Endings and Beginnings

Endings and beginnings. This month I seem to be in the midst of both of these passages. Everywhere I turn, it seems there’s another ending — a change, a loss, a time to say goodbye. But lest I get too caught up in grieving the passing of a season, I can’t help but see the seeds of new beginnings all around me as well.

Endings. I’m happy to say goodbye to a long, cold, wet winter. Days on end of grey sky and damp weather. People commented that it was like living in Seattle, without the beautiful coastline. Spring is finally here, and the flowers and everything green is now growing with a vengeance! On warm, sunny days, it’s hard to be inside. Beginnings.

Saying goodbye to John Black

Outside was where I would see Mr. Black, the farmer who we purchased our property from back in 1992. Over the years, he was always on his tractor, transporting round bales of hay for his cows or on the way to fertilize or seed a field.

John Black built our barn in 1994.

He and his family welcomed us to this corner of North Carolina. John Black was strong, kind, sturdy. He wore blue jeans and denim or flannel shirts. He built our barn, cut hay off our pastures, chainsawed trees that fell across our driveway. He kept an eye on things and was often the first one to call us if something was amiss.

He loved to tell stories and laugh, and he was never in a rush. Even at the age of 88, during the last week of his life, he lingered, telling me about “an ole horse he used to ride.” He had the same sparkle in his eye that I had grown to love. But a few days later, the candle within him dimmed and blew out. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. But it was time. Endings.

His granddaughters brought tears to my eyes as they gave his eulogy — sharing memories of a well-loved man. Granddaughters, who we knew when they were kids, the younger one was one of my daughter’s first babysitters, granddaughters who are now mothers with children of their own. Beginnings.

Our goodbye lunch for Jean.

Sending Jean home to England

Endings. Sitting around a table with dear writer friends, saying goodbye to Jean, who kept us in line with her pen tapping. Twenty-five years of friendship, sharing stories of our lives, unearthing the hurts and joys, the parts of us who made us who we were, shaping me into who I would become.

 

Jean in front of a picture of her father’s pub.

These women helped midwife my memoir, a labor of twenty years where I brought them chapter after chapter. Their kindness and wisdom folded into me. We listened carefully to each word shared, celebrated each other’s successes, mourned each other’s losses.

Jean came from Liverpool and introduced us to life during the war, her father’s pub, her bicycle-racing years, her beloved Sonny who brought her to America and grew tomatoes for her. Jean’s novels were full of adventure and the spirit of a woman we grew to love. And now she is leaving, returning home to England. It’s appropriate and beautiful, this coming full circle and living her last years with nieces and nephews who adore her. An ending for us, a beginning for her.

Saying goodbye to Shady

Endings. This weekend, Shady is being sold. A beautiful horse whose coloring reminded me of my beloved Crimson. Shady’s owners, family friends, are transitioning into a different circumstance, and after three years, have decided it was time to let him go. Shady will be moving to a new farm where he will have a job and be engaged in happy work for a horse. It is right and it is good. But it’s a change.

Shady and Foxie

Foxie and Shady have been pasture mates for years, and we will miss him, even though he drove us crazy at times. I will always have a vision of the two of them side by side, Foxie’s head low, Shady’s head high, as they walked through the tall grass, companions for a time. Shady will have a new beginning as will Foxie as she returns home (after being boarded) with a new companion, a little mare named Ruby. A mare similar in color to Shady, but smaller and older. We hope that Foxie and Ruby will become friends. Only time will tell.

Endings and beginnings. The taste of sorrow and sweetness on our tongues. The end of an era. A time past. These phrases float up and ride within me. Tomorrow will be different from yesterday. A new landscape, a shifting sky. I never quite understood until this year how in the midst of each ending a new beginning is cradled.

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A Writer’s Life: Circles of Support

I’ve been thinking a lot about circles of support in my life this week. Some of those circles have overlapped and intersected recently.

Today, a very special cruise to the Caribbean begins. I won’t be on this cruise, but both my heart and my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, will be.

Creating Circles of Care and Building Bridges of Hope is a dementia cruise and conference created by my friend Lisa Marie Chirico. For the past several months, I’ve been working hard alongside the management team of AlzAuthors (Marianne Sciucco, Kathryn Harrison, Jean Lee, Vicki Tapia and Irene Frances Olson) to create The AlzAuthors Inspiration Collection, extraordinary books about Alzheimer’s and dementia. This collection is made up of over 35 books carefully chosen around the needs of cruise and conference attendees.

Having been a caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I remember telling Lisa that I used to dream about running away from it all and taking a cruise. Caregiving had taken a toll on me. If I’d had the opportunity to gather my family and take my mother with us on a cruise to a tropical destination, I would’ve done it in a heartbeat.

