Ghosts

She didn’t really seem the type, so I am really surprised that my sister Beth has begun haunting me.  She was always a quiet, fairly unassuming person. Yes, she could be a pain in the ass, but hey, we’re related — what would you expect? But haunting?  Isn’t that beyond the pale?

Saturday is the 3rd anniversary of my eldest sister Beth’s passing.  And it took her that long to start rattling her chains.  Yes, it started today.  And I’m the one she’s rattling them at.

It started today because today I attended a funeral.  And the funeral was at Arlington National Cemetery.  That woke Beth up.  It made her realize that I failed her.  It rattled her.

You see, Beth was a nurse.  She switched back and forth between working in the neo-natal intensive care unit and the psychiatric unit of hospitals across the country.  Two specialties and a variety of hospitals helped her keep fresh.  But nursing was her identity.  Ever since she was a little girl, well, she was going to be a nurse.  There was never a doubt in anybody’s mind.  And that is because she wanted to be like her hero, Tantelise, my namesake.

Tantelise (pronounced Tant-a-lease) was our great aunt on Dad’s side.  And from the stories I’ve heard, she was a seriously cool woman.  She lived near us when I was really small, but died when I was only three, so all I really know are a few second-hand stories.  Beth heard them first hand, and modeled her life on them.

Of course, Tantelise was a nurse.  She was, in fact, one of the founding nurses of the International Red Cross, which, at least according to family lore, came into being in the early 1900s.  Tantelise had incredible stories about nursing the wounded, the soldiers from the trenches, the victims of the gas, the amputees.  None of the stories I heard (second-hand) made me want to become a nurse.  But they captured Beth’s imagination.

In about 2004, Beth called me up and asked for my help.  The idea had been brewing in her mind for years.  Since I was in the DC area, well, it was pretty much up to me.

“Lease,” she said, “we need to get a memorial to the WWI nurses in Arlington National Cemetery.  We need to get Tantelise in there.”

(Google Image)

I immediately thought it was a stupid idea.  And of course I was right. But it was so important to Beth that I agreed to help.  I chatted with our cousin Betsey, keeper of the family junk; Betsey was equally unenthusiastic.  But I told Beth I would do what I could.  After all, I work right next to Arlington Cemetery.  How hard would it be for me to make some calls, go and talk to folks and be told by non-relatives that it was a stupid idea?  I figured it would be pretty easy to shut Beth up with strangers on my side.

But of course making phone calls, well, it ain’t what it used to be.  Because in the olden days, you know, 15 or so years ago, someone answered the phone when you called.  Yeah!  Imagine that!  Humans!  Sadly, that doesn’t happen so much any more.

So when I made my calls, I got to run around the phone circuits.  I found no live people in Arlington National Cemetery.  At least none that could help get me what Beth wanted.  I gave up fairly easily, actually.  I knew I wouldn’t get anywhere.  And I tried and failed to convince Beth that it was a stupid idea to try to get Tantelise memorialized in Arlington.

Why didn’t I work harder?  Why did I give up so easily?  Why was it a stupid idea to begin with?

After all, Tantelise and her fellow nurses were truly heroes.  They crossed the Atlantic to Europe to nurse European troops hurt in battle.  They went at their own cost.  They risked their lives.  They did it in long, hot, itchy wool skirts.  They helped an unknown number of men, many of whom would have died had those nurses not been there to help.  Many more died somewhat more easily because there was someone to hold their hand, to wipe their brow, to say “I’m here.  You’re not alone.”  They helped the soldiers in the way nurses throughout the years have helped their patients, by being there with them.

The work of this group of nurses was so deeply appreciated that, when it came time for them to return home to the U.S., Kaiser Wilhelm himself suspended U-boat traffic to allow these nurses safe passage.  Imagine that.  He suspended a vital part of the war for them.  Out of respect and appreciation for the work they had done, he ensured that they would survive.

This was NOT going to happen to the nurses. (Google Image of the sinking of the Lusitania.)

So why is it so unlikely that Tantelise and her compatriots would have their names in Arlington National Cemetery?  Why shouldn’t their service and sacrifice be recognized?  Why shouldn’t Beth’s idea come to pass?

Ummmmmm … They were working for the wrong side.  Oops.  Yes, Tantelise was nursing the German soldiers.  She was a first-generation German-American, and she went to Germany in the years before the U.S. entered the war.  She went when it wasn’t at all clear that the U.S. would enter the war, and if so, on which side.  When the U.S. did enter the war, well, that’s when Tantelise and her fellow nurses were given safe passage home to their country, America.

It is a story of heroism, of sacrifice, of nobility.   And of course, a story of choices.

