten acre preservation educational orchard located at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) in Unity, Maine. The orchard is currently home to 300 varieties of apples and pears traditionally grown in Maine dating back as far as 1630.  https://www.maineheritageorchard.org/

MOGFA offers an apple identification service or you can conduct your own research using John Bunker’s book: Apples and the Art of Detection: Tracking Down, Identifying and Preserving Rare Apples .

51XzHdczmBL._SX387_BO1,204,203,200_

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Art-Detection-Identifying-Preserving/dp/0578507552

John also advises on how to make a perfect apple pie. https://www.pbs.org/video/apple-pie-oisusi/

Throughout the 2020 summer, census takers counted Peaks Island residents. However, no one has conducted a census of island apple species.

 

At least, not yet.

Seeds of Heritage

Recently, I attended a friend’s family reunion. As each guest departed, they received 2 peach tree saplings of a rare, native heirloom –  an Indian White Freestone Peach. The species, once prolific in Maine, has all but disappeared.Peach trees

Each sapling was grown from seed by the students of the Medomak Valley Heirloom Seed Project in Waldoboro. It is probably the largest high school heirloom seed bank in the United States.

Medomak is Abenaki (Wabanaki) for “place (river) of many alewives”.

Alewives and other sea run fish have been critical to the economy and the ecology of the State of Maine and its peoples. Alewives are anadromous fish that spend the majority of their life at sea but return to freshwater to spawn.

https://www.fws.gov/gomcp/pdfs/alewife%20fact%20sheet.pdf

Maine fishermen once boasted: “You could cross a river on the backs of the fish.” When the rivers were dammed to provide hydropower and electricity, the alewives almost disappeared. The removal of dams in Maine has resulted in the return of the alewives and a rebirth of rivers. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/21/880539021/one-of-the-best-nature-shows-a-river-transformed-after-dams-come-down

Historically, Maine towns frequently designated the taxes gained from the sale of alewives to fund schools.

alewives

A friend has been saving open-pollinated heirloom varieties of veggies and flowers for many years and now shares them with others via Etsy. She believes every seed has a story – a history. https://www.etsy.com/shop/GardenGateFarmer

She gave me a “spotted” bean known as Jacob’s Cattle bean or Appaloosa bean to grow in the community garden in Maine. Jacob cattle beans

This bean is a Prince Edward Island heirloom. Legend has it that it was a gift from Maine’s Passamaquoddy Indians to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.

Lubec is the easternmost community in the U.S. and vies with Acadia National Park for the title of the first place to see the sunrise.

https://downeast.com/our-towns/lubec-maine/

Known collectively as the Wabanaki Nation – People of the Dawnland – the four Maine Indian tribes are the Maliseet, Micmac, Penobscot Nation and Passamaquoddy Tribes.  https://www.abbemuseum.org/about-the-wabanaki-nation

WabanakiMapThe Passamaquoddy Tribe hunted, fished, and gathered food along the coast for more than 12,000 years. Shell middens are evidence of their encampments. They represent the cultural heritage of these peoples and millennia of coastal interaction.

https://umaine.edu/middenminders/why-are-shell-middens-culturally-sensitive/

 

midden signIn the 1880’s middens were removed from the Whaleback Shell Midden in Damariscotta for use as chicken feed and fertilizer. ‘Monuments’ that commemorate a community, its people, and its traditions were destroyed.

https://digitalmaine.com/mgs_publications/457/

 

Seeds of Reconciliation

In 2012, the Maine State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission was instituted by the State of Maine.  A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is an official body tasked with discovering and revealing past wrongdoing by a government. The Commission was to examine the impact of the removal of Native children from their families and their subsequent placement in foster care by the State of Maine child welfare system in the 1970’s. Revealing the history of government abuse and its impact on the lives of the survivors was a step toward reconciliation. It was hoped that the process would promote healing and system reform.

https://www.npr.org/2020/10/11/922849505/healing-u-s-divides-through-truth-and-reconciliation-commissions

The multi-year process is documented in the film Dawnland. Listening to the testimonies and heartfelt stories, I realized how a truth and reconciliation process requires the willingness to examine the impact of our actions – both as individuals – as well as a society. 