My AlzAuthors circle

When you are a caregiver, it’s easy to forget who you are. I’ve been blessed to be nourished by several communities that have reminded me over the years who I am. One of them is the team of women who manage AlzAuthors.com.

Marianne, Kathryn, Jean, Vicki, Irene and I share the experience of being writers AND caregivers. Now, we work daily to gather and share information about good books about Alzheimer’s and dementia in order to light the way for others on this path.

My Thursday morning writing group

Another circle of support is my long-time Thursday writers’ group. For years we met weekly, supporting and critiquing each other’s work. Now, we gather on rare occasions to reconnect, celebrate book releases and share our writing. Yesterday, we met for lunch to say goodbye to our beloved honorary “pen tapper” Jean Beatty, who kept us on task each week. She is returning home to England at the young and lively age of 89. What a gift it has been to share writing and life with her and the rest of our group.

Writing friends gathering at Sensoria

A third circle of support is my Charlotte area writing community. This time of year, we celebrate Sensoria – or what used to be called the CPCC Literary Festival. Over the years, I attended every chance I got. I had the opportunity to listen to world-renowned writers such as Robert Haas, Mary Oliver, Lee Young Lee and so many others. Writing friends, some of whom I only see once a year, congregate joyfully to soak in the literary talents throughout the week. The spring after my daughter was born, I remember asking my husband to deliver her to me at the festival, so I could breastfeed her between events. Joel knew how much it meant to me, and he was happy to oblige.

I’m blessed to have other communities that provide support to me as well. Today, I stand in awe of and want to honor these sweet circles that enrich my life.

 

 


Seeing Clearly by the Light of the Super Moon

The morning after the eclipse, I woke at 4 a.m. and saw the light of the super blood wolf moon shining into my bedroom. I got up and peered outside at the trunks of trees standing ghostly in the silver light. I felt as if something important was happening. But I was tired, and I fell back asleep. I woke early again this morning and saw stripes of moonlight painting the floor. As I snuggled back under the covers, a couple of things floated to my consciousness. My word for the year – clear (as in “be clear”) – and Mary Oliver, the beloved poet who passed away last week.

In my last blog post, I wrote about last year’s word, “enlarge,” and I titled the piece, “Thoughts on the Eve of My 59th New Year.” I’m only 58, so by all rights, I can ignore the fact that 60 is around the bend. But after absorbing the truth that I’m in my 59th year, 60 doesn’t seem so far away.

I’ve never worried too much about aging. Never been coquettish about the number. Most of my friends are older than me, and I admire their wisdom, their perpetude, their deep awareness of who they are. In my writing groups, I’ve often been one of the youngest, and I’ve enjoyed that role. I could ask questions, make mistakes, play the innocent. Yet, as 60 approaches, I find myself needing to come to a new relationship with myself. Needing to get clear…about where I am…and what’s ahead.

This internal shifting seems to happen as each new decade approaches. And as this one comes nearer, the reality that the decades are dwindling is crystalizing. My time on earth, while hopefully still plentiful, is winding down. Some might say I’ve reached the peak of the mountain and have been on my way down (for a few years).

Enter Mary Oliver, whose descent down her own mountain was full of awe and wonder. A nature-lover like me, she bent her head to the wildflowers, the ant, the grasshopper; her ear to bird call and the low moan of the wind. Her question: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?” (from “The Summer Day”) rings through my head.

I don’t know what each day will hold. But I do know that time is a slithering thing I can’t nail down or hold in place. I can ask questions. I can retain my innocence and study with clear eyes the beauty around me. I can wake in the wee hours of the morning and embrace the light of the moon.


Thoughts on the Eve of My 59th New Year

The approach of the New Year always gets me thinking about the past, present and future. I like to sift through the memories of the old year, cataloging my experiences – successes, challenges, periods of growth, etc. I also like to think ahead and dream about what’s possible in the fresh new days that lie ahead.

For the past few years, I’ve chosen a word to help define how I want to approach the coming year. Last year’s word came to me during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It was “enlarge.” I didn’t exactly know what it meant at the time, but the word felt right, and I trusted my intuition.

As I look back on the old year, I can see so many examples of where my word came into play.

I was greatly enlarged through my connection with AlzAuthors, a group of writers who share the experience of living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. I’ve had the opportunity to work with an incredible management team, a group of women who I’ve come to love. I’ve also met and formed bonds with so many wonderful authors. I’ve worked with organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association, Caregiving.com and others to help promote the awareness of Alzheimer’s and other dementias.

My vision of my memoir, Motherhood Lost and Found, was enlarged as it was named one of “the best Alzheimer’s books of all time” by Book Authority, an honor I never dreamed I’d receive.

