Sometimes, the window is open a crack.
The neighbor, herein the observer, has lived there for five years, or at least, a Bengals and a Reds flag have been flying as long as such.
Glancing up at that window, one is reminded of The Rear Window, where the lead character, played by James Stewart, is wheelchair bound and spends his days looking out the glass panes, suspecting he has witnessed a murder.
Nothing nefarious happens at Mom’s home of Arden Courts, but there is a life worth watching from above, difficult to define, and best framed by the casement of a second-story window.
That window is one of two windows and they comprise of the only set of panes that lords over the bushy gardens and sparse courtyards contained within white fencing all four seasons of the year.
During fall, many maple and magnolia leaves will have floated through the air, such that the observer would have heard my mother cuss at the crisps and twigs that flutter to the ground and swirl around her feet, causing confusion and also, because of the nature of her perfection, some consternation too.
The winter watch would be particularly solitary, and possibly painful. All alone, the observer would be seated and studying from above, with no signs of life inside the white perimeter, other than the occasional caregiver slipping outside to catch a breath of fresh air or speak quickly on the phone, or the maintenance man undertaking another of his never-ending projects.
The doors are locked from the inside, and no resident slips through those doors lest they slip on the ice and snow and whatever the deluge of rains bring. The winter watch must certainly be a lonely one, where the observer can only contemplate the life inside Arden based on the plethora of switches whose lights flicker on and off through the windows. The observer would know the rooms that were occupied and thus, whose life is still illuminated, whose life has been turned off.
And there were many lives turned off this past winter, many more than in recent past. Did the observer feel my grief for those hardly known, because of the cumulative nature of the deaths, the open-spaced silences and picture boxes next to their door and empty name plates that were left behind? As if sometimes, the number of loved ones left to carry in the external energy, to bring in the fresh pop of People magazines or Busken tea cookies from outside the secure doors were also in decline.
Should the observer examine the course of activities from above, surely spring is the best of times, when the sun blossoms and the irises shine. And slowly, one lone woman emerges, cradling in her arms a small pet bed with a worn stuffed animal. Then, a diminutive man, cheeks sunken in, but still traipsing, still traipsing.
From above, there might be only two residents spotted all day. It is like watching for the rare birds, the colorful ones whose broken legs and hips and wings can still maneuver, but their minds cannot. And to listen for them too, for the rare speech the species might make, marveling at a hue of blue that they don’t remember ever witnessing, only because it was months ago when that blue could have shimmered so bright.
But the doors lock and unlock on the whims of Mother Nature during spring. And in past months, the observer would attest to even seeing Mom pushing at the locked doors, waiting for Spring to say yes, its time to let her back out into the real world. When the doors refuse to budge, Mom stands in the skylights anyhow, feeling the warmth with her hands pressed up against the glass.
And the observer would silently wish for the portals to be unlocked, pleading the maintenance or staff to open the doors. Let today be the day.
As recent temperatures climb, the Black-eyed Susans will soon spread their swath of happiness across an entire patch of garden and welcome summer with all its glory. And that’s when the observer would have counted more rare sightings.
On this day, the observer would have seen Mom and I walk “all the way around” and “all the way back”, less than three-tenths of a mile. But as Mom ages, it’s the movement of her feet the observer counts, and not the number of feet in her movement.
The observer would have also seen Mom with her Dr. “J” beats on, her head nodding to the noise thrumming through her soul. The noise which could only be Sinatra, or she would rather remove the headphones instead.
But this day is difficult, as one favorite resident, “Elaine”, has let go. And observer would also attest, so many lives let go over winter.
“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go”
― Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1
Lovingly, the observer would have noted how the husband tended to his wife’s every need, fed her meals, sometimes twice a day. And the husband made countless jokes with Mom.
“Wow, I didn’t think it would be this hard,” the observer would have heard the husband utter as “Elaine” entered her final stages.
And the observer would have also been privy to the conversation followed.
Mom and I are seated outside, on a heavenly blue day. Tears stream down my face.
My mother looks at me with her trademark furrowed brow.
“Mom, I have a friend who is dying.”
“Oh, well, I think that’s okay.” She pats my knee and smiles.
The neighbor, who could gaze out over the courtyard on any given day and see life, envision a snapshot of the residents’ life to come, would have said the same thing.
For the observer is uniquely positioned to see all that transpires, all the heartache and challenges of loving someone with dementia, of escorting someone on the journey to their death. Absorb all the self-recrimination and self-examination that fight for space inside the heads of loved ones. Check all the movements of the chess pieces that make up this life inside the perimeter of the fenced-in chessboard.
Perhaps the observer, the knower of all things, knew before anyone else that it was “Elaine’s” time.
Did the observer weep, as I did, when Elaine died?
When I am not with Mom, and she is outside, sometimes munching on flowers, or attempting to eat a rock, does the observer understand this too? And creating a crevice between window and sill, does the observer applaud at the music of Mom, a rare songbird, and implore her, silently, to sing on?
“…so many lives let go over winter.” It must be so difficult to see the residents slip-away, one by one, as you spend time with your Mom. It’s a constant reminder of what’s to come, and also of our own mortality.
Thanks, Ellen. This one hit me hard, because we are all family there, the resident had been there for almost three years (Mom is going on five) and the husband and I had spent many hours “whiling” away together with our loved ones.
Thank you Annette for documenting your journey, so much of it rings true. I was amazed how much losing some favored residents shook me. After my mom’s passing I continued to visit her care home, only briefly. I had developed bonds with care givers and residents alike and it was important to me to let them know I still cared and valued them…
Tim – I know I do this work, cataloguing everything with Mom, so that others can relate, reminisce, relearn. Of course I do it for me too.
Thank you for being a faithful reader.