Dawnland

Seeds of Redemption

The Museum of Women and the Arts in Washington D.C. opened its doors in 1987. Coincidentally, in 1987 I attended my first art history class. It was the beginning of my journey as an artist. The required texts were H.W. Janson’s History of Art first edition.

Janson

Throughout the semester, slide after slide depicting images of works created by male artists – predominantly of Western descent. I wondered why there seemed to be no artworks created by women.

At about the same time, the women artists in the New York art world were asking that same question.

In 1985, a group of artists formed the activist art group Guerrilla Girls, in response to a Museum of Modern Art exhibition of 169 artists with only 13 women and eight artists of color included. The anonymous group—composed mostly of artists using aliases borrowed from famous women artists, wearing gorilla masks to hide their identities—was hellbent on delivering institutional critique to the masses through striking advertisements that poked fun at the art world establishment while also calling out its deeply entrenched sexism and racism. https://theattic.jezebel.com/the-guerrilla-girls-on-fighting-art-world-sexism-since-1845411686

During lectures, the Gorilla Girls “awarded” bananas to individuals and institutions that did not promote work by women artists.

gg_naked

 

 “Cultural heritage” doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

For the past 30 years, the themes in my artwork often emerge from little known historical facts reflected in current events – personal as well as societal.

I research primary sources: diaries, recorded interviews, newspaper accounts, government documents, – knowing full well that everything was not documented and everything documented was not representative of all views.

I struggle knowing that everything I learned in preparation and later represented in the works themselves, were only partial  truths – an interpretation of the ‘facts.’

My recent work titled Aletheia –  commemorates the  search for “the disappeared”  that takes place annually throughout Mexico. https://www.npr.org/2020/03/05/811277021/the-mexican-mothers-who-make-a-grim-yearly-search-for-missing-loved-ones

05Aleteia tags (1)

Aletheia is a Greek word meaning an “unclosedness;” “the state of not being hidden;” “the state of being evident.”

 How do we determine the ‘actual’ facts and take them from being hidden to a state of being evident?

Cultural heritage doesn’t consist of money or property, but of values and traditions. It implies a shared bond, our belonging to a community.

How do we learn about histories that have been overlooked, misrepresented, denied, removed, appropriated?

How do we create a community of shared values and traditions?

 

To Be Continued: Part 4 – Uncovering History 

 

Part 2: Uncovering Changes

 Part 2: Uncovering Changes

gettyimages-1214829913

 Missing the Before

The City of Portland, Maine is home to 66,215 people. Bon Appetite named Portland the 2018 restaurant city of the year. https://www.bonappetit.com/story/portland-maine-city-of-the-year-2018.

Portland has followed the pattern of city revitalization taking place throughout the country. The boom in real estate led to a lack of affordable housing and an increase in homelessness. Neighborhood histories disappear as condos replace older homes. The process to preserve historic landmarks cannot keep up with the renaissance. Long-time residents bemoan the lack of parking, the increase in taxes and uninspired architecture. Newer and younger residents revel in all the city has to offer – green space, walkability, music venues, microbreweries and ubiquitous coffee shops. Some, like Coffee by Design, served as my de facto office for a year while creating Welcoming the Stranger: building understanding through community based art in 2015.

Tourism is one of the five major industries of the State of Maine.

April 1 – COVID-19:                377 confirmed cases statewide                     9 deaths

When Maine Governor Mills issued the stay-at-home order on March 31, she said:

 “I implore you – look to yourself, your family, your friends, your loved ones, your neighbors on the front lines, first responders and health care workers fighting the virus, those who can’t stay home; the children who live around the corner, the farmer who grows your food, the grocer and the pharmacist who sell you goods, the teachers who are missing their kids; the fisherman, the sailor, the truck driver, the janitor, the waitress at your favorite diner; these are the people you are protecting by staying home. This is who you are saving.”                

 The City of Portland closed: no hotels, no restaurants, no cruise ships, no coffee shops, no bars, no barber shops and the list goes on.