Aside from Alzheimer’s, the scope of my work has been enlarged. Last winter, I completed a draft of my new memoir about my daughter’s celiac disease. I had wondered if I actually had another book within me. Apparently, I do. And there may be others.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that I stepped out of my comfort zone and organized a celebration for my long-time mentor, Tony Abbott, last spring. You can read about it here. My intuition had nudged me a few months before the event, and I had that “now or never” feeling, so I contacted Tony. He was in the midst of treatment for lung cancer. But he said, “Yes!” and we worked together to choose a day he could look forward to. It turned out to be a beautiful event at our hometown bookstore where Tony was surrounded by friends. My heart was enlarged.

On a more personal note, as I look back on the last New Year, I was enlarged by my family. My daughter, a junior in high school, is spreading her wings as she considers colleges and her future. As a mother I am learning to both let go and embrace the new person who she is becoming. At the same time, my notion of who I am is enlarging as my parenting role shifts.

My husband Joel continues to help me enlarge my ideas of what a good marriage is. We are opposites in many ways, and yet we share the desire to support one another in the deepest ways. His outgoing personality, his never-ending physical energy, his constant desire to be on the go – these things often clash with my quiet, introverted, homebody self. Yet, we are discovering the places of overlap as we make room for what the other needs.

The word “enlarge” has been a gift, providing new perspective and awareness during this last New Year (which has suddenly grown old).

I’m still waiting to find out what my word will be for 2019.

Whatever it is, it’s my hope that I will be connected, nourished and clear. Connected with the person I am inside, my family, my circle of friends and my community. Nourished by the choices I make. And last but not least, may I always hear the clear, quiet, grace-filled voice of God.

Blessings to each of you in the New Year. May all our hearts be enlarged.


5 Thoughtful & Last-Minute Gifts for Caregivers

Do you have a caregiver on your Christmas list? Have the holidays gotten the best of you, and you’ve only got a few more days to finish shopping? Don’t let the culture of buying unnecessary gifts get to you. You can show your love to the caregiver on your list by choosing one of the thoughtful gifts below.
1) Give the gift of “a break”
Offer to visit or sit with your friend’s loved one. Even an hour or two can make a caregiver’s day. When my mother was alive, a friend of mine visited her at her nursing home during the holidays. I was so touched and deeply grateful. My days were busier than usual because I was trying to balance the demands of the season and create some sweet memories for my young daughter. Just knowing that Mom had the company of my friend lifted my heart.
2) Offer your company
If your friend is caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia, go to them. He or she probably can’t get away, but would love some company. I remember one Christmas, another friend of mine brought me tea, and we sat together by the fire and enjoyed an hour of conversation. I probably vented, cried and laughed. By the end of her visit, I felt better and knew I was loved.
3) Run an errand
If you are stressing over the holidays, imagine what it’s like for those who can’t leave their loved one. Offer to run an errand, pick up gifts, buy food, deliver a prescription. When I was caring for my mother, a dear friend of mine would often call and tell me what stores she was going to and if I needed anything. She gave me the compassionate gift of making it sound like it was easy for her to do this favor for me. And the bonus was that I got to see her for a few minutes when she delivered what I needed.
4) Make a meal or a dessert
When my mother had Alzheimer’s, the holidays could be overwhelming. Thoughtful friends would sometimes call and tell me they were bringing over a meal. As a non-cook, it was such a gift to not have to think about that part of the holiday celebration. Instead, I could spend more time simply being with my mom, which made her happy.
5) Share an inspiring book
Let’s face it, the holidays can be depressing, especially when you feel like you’re the only one bearing the burden of caring for someone. I love reading. But I didn’t want fluffy reading material. I wanted a book about someone else who was going through a difficult trial. A real-life story that would encourage me to keep going each day. A book that showed there was light at the end of a long tunnel.
AlzAuthors.com has a selection of memoirs and novels written for caregivers. Visit our bookstore here. The eBook of my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, tells the story of my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s when I was 33 years old. It’s on sale for $2.99 during the holidays. Pick up a copy here.
Thoughtful Gifts Show You Care
Any of these thoughtful gifts will show the caregiver in your life that you truly care. Loving and compassionate friends, who understand your circumstances, and want to help, are the truest gifts of the season.

Stock Up on Great Books During the AlzAuthors Book Sale & Giveaway in Honor of National Caregivers’ Month

November is National Caregiver Appreciation Month and a wonderful time to recognize the long hours, sacrifice, and love all caregivers bring to the task of caring for a loved one with dementia or any long-term illness. In honor of their efforts, AlzAuthors.com is hosting a Book Sale & Giveaway from November 7th – 13th. This is a terrific way for caregivers who are looking for knowledge, guidance, and support to build a library of carefully vetted books to help guide and inspire them everyday.

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National Caregivers’ Month: Finding Community in Caregiving

November is a week and a half away, and I’m already feeling the undertow of a huge wave that is getting ready to break. For those of you who don’t know me, November is the month that my mother passed away. It will be 11 years this November 17th.

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