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Today I am delighted to share an excerpt from Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe’s memoir, The First Signs of April. The following excerpt is a scene taken from a day early in the caregiving experience of the author with her dying aunt.

Aunt Pat was in her chair on the back porch when I arrived the next morning. The warm sun through the porch window fell on her, illuminating her fragility. She was smiling and her eyes sparkled when she looked at me. “Such a beautiful day. Listen to those birds, and just look at the roses, Mary. They’re really coming along, aren’t they?”

Despite the horror that was now her life, she was still able to sit in the summer sun and enjoy the birds and her flowers. “Yes, and there are so many of them, too.” My eyes filled with tears I wouldn’t dare shed, as I stood beside her in quiet awe while Aunt Pat relished the moment.

“Well,” she put her hands on the arms of the chair, “are you ready for the day? I’ve got some things I’d like to get done.”

She pushed herself up, her tiny arms shaking under the little weight her body held, and stood as straight as she could. Locking her arm in mine, accepting the tiniest bit of assistance, we slowly walked into the house together. Our time on the porch was like being in a different world to the one we encountered within the walls of the house. Inside were the disease, the pain, the fear, and the lifetime of memories she and Uncle Roger shared. This house held the story of their lives, good and bad. Now it served as the stage for the last act of her life.

I think perhaps we were both thinking the same thing as we entered the back hall, and she gently squeezed my hand as if to reassure us both. “Now,” she said once inside the kitchen, “I want you to take down the curtains in the living room and wash them today, all right?”

“Sure, I can do that. How about I get them in the wash now, before Uncle Roger gets up and needs his breakfast?”

Aunt Pat nodded then sighed, I assumed in relief that this direction had been given. It seemed like she’d mustered all of her strength to get to this moment with me today and now she could relax. “I’ll just rest here a minute, before I get Rog’s morning meds.” Once again, the sounds of pain escaped her cracked lips as she awkwardly lowered herself to the couch.

If only there was some way to raise the couch so she wouldn’t have quite so far togo, I thought, watching out of the corner of my eye. She landed in a heap, with a yelp of pain, and I was certain she was broken. I couldn’t help but imagine her frail bones compressing together, grinding to dust with the impact. She held her hand over her eyes and her breath steadied some.

Climbing up the stepladder, I began taking down the nearly threadbare lace patterned sheer curtains. They were, or rather had once been, white, before the yellowing from age and cigarette smoke had coated them. They were so thin and delicate that I wasn’t sure they would survive a spin through the washing machine, let alone a heated tumble through the dryer. It’s what she wants, I reminded myself. I stood at the washing machine and turned the dial to the gentle cycle, silently acknowledging the need of this not only for the curtains, but for the three of us as we made our way on this journey together.

Uncle Roger was sitting at the table waiting for me to get his breakfast for him when I returned from the laundry room. Aunt Pat was back at the counter sorting through his medication.

“Good morning.” I placed the cereal box in front of him. “I brought the Stewart’s Root Beer you like. You can have it with your lunch later.”

He smiled, “Thank you, Mary.”

These words would be practically the only words spoken between us except for my “You’re welcome,” in the weeks that followed.

“Here are your pills, Rog. I’m going to lie down on the couch. I have an awful headache.”

Aunt Pat once again painfully made her way to the living room couch, stopping only to lay her hand gently on his shoulder as she passed. Uncle Roger shook his head as he watched her. The sorrow and helplessness in his eyes softened his otherwise harsh features. She never rested in her bed, only on the couch, perhaps knowing that if she were in bed she’d be acknowledging how sick she was and she wasn’t ready to succumb to that. Not yet.

After breakfast, Uncle Roger went to his recliner in the dining room. He was asleep in his chair when I came through with the laundry basket full of what I hoped were intact clean curtains.

Aunt Pat turned her head toward me as I set the basket down. “How’d they come out?”

I wondered why this one thing in particular seemed so important to her. Maybe she wanted things to look nice, knowing that with her decline in health people would be coming to the house. She was proud, even as she was preparing for her death.

A sigh escaped me as I reached into the basket and lifted one of the curtain panels up for her to see. “Looks like they came out pretty good. Look how white they are,” I said, relieved that the curtains had survived their journey and could now be hung with pride again. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if they’d been ruined in the cleaning process.

She smiled, laid her head back down, and closed her eyes.