The stay-at-home mandate reduced the need for car ferries to and from Peaks Island. They scheduled only 3 boats a day. https://www.pressherald.com/2020/03/19/casco-bay-lines-to-reduce-ferry-service-because-of-coronavirus/. At 5:30 am, I joined the line of cars waiting for the ferry. The lines continue throughout the day to accommodate construction workers, food deliveries, essential workers and returning summer residents. Masks required; social distancing at all times.

ferry

Finding Home

In preparation for my 2-week quarantine in Maine and possible food shortages on the island, I did what is euphemistically called: A Big Shop. The trunk and backseat of my car were now a mobile pantry.car seat

Growing up in New England, neighbors always had “ just in case’ food.  Some they grew and canned. Some they purchased. Snow storms, power outages, lost employment, ferry breakdowns, or any number of other possible catastrophes –  and now a pandemic  – are on the list of ‘what ifs.’

The children’s book Stone Soup  has its roots in European folktales. Once upon a time, a stranger arrives in a town. He carries a soup pot but has no ingredients with which to cook. He sets to boiling water and adds a stone.

Each villager stops by and asks:

What are you cooking?

The stranger replies:

Stone soup.

Each villager then says:

That would taste much better if you added …

 – a carrot, a potato, some greens and so on and so on…And they did. The community created a soup and the soup created a community.

“Just in case” pantries are, not only for your home, but for sharing with others in need.

Finding Community

The island was deserted. All businesses were closed: gas station, laundromat, café, restaurants, library, bicycle and golf cart rentals, ice cream shop, school, museums, churches, hardware store, taxi service and non-profits. Hannigan’s grocery store was open limited hours.

Hannigans 1

Peaks Island was a microcosm of the state – if not the country.

When I first returned to Peaks Island to share in the care of my mother before she died, I was welcomed into a year-round community of  900 residents that traditionally swells to more than 5000 in the summer.

I learned the names of the mail carriers, restaurant owners, grocery store cashiers, librarians, tour guides, waste collectors, landscapers, musicians, and artists. I joined the chorale and (hoped in the future) the ukulele band.

In her book Year of Wonders Geraldine Brooks tells the story of a walled town in 1666 that chose to protect the greater community from the plague raging within its walls by allowing no one to enter the town and no one to leave. http://geraldinebrooks.com/year-of-wonders/

At the conclusion of the weekly Maine CDC  Covid 19 briefing, Dr. Shah reminds everyone:

Be Kind. Take care of one another.

banner

The residents of Peaks Island took to heart his ‘mantra.’

A Peaks Island Covid 19 response committee was formed to provide up-to-date communication, assist with shopping and transportation, food pantry access. Mental health teams offered support if requested.

https://wgme.com/news/coronavirus/maine-island-residents-work-together-to-keep-community-safe

Year-round residents used stimulus checks to purchase gift cards to island restaurants and shops to support their small businesses.

Masks and social distancing and stay at home orders are strictly adhered to.

Arriving summer residents are expected to self-quarantine for 14 days.

 May 1- COVID 19:                 1149 confirmed cases statewide                   59 deaths

Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend shepherds in the opening up of cottages and return of summer residents. “Opening Up” a cottage means adhering to a long list of  ‘To Do’s’ developed over time through trial and error. My friends/patrons/supporters of island arts are not able to travel to the island due to the pandemic.

cottage

Therefore, I am the designated cottage caretaker. In exchange for housing, I will oversee a roof replacement, landscape the gardens, perform general repairs and paint. My other task is to collect news of others and general goings -on.  I will respond to islanders who inquire of them. In weekly zoom meetings, we will exchange information about life in England vs US,  compare the graying of our locks and trade recipes. I will send them photographs of the most recently bloomed flower and exquisite sunsets.

Their 3-page list includes the following tasks:

Locate the hidden key if you forgot yours.

Unlock and open the doors to air out the cottage.

Get tools out that you need to proceed.

Turn on electric.

Take down shutters.

Install porch screens. (Check that no bird has created a nest on top of the screens. If so delay installation until babies fledge).

