Historical and Literary Fiction / Essays / Poetry / Reviews /Book Cover and Interior Illustrations / Pet Portraits and Other Commissioned Artwork … "Prose may be the lowest order of the rhythmic composition, but we know it is capable of such purity, sweetness, strength, elasticity, as entitle it to a place as a sister art with poetry." Thomas Hall Caine (1853 -1931) from his firsthand "Reflections of Dante Gabriel Rossetti"
Christina Rossetti died December 29, 1894, from breast cancer, just three weeks after turning 64. My novel about her – The Dove Upon Her Branch – is nearing completion …
Remembering Christina through her words and mine.
Passing and Glassing by Christina Rossetti
All things that pass Are woman’s looking-glass; They show her how her bloom must fade, And she herself be laid With withered roses in the shade; With withered roses and the fallen peach, Unlovely, out of reach Of summer joy that was.
All things that pass Are woman’s tiring-glass; The faded lavender is sweet, Sweet the dead violet Culled and laid by and cared for yet; The dried-up violets and dried lavender Still sweet, may comfort her, Nor need she cry Alas!
All things that pass Are wisdom’s looking-glass; Being full of hope and fear, and still Brimful of good or ill, According to our work and will; For there is nothing new beneath the sun; Our doings have been done, And that which shall be was.
Christina knew how it felt to have her appearance altered, in an even harsher way than had happened to Fanny who would look out appealingly from more canvases yet. Mirrors would never again return loveliness to Christina.
“I see no difference in you.” Charles was either lying, which up until then she hadn’t thought him capable of, or blinded by a devotion that perplexed but still pleased her.
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
At times, Christina felt frantic, the curtain closing too soon. She wouldn’t accept she was performing her final scene with so much left undone, unseen, unsaid, and, especially, unwritten, before her nursery rhymes were in print—in America, too—and she could surprise Charles with their dedication to his baby nephew. Having lived beyond her youth, survived the interruptions of love and other sicknesses, matured into measured accomplishment, and made it through the dark forest with a little income and integrity, growing old was an ending to look forward to.
Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch Copyright 2021 by DM Denton
Today, December 5th, marks the 191st anniversary of the birth of Christina Rossetti, poet and subject of my upcoming novel, The Dove Upon Her Branch.
In 1853, just before Christina’s 23rd birthday, beloved Nonno, her 89 year old maternal grandfather, Gaetano Polidori, suffered a stroke at his home in London. At the time, Christina was living in Frome, Somerset with her parents, helping her mother run a girls day school and take care of her ailing father. Needless to say, it was not one of her happiest birthdays.
The inscription reads:
Love lights the sun: love through the dark
Lights the moon’s evanescent arc:
Same Love lights up the glow-worms spark …
from What Good Shall my Life Do me?
by Christina Rossetti
Fromefield’s peaking autumnal colors offered some consolation after Maria returned to London. November was dreary but, also, restorative, an adjustment and relief after months of visitors and daytrips. Once a week or every other Christina shopped in town, nature walks few and far between because of damp, chilly weather. As winter approached and came before it officially did, Christina morphed into an interior creature, knowing it was time to hide away and exist on what was stored within. School was winding down for the Christmas holiday, which promised four weeks of aristocratic leisure. Teaching was almost rewarding at times, as she had never expected it would be, the few girls still at the school quite comfortable with each other and their teacher, Mama, relinquishing that role more and more to her youngest.
Christina finally had the opportunity to try out the new paint brushes William had sent along with Maria. Out of regret for complaining that two had split quills, she was determined to make good use of them—so far an inadequate portrait of Mama. Such a forgiving, if not forgetful, creature, William had given her a five-pound note for her birthday. She considered spending a few pounds on replacing worn items in her wardrobe, the remainder saved. When Mama returned, a trip to London might be considered good use of it; if after Boxing Day, at least to celebrate the New Year with her siblings. Another incentive was to show appreciation for Amelia’s gift of a pretty collar and sleeves by wearing them in her friend’s presence.
Christina intended them to complement a frock other than black or gray, her azure-blue conservatively contrasting the crisp white of the butterfly-themed guipure lace.
“I won’t stay until the twenty-fifth. Papa doesn’t want me to go at all, but there are things to be taken care of. Once they are, I’ll be back, and you can be on your way. ” Mama said wearily while they waited on the platform for her train.