I lifted each sheer and carefully slid them onto the old white metal curtain rods, climbed the ladder then delicately placed the rods onto their hooks. Stepping back, I noticed how much the stark white curtains stood in contrast to the dark stained trim, built-in cabinets and nooks and crannies of the gloomy room. They looked almost bright and beautiful enough to cheer the whole place up. This was as good as it was going to be for them now.

Aunt Pat moaned. I turned to see her struggling to get up. This time I offered my hand and she took it. Our eyes met. She looked dejected, as though she had just lost some part of this battle. By accepting my help she was letting go of her independence and acknowledging some defeat. We both understood the significance of that gesture and we let it fill the space between us, but just for a moment.

Once she was up, we stood, arm in arm, looking at the cleaned curtains before us. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, it started: a low, humph, humph, that warned of the laugh to come. Aunt Pat’s rumble built to a crescendo full-on laugh that I’m sure would’ve knocked her down had she not had her arm linked to mine. I couldn’t help but laugh with her, although I had no idea why we were laughing.

“Oh, Mary,” she said, still giggling.

“What?”

“They’re inside out! How can you have a master’s degree and not know how to hang curtains? They’re all inside out,” she exclaimed.

Slightly embarrassed, I apologized for the mistake but she just laughed. “I don’t remember the last time I had such a good laugh.” She let go of my arm, turned, and headed out to the kitchen while I set off to right the wrong.

“Inside out.” I heard her laughing from the kitchen.

I could still hear Aunt Pat giggling as I made my way out to her chair on the back porch. She could’ve been angry or upset over the curtains, but instead she chose to laugh, as though she hadn’t a care in the world. The stench of stale cigarettes wafted up from the ashtray beside me, and the hot sun was so bright that I had to squint to look out the window into the garden. I tried to feel what she felt in those moments on the porch, when she seemed to take everything in with such joy. Her body was always so relaxed and her smile came from deep in her heart. She was truly alive, in spite of the dying.

Watching the sunlight falling on the roses, I tried again to feel something, but an invisible veil was separating me from the world. It was something I’d never been conscious of before, but it dawned on me that this veil had fallen around me many years ago. Since then, I had been living in silence, unwilling to reach out for life, love, or connection. The danger was just too great. I looked again at the roses but all I could feel was sad. Could it really have been so very long ago since I felt happy and able to connect with the world?

Wow, what a beautiful scene! Thank you for sharing this with me and my readers, Mary-Elizabeth!

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About The First Signs of April

Wounds fester and spread in the darkness of silence. The swirling reds, oranges, and yellows of fall’s foliage dance alongside Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe like flames as she tears through the winding back roads of the Northeast Kingdom, Vermont. Desperate to outrun memories that flood her mind, no matter how hard she rolls her motorcycle’s throttle, she cannot escape them.

Shut down and disconnected, Briscoe has lived her life in silence in order to stay alive. Her grief is buried, and shame is the skin that wraps around her bones—but then, following the brutal murder of a local teacher, she is forced as a grief counselor to face her lifetime of unresolved sorrow. Will she finally be able to crack the hard edges of her heart and allow in the light of truth so real healing can occur?

Goodreads | Amazon

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About the Author

Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe

Mary-Elizabeth Briscoe is a licensed mental health counselor currently on sabbatical from her private psychotherapy practice in northeastern Vermont. She currently spends her time between Cape Cod, Vermont, and Ireland. She has a masters degree in clinical mental health counseling from Lesley University and is a licensed clinical mental health counselor and a Certified Trauma Professional. She has been a lecturer for Springfield College School of Professional and Continuing Studies St. Johnsbury, Vermont campus. She has contributed to Cape Woman Online and Sweatpants and Coffee magazine. This is her first book. 

Visit her website, her Facebook, and on Twitter.

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Giveaway

As part of the blog tour, the publicist is offering one print copy of The First Signs of April to my readers, U.S. addresses only. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address and your thoughts on the excerpt. This giveaway will close on Wednesday, October 11, 2017. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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Follow the Blog Tour

Sept. 7: Teddy Rose Book Reviews and Plus More (Book Spotlight/Giveaway)
Sept. 20: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom (Review)
Sept. 28: Debra Smouse (Review)
Oct. 3: Soapy Violinist (Review)
Oct. 4: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)
Oct. 18: The Book Connection (Guest Post)
Oct. 24: Bibliotica (Review)
Nov. 2:: Modern Creative Life (Interview)
Nov. 3: Life’s a Stage (Guest Post)
Nov. 4: Readaholic Zone (Review)
Nov. 15: Donna’s Book Reviews (Review)

Follow the tour with the hashtag #MaryBriscoe

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