Check for damage  – evidence of leaks, torn screens, broken tree limbs.

Seek out evidence of any dead creatures and remove. (I ask the neighbor to remove them.)

Vacuum up bugs, dead flies.

Turn the water on – check for leaks.

Uncover the Goddesses. 

As part of Crossroads: Art for Contemplation, I created 7-circuit meditation labyrinths throughout Maryland to provide a place and a process for anyone to “journey inward.”

When walking a labyrinth, you enter with a question. When you exit, you may have an answer or a sense of direction or hint of movement towards something  you had not considered.

I installed ceramic sculptures of the Greek goddesses – Demeter, Persephone and Hecate – as part of the artwork. They now ‘live’ on Peaks Island. One possible interpretation of their myth asks what we learn about ourselves when we have time to ‘journey inward.’

For many, being in quarantine provides that time.

Finding Nature With My Eyes

In general, I am a big picture kind of person. When walking, I see an entire landscape – not individual trees or blades of grass. Since I am forced to slow down due to the pandemic, I am seeing ‘smaller’.

I arrived to a second spring. It feels heartless of Mother Nature to create this amazing spring while we are under strict orders to stay at home and distance ourselves from friends.

Lilacs had just started to bloom. Hostas were leafing out. The viburnum would soon provide a backdrop for the purple Siberian irises and lupines.

viburnum

During my first removal of fallen branches and leaves from the gardens, I uncover plants heretofore not seen before – at least by me:

Under the juniper – Jack in the pulpit Jack in the Pulpit

Moss roses

 

 

 

Under the hops – covered apple trees – moss roses

Lady slipper orchid. (It is endangered so their location is secret.)

Ladies' Slippers 2

I am still hard pressed to discern between native plants and weeds. (Although a friend once told me that anything in the garden that isn’t where you want it,  is essentially,  a weed.)

cover_2

Dr. Chuck Radis’ (with his brother Rick) co-authored Wildflowers of Peaks Island, Maine. The color coded pages group wildflowers by season and habitats. They describe each plant by color, placement, shape of leaves, and measurements. I refer to the book as I weed.

ASIDE:

Dr. Chuck Radis in his book, Go By Boat: Stories of a Maine Island Doctor,  shares his time as the doctor for the residents of Casco Bay islands. https://www.pressherald.com/2018/12/31/peaks-island-doctor-brings-practice-to-pages-in-new-book/

 

Tree rings

The stumps of maple trees felled over the winter provide seats from which to observe more “small.”  I realize how different the vista is without them. The light has changed since it is no longer being filtered through the leaves.

I count the rings on the stump: 1 light plus 1 dark ring = 1 year https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwNJC-IRgPE

Each ring has a story to tell. Maybe this tree witnessed the 1918 pandemic.

One morning, while putting on my work boots,  I noticed a shiny ‘trail’ on the exterior of one of the boots. I know slugs leave this ‘trace’ as they meander about.  Gingerly, I inspected the interior – fortunately it was empty .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8ma6vDvXAM

SlugNo one likes slugs.

Everyone I ask:

“Of what use are slugs? “

To a person each replies:

“Absolutely None.”

For me,  taking the time to watch a slug perambulate provides new mantras on to how to go forward each day – not just during a pandemic:

Set a goal and persevere.

Keep eyes looking forward.

Slow down and take note of your surroundings.

Stay still if threatened.

“ Just being alive is enough” Suzuki Roshi

 

June 1 –  COVID-19:                  2352 cases statewide                         95 deaths

Finding Nature with my Ears

When I first arrived, the island was preternaturally quiet. No sounds of golf carts or cars or planes or party boats or cruise ships. No lawn mowers or leaf blowers. An island committee formed to study noise levels pre and post pandemic – in hopes of stemming the future increase in airplane noise when the friendly skies re-open.

There is one exception – one very loud exception – the sounds of birds – songs, tweets, squawks, gobbles (yes, the turkeys have landed. ) create a new island soundtrack. Every morning the birds signal the beginning of another day in quarantine.

