On National Women’s Day, I reflected on the courage of women, in general, and in my ancestry, how each was, in their own way and circumstances, courageous and impactful.
As an example, in this note written by my great grandmother, Florida “Flo” Bayard Seay Tracy, to my mother, Ann, for her wedding, “GrannieTracy” passed along “something old” – a handkerchief belonging to my 4th great grandmother, making the fabric today @160+ years old – and asked my mother to one day give it to the next bride. The second note, also written to my mother, was from Grannie’s daughter, Ellen,(“Aunt Ellie”) both women who I knew and loved.
Their notes are reminders of the bonds women share and the courage, support, and love they can hold and spread, to themselves, families, communities, and generations following.
“Grannie Tracy,” born in 1880 in Rome, Georgia, was brave in many ways, one being to live outspokenly in a world she couldn’t hear. Though deaf since her early twenties, she communicated as well as anyone I knew. She read lips and spoke eloquently. She stated, jokingly, that she often learned more from a church sermon than people who could hear it. Her choice word, “darling,” and her gentile, graceful manner yet strong sense of feminism I can still hear and feel today.
Grannie Tracy was also brave when, after graduating from Shorter College in Rome, majoring and excelling in music, she called off her engagement to a local man to marry her true love, my great grandfather, James Grant Tracy, who she met at Cornell University while visiting a girl friend, a Cornell student. Eventually moving from her native Southern state, she settled with James in Syracuse, New York.
An outstanding writer, historian, and genealogist, who consistently and exhaustively tried getting her work published, her short stories speak vividly of her childhood as the daughter of Rome’s mayor (John Seay), owner of the Coosa River Boats Company, veteran of the Civil War (as were her two older brothers), and the strong woman who raised her. One of Flo’s stories explains the loss of the family’s largest boat, by flood, recalling her father’s discouragement upon returning home after learning the news but her mother’s resiliency springing into action to get him and the family right back on their feet.
Ironically, years earlier, while Grannie’s father and brothers fought for the Confederacy, her future husband James’s father and uncle (Colonel Osgood Tracy and Confederate Medal of Honor recipient, Major William Tracy respectively, 122nd NYSV) fought for the Union, leaving at home their widowed mother, my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy.
Grannie herself would one day see her youngest, son, Ted, serve in WWII, landing on Iwo Jima day two. No doubt Grannie kept these handkerchiefs close at hand during those years.
(Grannie Tracy, Aunt Ellie, Uncle Ted (left), Grandpa John Tracy and Uncle Osgood ‘Ots’)
After the death of her husband, Sarah raised four sons’ as a single parent, losing the youngest at age 6 to Diptheria, the same year James died. Sarah required James Jr., Osgood and Will to study and work hard, and they grew to be responsible, young men. Sarah was, as recalled in letters and her obituary, a conversationalist with a sharp memory and well liked by younger generations. Both an “outdoorswoman” and “excellent horsewoman,” at age 97, six weeks before her death, Sarah rode her two favorite horses some distance herself. Throughout her life, she was passionate about flowers, especially exotic European ones.
Sarah’s daughter-in-law, (my second great grandmother) Ellen “Nellie” Sedgwick Tracy – whose stepmother was Women’s Suffragist, author, and abolitionist, Deborah Gannett Sedgwick, of Boston – made an impact, too, in the lives of women.
Nellie, age 21
As her obituary states, she was “an original trustee of the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, later known as Syracuse Memorial. She was former president of the institution and became an Emeritus Trustee. In addition, she was head of the employment bureau at the Home for Aged Women.”
In her early twenties, she spent a great deal of time in Washington, engaging her interests in the abolition movement. Her father, two term N.Y. State Representative Charles Baldwin Sedgwick, was a staunch abolitionist, who refused to leave Congress until every slave in every state was free. (He was first to give a speech on the House floor in 1860 denouncing slavery, and years earlier represented white men whom freed from jail an enslaved runaway man who had been imprisoned). Though Nellie herself did not serve in Congress, as women were not allowed, she was alongside her father in the city, House and at the Naval Academy, for which he codified laws. She assisted the war effort in helping to raise funds for a new Navy vessel, the USS Onondaga. And on January 31, 1865, Nellie sat beside her father in the House when the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution passed in the House abolishing slavery and involuntary slavery.
(Deborah ‘Dora’ Gannett Sedgwick, Sedgwick home, Syracuse, N.Y., 1860)
Circling back closer generations, my mother, Ann Livingston Tracy Burrows, the most important woman in my life who I will miss and honor each day I live, hopefully instilling the valuable lessons she taught me in my life and three sons’, was a teacher. She supported my father before he could practice law, and though not financially after that, in all ways until the day she died.
My father’s mother, Gertrude, my “Nan,” oversaw a maternity ward, delivering and taking care of babies at both the hospital and at home. She taught me at an early age to enjoy baking, and being a breast cancer survivor, that women sometimes must lose their breast(s) in order to save their lives.
My maternal grandmother, Loretta, (below) I never had the chance to know, but I don’t doubt she was brave. She married Granny Tracy’s youngest and fourth child, John Bayard Tracy, and raised their three children during the Depression while my grandfather, who graduated from Cornell University, worked night shifts shoveling coal into furnaces at Crucible Steel and in time off and other periods, coffee into bags for the O.V. Tracy Coffee & Co. family business founded one generation before. My grandmother, mother, her brothers, cousins and friends helped, too, with the company.
In 1962, during the Cold War, Loretta suffered a parent’s worst nightmare; her youngest child, “Johnny,” age 25, was killed while co-piloting a Secret Air Command mission back from Russia. After the Air Force messenger delivered a telegram to my grandparents’ front doorstep, I imagine these handkerchiefs were put to use all too well.
The loss must have been difficult, to say the least, on my mother, especially being 8 months pregnant (with my brother, John). And four and a half years after (17 months before I was born) at the age of 61, my grandmother died, after a battle with alcohol, which perhaps she thought might ease her pain. Though she lost that fight, in my eyes, she was a courageous and beautiful woman.
The above stories are a small window into four generations’ of women in my family, colored like stain glass before me. I am grateful for the love, courage, and example these women passed on. I think often on the hardships and strength many of them must have had watching sons serve in wartime and the military.
I think, too, about the love I feel for women relatives today, such as my Aunt Barb, and Betty, my cousins, Dawn, Sharon, Whitney, and second cousins, Tracy and Julie, my four sister-in-laws, mother-in-law, four nieces, and my cousin’s wife, Toma, my mother and father’s cousins’ etc. still with us today. And those second aunts to me, sisters of my grandmothers’ and great grandmothers’ who were so wonderful in each of their own ways. I loved the gatherings we had.
I am grateful, as well, for women friends and neighbors, many of who are like family, and a woman who is like a second mother to me, Sue Beeching.
In closing, cheers to women everywhere who are “fighting the fight,” whatever battle and/or dream it is, trying to make a difference in themselves and others, and helping educate those following their lead.
Though my mother, grandmothers, great grandmothers and great aunts are no longer here on Earth they are and will always be women who are very much with me.
I dedicate this story to my beloved Grannie Tracy, Aunt Ellie, and my mother. I am grateful for the amazing women they were and the lessons theytaught. Granny Tracy is especially with me when I write. One day, I plan to publish her stories, for her, and of course, look forward to passing on the handkerchief!
My mother with her best friend, The Waldheim Dock, Big Moose Lake
Mom and Me
Grannie in Europe w my grandfather
I am very pleased to have been elected and to assume the post as a trustee of The Leisler Institute, whose mission is to preserve the records of and promote the study of the early period of New York history between the period of the English takeover of New Netherland in 1664 and the American Revolution.
The nonprofit research and study center, devoted to Colonial New York under English rule as well as the permanent home of the Papers of the Jacob Leisler Project, serves scholars and students of this important 99 year period in our country’s history. The Institute is located in Hudson, New York.
I am a direct descendent of Jacob Leisler (8x granddaughter) through his daughter, Hester.
Sarah’s photograph, Walking on Clouds, was recently chosen for First Prize in the category, Off the Beaten Path, in the 2018 Essex National Heritage Photography Contest.
Her photograph, Church Steeple, was chosen out of 450 entrants as a winner in the 2018 Essex National Heritage Instagram Photography Contest.
An awards ceremony and exhibit will take place on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 at 5:30 at Hunt’s Photo and Video in Melrose, Massachusetts, where her and the other 10 winning photographs will be displayed for one year, as well as at the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem (2 New Liberty Street, Salem, MA 01970) and at the office of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission (160 Main Street, Haverhill, MA 01830).
The contest was by presented in partnership with Hunt’s Photo & Video, the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, and the National Park Service at Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Sites.
It sits here, framed, on my desk. The photograph of you and me; the selfie we took after our walk one year ago today – January 28, 2018 – snapped at the morning hour I write this.
It was a day much like today, in regards to weather, though it was warmer. The sun shone bright. There was no snow, surprising for a winter day in Syracuse, New York. It was nine days before you would experience a hemorrhagic stroke February 6 which would take your life nine days later on February 15.
I had been visiting you and Dad for several days. We’d had a special time – taking walks, visiting an abolitionist museum, sitting by the fire in the evening looking at photo albums, reading short stories that your grandmother wrote about growing up in Rome, Georgia in the late 1800s and you, Dad and I meeting your granddaughter, Alison, for dinner (1/27/18).
Four weeks before, you’d been here at our home for Christmas.
Standing in the driveway one year ago today after a walk that morning, at 11:37am and 45 seconds to be exact, we took this photo. It is the last walk and photograph the two of us we would take together, on a “normal” day. Afterward, we met for lunch longtime family friends, Sue and Tory Beeching- a mother daughter get together. In the parking lot before Sue and Tory and we went separate ways, I suggested a photo. A man happened to be walking by and offered to take it. Sue laughed, like she always likes to do.
This would be the last photograph taken with her best friend, for the final hemorrhagic stroke you would experience would rob you of your speech, much of your mobility, and ultimately, on February 15, your life. I am therefore especially thankful for this photograph and of that beautiful, now extra special, time we shared together.
When I left that afternoon and drove up the hill, you waved goodbye from the driveway, like you always did. And, like I always did, I rolled down the window, looked back and beeped the horn. You were waving your arms as if you were doing jumping jacks, though your feet were planted on the ground. And you were smiling, sending me on my way with loads of love.