Sigh.  I may make a few more calls, but, you know, I’m still pretty sure I will be still unable to get Tantelise and her colleagues recognized.

But there is an upside.  At least I’ll have my sister around again.  And I’ve missed her.  Go ahead, Beth.  Rattle away!

Me, Judy, Beth in 1995

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71 Comments

Filed under Family, Health and Medicine, History, Humor

71 responses to “Ghosts

  1. Oh, what a wonderful story! What a great reminder that generosity and caring have no national boundaries, and that we are all members of the human family above and beyond any other affiliations.
    And how cool that Beth is haunting you! I hope that she brings you a lot of smiles and a lot of love when she comes to visit.

    • Oh, Moms, you helped the tears flow. I think I needed that. Thank you. Beth is haunting me, but of course, in the nicest possible way. She was 9 years older than me, and always took good care of me. I’m sure she is a benevolent ghost. The most she will do is kick me in the butt when I need it.

      And I think that nurses are often the unsung heroes of the world. Beth certainly was. And when she was passing, the nurse that was with us was heaven sent. It seems appropriate.

      Thanks again.

  2. John Erickson

    Not sure if you know this or not, but Tantelise is Aunt Elise, in various franco-latin languages. So you’re named after her – which might be part of Beth’s bugaboo (no pun intended).
    You might do better getting Tantelise recognised in strongly Germanic areas, like NYC or parts of Wisconsin. The Federal government is weird about recognising other nationalities, even friends – it took DECADES to get a monument to Polish sacrifices put up in a strong Polish enclave on the East Coast. (They should’ve put it in Chicago – we have the 2nd largest Polish population in a city in the world, only beat by Warsaw.) Bizarre as this sounds, you might want to contact World War 1 re-enacting groups, especially German ones, and see if anybody in the groups have political ties. If you want, I’d be happy to do the preliminary research for you – I know under which rocks the re-enactors hide, having been a WW2 version myself. ;)
    And you might want to remind Beth it took over 60 years to recognise our soldiers from World War 2 on a national level. With this do-nothing Congress in place, she might want to cut you a bit of slack. If she won’t listen to you, send her on over. I’m up several times during the night anyway, so I can chat with her and let her know the hurdles.

    • John Erickson

      Um… duh. I forgot to add that Tante is ALSO Aunt in German. A HUGE point to miss – sorry. The brain is more heavily medicated than usual tonight, slowing the neurons down to about zero. :(

      • I don’t think it ever bothered Beth that I was named after her hero. We were always close. I think it was more like there was someone by that name that she could always be close to.

    • Oh, yeah, John. I knew that “Tante” is German for Aunt. However, that would have given away the punchline.

      I continue to think it isn’t a great idea. In spite of the wonderful, heroic work she did, the side you choose does matter. And I believe that it should.

      I appreciate your generous offer, John. It is really sweet. I don’t know that anyone in the family has any of the information, paperwork, etc. any more. Tantelise never married, never had children. What is left of her stuff is with my cousin, and I don’t even know what it includes. Until Beth started haunting me, I wasn’t really terribly interested/concerned.

      Besides, I don’t really mind having Beth hanging around. She was always good for a laugh.

      • John Erickson

        Ah, people are too hung up on which side you were on. Unless you did some REALLY evil stuff, like the German SS in WW2, I respect them all. If you want a really heart-breaking story, look up “The Christmas Truce”. In 1914, before the death and destruction of trench warfare, the Germans, French, and British all mutually decided to cease-fire on Christmas Eve, 1914. It’s something EVERYONE should know, in my humble opinion. Restores your faith in mankind.
        But the second offer still stands. If Beth wants to chat, let her know I’m around, and we can trade stories about the war. I’m not as strong on WW1 as I am on WW2, but I do know some great stories. And I know a gent in Portsmouth, England, who has done a ton of research on the local boys serving and lost in the Great War. As there were a fair number of Germans who emigrated to England post-WW1, there may be some crossover there! (And I respect the HECK out of anyone who worked with gas victims. I’ve seen footage that would turn you the same shade of green that the boys who inhaled phosgene did. Horrendous!)

        • It couldn’t have been an easy job. I have heard the Christmas Truce story before, and you’re right that it is a beautiful story and one that everyone should know.

          But you can’t have my sister’s ghost. Sorry. Now that she’s here, I’m keeping her close.

          • John Erickson

            No problem. Just tell her I said hello. With the way my health is going, I may meet her before you do! :D

            • Not good at all, John. Get well.