Turkeys

My sister and brother in law are “birders.”  They have ‘life lists’ (To date: 286) and cool binoculars.

They learn habitats, recognize calls, possess language to describe each bird and spend time ‘looking and listening.” I have never really listened to the sounds that birds make. Until now.

Bird vocalizations includes both bird calls and bird songs.

  • Songs are used to defend territory and attract mates.
  • Calls tend to be shorter and simpler — often just one syllable long. There are different kinds of calls:

Alarm calls

Contact calls

Flight calls

Begging calls (feed me)

Mating

Warnings

There are phone apps that record the song and match it to one in the data base. https://www.audubon.org/news/how-start-identifying-birds-their-songs-and-calls

https://www.birds.cornell.edu/home/

Bird songs can even be used to create an opera.  Just listen.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMXD4h5w8D8

Finding Nature with My Nose

There seem to be roses blooming in every garden. Out of quarantine and back to my daily walk, I continue to see “small.” I look at the color and shape of roses in gardens around the island.  I breathe in the smell of the rose then squeeze a blossom in my hand and inhale the fragrance. It seems the most visually beautiful are the least fragrant – some with no fragrance at all.

Hedges of the ubiquitous beach rose – rosa rugosa – circumnavigate the island.

IMG_2844

Swedish botanist Carl Peter Thunberg first introduced the western world to Rosa rugosa (meaning “wrinkled rose” because of its creased petals and serrated foliage) in the 1770s, having come across it in Japan. So, although it is a dominant species in certain areas of the northeast and northwest of the United States, it is not native.

https://www.gardenista.com/posts/rosa-rugosa-roses-perennials-flowering-shrubs-growing-care-tips/

lowest tide

I walk the circumference  of the island – starting or ending at low tide on Centennial Beach. There is a distinctive smell – especially at dead low tide.

It is a Sulphur-y kind of smell produced by bacteria as they digest dead phytoplankton.

As a child, I would stomp along the sand in hopes of enticing a clam to “spit” – creating a tell-tale hole revealing its location. It is still a valid technique when digging for clams.

https://bangordailynews.com/2018/08/31/outdoors/the-inside-scoop-on-how-to-dig-for-clams-in-maine/

In 3rd grade I won a contest for the most books read over the summer. (I had an unfair advantage since I lived directly across the street from the library.) The prize was a chart of seashells with accompanying samples of each shell. https://www.maine.gov/dmr/shellfish-sanitation-management/shellfishidentification.html

Walking along the beach today, it is rare to find a razor clam or a sand dollar or a horseshoe crab.

Horseshoe crabs are “living fossils” that have existed for at least 445 million years and are not really a crab.

invertebrate_horseshoe-crab_600x300

Their blue, copper-based blood contains lysate, which reacts to bacterial toxins by clotting. Horseshoe crab blood has long been harvested to test everything from water to intravenous drugs for contamination. It’s also key to making vaccines for diseases such as COVID-19. https://www.nps.gov/gate/learn/nature/upload/nature_horseshoe_crab.pdf

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2020/07/covid-vaccine-needs-horseshoe-crab-blood/

Searching for beach glass has replaced beach combing for shells. Beach glass hunters are readily identified by their start and stop walking, stooped posture and/or bowed heads. Children collect the shards, store them in their pockets and parents find them in the bottom of the washing machine. Glass-filled jars occupy window sills for years – and eventually discarded over time.

Seaglass shell

July 1 –  COVID-19                             3288 cases statewide                        123 deaths

Making the decision to drive to Maine was influenced by my commitment to co-author and produce a play to celebrate the Maine Bicentennial. Proceeds from ticket sales would support scholarships for island students.

Due to Covid 19 – all performance venues would remain closed until summer 2021. After 2 years of research and countless revisions, we had been holding onto the possibility we would mount a stage production.

Trunk Show” tells a story of 1924 summer stock theatre, prohibition and politics on Peaks Island through the eyes of two sisters as they prepare for an uncertain future.

Like so many art and performance groups, we hope to share our vision. However, like the “Trunk Show” heroines, the future of our cast, our play, our lives – everyone’s lives – is uncertain.