Looking back at this “year of firsts,” Mom, and now today – this “last normal day we spent one year ago” – it hasn’t been easy, to say the least, especially holidays and birthdays.
Valentine’s Day 2018 (the day before you passed)
Fourth of July
Your Halloween birthday
But truthfully, every day is difficult and when February 16, 2019 – the first day of the second year without you – arrives, I can’t imagine there will be any day that we will miss you less. That is a testimony to the wonderful person you were; patient, kind, loving, forgiving, selfless, and supportive. Those characteristics are why we and so many others loved you dearly. You were a true “lady.” In every sense “genteel,” full of grace and class. You were special, Mom, and I your lucky daughter.
Nothing could have prepared me for your loss, not even when I knew you were going to die, because up until then you were still with us. But in our hearts, Mom, you have not, nor will you ever, die. You are with me and part of me each day, everywhere I go and in everything I do. I hear your sweet voice and constant encouragement. I imagine you saying, “it will be okay,” and that gives me strength. The love you gave and embodied continues to give me courage and always will.
These next few weeks – this end of “the first year” – will not be easy. I try to keep busy, continuing to write, research, learn, and photograph that which I find interesting, beautiful or important. I remind myself often that you told me you enjoyed looking at my photographs on Facebook.
Nearly 12 months later – one year minus 18 days – your passing still seems unfathomable to me. I will continue to think of and talk to you daily. I ache to hear you speak to and hug me again and it hurts more than words can ever express, knowing that you won’t, but I feel and know that I have your love with me each and every moment. And I believe you are watching over us and that one day we will be together again. Until then, know how much you are loved and so very much missed.
WALKING THE PATH
On a cold, clear, windy, late November day last week, I visited Andover, Massachusetts, where, during the ‘Great Delusion of 1692,’ forty-five women and men residents were accused of being ‘witches,’ arrested and imprisoned, including my 8th great grandmother, Mary Clements Osgood.
Mrs. Mary Clements Osgood, center
Since a young girl, I enjoy walking awhile in the paths my ancestors’, their friends, and ‘enemies’ traveled. Mary’s is certainly one, but I find many stories interesting, and connected – branching from one to the other.
With the aid of preserved letters, documents, photographs, paintings, and other historical information, I travel back in time, so to speak, acquiring knowledge about what they endured, enjoyed, where and how they lived, traveled, and whom they loved. In many ways, to me, learning about them is like doing a puzzle and playing a detective game. The end result – the prize – a window into the past, often colorful, like stained glass.
In Andover, more women and men were accused and arrested under the idea that they were ‘witches’ than in either the town or village of Salem, yet on that day, I didn’t go to Andover thinking of them or Mary. But as is often the case, one track led to another.
I was thinking of Mary’s husband, my 8th great grandfather, Captain John Osgood, born in Wherwell, Hampshire, England in 1631. At age 7 in April 1638, John sailed to America with his father (also named John), mother, Sarah Ann Booth (Osgood), and younger sister, Mary, on the ship, Confidence, landing in Ipswich during the month of June. After a quick stay there with emigrant (1633) and relative, Christopher Osgood, John settled his family for three years in Newbury until he moved them to a settlement called Cochichowicke (Great Water) which he named Andover, for his home town marketplace ‘across the pond.’
John Osgood built his home on the banks of the river, today at the junction of Osgood and Court Streets. He came to own 600+ acres of land, in what now is North Andover. His barn, on the east side of Osgood Street, still stands, along with his second home, on the National Register of Historic Places.
Surrounding both is land he called “Great Wide Meadow,” as referred to in 1690s’ deeds, including a long, sweeping hill then called ‘Weir Hill’ with views of the valley and lake. Of recent, the hill is named Osgood Hill, now public paths and wooded areas for the public to enjoy and roam. Edgewood, An Independent and Life Care Community, sits on 100 acres of John’s original land (including John’s original 1600’s barn and original house, now a guest house for visiting families) with Osgood first names marking street signs and mailboxes.
Finding out about John, I then wanted to know more about Mary. Born in Ansley, Warwickshire, England in 1637, her father was Reverend Robert Clements, a prosperous English wine merchant living at Croft, near Leicester city. During the 1620s and 1630s, Clements owned a fleet of ships which sailed between North America and England. During a shipwreck, his brother, John, lost his life.
When Mary’s mother, Lydia, died in March 1641, when Mary was four, her oldest brother, Job, seems to have traveled to New England, and along with ten others, settled Haverhill, Massachusetts. He soon asked their father to sell his English estate and join him. Clements did, emigrating with four of his eight children, leaving Mary, the youngest, in England, perhaps with grandparents, and two sons fighting in the English Civil War (they would eventually earn land grants and live in Ireland). At about 5 years of age, Mary re-joined her father, in New England.
Reverend Clements remarried in 1645, in Haverhill and on November 15, 1653, in the same town, performed the marriage ceremony of Mary and the young Captain John Osgood, age 20. Mary was 16.
While John volunteered service to the militia (30 years total), helped found North Parish Church, and became the first representative to the General Court of Andover, Mary gave birth to twelve babies (yes, twelve!). The couple buried two within the first year of birth, another two within a year and a half, the twelfth and last, just a month old, when Mary was about 54 years old. Eleven years later, in regards to that dark period of time in Mary’s life – the loss of her baby at age 54 – Mary would be accused by rivals of having performed ‘witchcraft.’
At age 65, along with fellow neighbors and friends, Mary was “examined” in Salem before John Hawthorne and other “Majestie’s Justices.” On September 8, 1692, after being “brow beaten,” Mary confessed to the incident below and indicted in January 1693. Recanting before Increase Mather, a powerful Puritan clergyman and president of Harvard College, Mary was imprisoned in Salem.
From the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archives and Transcriptions:
The examination and confession (8. Sept. 92.) of Mary Osgood , wife of Captain Osgood of Andover, taken before John Hawthorne and other their Majesties justices:
She confesses, that about 11 years ago, when she was in a melancholy state and condition, (following the birth of her last child) she used to walk abroad in her orchard; and upon a certain time, she saw the appearance of a cat, at the end of the house, which yet she thought was a real cat. However, at that time, it diverted her from praying to God, and instead thereof she prayed to the devil; about which time she made a covenant with the devil, who, as a black man, came to her and presented her a book, upon which she laid her finger and that left a red spot…
Rev. Increase Mather’s Report of his Conversation in Prison with Mary Clements Osgood:
Being asked why Mary prefixed a time, and spake of her being baptized in The Great Pond, &c., about twelve years since, she replied and said, that, they asked the time, to which she answered that she knew not the time. But, being told that she did know the time, and must tell the time, and the like, she considered that about twelve years before (when she had her last child) she had a fit of sickness, and was melancholy; and so thought that that time might be as proper a time to mention as any, and accordingly did prefix the said time.
Being asked about the cat, in the shape of which she had confessed that the Devil had appeared to her, &c., she replied, that, being told that the Devil had appeared to her, and must needs appear to her, &c. (she being a witch), she at length did own that the Devil had appeared to her; and, being pressed to say in what creature’s shape he appeared, she at length did say that it was in the shape of a cat. Remembering that, some time before her being apprehended, as she went out at her door, she saw a cat, &c.; not as though she any whit suspected the said cat to be the Devil, in the day of it, but because some creature she must mention, and this came into her mind at that time.
“Stripings” of many, death awaiting execution, and the public hangings of approximately twenty women took place over a period of time. In regards to those from Andover, three persons were hung and one woman died before execution. Many of the girls, women, and men (mainly women, yet one girl as young as 4, who was executed) were accused of having “fits,” unable to control their muscles, privately and in public. Since the 1970s those ‘fits’ have believed, by some, to have been hallucinations caused by the ingestion of a common grain, poisoned naturally with a fungus; ‘ergot poisoning’ having effects much like that of LSD.
After some time, Mr. Dudley Bradstreet, Andover’s Chief Justice, who had issued the warrants and arrest of forty-eight suspected “witches,” finally refused any more. Bradstreet petitioned for the release of Mary and others (after which and for, he and his wife were themselves accused of being ‘witches,’ and fled North Andover for their lives). After four-six months in prison in Salem, Mary was released, with four other women. Bradstreet had, for all his weaknesses previously, saved them.
Learning more of Mary’s story, I contemplate her admittance that she experienced ‘melancholy’ after the birth of a child. Today this most certainly would be understood and accepted as postpartum depression, thought by many doctors to be caused by a copper overload. Sympathizing with Mary has made me appreciate and better understand the time she lived and imagine what she went through.
One of Mary and John’s children – my 7x great grandfather – Lieutenant John Osgood, born 1654, also spent time in prison. Active in the militia, an inn holder and serving frequently as selectman, he was popular among the townspeople of Andover, mainly due to his opposition of England taxes. He was imprisoned in August or September 1687, five years before Mary was accused of being a witch. Mary and John eventually left him their house, where the first recorded town meeting was held in March 1656.
In previous visits to North Andover, I have seen that house (today the guest house at Edgewood). I have also driven by the historical home at 440 Osgood Street, that of Samuel Osgood, who, three generations after Mary and John, was an American Revolutionary War colonel, First United States Postmaster General, and member of Continental Congress. His home housed Harvard’s library during the war against England.
A new house I discovered, however, upon this visit to Andover, after being given the address by the Executive Director at the North Andover Historical Society, was the address of my 5th great grandfather’s house, numbered 815 Osgood Street. I found the colonial – about a mile from the Colonel John Osgood House. Red in color, a sign to the left of the doorway read “Dr. Joseph Osgood, 1752.” (His father, my 6th gg, another John Osgood, born 1683, Deacon and Lieutenant of Militia, his wife, Hannah Ayres (Osgood) of Haverhill, born 1662).
I parked my car in front of the white picket fence, in need of painting, and got out, to stand before the open gate leading up the brick walk to the front door. Though I was disappointed at the unkempt condition of it, being in its presence for the first time felt very special.