              • John Erickson

                Unfortunately, not much to heal from. A pancreas screwed up by my meds, bad lungs (and I never smoked), and (though not fatal) a gimpy hip. The heart and arteries ARE getting better, so (to quote Bill Murray) I got that going for me – which is good. ;)

              • Oh John. I’m afraid I’m speechless, and not in a funny sort of way. Good luck and keep in touch. And stay crazy.

  3. Loved this Elyse. I had no idea where you were going with it, and totally didn’t expect that in the end. I’m a very positive, glass 3/4 full kind of person, but I think you may be right that it’s not likely. But maybe sis will be happy just for the tryin’.

    • Thanks MJ.
      I think I may give it another shot. But I am not terribly committed. Well, not committed at all, actually. The losing side doesn’t normally get much recognition! But we’ll see.

  4. Wow! I LOVE this post. You had me hanging through the whole thing, and I learned some cool info too! Thank you, Elyse!

    Russ

  5. What a touching, amazing story. I had no idea that some nurses returned back to the fatherland to apply their skills, then returned home to the USA. Best of luck in getting this oversight changed.

    • Thanks, Barb. I don’t have a lot of hope that it will be changed. After all, the victor writes the history. And if such a memorial should exist, I don’t think that Arlington is the place for it. But she was a seriously cool lady and the story always makes me smile. She was truly brave and did something that she really didn’t have to do. Shortly after she got back to the U.S., the Spanish Flu broke out and she had her hands full again.

  6. What a great story! It appears you come from a long line of passionate women who do what they have to do to make this world a better place. No wonder you’re such a fighter! Yea, Beth for pushing your buttons, once a big sister always a big sister.

  7. What a lovely , personal story. At once poignant and insightful. Enjoyed reading it.

    Shakti

  8. I loved this story, and whether or not you ever get a memorial built to honor her, you have certainly built of memorial of words to honor her memory.

    • YS, you have just dispelled all my guilt! Because while I might try again, I am pretty sure that the paperwork isn’t all there, and it would be a huge amount of work for my cousin (who is also unenthusiastic).

      Thanks!

  9. This was special, Elyse. I bet your ghost loved it too.

  10. What an interesting story! Its good to read the perspectives of others and you told this well.I guess that you could be haunted by someone worse. Say hello to your sister!

    • Yes, it is actually good to be haunted by my sister. She was quirky and nutty and I do miss her. So she can hang with me as long as she doesn’t keep me up nights rattling those chains. (She loved A Christmas Carol, and read it to my brother and I dozens of times. Marley’s ghost was probably her favorite part. Fred and I would hide under the covers.)

  11. Loved this, such a touching story and lets us glimpse a bit of your sister, her life as a nurse, and what was important to her. I’m sure she knows about this post and is very happy with you right now! Thinking of you on the upcoming anniversary. hugs

    • Thanks, Darla. Beth is pretty quiet now, quite content. And I know you remember my story about how all my relatives die on holidays. Three years ago over 4th of July, Beth was hospitalized (she had a long protracted illness); I was hysterical. She promised not to die on a holiday, and kept her word. It was just a random Tuesday. And I got to be with her when she went. So I am at peace with it too, and the anniversary is more about her release from pain and illness. It was time. That makes it so much, well, more acceptable.

      • I was thinking of that post the entire time I read this one. You have gone through enough with the dying of relatives and on holidays! Too funny your sister made sure to wait until after, she really loves you, you know.

        How incredible you were able to be with her when she passed. (I have such a hard time just typing that out… getting very emotional right now) As painful as that must have been for you, I feel it’s important to let our loved ones know we are with them when they die. That they aren’t alone. It’s a blessing,, as horrible as it must have been for you to witness. I am happy you’re at peace with it. Helps with the closure, something I didn’t have when my dad died. It was like he just poof! disappeared. (sorry for the tangent) Anyway, thanks for sharing such a special part of your sister with us.

        • Thanks, Darla. I’ve had it both ways, and it is easier (still hard, but easier) when you can let go.

          We’ve talked about this before — the being there v. not. There is better, but I will tell you that the nurse who was with both Beth and I gave me great comfort when she said “we don’t let them go alone.”

          OK, I am stopping this now. Beth’s rattling.

  12. Great story, Elyse. You moved a lot of people, or Beth did with her rattling. As surely as you heard her fussing, she hears her hero being honored in this space–it’s not Arlington Cemetery, but there are way more alive people here than there are there to listen to the story! :)

  13. Lovely story… thanks for sharing.

  14. John-Paul

    We’re still better at celebrating soldiers than we are peacemakers. What a great story. And sad. Those ghosts are always with us I suppose, but sometimes they give you a pinch.