Yet, the sun still sets every night.

Nice thing about sunsets is you can't do anything to them. 
You can't improve them, repair them, prolong them, sell them or 
change them in any way at all. Miranda V.

Moving Forward

Endemic:

characteristic of a particular place, or among a particular group

Sharing:

We are now a world community. We can share with the entire planet – even those in space – 24/7 – with just a  “click” or “tap” or our voice.  First, we shared documents then music files and then our thoughts on any number of subjects. Now we post photos and videos and intimate details of our daily lives – sometimes to our own detriment.

But, to some, this shared world is not new – it is a way of life born from necessity and continued as a cultural norm. For some, sharing is endemic to the geography of their lives. Islanders have always lived in a sharing community .

If you live on Peaks Island, Maine, you learn to share from the time you learn to walk. When you are trudging through snow or carrying groceries, running to make the boat, someone will offer you a ride. You can call a friend to check on the dog if you are unexpectedly delayed. Don’t have the tool you need, ask at the Peaks Café.

There is an island listserve that announces art openings, school events, thanks you’s, lost dogs, found glasses, rides needed or offered or the start of a cancer support group. Recently, a friend needed a high chair for a visiting niece and within 15 minutes received 14 responses – including delivery and a story of the chair’s history.

During the past year, I was a recipient of the islanders culture of sharing, as we continued the search for a place for my mom. When I needed information about various nursing homes and assisted living facilities, islanders shared their experiences, penned reviews, supplied contact names and emotional support. When I needed home care providers, high school friends offered names of caretakers they had used or even offered to come themselves.

When I needed a car – everyday for a week – to visit the rehab center in the morning and nursing homes and assisted living places in the afternoons, people I knew (and some I didn’t) entrusted me with their vehicle. No one asked about my driving record or insurance. Each person trusted that should anything untoward occur – I would behave as a member of the sharing community and act responsibly.

However, I did have to learn the island system for locating a car in the parking garage. You have to denote whether it is parked  “Inside/outside” – the specific entrance on a numbered level – and whether you can see the whale wall or the restaurant.

 Sharing My Home:

 Respite:

Time out, break, recess, pause, hiatus, suspension, rest period, relief,

Many of my friends are caring for a parent or relative or spouse.

  • One is providing hospice care to her mom as she approaches the end of life:
  • Another is monitoring the care of her aunt and dad located in another state:
  • Another is alternating with her other siblings the home care of her parent.

Many of us do not live next door to our parents or even in the same state. We do not have lives that allow us to stay home to care for another. The Portland Press Herald paper ran a series called: Challenge of our Age. A woman was featured in an article about a woman who left her job and became the full time caretaker of her mother who had been diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s. She acted out of love; she had no regrets; but she was exhausted – depleted.

http://specialprojects.pressherald.com/aging/part-2-liz-havu/

What caregivers have in common is the need for respite.

Throughout the past few years, I have left my home and studio for longer and longer periods of time to help care for my mom. While in Maine, friends provide housing and support. They give me a key and keep the porch light on. They make up the bed and leave dinner. There are no expectations (Well, sometimes the dog wants petting or letting out …)

I now provide respite care for my friends traveling up and down the coast. I leave the key, clean sheets on the bed, soup in the fridge, and if I am there, emotional sustenance.

I have even developed a ritual with one friend who returns often.

We eat a healthy, home cooked dinner. We then head to the local restaurant to procure 2 pieces of cake: chocolate with peanut butter frosting and carrot with cream cheese frosting. We go so often that the waitress points us to the cooler and lets us select our own pieces. We take our cake home and return the empty plate on the next visit.

Sharing the Fear:

My mom watches the news religiously. Monsoons in the Phillipines, tornadoes in the Midwest, floods in Colorado – 1000’s are left homeless. Even with all the assurances from our family to the contrary, she is afraid of becoming homeless. Her anxiety prevents her from sleeping.

Each time I visit, she asks:

  • What is going to happen to me?
  • Where will I live?