I envisioned my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood (Tracy) – Dr. Joseph Osgood and wife Margaret’s youngest grandchild – born April 1804, running up the path to the door, anxious to greet her grandparents, and they her. Perhaps, after they opened the door, they bent down and wrapped their arms about her as they picked her up to a hug, with the aroma of a Sunday supper wafting from the kitchen fire.
Sarah’s photograph and diary of 1862 were thankfully preserved. Sarah’s father – my 4th great grandfather – George Osgood, was also a doctor, like his father, whose house I now stood in front of, had been. Her mother, Sarah Vose, daughter of Colonel Joseph Vose of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment who fought alongside George Washington during the American Revolution, was born in Milton. She’d had a baby at 42 years of age and died when Sarah was eight years old, at age 50 of tuberculosis, or “consumption.”
Standing there at Dr. Joseph Osgood’s house, I had just exited my warm car but not having worn a warm enough jacket, shivered. I contemplated what life must have been like, in the early 1800s. Considering a fall, winter, or spring day and night, and New England weather, the house inside would have have been cold – very cold.
The family would have gathered around the one fireplace – talking, reading, studying, playing music, etc. Babies would have been born in the bedrooms and died there, too. Without antibiotics, children often died of diptheria.
Joseph and Margaret, like Mary and John, and so many couples, lost numerous children, specifically they lost three sons, age @two and one age 14 ten months, the graves of which I would later see that day. Losing all those children might have been enough to kill my 5th great grand mother (or make her, like Mary Clements Osgood, delusional) but Margaret lived until 1797, to age 78. Fortunately, the third child, born in 1754, another John Osgood, would live to see adulthood and old age.
Remnants of what might have been the outhouse was a helpful reminder that there had been no running water and of course, no electricity. I considered what the Osgood father and son doctors must have seen in their lifetimes, practicing generalized medicine in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. They would have visited most homes in town, to doctor babies, children, women, and men for all different reasons.
Suddenly, bringing me back to the present, was the current owner or renter exiting the back door to his parked car in the driveway. I soon got back in my car but sat a time thinking about how my 3rd great grandmother, Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy, lived in North Andover until her later twenties when she moved to Syracuse, New York.
Sarah left the only home she’d known with her older half sister, Elizabeth Osgood (Putnam) and Elizabeth’s husband, Captain Hiram Putnam of Salem who had been commissioned by the wealthy Boston merchant, Joseph Peabody, to captain ‘The China’ twice around the world trading coffee, tea and spices. He later wrote he felt “ready to get away from the sea.” Ironically, Hiram’s male Putnam ancestors, of Salem, and the Peabody’s, were lead accusers in the witch craft movement.
Though Sarah moved away, during her 97 years of life she often reminisced upon her beloved North Andover. Suggesting that, along with many preserved letters, is a poem, below, written for her 93rd birthday by her nephew, George Osgood, giving insight into the beauty of the land and the love the Osgood generations held for it.
After leaving Massachusetts and arriving in Albany, Sarah met her love, James Grant Tracy, whose father, Captain Jared Tracy of Norwich, CT, was a commissary during the siege of Boston and later fought the enemy at sea. Sarah and James married and resided in Syracuse, where they lived the rest of their lives, though Sarah as a widow when their oldest son, James Grant, was 13.
This part of Sarah’s story I am familiar, for I have been engrossed in it my entire life, through letters, stories and memorabilia which my maternal grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, shared with me while I was growing up in Syracuse, in Sedgwick Farm. As a single parent, Sarah raised four sons, losing the youngest to diptheria within the same year of her husband’s death. Two of her remaining three sons’, Osgood and William, volunteered to fight in the American Civil War.
In Syracuse, I knew Osgood’s daughter-in-law, my great grandmother, Florida Bayard Tracy, who lived until I was ten years old. For that reason, to me, as a young girl, the past didn’t seem so long ago. I was amazed that I knew “Granny Tracy” whose father-in-law had fought in the Civil War for the North and father, Captain John Seay, and two bothers from Rome, Georgia for the Confederates, then some 110 years before.
At present, I understand better what my grandfather once shared and documents and books indicate. Having lived in Boston now more than half my life – the last 15 years on the North Shore of Boston, a 35-minute drive to Andover and 15 minute drive to where the Confidence arrived in Ipswich with my Osgood emigrant ancestors -it is part of my journey in adding to the puzzle, walking on and extending the path.
Ironically, twenty-five years ago, while living in Boston, I chose Andover to shop for and purchase my wedding dress, with my mother by my side. I chose it knowing our family history there, but not to the extent I know now or appreciate. While standing there last week in front of my 5th great grandfather’s house, I felt full circle – my past tied to my present, and future.
When I got back in my car, I cranked up the heat, put the car in drive and headed down Osgood Street, about 1/4 mile. I turned left, winding up a steep hill into the Steven’s Estate at Osgood Hill. At different times during the 1700 and 1800s, Osgood’s and Steven’s married. The red brick mansion and grounds are now owned by the Town of N. Andover, used for special functions.
Proceeding at the top, by the house, designed by prominent Boston architects and built in 1886 for Moses T. Stevens, an American textile manufacturer and a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts, I parked at the carriage house.
Heading to the trailhead of Osgood Hill, paths extend in three different directions.
I first walked to the right, to a private drive, at the end of which might sit Sarah’s childhood home, now a private home, with magnificent views overlooking “The Great Meadow” and beyond, to the Colonel John Osgood Guest House and original barn, and Edgewood.
Walking back to the trailhead, I then took the path to the left, wrapping around Osgood Hill at its lower point. With woods on either side of the Hill, it reached the East side, with views extending through down the valley to Lake Cochichewick, which the Osgood’s called “The Great Pond.”
Among this path, where generations of Osgood’s roamed, Mary Clements Osgood, accused of and stating under duress, spent time, including that which when she was, as she stated in trial, ‘re-baptized by Satan,’ in its’ water with her friends. I couldn’t help but wonder whether, on a warm, late spring or summer day, Mary and/or they were just having fun, like I might today with my friends and neighbors.
Perhaps a young man joined them, a man Mary described as a “Black Man,” and during trial, under verbal and physical abuse by the “Justices” at Salem, she referred to him as “Satan.” Mary’s great grandfather, less than a hundred years later, would allow African Americans and women as members of North Parish Church long before other New England churches did, and 80 years after that the Osgood Tracy brothers would go to war to end slavery…
With the majority of the leaves off the trees, a clear view presented through to Lake Cochichewick, “The Great Pond.” White birch trees and Oaks interspersed the woods, standing and covering the ground, causing a lightness and brightness to the dense forest. Original stone walls ran from the top of the Hill from the original estate, now private (at the end of the private drive I’d walked from the first path, perhaps the very house in which Sarah spent her childhood, yet another stone to turn) down toward the lake.
After a ten minute walk, the path opened to the wide lawn of green grass, to Osgood Hill (once Weir Hill) and a breathtaking view of sky and tree line. In my opinion, whether intertwined to this property through ancestors or not, you can not help to take in its natural beauty and feel connection to the land.
The wind rattled the dry leaves still clinging to the branches. Hawks circled overhead. Though it was my second walk on Osgood Hill ever, and the second time within this year, it felt more special even than the first. I felt closer to the past, like it was swirling with the brisk air.
I followed the worn path amongst the green grass and reached the top of Osgood Hill, looking back from where I came. I took in the panoramic views. The lake in the distance sparkled in the sun, shooting through the clouds. The white birch trees stood at its shore’s edge, mixed among the others, the grass on the Hill was still green, with small patches of snow here and there, and the sky spread to the horizon.
When it was time to go, I followed path markers into the woods at the top of the hill, at its’ highest point, enjoying the quiet of the woods, imagining, generations ago, my ancestors walking right there too.
But as the path became less marked, which would connect to the trail below, and being alone, I decided to head the way I arrived, down the hilly meadow, to circle the lower path, just above the lake.
Back to the Steven’s Estate and at my car, I drove out back down hill, to Osgood Street and headed to the First Burial Ground in N. Andover, in “The Great Meadow.”
I entered the wrought iron gate just as a school bus about a 1/4 mile away dropped middle grade or elementary students off, with the sound of the children laughing and happy to be dismissed. As I stood by the Osgood gravestones, the boys, wearing their backpacks, were soon hopping over the stone wall, cutting through the old, historic cemetery. I imagine, from the surprise of them seeing me, that it is a daily occurrence, one which I found beautiful and touching – the incongruence of life and death connecting, and a reminder that life goes on.
I would say, in ending, that I now certainly have a better understanding of the terrible injustices of, mass hysteria and cruelty, and broad area besides Salem affected by the witchcraft movement, reminded of what I learned in middle or high school that I had forgotten. I look forward to researching.
And in looking back at these numerous past generations, I am humbled by the experience. What I have discovered this past week and over the years, is that life, though different then and always changing, was still similar in so many ways and perhaps will always be.
Walking awhile in my ancestors, their friends and neighbors footsteps helps me to find and appreciate my own, and others. It not only shapes me, but inspires me, and in general, keeps me learning. It gives me a sense of who I am, who came before me, and what I want to accomplish.
Through the process and in life in general, I have found that some paths are smooth, others rough, some unmarked, many not straight. These stories above, and others, attest, paths can swerve. Change. End. And during our journey on the path of life, many people and places guide us, offering or giving direction, especially in our early years. When children, we often do not have the option of following which path we might choose for ourselves. As we grow older, we have more power of choice, though often time and/or commitments keep us going in one direction, often as if with blinders on.
Yet at any given point, new paths might branch off, and in changing direction, for want or not, we may find, that along with the path, our very selves and souls widen too.
Poem for Sarah Vose Osgood Tracy, written in 1897 for her birthday by her nephew, George Osgood:
A noble, Syracusan dame,
Whose years are only ninety-three,
The distant home from whence she came,
Today, in thought, would truly see.
As she in memory wanders back
Through pleasant scenes of long ago,
She views her native Merrimack
By hills and valleys grandly flow.
Again she trips with girlhood’s feet
Along the bank of vernal green,
Where, with the broader river, meet
The waters of the fair Shawsheen.
The Pond among its groves and hills,
Beneath the radiant sunset sky,
Again her heart with rapture thrills,
While joy and gladness light her eye.
The “China” down by Salem shore,
With sails all spread, she still would see,
Which long through calm and tempest bore
The hero noble, brave and free.