“I wish we could all live in London again.”
“We will, dearest,” Mama squeezed Christina’s hand, “before too long.”
How comforting it was to make plans in one’s head; in one’s heart, more foolish. A few days later Amelia’s present had gone from being impatiently draped over Christina’s vanity table mirror to storage in a deep drawer with a few other frivolous accessories.
In November 2020, a friend of mine, Cherie Messore, currently Sr. Manager of Public Relations at Spectrum Health and Human Services located in Western New York, read the desperation in a question I had asked on my personal Facebook page.
It inspired her to write a post for the company’s blog:
A former co-worker recently posted this on her social media:
Feeling trapped, caged. Is this a normal reaction to caregiving? (Asking for the friend I used to be to myself.)
She is the caregiver to her elderly mother who is bedridden, deprived of her sight, and suffers from a variety of maladies that also spur bouts of delirium. This breaks my heart. I remember both mother and daughter as vibrant, artistically talented women, who loved their life sharing a charming cabin in a rural community.
Illness and long life are taking their toll on the mother, and the dutiful daughter thrust into the role of caregiver is wrapped in the commitment – and guilt – inherent to this responsibility.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to reflect on and support the millions of family caregivers who give their love, their time, their patience, and their energy to caring for a family member in their homes.
Are you picturing a soft-focused, gentle picture, of caregiver and patient smiling over the Scrabble board as they strengthen their bonds of love and togetherness? It’s rarely like that.
Hearing that my mother had recently passed, Cherie invited me to write a postscript to her original piece for the Spectrum Health and Human Services’ blog. It’s early days, my reflections still confused and raw, but I agreed, struggled, thought I might give up, but did somehow manage it.
Cherie has kindly let me post the result here on my blog, too.
The caregiving journey I embarked on without knowing where I was going, recently, finally, and suddenly, reached its destination.
My mother died this past October, at the age of 92. We had lived together for 31 ½ years since she had given me a home after the breakup of my marriage. We shared a house and so much more, not always harmoniously, but never without forgiveness and friendship, because we realized the refuge we had in each other.
Hoping she would live a long life, it was always my intention to be my mom’s caregiver, a natural reciprocation of all she had done for me. That objective wasn’t much of a sacrifice while she could still be left alone, walk, read, and write out her favorite quotes, draw and paint, sing, play cards, make chicken soup, feed the kitties and watch their TV—the birds outside on the feeders—as happily as Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy on our Samsung 16” screen. Even when she had to use a cane, then a walker, eventually a wheelchair, was incontinent and needed help showering, she was unchanged in her mind and heart. She continued to enjoy talking about her past, politics, nature, and old-time movie stars, with an appetite for good food and the flavors of life in general.
When the spells of delirium began, my mom’s limitations increased and so did the restrictions on my life. In the last few years, she became bedridden and blind. The delirium accused me of awful things and sometimes pulled me into its insanity. When she wasn’t delusional, she was more demanding than companionable, unrecognizable from the woman who was so enduring, a widow for 35 years, the mother I admired, the friend I always counted on.
Sometimes I would think, you’ll regret being angry with her, saying what you did, and taking time for yourself while it was running out with her.
The journey was a long one, especially as it went through a succession of dark tunnels, misunderstanding, resentment, and exhaustion traveling with us. There were too many times I wanted to pull the alarm so it would stop, no matter a desperate, screeching stop as long as I could get off. I also knew I couldn’t do that and on and on we went, as it felt, further and further from any chance of reviving the unconditional love between us.
Then the journey took a turn. It happened in the early hours of a Sunday morning while I was sleeping, so I didn’t realize until I woke my mom and she could hardly swallow or speak. She had lost so much along the way, but the ability to express herself verbally was the worst. Once, trying to say something to me that I just couldn’t understand, she wept more intensely than I had seen her do over any of her other disabilities.
When the end came, despite deep sadness, there was a light at the end of the tunnel, all those tunnels. For my mom it was the light of her spirit lifting out of her useless body to begin a journey I could not, did not want to, make yet.
For me, what was illuminated was my life as I had to go on with it, switching back to the platform of myself, the profound gift that, through the best and the worst, my mother had given me.
I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.
~ Nelson Mandela from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom