Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Torn From Him By Death" Part 1 (Mini Blog-Series)

Written by "Bonnie" 
My dear wife died this day at 11:45 a.m.” –Diary of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, Virginia, 6 September 1782
To the memory of
Martha Jefferson
daughter of John Wayles
born Oct. 19. 1748. O.S.
intermarried with Thomas Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1772
torn from him by death
Sep. 6. 1782.
this monument of his love
is inscribed
Torn from him by Death…”
Monticello, Virginia-All Soul’s Eve, October 1782, roughly seven weeks following the death of Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson, wife of Thomas Jefferson
The epithet scarce encompassed the effect of her dying upon his mind. 
Almost two months had passed since she had been laid to rest, released from the ravages of prolonged illness. 
In his grief, he embarked on mindless wanderings beneath wooded paths, his eldest daughter close on his heels.
That had been a glorious fall, the year of her death. 
Seeking surcease, he was unable to escape from the pit of sorrow left by her eternal parting.  Beneath an indifferent sun, the seasons were cast into a mutable palate, the green-gold of late summer changing to the vivid fiery yellows and oranges of autumn foliage. 
With ceaseless monotony, the weeks passed.  
Her half-sister, Mrs. Eppes, his eldest daughter—all of them residing on the Little Mountain that year—knew how closely he skirted the corridors of madness, isolated by his sorrow, rambling over the solitary web of forest-tracks swallowed by tree-covered slopes.
Rage mingled with tears, a toxic ferment in those first weeks.
Keeping to his rooms, pacing like a caged animal, the Poet of Revolution seemed incapable of expression for his great loss, staring into the face of despair.  Trying to conceal, hide-away fury with grief, the suppressed upheaval of his feeling would erupt, bouts of violent emotion crashing over him in a great wave.  He broke down suddenly, crushed, his tortured breath full of wrathful tears against a God who could inflict such a mortal blow. 
For what purpose, the experience of such profound sorrow?
He wondered at his daughters, how they seemed so unaffected by their mother’s passing.
All but Patsy, his eldest, ten years old that autumn, easing her father’s grief with stalwart affect mustered in the force of his savage mourning.
Somewhere in the corridors of his mind, Thomas Jefferson realized, more than the passing of his wife—mother of his daughters—it was the tormented picture of his suffering frightening his daughter. 
Her father was a man of gentle humor, indulgent patience with his children; suddenly became a creature catapulted into volcanic storms of bawling. 
Even when she wanted to flee from him, hide beneath the covers of her bed, and escape to the comforting fantasy-world inhabited by her younger siblings, Patsy stayed at his side.
She didn’t know what else to do in those harrowing moments, but wrap her skinny, childish arms around her father’s shaking shoulders until the raging grief subsided, and Thomas fell once more into a drained, dozing twilight-sleep.
Thomas comprehended, distantly, the disturbing picture of mourning observed by his daughter.  
Needled by the stab of guilt at his neglect toward his own person, his family, he tried to reach out to little Patsy, a pat on her head, accompanied by a wan, empty smile. 
The smile, to her young eyes, looked like a twisted grimace; his efforts to reassure he hadn’t entirely lost a grip on reality proved apathetic, only serving to increase Patsy’s disquiet all the more.
His passions were dead.
Without his wife, Martha, at his side, nothing in his life mattered.  He cared neither for the accomplishments achieved in service to State and Nation, nor for his alleged failures as governor. 
As for his family, the extended members of relatives and slaves inhabiting that stasis of deconstruction, gallantly dubbed Monticello, he would forever be grateful to Mrs. Eppes for having taken on the running of daily plantation maintenance, including the care of his children.  He could scarcely rally the energy, stagger up from his bed facing another day knowing his wife—his dearest Companion—no longer remained amongst the living.
Still too recent, his awareness of her death, too unreal, leaving Thomas to roam like a lost soul, entering the library or his rooms, catching a trace of her perfume, lilac and delicate lemongrass, a wafting of rose lingering in her absence, as though she had just exited to the hall, or gone downstairs to the cellars.  
The rustle of her petticoats, he realized in his fancy, was the stirring of wind through the barberry hedge outside. 
He would close the window, not recalling it having been left open...

Part 2 coming soon! 

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