The hero left the ocean tide
With those whose lives her own endear;
And lived by Onondaga’s side
For many a long and happy year.
O what romantic feelings wake,
As she delighted rides away,
By wild Oneida’s lovely lake,
To spend her sweetest, happiest day.
Though she may love to muse awhile
On scenes where she delights to roam,
She better loves the gentle smile
Of one who cheered and blest her home.
The father and the little child
Must sweet remembrance bring today,
As they in love and beauty smiled,
Ere from the earth they passed away.
Her loved ones who have gone before,
A down the valley, dark as night,
Will gladly find the other shore
Aglow with heaven’s unclouded light.
The boys’ who bravely left her side
When bugle notes were loud and clear,
Through the sad fields of war to ride,
Today are grouped beside her here.
These sons will guard with tender care
The home of gladness, peace and love;
And seek by earnest thought and prayer
A brighter, happier home above.
On Veteran’s Day 2018, I looked at my iPhone to check the time. It happened to read 11:11 November 11. This time oddity caught my attention. The sight of three 11s at once seemed significant. I snapped a photo of my home screen, not knowing how long until the last second of the minute would pass, and time would change.
At first glance, the 11’s reminded me of the twin towers’.
Later that afternoon, when researching Veteran’s Day, I learned “the major hostilities” of WWI on the Western Front officially ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of November, the 11th month of the year, 100 years before, in 1918, when the Armistice of Germany went into effect and Allies of WWI and Germany signed an agreement, and hence, “Armistice Day” was created. (In 1954 the United States government re-named the honorary day to Veterans Day.)
“Wow, the time was significant!” I thought, and felt it was a sign.
The intertwining thought of Veterans Day and Germany led me to think of an important, and under appreciated, time in our country’s history and freedom – the English Revolution of 1688 and 1689, during the Boston revolt in the ‘Dominion of New England,’ which at the time included New Amsterdam (now New York City). On the night of June 2, 1689, supporters of England’s King James II were upon seizing Fort William – where official government documents and funds were held – to massacre their Dutch fellow-citizens, when an armed mob gathered to overthrow the existing government.
Crying “Leisler,” the group rushed to the New Amsterdam home of my 8x great grandfather, Captain Jacob Leisler, a German born American colonist, the son of a Calvinist French Reformed minister, who died when his son was eleven years old. After his father’s death, Jacob was sent to military school and at age eighteen, immigrated to New Amsterdam as a military captain with the Dutch West Indies Company and eventually became a self made wealthy merchant and trader.
He often aided the same people that were then asking him to take control of the city and ultimately the entire province from appointees of King James II.A sympathizer with the Dutch lower classes and poor of the province, known to pay for the freedom of slaves from Africa and/or white people arriving from elsewhere to New Amsterdam who could not afford ship fees, and purchasing the land of what is today the town of New Rochelle in order to create a settlement for Huegenot refugees, Leisler was popular. Within an hour, in possession of the keys of the fort, which had been seized. Four hundred of the new party signed an agreement to hold the fort “for the present Protestant power that reigns in England,” while ten people comprising a committee of the city freeholders assumed the powers of a provisional government, declaring Jacob Leisler in charge, commissioning him “captain of the fort” (today known as the Battery in Lower Manhattan).
Thus began the period known as ‘Leisler’s Rebellion,’ in the midst of England’s Glorious Revolution. During the time of the Rebellion, a revolt reflecting colonial resentment against King James II, Leisler called the first Inter Colonial Congress in America and brokered the largest New York land deal to date for immigrant Huguenots to settle on while Colonel Nicholas Bayard, (the sixteenth mayor of the city and a man ironically a man related to Leisler through Peter Stuyvesant), escaped the city to avoid assassination.
When an English major landed with two companies of soldiers, demanding the fort back, Leisler refused. Leisler and a group of men, including his son in law, Jacob Milborne, bearing the same first name, were arrested and imprisoned for treason and murder. When Royal authority was restored, a trial was held. Leisler and Milborne fought for their lives against judges who were political enemies under the influences of England, excessive alcohol, and ties of family, “whose acts were described as ‘inhuman and gross.’”
Before Leisler and Milborne were executed by hanging, Leisler made a long speech, stating that he acted “for the glory of the Protestant interest, the establishment of the present government, and to protect the province from outside forces.” The new government seized Leisler’s land, which he’d set up for French Huguenot refugees. That land later became the town known today as New Rochelle. In 2013 a monument of Leisler was erected there. The Leisler Institution in New Rochelle holds Leisler’s letters and memorabilia, and others pertaining to the Leisler Rebellion period. The lower part of Manhattan, “the Battery,” which Leisler also owned, was in addition confiscated by the English, later returned to his son. Posthumously, the names of Leisler and his son in law were cleared and their bodies reinterred in the Dutch Church in New York, and in the early 20th century several plays were written and played in Leisler’s name, one being “A Story of Old New York.”
Just shortly before Leisler’s Rebellion, not far away from New Amsterdam, in Hartford, Connecticut, on the night of October 31, 1687, another ancestor of mine, Captain Joseph Wadsworth, according to the legend of the Charter Oak, spirited the Royal Charter of 1662 out of Sanford’s Tavern and the hold of Sir Edmund Andros, raced across the bridge over the Little River and hid it in the hollow of an ancient oak tree on the grounds of Samuel Wyllys’ home in Hartford. To many 19th-century defenders of the legend, the hiding of the Charter was a precursor for the later, more widespread, defense of colonial rights that led to the American Revolution and independence. It is telling that Hartford, Connecticut’s residents resisted the attempt by an agent of the British crown to illegally take their rights.
Less than one hundred years later, on May 20, 1775, in opposition of England’s control, my 4th great grandfather, Joseph Vose, born and raised in Milton, Massachusetts, led a group of 60 men on a mission to burn a light house in Boston Harbor. He was later chosen Colonel of the 1st Massachusetts Regiment and became part of General George Washington’s staff, fighting beside Washington at the Battle of Yorktown.
From Williamsburg on March 25, 1781, General Marquis de Lafayette wrote Colonel Vose: “It is my wish that you have the detachment in the most perfect readiness tomorrow. Should his excellency the Commander in Chief in consequence of having heard of the British fleet send orders for the return of the despatches which will be be opened by my aid-de-camp, I desire the you will not as before directed put them in execution til further notices from me, as it’s improbable that the Commander in Chief can be acquainted with this last circumstance relative to the meetings of the fleets. I request you will present this to his Excellency, Gov’ Lee and to Commander Nicholson, the Commanding Officer of the the Reg and my two aid-de-camps. I have the honor to be your obedient servant, Lafayette.”
I was reminded, too, of how veterans, though time, inspire other generations of veterans. My 2nd great grandfather, Colonel Osgood Vose Tracy, of the 122nd New York State Volunteers, who fought in the American Civil War from 1862-1865, wrote after the Battle of the Wilderness, “At that moment, in the bloodshed and horror, fighting the enemy face to face with bayonet, sword, and rifle, less than five feet apart, I thought of my great grandfather Vose at the Battle of Yorktown, took courage and fought on.”
About the same time before the American Revolution, my 4th great grandfather, Colonel John Bayard, a delegate from Pennsylvania, who my grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, was named, was elected to the convention of Pennsylvania in July 1774, and re-elected in 1775. This group, originally the revolutionary counter to the official assembly, eventually replaced it as the legislature for the new government. When regiments were raised for the defense of Philadelphia in 1775, John became Colonel of the second regiment. In 1776, when the convention became a constitutional assembly, he was named to the Committee of Safety. In March 1777, he became a member of the state’s Board of War, and Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly, re-elected in 1778.
In the meantime, the law firm he co-founded, Hedge & Bayard, became one of the firms under contract with the Continental Congress to supply the Continental Army. John himself fitted out a ship sent out as a privateer. But, in the fall of 1777, the British occupied Philadelphia. Bayard moved his family to a farm at Plymouth, Pennsylvania and took to the field with his regiment, which fought at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Princeton. General Washington cited Colonel Bayard for his gallant leadership in the Battle of Princeton.
In 1781, Bayard became head of the Board of War, and joined the state’s Executive Council. Under Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution this was a sort of combination of the roles of a governor’s cabinet and the state Senate. In 1785 Bayard was elected to the Congress of the Confederaton, the successor of the Continental Congress. He served in 1785 and 1786, attending their meetings in New York.
In the 20th century, my grandfather, John Bayard Tracy, thankfully did not serve in wartime but like his brothers, attended Culver Military School. During WWII, his youngest brother, Marine Colonel, Charles “Ted,” Sedgwick Tracy II, saw action at Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jimo. A quartermaster, Ted was in charge of planning and getting supplies by boat to three marine divisions, landing on dangerous beaches and foreign land. For a job well done he was awarded the Legion of Merit. I recall my Uncle Ted with only a smile on his face and zest for life. He rarely spoke of his own war ordeal yet gladly spoke of the experiences of those ancestors who fought before him.
My grandmother and grandfather’s youngest son, John Bayard Tracy Jr., a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, who loved to fly, would go on to give his life for our country when, while co-piloting a plane on a SAC mission back from Russia during the Cold War on February 9, 1962, it exploded, killing him and all other six men on board, their bodies never able to be recovered. I consider my Uncle John and all those on board that fateful day veterans of war and am very proud of their passion and service.
On each Veterans Day while I was growing up, I recall my parents and grandparents honoring the day, by speaking of it and bringing plants and flags to the cemetery. I have always enjoyed attending ceremonies and parades in honor of those living war veterans and those deceased. It is important for veterans to see that they are not forgotten, that their services in wartime to our country and our freedoms were not in vain. I hope that I have instilled in my three sons that whenever they see a veteran with a hat on to thank them for their service. Shake their hand. Talk to them. Get to know them and a bit about their service if they so allow.
And of course it is not only living veterans and/or those veterans killed in action that deserve recognition. It is their family – spouses, parents, children, grandchildren – and friends, affected by the sacrifice that service men and women made and make, leaving their homes, those they love and love them, and especially, of course, those that never came home.
I am grateful this Veterans Day and Thanksgiving for the generations of those veterans that fought and protected the freedoms we have today in our country and pray that the many battles of days and wars before, in both war time and that leading up to war – in fighting ground to ground, face to face, air to air – today and moving forward will be with the use of words and a shake of the hands.
Veterans Reunion Speech
Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient
Brevet-Major William Gardiner Tracy
122nd New York State Volunteers
“We meet today, the veteran survivors, to commemorate the most notable events of our lives; the noblest acts of our career; to recount the dangers that we have passed; to relate our former triumphs won, and to mourn for our heroes fallen.
We have all borne our part in the heat and burden of the day of strife. We have all endured the long and weary, dusty march; we have dropped to earth almost too tired to rise again; we have shivered through the night in the cold and wet bivouac, and frequently suffered the real pangs of hunger and thirst.
To us all the sharp ring of a rebel bullet has been a familiar sound, as well as the dull and sickening thud that announced the bullet had reached its mark; the very earth has sometimes trembled under our feet from the discharges of musketry and artillery; we have known the despair of defeat and felt the blood pounding through our veins as we joined in the surging wave of victory.
Once more, sometimes as a strain of martial music strikes the ear, or a discharge of cannon is heard, a vision arises before us of other summers, of fields of yellow grain and tangled forests; once more we see the serried lines of gray and blue, we hear the shriek of the shell and the yell of the rebel charging column, and once again the tragedy of violent and immediate death of well-beloved comrades is enacted before our eyes.
We shall never cease to feel a thrill of pride so long as we continue to breathe, that in the morning of our lives, when everything was at its brightest and its best, when the dew was on the flower and the night was on the wave, when life was still “the roses hope while yet unknown,” that we were willing to sacrifice it all for the love of our common country.
That we were willing to give up the full pleasures of this world which we had just begun to experience as men, to throw down our work, to destroy the careers we had marked out for ourselves, and all for no other purpose than to preserve intact the nation that gave us birth.
Our lives were as sweet, our happiness as dear to us then as life and happiness are now to the men who walk our streets to-day, yet were we willing to surrender all, without hesitation and without scruple.”
IG Essex Country Massachusetts asked if they could include the photograph I shot Saturday, September 8, 2018 of the 250 year old Choate House, situated on the 135-acre Choate Island (also known as Hog’s Island) once part of the large early 20th century summer estate of Chicago industrialist Richard T. Crane, Jr. The photograph can now be found on their site: @igessexcountrymass. The movie, The Crucible, was filmed here and on the island, which is part of The Crane Wildlife Refuge, owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. The Trustees Instagram Account manager stated of the photographs I took: “Love all your pics! Thanks for the visit!” You can find this photo and others in my Photograph section or on my instagram account: @sarahtracyburrows
My father, William Platner Burrows, today a resident of Manlius, New York, often tells my two older brothers, his seven grandchildren and I that the number seven is lucky. For many reasons, I believe it is, too.
To begin, Dad was born Aug. 7, 1930, in Syracuse, New York. It was a Thursday, his father’s day off from the office. Dad is the oldest of two. His sister, Barbara, was born four years later on the same date, Aug. 7, though I wrestle with whether that was lucky for them. Dad and his sister, who each have seven letters in their three names, grew up on Fayette Boulevard. Dad loved playing in the nearby fields and spending time “shooting the breeze” with his best friend, Jud Johnston, who lived across the street.
As a young teen, an incident occurred when my father was crossing a road; a traffic light fell on him, breaking his nose. Dad was lucky, as the situation could have been worse and I have always thought the slight swerve Dad’s nose takes is a cool piece of what comprises his story.
We have learned from stories Dad enjoys telling us that his childhood was a bit mischievous. At some we laugh, others gasp. The latter I will leave out but in general, Dad liked to fish and shoot off the .22 rifle his father, Floyd, born in 1876, gave him on his 16th birthday for “sticking with the clarinet.” Dad’s father was a doctor who had an office open five days per week but seven days per week made house and hospital calls. When Dad borrowed the family car, he made sure to check in often with his father in case he needed it for a call.
Dad’s mother, Gertrude, born in 1903 and a registered nurse in Labor and Delivery at Crouse-Irving Hospital, where she met Dad’s father, from time to time received phone calls about Dad from the school principal and neighbors, but thankfully my father turned out just fine. For all the innocent trouble Dad caused, he worked that much harder — such as shoveling heavy snow quickly from the driveway in the dark so that his father could leave for a call and working various jobs, including caddying at a golf course, logging hours at his father’s office and heavy construction.
In 1952, Dad graduated from Hobart College and in 1955 Syracuse University Law School. The next thing Dad did we all agree he was most lucky for and that was marrying his high school sweetheart — Ann Livingston Tracy — the epitome of “sweetheart.”
Back home after two years stationed with the Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with Mom teaching school there, Dad worked his way up the ladder in the local law world. I recall many nights after dinner he sat for hours at the kitchen table, making notes on his yellow legal pad. Dad never complained about the workload; in fact, he seemed to like it, saying there was never a day he didn’t want to go to work. For that, he is lucky.
Over the years, Dad’s hobbies, many with Mom by his side, have included playing football and lacrosse, running track, skiing, canoeing, learning to fly fish, attending Syracuse University football and basketball games, buying fresh fruits and vegetables at the farmers market, attending the Syracuse Symphony, museums, volunteering legal services for community associations and church, enjoying food (dating back to the love of his mother’s baked goods and Sunday roasts), building things with his sons such as a red race car (with No. 7 painted on it) and lean-to, taking boat rides, reading newspapers and books, listening to music, hiking, walking and “puttering around, keeping busy.”
As daughters often do, I have always and do look up to my Dad. When I was 3 years old, my parents were building their camp on Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains. That summer we tented on the property. There, many mornings, in the fresh air near the covered well, I watched Dad shave. My job was to hold the mirror for him. He was up early, dressed in his khaki pants, stained with turpentine, white T-shirt and work boots, ready for the day.
He smelled of fresh shaving cream, which he had mixed with his favorite soft bristle brush in a cream-colored mug and then, with a circling motion covered his cheeks with before running the razor in parallel, smooth strokes, as I watched, thinking in awe, “That’s my Dad!” When finished, Dad tapped his cheek with his index finger and leaned toward me, suggesting I “plant” a kiss on it. I was always quick to do so.
Every Friday evening each summer after Dad would return to the lake from Syracuse after working the week. I would often wait for him a quarter-mile from camp, sitting on the tall rock around the curve at Punky Bay, with the tall pines overhead and to each side blueberry bushes from which I picked and ate, smiling once I heard the sound of his car tires moving over the gravel of the Crag Point Road, knowing then that he was near.
When I was 10, in the summer of 1977, Dad rowed for me in the four-mile “Lake Swim.” Dad rose at 5:30 a.m. before the sun broke, woke me, and made hot chocolate, filling it to the top of the Thermos. Along with the Thermos, he packed Hershey chocolate bars and several towels. At the door, Mom, wrapped in her long, pink bathrobe and looking sleepy, gave me a hug and kiss, wishing me luck.
In the fog of South Bay, Dad drove us off by aluminum boat, heading to West Bay, where approximately 40 swimmers and I soon jumped into the water. After completion of the first mile, I took occasional breaks by holding on to the side of the boat while Dad handed me the Thermos cup from which I sipped, feeling the hot liquid warm my cold body, and pieces of Hershey bar, which re-energized me. Back I went to swimming, the majority of the time using the breaststroke, keeping my head above water.
I don’t recall Dad talked a lot, though I might have. Dad meant business. He didn’t want me distracted. I did well until about three-fourths of a mile from the end at Clark’s Point. My left leg had gone heavy and I was dragging it along in the water. Feeling exhausted, I said, “Dad, I can’t go any further.” I wanted to get into the boat, but Dad wouldn’t let me. He thought I’d come too far and that I could push on. I realized Dad was right when I finished the swim, and is the reason I could be proud that I did and was the youngest person then to date to do so.
Today, my Dad is still my hero. He sacrificed to provide for my brothers and me, our mother, and to plan for our future. I am thankful for the lessons Dad teaches, among them work hard, don’t whine, save for your retirement and give back. As Dad says, “There’s no free lunch.” I like, too, that Dad has a special presence, booming voice and sense of humor.
“Grandpa sure has some ‘zingers!’” his youngest grandchild, our son Andrew, exclaims.
People of various ages often tell me they enjoy speaking and spending time with Dad and I know that he enjoys their company.
For me, this Father’s Day is more special than others before. It is the first one that I let Dad know how much I appreciate him without my mother by his side. When Mom passed Feb. 15 of this year, a large piece of our hearts and spirit left with her. But in thinking of how much my Dad loved my mother, and she him, I am comforted. There wasn’t a morning I remember while growing up that Dad left for work when he did not kiss Mom goodbye, or upon his return in the evening.
The last time Dad kissed Mom goodnight, the evening before she died the next morning, was Valentine’s Day. They were blessed with 70 years together, and though there is never enough time and it is extremely painful for all of us to go on without Mom — especially Dad — I want my father to know that not only did he, and does he, do a great job taking care of his three children, our spouses and his seven grandchildren, but he took great care of Mom, beginning to end.
Every year on my birthday, Dad tells me that I am his and Mom’s “frosting on the cake.” Well, I think Dad is the candles’ spark. Dad lights up our family and those who know and love him. For so many reasons I am proud of, appreciate, and love my father. I am lucky to be his daughter.
— Sarah Winch is a resident of Wenham.
MAY 20, 2009
A call rang at 5:30 a.m. on the landline, startling me awake.
The bedroom windows were open, birds chirping, and the dawn’s early light of my wedding anniversary streaming in, the beauty of which seemed incongruous to my heart panicking. My husband, Pete, lying beside me rushed to pick up the phone, on the nightstand next to him. He reached over, taking it from its’ holder and held it up between us. The number lit up in yellow: my father’s cell phone.
Why would Dad be calling at this hour, and from his cell?
My mind swirled. Something must be wrong!
Within about thirty minutes of speaking with Dad and calling my older brothers, Bill and John, I packed a bag, showered, grabbed the travel mug of coffee Pete made for me, and drove off from our home north of Boston. My brothers did the same from their respective houses in New Jersey and Connecticut. The three of us were heading in the same direction – Syracuse, New York – where our parents, Ann and Bill Burrows, lived and we were raised.
It was the longest drive home.
And as Dad would later say, when life took a ‘left turn.’
Five hours and fifteen minutes later, I arrived to Upstate University Hospital, a teaching institution specializing in stroke, on the campus of Syracuse University, from which my mother graduated with a B.A. and my Dad a law degree. It wasn’t easy seeing Dad, who had not slept in about thirty hours, walking alone down the antiseptic smelling hall to greet me, then Mom in ICU lying in a bed on life support, her eyes closed and a tube inserted down her throat.
The team of neurosurgeons gathered my Dad, brothers and I in the hall outside Mom’s room, with MRI and CAT scan results open on a computer screen. They explained the seriousness of the situation and that Mom had less than 50% chance of surviving the hemorrhagic stroke she had suffered.
Mom had experienced, they said, a “right side bleed” in the back of her brain, affecting the opposite side – the left – controlling sight. They pointed to the lower left quadrant where the blood, after leaking from the vessel on the right, had dispersed. The path it took destroyed that section of the brain. Once the bleeding starts, there is nothing that can be done to stop it, though it will eventually cease on its own.
The area filled with blood causes pressure on the brain.
“It should subside with time,” one of the doctors stated, “hopefully allowing your Mom’s symptoms to improve. If it does not, or is too slow to do so, intervention may become necessary.”
The scans indicated, too, that Mom had extra protein, called amyloid, built-up within the artery walls (blood vessels) of her brain, which can cause them to weaken. Amyloid angiopathy, as Mom’s condition was called, can be hereditary and is not associated with high blood pressure (hypertension) which most hemorrhagic strokes are.
Some studies suggest that aluminum, used in foil, some vaccinations, food, its’ containers, shampoos, soaps, make-up, deodorants, and certain prescribed and over the counter medicine such as antacids, can cause an increase of amyloid in the body, particularly the brain. MSG also poses a risk factor for amyloid build-up. Amyloid is found in patients brains who have suffered “diseases” such as Alzheimer’s, Lou Gerhig’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, etc.
About noontime on Tuesday, May 19, my mother, age 76, received the Over 65 Shingles Vaccination. By five o’clock, while she and my father were at a neighbor’s house, Mom began to feel nauseous. They left the party for home where Mom’s symptoms went downhill. By @2 a.m. the early morning of May 20th, she and Dad were in an ambulance headed to Upstate.
At Upstate, leaning over the ICU metal bed, I held Mom’s hand, looked at her closed eyes, then whispered in her ear with sternness, “Don’t you go anywhere, Mom. Be strong and hold on. This is not your time.”
Watching Mom fight for her life didn’t seem fair. She’d been herself 24 hours before, driven to and from her appointment, had lunch at Panera Bread, grocery shopped, and dressed for an evening out. Mom had always taken care of herself. She ate healthy, was not overweight, didn’t smoke or drink, walked, kept busy with housework, errands, family and friends. She was calm, always cheerful. Both her grandmothers’ – my great grandmothers – lived to be 98 and 95. I remember each well.
Before long, standing in the hall outside the ICU room, the neurosurgeons introduced the idea of surgery to relieve the pressure in Mom’s brain. A handsome, young, dark haired neurosurgeon who didn’t look much older than the college students walking around campus, explained the procedure, concluding, “There’s risk but it might help save your mother.”
Crossing my arms in front of me, I asked, “Who would perform it?” praying the answer would not be him.
Shouldn’t he be in a classroom, or going to Prom?
With confidence, he said, “Me.”
Dad signed the paperwork. The neurosurgeon performed the surgery. We waited.
Mom survived the procedure.
Over several days, into Memorial Day weekend, as the pressure relieved, Mom became more awake, her eyes opened, and though we couldn’t tell yet how much of or how her sight was affected, it wasn’t long before she wanted coffee, held her mug to drink from it, and began eating, with our help.
And the young neurosurgeon became my hero.
Though things were looking up, privately in the hallways and family conference rooms, my Dad, brothers, and myself were warned by doctors, nurses and therapists that Mom could suffer another stroke, and if so, most probably within the first year. They said Mom was at risk of falling due to poorer eyesight and some connection. They told us that Mom shouldn’t be left alone and that we may need to plan for the future in regards to where she, and Dad would live, etc.
But Mom was with us. We were lucky. And if my mother – Ann Livingston Tracy Burrows – was upset with her situation or afraid, and I imagine that at times she most certainly was both, she didn’t show it. And she never once complained.
Mom finally moved out of ICU for Upstate Rehab on the second floor. There, she worked hard, and rested. Rest was just as important as her therapies. Her brain had been seriously injured and it and she needed times of quiet, darkness, and recovery.
With good therapies, resilience, optimism, and hard work, Mom made great progress. Per doctors’ and therapists’ instructions to work the damaged lower left quadrant which Mom could not see out of, we frequently reminded her, “look left, Mom.”
It wasn’t long before Mom sat in a chair, took the spoon from us and as she practiced walking, freed our hand from around her belted waist. “I can do it,” she said, reminding me of her father, my grandfather, who, almost three decades earlier, suffered similar type strokes and also fought with determination.
He taught me that the surname Tracy means “fighter” and Mom proved she was a Tracy, fighting with 110% effort and grace. In her room, Mom practiced things that were once easy for her which were not anymore, such as dressing, tying her shoes, walking, and using the bathroom in all aspects, such as looking for the soap to wash her hands with, ‘looking left’ for the paper towel rack on the wall, figuring out how to pull it down, drying her hands, brushing her teeth, etc. all while we or the nurses were by her side.
Outside in the halls, Mom practiced walking further. We did laps around the square hall, dodging obstacles, and passing by the nurses’ station, pointing out things such as flower arrangements or candy dishes on the counter. For the first couple of weeks, Mom went to the therapy room by wheelchair, but later by walking.
There, in therapy, she picked up brightly colored cones from the floor in front of her (mainly placed on her left side), practiced ascending and descending stairs, writing her name, playing games, matching items, all while we and the therapists watched and hoped for progress. Sometimes there wasn’t and it could be discouraging. It was difficult, especially for Dad, to watch Mom struggle. But overall, in time, Mom made great progress. We encouraged her and stayed by her side, and let go when we needed to. Mom did not like being babied or to feel different.
One evening before I left to head back to Mom and Dad’s house for the evening, Mom could, for the first time, see enough of the faces on the television to make out that what was playing was an old movie, the name of which she recalled with ease, and also seemed interested in watching. I was thrilled. It felt like a big step forward and a reason to hope that things would keep improving. The swelling was still decreasing.
And for quite some time, although Mom, due to sight, some connection and short term memory deficits, left every bit of food on the left side of her plate straight down the middle claiming to have eaten it all, Mom moved forward in leaps and bounds from the point when she’d arrived at Upstate.
Mom’s doctors kept repeating, “Ann is a miracle.”
JUNE 18, 2009
About a month after Mom’s stroke occurred, early one evening, back at home in Massachusetts, my cell rang.
My brother John’s name flashed across the phone. I knew that he was with Mom at Upstate. We were all looking forward to the next day. After 28 days in the hospital and its’ rehab, Mom was to leave for St. Camillus, a rehabilitation facility on the west side of Syracuse. The idea and hope was that Mom would spend a few weeks or more there in therapy with the next step, hopefully, being home. The following day was also the last day of school for our three sons, then ages 12, 10, and 6.
I answered the ring. “Hi John.”
“Hey, Sarah, so, I’m sitting here next to Mom. She’s okay, but,” he said, his voice starting to crack, “she had another stroke.”
Then, he cried.
I’d never heard John cry.
Mom, as John explained after, had been ‘tucked in’ for the night. Her bag was packed for the next day. Mom was to leave the hospital to go to the next step of rehab at St. Camillus. Dad and John would follow the ambulance, which would transport Mom there. John was sitting right next to Mom when the stroke occurred. [DAD, WERE YOU THERE AS WELL, OR HAD YOU GONE BACK TO MANLIUS BY THEN?]
The second bleed, so soon after the first, seemed like a punch in the stomach. Mom had worked so hard to get to where she was. We all had.
Scans showed that like the first, the location of this bleed, like the first, affected the lower left quadrant of Mom’s brain but also the lower center. So in addition to the lower left quadrant blindness, Mom now lost her lower centerline of vision, posing an even higher risk for falls.
The stroke, fortunately, didn’t hold Mom back too long in the hospital, a couple weeks as I remember. It was then on to St. Camillus rehab, which also serves as a nursing home, where her father had been years before. There, Mom started therapies with a new group of therapists and she and Dad were, for the first time in 39 summers, missing the season at their beloved Adirondack camp on Big Moose Lake.
Though the situation was still difficult at St. Camillus, the room, to me, felt somewhat homier than Upstate. There were no railings on the bed frame and Dad and we could take Mom in the wheelchair outside, where she could sit and/or walk beside the gardens on nice days.
Mom, as always, remained positive and worked hard. Doctors warned us that, understandably, strokes cause patients to be more emotional. We witnessed that at times with Mom, but not often. In regards to this, Dad of course would know better, as husband and wife, they shared the most intimate moments of both triumph and hardships. Dad in general was a great supporter of Mom. His love and dedication was clearly evident. He was there each day for Mom, all day. There was not one in the hospital or St. Camillus Rehab that he missed. Bill, John and I would often say to him, “why don’t you stay home today, Dad, take a break. We can be with Mom. Go for a walk, do deskwork, run errands. Go to camp.” Though Dad went to camp one day, he did not stay overnight, and never missed a day at St. Camillus, or the hospital. He was right beside the woman he had been since they first met in high school, and by doing so, took great care of Mom and set a great example for us.
Finally, in August, Mom left St. Camillus for home. Dad took her and on the way, drove by a cemetery where their close friend had recently been buried – the funeral of which Mom and Dad could not attend.
For months Mom had outpatient therapy sessions – for physical, speech and vision – several days per week at Upstate, about thirty minutes from home, and a good distance from the parking garage.