Gloria Steinem, feminist icon, in an interview many years ago when asked her greatest fear, she replied:

  • I am afraid of becoming a bag lady.

She echoes the refrain I hear from friends as we grow older. Many of us are single or have no children. The fear of being homeless resides deep in the recesses of my own mind.

I never realized how brave my mom is. She learned to use a walker after recovering from her broken hip. She agreed to in-home assistance with cooking, cleaning and meds after her broken pelvis. She endured weeks of rehab after her broken arm. After months on waiting lists, she will be moving to an assisted living facility that is 23 minutes and 18.1 miles from her home. It was a difficult decision made easier by the fact that there was only one bed in one facility that was available.

I am uniquely qualified to help with the transition. I have been a professional clutter buster and personal organizer for 20 years. (Actually, according to my mom, I started young. I was bounced out of nursery school for rearranging the cots during recess. In my defense, they probably needed it.) http://jotheclutterbuster.com/modules/publisher/item.php?itemid=53

Mom taught us to share with others – no matter how little we had.

She will decide what she wants to take with her to the assisted living place. She will offer items to friends and family who have made specific requests.Tchotkes

We will go through her apartment and identify items to be given to homeless shelters. We found an organization that accepts furniture to give to families that were previously homeless.Truck full

I will store the photographs until a later time when we can sort and label. Then I will scan them and make disks for everyone.

I am in awe of her willingness to focus on the sharing and not the loss.

 

Sharing the Heart:

I will arrive in Maine on the Solstice. The word solstice comes from the Latin words for “sun” and “to stand still.” In the Northern Hemisphere, the solstice days are the days with the fewest hours of sunlight during the whole year.

winter-solstice_10792_990x742

During the darkest months, I stay in bed later in the morning. On Sunday mornings, before going to Quaker Meeting, I listen to “On Being” hosted by Krista Tippett. (In my opinion she runs neck and neck with Terry Gross as an insightful interviewer.) During her program entitled: Contemplating Mortality Tippett interviewed Ira Byock MD, a palliative care specialist. In his book: Dying Well: The Prospect for Growth at the End of Life,  he distinguishes between the concept of the good death and actually dying “well”  – whole. www.onbeing.org/program/transcript/4655

He offers 11 words that he feels are important to maintaining or repairing relationships to use during any transition:

  • Please forgive me
  • I forgive you
  • Thank you
  • I love you

My siblings and I have worked hard to coordinate the process. The last time we had to work on something together was my father’s funeral – 25 years ago. The process has been exhausting – for everyone. Completing applications, copying and scanning documents, submitting paper work and re-submitting the same paperwork, researching and visiting facilities, filling out more forms, waiting lists, telephone calls, doctor visits and interviews. Amidst communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, text messages, emails, phone calls – we attempt to preserve relationships and find a way to care for my mother.

In an interview, Jane Gross author of Bittersweet Season: Caring for Our Aging Parents –and Ourselves and the blog: The New Old Age, talked about her state of being “between guilt an exhaustion” as she and her brother made decisions about the care of their mom. She emphasized the need for “family repair” as a result of the process. http://www.amazon.com/Bittersweet-Season-Caring-Parents-Ourselves-ebook/dp/B004DEPII8

I am hoping, after my mom is settled in her new “home”, that we can share these 11 words with each other.

Sharing the Future:

With the current technology, we are so used to being able to predict: weather, traffic, up-coming events. We are always looking towards the future. We are under a delusion that predicting means knowing the outcome.

Almost a year ago to the day, I was starting a public art work: creating a legacy – occupying a permanent space. https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/06/11/next-steps-on-the-stone-path/

Once the piece was installed, I realized how in between my mom and I were in our lives:

The Space Between *:

Between the end of a project and the path to a new artwork.

Between my home in Maryland and remaining in Maine.

Between caring for myself and caring for another.

 

Between living independently and being dependent on others.

Between the familiar and the unknown.

Between continuing or stopping.

 

Between present and absent

Between then and now

Between breath and no breath

 

We are no longer in the space between. We are now moving forward.

* https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/the-space-between/