    • You’re right, we are. But I don’t know if my great aunt and her cohorts were peacemakers — Sadly I don’t know much about her or her politics. She might have been. She did come back to the U.S. to nurse victims of the Spanish Flu, including her first namesake, my aunt Elise, who died in 1918 of it. It must have been a hell of a time.

  15. Wow … a personal post, an outstanding post, a tribute post, etc … and the list can go on. A lot going on here, so let me simply say Well Done!

  16. Maybe there is a better venue for a memorial than Arlington. I could not help read this post and think this story, expanded, would make a great book..if not a great film. Thanx for putting it out there.

    • Thanks, Cooper. John Erikson suggested that too. We’ll see. I have a zillion ideas for books, but never seem to get very far.

      I agree that Arlington really isn’t the place for this memorial. That’s one of the reasons I thought it a terrible idea when she suggested it. But that is what Beth wanted, and the other day at the funeral I was struck by what a beautiful place it is. I don’t imagine I will get any more traction this time around.

      • Pick one idea and write one page every day. within a year you’ll have a first draft. it doesn’t matter if the the story or characters make any sense at that point. just get whatever on paper…then you’ll go back. I went through a dozen drafts of my book until I was (somewhat) happy with it. The final is miles away from the first draft.

        • And it is coming out soon! I am so impressed.

          Yes, I have to commit some time to writing an actual novel. I’m just having so much fun blogging, that I haven’t done any real fiction writing.

  17. Ah Elyse, you Tante must have been an amazing woman to inspire your sister throughout her life and even now. It is an incredible story. I think I am with you, the nurses including your Aunt deserve recognition and for their sacrifice and humanity no matter the side but perhaps not in Arlington.

  18. Thanks, Val. I wish I had known her too. C’est la vie.

    And yes, there are remarkably few folks in Arlington who worked for the other side!

  19. Michelle Gillies

    This is a truly wonderful story. A story that should be kept “alive” in your family even if you can’t get the public recognition it deserves. My theory is Beth is just helping you do that.

    • Thanks, Michelle, I actually told the story to my niece at the funeral (see too agreed that Arlington isn’t quite the right place), and my son has heard the story. It’ll go on! And you’re probably right. That’s probably just what Beth is thinking!

  20. lftsr1

    I think the people who loved us most, make an enormous efforts to attempt to contact us after they have passed.
    I’ve often thought that both my mother and grandmother have tried reaching me,
    My mum had a habit of whenever I had something to face that I stood up and faced it and she always used to squeeze my left shoulder before patting me on the back to encourage me to make that step to do it. I often think I feel her before I go to the hospital, or before interviews, and I often think that I smell Eucalyptus and Lilac a combination of my nan’s favourite perfume and the Eucalyptus Chest Rub she used to help relieve the respiratory issues she had.
    And more importantly I believe I saw them that day 7 years ago telling me they ‘loved me but it wasn’t my time to join them’.

    • It is true, actually. There is a lot to be said about how close they seem sometimes, when you need them especially.

      I just don’t believe in the scary type of ghost. But then I haven’t done anything particularly evil to someone else, so I guess I wouldn’t have to worry about that!

      Glad they were there letting you know both of those messages on that horrible day, Ben. Very glad.

  21. What a lovely story — and I mean lovely in a nice way, not in an insulting Southern sort of way. :-)

  22. What a wonderful story! All nurses deserve recognition and appreciation for the selfless work they do. I also come from a family of nures. I even became one myself!

  23. I think nurses are born to do what they do. They seem to understand the value of human life, and a patient’s nationality or political views are irrelevant. It’s clear that Tantelise and Beth shared that quality. Thank you for giving us this glimpse into their lives — and yours, as well.

    For what it’s worth, I also think a series of visits from Beth would make a wonderful book.

    • Thanks, Charles. Yes, I have a lot of respect for most nurses. I have been a patient way too frequently to have anything but respect for them.

      Interesting idea for a book. I keep wanting to write something about both my lost sisters but I find it more painful than cathartic. Perhaps with time. I know that you, too, have lost siblings, so I imagine you understand it too.

  24. Go for it, Elyse. It’ll make Tantelise and Beth proud. Sounds like Tantelise really does deserve the honor.

  25. I loved this . What a wonderful story!

  26. Jueseppi B.

    This is an amazing story of your history. I am glad you shared it with me. Thank you.

    • Glad you liked it, pal. It always makes me chuckle. Not at my aunt, because she followed her heart and her heritage and the US was rather bi-polar about WWI. But about my sister. What was she thinking??????

  27. Jueseppi B.

    That you might have to ask your sister, the next time she rattles her chains. ;-)

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