Mom would suffer the loss of the lower left and center quadrant sight deficits, in the way, for instance, of often not being able to notice someone standing to her left, or seeing a hand that someone put out for her to shake. Walking in general and following direction was more difficult, but this as well as the above, improved with time. In addition, noise and brightness of lights bothered Mom, typical post symptoms for stroke sufferers. Prior to Mom’s stroke, she and Dad had been dedicated fans of Syracuse University basketball games at the Carrier Dome each season and after Mom’s stroke continued to attend [Dad: did you attend in the 2010 season? I have forgotten] but the loud clapping and cheering bothered her as well as the bright lights. A baseball hat helped and Mom, ever an Orange cheerleader, in time, managed the noise and cheered right along.
Mom would not drive again except practicing in the neighborhood with Dad beside her in the passenger seat. I think, for some time, losing that independence was difficult on Mom but she grew to accept it. She didn’t have a choice.
There was, always, for Mom, Dad and us the serious concern and worry about the possibility of another stroke occurring. But overall, with time, Mom enjoyed life again, living gracefully as she always had, never protesting the deficits she fought daily.
I recall the first time I saw Mom after her recent return home. She had woken from a nap upstairs. It was a warm late summer day and after checking on her several times to find her still asleep, I sat on the deck off the kitchen to enjoy the weather, with the windows upstairs and down open, waiting for her to wake. Without me hearing, Mom got up, put her shoes on, tied them, walked downstairs over the yellow duct tape warning the edges, and into the kitchen.
When I heard her footsteps and felt anxious whether or not she was okay, I rushed in from the deck to find her with an apple in her hand, ready to take a bite.
“Oh hi, Sarah,” Mom said nonchalantly.
And that’s how Mom ‘rolled’ the next seven years…
NOVEMBER 22, 2016
My cell phone rang late Tuesday morning two days before Thanksgiving.
It was a warm, beautiful fall day. I was parked at a meter on Main Street in the fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Our oldest son, Ryan, now 21 and a junior in college, was in the passenger seat beside me. He had recently arrived home for break and we were about to go to lunch to celebrate.
My phone was between us, in the console. I picked it up.
DAD it read.
Our families were planning to meet in Connecticut at John’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving. My parents were planning to leave the next day, on Wednesday, for John’s. Dad still rarely called me from his cell, usually using their landline, only the cell while driving to the lake, which I knew they were not doing now. Suddenly all those years in-between stroke calls came rushing back, seeming like the first call on May 20, 2009 was yesterday.
I looked at Ryan and said, “It’s Grandpa.”
Ryan read my worried expression and life, again, took a left turn, and this time, sharper.
This third ‘stroke phone call’ I received, in many ways, seemed as shocking as the first. Over the past seven years, we’d gotten used to a new normal. The ‘left turn’ had straightened out, so to speak. By November 2009 Mom had made it past the six month risk mark, then, on May 19, 2010, the one year anniversary, and so on. For a long time, ‘Mom had eaten everything on both sides of her plate,’ and life was good.
Maybe it’ll never happen again, I prayed.
Dad worried – “knew” – it would.
During the phone call, which I had on speaker, Ryan and I could hear Mom speak, which comforted me. Before I heard her voice, I envisioned her like before, lying in bed on life support. However, what we learned next from Mom and Dad was that Mom couldn’t see – anything.
Bill, John, and I went into “action.” Bill offered to go to the hospital first. John and I would then take turns. We figured, like previously, we would need to spread out our time and energy, both at hospital and at home.
Bill left for Syracuse right away, however, due to the dumping of two feet of snow in the area, was delayed overnight, @sixty miles from Upstate. When he arrived at the hospital early the next morning, the day before Thanksgiving, his heart sank when he discovered a sign taped on Mom’s Upstate ICU door. He texted a photo of it to us – it read, “Legally Blind.”
Before Bill arrived, Dad spent over twelve hours at the hospital with Mom. A neighbor across the street from my parents home, whose husband had rushed to the house that morning when the ambulance arrived, picked Dad up at @10:00 p.m. in the snowstorm. We are forever grateful for the couple’s help and thoughtfulness of those like them who have shown love and support over the years.
During the next two weeks, which Mom spent in the hospital, Bill, John and I were with Mom and Dad. In ICU, therapies of all types began, like in 2009. As the swelling in Mom’s brain subsided, enough sight returned that she could see enough to function to take care of herself, though she was still “legally blind,” and would remain so.
Once Mom came home from the hospital, I stayed with my parents for @two weeks, helping out however I could. The morning after arriving home, Mom sat at the kitchen table at 8 a.m. and my son, Alex, a high school senior, called. I expected the call. I put him on speaker so Mom could hear and he delivered the news that he had just learned that he’d been accepted early decision to the college of his choice. This added a bright spot during a dark event.
Before I left my parents’ on December 15 I decorated their windows with battery operated candles and placed wrapped Christmas presents on their fireplace hearth. They unfortunately wouldn’t be traveling to any of our homes’ that year. As I was getting ready to go, Mom put her jacket on, the green one she picked out when we all traveled to Colorado a few years before for John’s 50th birthday, and waved goodbye from the driveway, like she always did, before heading back in to rest.
Arriving home north of Boston again, I walked in the front door and set down my bags. Our youngest son, Andrew, almost 14, was glad to see me. He’d worried about his Nana and missed me. Standing in the front hall, I felt as if my legs might give out beneath me. I suddenly realized how tired I was. As the days went on, I regained strength and caught up on things I needed to, but found being six hours away from my parents difficult, worrying about how they were getting along and not being able to help out. There was the concern, too, that another stroke might occur.
During those winter months and early spring, therapists arrived several days a week to the house. That was helpful so that Dad didn’t have to drive Mom the thirty minutes each way to Upstate, as in the past, especially being winter time with bad weather systems often rolling in.
From my perspective – Mom and Dad’s might be different – by spring time, the further we moved away from the stroke occurrence, and the therapies, it seemed Mom and Dad began enjoying a more normal life again. Though Mom very much missed reading books, the newspaper and magazines, she began to listen to books on tape (once we figured the machine out! J), taking walks with Dad and going to the hairdresser again and on errands. Mom and Dad eventually went out to lunch and dinner when Mom felt up to it.
Life was by no means easy for Mom, though she’d never tell you that. In reality, she and Dad were dealing with her stroke repercussions, particularly this last one, which took much more sight than the other two and accumulated on to the others.
There were scares, too, such as the time she felt faint in the middle of the night and Dad called an ambulance thinking it was another stroke, but thankfully it was not. And the time they were driving to the lake for a weekend and Mom told Dad she didn’t feel well and as soon as Dad could, he pulled over.
For them, and us, the concern of another stroke occurring and the possibility of it happening far from home or a hospital made their world smaller. But once again, the further away Mom got from her stroke, we all breathed a bit easier. At six months post stroke, Mom attended Alex’s high school graduation and soon after enjoyed the 2017 summer at her beloved camp with Dad, surrounded by family, grandchildren, and friends.
That summer, Mom was walking, often alone, a distance of almost two miles on the Crag Point Road, admiring the daisies beside it in the tall grass, waving hello to those walking, running, or driving by, many of those who knew and loved her. Although Mom was dealing with many sight and connection deficits most did not see or understand, she and Dad enjoyed the summer and fall weekends together, closing up camp with my brothers on a beautiful, warm Columbus Day.
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6, 2018
I put my car in park in the lot at the Beverly, Massachusetts YMCA, where I planned to head in to swim laps. The locker room would be cold. That thought and the predicted Nor’Easter the next day made me stall, as well as the Thomas Rhett song playing on 101.7 The Bull radio.
I turned the heater up and took a sip of coffee from my travel mug, placing it back in the cup holder. Deciding to send a text, I grabbed my purse off the passenger seat and dug for my phone. Alex, our middle son, was on day three of winter break, skiing out west with friends. I typed a message to the hosting parents: thank you…
My cell rang, full volume.
DAD flashed across the screen.
The ring sounded a second time. I prayed that my parents’ landline was out due to weather. With the tip of my index finger, I slid the arrow across the bottom, opening the phone.
“Hi, Dad,” I answered, almost like a question, holding my breath.
“Sarah,” Dad said, his voice calm but quick. “Mom and I are at Upstate.”
My stomach knotted.
“Mom’s had another stroke,” Dad said. “The doctor thinks you and the boys need to get here.”
My heart sunk and our lives will never be the same.
Nine days before – the last weekend of January – I’d visited my parents. It was on a whim. They’d spent Christmas with us just a month before (and we celebrated Mom’s 85th in October and Thanksgiving in Connecticut) but when last minute Pete and Andrew were invited to ski in Maine with Andrew’s friend and father, I took the opportunity see Mom and Dad.
Mom and I walked each day. The weather was nice, like spring. We looked at photo albums Mom had created and/or was given years before. It was one of her favorite pastimes, looking at family photographs, particularly those of her grandchildren. I read Mom short stories her grandmother had written about growing up in Rome, Georgia. Mom and I visited a local woman abolitionist house museum. I noticed Mom grew more tired than usual, thinking it was most likely due to her sight depravations and all that we were taking in. Before I left Monday we had lunch with close family friend, Sue Beeching, and her daughters, and I asked a man to take our photograph. It is the last photograph that I have of Mom before her stroke on February 6. And she looked great – beautiful and happy.
When I was leaving my parents’ house that afternoon, Mom waved enthusiastically with both hands from the driveway like she always did, and I beeped the horn as I pulled out, like I always did. Mom kept waving until I’d driven up and over the hill until I couldn’t see her anymore.
I was and am grateful for those last few ‘normal’ days with my parents, for the stroke soon to happen would cause things never to be the same.
Early the morning of February 6, Mom had been at the ophthalmologist’s office. An assistant dilated her eyes. Just after, in a different room with Dad now sitting beside her on a bench, Mom slumped left, into Dad. She didn’t answer his questions. When he felt Mom’s hand he found it to be cold and clammy and knew immediately what was happening.
An ambulance took Mom to UpState. Dad followed in his car. This fourth stroke/bleed occurred in the front of Mom’s brain rather than the back like the previous three, occuring in the left frontal quadrant which affected the right frontal quadrant, robbing Mom’s ability to speak, move the right side of her body, and swallow successfully. It did not, however, steal Mom’s ability to hear or comprehend.
Sadly, within hours, doctors predicted Mom would not survive, and that she would live only one-seven days.
Lying in bed, leaning toward the left, Mom moved her left side a bit. Repeatedly, she felt her ring finger for her engagement ring and wedding band, which Dad had taken home, as she was not allowed to have jewelry on in the hospital, which he explained to her. She also ran her left fingers through her hair, above her left ear, as if straightening it. It was always a habit of Moms’, especially if something was bothering her. I saw this as her frustration, and/or her trying to “figure” things out.
The doctors asked her to raise her left arm. Mom did.
“Higher,” they said.
And she did.
They asked Mom to raise her left foot. She did. Next, they asked her to raise her leg, which she did, with her knee at a ninety-degree angle. They then asked her the same of her right side, knowing that most likely she could not lift or move them, and she couldn’t.
Later, the nurses helped Mom sit up, to the edge of the bed. They asked if she could stand. She could not and immediately slumped left without them holding her. It was difficult to watch. Eleven days before Mom and I had walked the road side by side.
One of the two nurses left the room, saying she’d be right back. With her came a large banana looking seat machine wheeling behind her.
“What’s this?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Oh, this is great,” one of the nurses answered, almost giddy. “It’s a lift for patients from their bed to the chair,” she answered. “Every room will soon be getting one.”
Well, when I saw Mom’s expression of both surprise and fear as she was ‘lifted’ from the bed into the air in the ‘sling’ over to the chair, I didn’t think it was so wonderful, at all.
Not long after, a hospital tech came in and, with a tube of sticky gel like substance, placed electrodes all over Mom’s head. The gel stuck in her beautiful, natural dark waves. I remembered this procedure done back in 2009.
After the nodes were applied and Mom looked wired for a journey to outer space, he switched on a bright light he’d brought, and shined it right on Mom’s face. Mom’s eyes squinted and she moved her head away from the light.
He explained he would watch his computer screen for her brain activity.
Why are we putting Mom through this?
I wanted him to stop.
He wiped some of the gunk from Mom’s hair with a warm, wet hand towel but after he’d left, I continued, then brushed Mom’s hair, and covered her up higher with the blanket. Mom didn’t like to be cold and I figured with wet hair and only in her hospital gown she might be.
After my Dad and brothers went home for dinner and the night, a woman came in the room, introducing herself to me as a therapist.
“Ann,” she said in a warm voice to my mother, placing her hand on Mom’s arm and looking in her eyes, “how are you doing today?”
My mother didn’t answer, but did look in her direction, and I felt confident she knew what the woman said.
Good, Mom, I thought.
“Ann,” she repeated, “I’m going to place a box of tissues on the table next to you. Can you reach for them? The box is on your left, Ann.”
Mom sat forward a bit in the chair and managed to turn left. And eventually, Mom reached for the box.
I felt encouraged by this and when the woman left and Mom was back in the bed (by the banana sling), I said goodnight.
“You did great, Mom,” I told her, and reminded her as her nurse had just done, “Don’t pull out your oxygen tube from your nose tonight, like you did last night.” I placed the mits’, which her nurse had left, over her hands, explaining why. “As uncomfortable as the tube must be, if you pull it out, they will have to put a tube down your throat, so leave it be.”
I kissed her goodnight and told her again how proud I was of her and how much I loved her. “I’ll see you first thing in the morning,” I said, and turned the lights off and closed the door, looking at Mom through the pane one more time before I left.
That night, I went back to my parents home encouraged. Seeing Mom sitting in a chair, understanding directions, and reaching for the tissue box, I couldn’t help but think Mom could prove the doctors wrong again and survive. After all, as they had said in 2009 and 2016, Mom was a “miracle.”
She’s a fighter!
Back in Manlius, we spoke of the possibility that with full time care, Mom might live with full time assistance, where Dad could visit or get his own apartment, or perhaps even have in-home care at the house. But, sadly, the next morning when we arrived back to the hospital, Mom was less awake. The nurse said that Mom had a tough night, and yes, pulled out her oxygen, again. That at least made me smile.
Mom is definitely a fighter.
From this point on, it was difficult for Mom to keep her eyes open for long, and she wasn’t lifting her arm or leg as high. It was discouraging, and sad to say the least. She did continue to fuss over the absence of her wedding rings and run her fingers through her hair.
By Friday, three days after arriving to the hospital, Mom’s condition was not moving in the right direction. It was worsening. The doctors and we would, of course, have done anything to save Mom, however, as they explained, that had probably become not possible, and even if she were to survive, her prognosis for a life worth living was not to be.
The head of Palliative Care, a woman named Jennifer, introduced herself to us in Mom’s room and suggested we meet in a conference room. In the small room, about 8×8 feet, Dad, my brothers and I sat in chairs in a u shape against three walls, with five feet at most across from each other. Suddenly, sitting there with just Dad and my brothers, it dawned on me that moving forward, this would be reality. I was really losing Mom. In any family “meetings,” except at times of her other strokes, Mom had always been there, in body and voice. I was suddenly now the only female in my original family. There was so much love and support surrounding me, yet I still had an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness from the realization that things for me – all of us, especially Dad – would never be the same without Mom.
A few minutes into the meeting, there was a light knock at the door, and Alison, my niece, just out of class at nearby Syracuse University Law School, joined us, and we were all glad she did. [WAS SARA THERE TOO?]
Jennifer led us through the topic of what we could consider for Mom moving forward, such as stopping nutrition, simultaneously starting morphine and ‘Comfort Care.’ We talked about options of hospice at home or care at a hospice house. Jennifer explained that since Mom’s time before passing would be short and her condition poor, it was probably not an option to move her. We did consider the options of hospice outside the hospital but didn’t see any point in putting Mom through any more duress by moving her.
On Sunday morning, February 11, five days after Mom was admitted to the hospital, we made the very difficult decision but what we thought the best for Mom – to stop nourishment. Over the next four nights and five days, and the ones previous since Tuesday when the stroke occurred, our family was together, whether bedside or on the phone, in telling Mom how much she meant to us, and how much she was loved. For that time, as very difficult as it was on Mom and us, I am grateful. It granted us a chance to say what we wanted and to say goodbye, and vice versa.
On Saturday afternoon when our youngest son, Andrew, age 15, arrived to the hospital on Saturday and spoke to his Nana. Though her eyes were closed and she was unable to move, she answered him. “AAwwww,” Mom said, which told Andrew she absolutely heard him and understood, and that she loved him just like she always did.
From the point we stopped the IV feeding, I stayed at the hospital by Mom’s side each night. Doctors explained that once nourishment was stopped and morphine administered, Mom would become less responsive. That was true, however, I found Mom was able to hear and comprehend, and feel. There were times when I wiped tears from the corner of her eyes, others when she was uncomfortable and moaned to tell us to tell us so, and I would make sure she received more medicine relief.
The first night – Sunday – shortly after Dad, John, and Sara left the hospital at 6 p.m. and arrived back at the house, Mom’s heart rate was up and the on call doctor thought Mom would pass soon. He suggested that they head back, which they did. Alison, who had been by her Nana’s side most of the week, ran over too. We all stayed the night, and my brother Bill, just back to New Jersey that evening, was on cell phone speaker for twelve straight hours. He was right there with us.
Mom, however, did not pass that night as the doctor thought she would. And though, as expected, Mom became less responsive in the days following, she still heard and understood us. Dad sat beside Mom, as he had in the previous days, often speaking to her and always holding her hand, telling her how much he loved her. He gave her his Valentine’s Day card several days early.
Our minister, Dick McCaughey, from the lake visited and after conversing with us, gathered us around her bed and with cell phone speaker on so family could partake, he gave a beautiful prayer.
During the last five nights of my mother’s life, I held her. When we didn’t sleep, I talked and sang to her, stroked her hair, and played Alison Krause music softly on my phone. I walked Mom through every house she’d lived in, spoke the name of each of our fourteen family members and something about each of us, described the hummingbirds she loved to feed and watch buzz to the red feeder outside her camp window, the red geraniums at the boathouse windowsill. When Mom ran a fever I placed cool wash clothes on her forehead, massaged her body with lotion, combed and curled her hair, and in general, comforted her anyway I could. We all did.
At about 8 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14 – Valentine’s Day – before leaving the hospital, Dad kissed Mom goodnight, knowing very well it might be the last time. She kissed him back. It reminded of when I was a child how each morning and evening before Dad left for work and when he arrived home, he kissed Mom. And that was a beautiful thing.
Holding Mom in the hospital bed the last night of her life, knowing the end was near, I felt a mixture of feelings – sad, scared, peaceful, and grateful. Strangely, I think it was, for both Mom and me, the best night’s sleep of the last five. The nurses’ did not interrupt us as frequently as in previous nights. Mom’s body fell to the left, into me, and laying on my right side with my back against the rails, I wrapped my arms about her, repeatedly whispering to her how beautiful and sweet she was, stroking her hair.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 2018
When I woke in the early hours of the dawn, I knew Mom’s passing was fast approaching. Her chest was becoming harder, breaths shorter and quicker with intervals up to ten seconds a part. She fluctuated between hot and cold. I held her tight, speaking of all the beautiful things I could think of that I knew that she had seen and experienced and enjoyed in her life, hoping that it was a comfort and perhaps transporting her there.
I repeated how much we all loved her, what a wonderful daughter, mother, wife, and grandmother she had been, how very much we were all going to miss her, that a day would not go by that I did not think of or miss her. I assured her that everything was going to be okay, that we would take good care of Dad, that she would soon get to see her parents, brothers Jim and John, and grandparents again – all the family and friends who have gone before – and that she would watch over us until one day when she greets us in Heaven.
As I lay next to Mom, the sky outside the hospital window, which looked out on the Syracuse University campus hill and clock tower of neighboring Crouse Hospital, was a beautiful pink and blue hue. I spoke to Mom of the beauty of that dawn, explaining what it looked like.
I whispered in her ear, “it’s beautiful, Mom, just like you.”
As hard as it was, I told Mom it was okay to go, that it was time. I said she would ‘fly,’ just like her youngest brother Johnny had loved to. I whispered that he was waiting for her just outside the window and that he’d guide her to God, that she would be well taken care of.
“Mom, we love you. It’s okay,” I told her. “Go.”
Mom did, and to me, by her expression, something incredible was waiting for her.