To my surprise, The Longest Day, a day set aside by the Alzheimer’s Association to bring awareness to Alzheimer’s and dementia, has been a good day. I started thinking about it a couple of weeks ago when my publisher told me she would be offering a special discount on my memoir for five days, starting on June 21st in honor of my mom.
To my surprise and delight, Motherhood: Lost and Found has become a #1 Bestseller on Amazon. I’m humbled and honored and will say more on this in another post. For now, I want to focus on my family.
On the summer solstice, #TheLongestDay, thousands of people join together to show their love for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
Late May through June always tends to be an emotional time for me. I’m not sure if it’s because there are so many endings – end of school year, high school and college graduations, reunions, end of spring, my pansies are dying – and new beginnings – a new rhythm for the summer, lots of weddings and wedding posts on FB, new jobs, new summer flowers.
But I think it’s more. The trees become heavy with leaves, the temperatures begin to rise, humidity sets in and there are layers of memories. It was this time of year that my 80-year-old father fell and broke his hip. Read the rest of this entry »
In honor of my mother and the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day campaign, I’d like to share a plethora of resources for those who are facing Alzheimer’s with a loved one.
Ready. Set. Grit. Your Life on Purpose, a podcast by Elin Barton
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth, a podcast with Paula Slater
Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio with Lori La Bey
AlzAuthors.com – A wonderful collection of over 100 resources for people looking for books about Alzheimer’s and dementia. A group of people who have been affected by Alzheimer’s Disease/dementia have come together to share their experiences to bring knowledge, comfort, and understanding to others on this journey. Click here for the eBook sale, which begins Wednesday morning.
And a Special Offer!
For a limited time, starting at 11 a.m. E.S.T. on June 21st (The Longest Day), the Ebook for Motherhood: Lost and Found will be deeply discounted. And there’s more! If you’re interested in the audiobook, you’ll be able to purchase it (if you buy the Ebook or already have it) for only $7.49. as opposed to the list price of $24.95. This promotion ends on June 25th and is in honor of my mother and the Alzheimer’s Association’s campaign to end Alzheimer’s –#ENDALZ. A percentage of all Ebook and audiobook purchases will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.
With yesterday being Father’s Day, I went digging through some old photos, and I posted the picture of my father from my wedding. I found this similar photo of my mother from the same time and realized that I have never posted it on Mother’s Day, and it got me thinking. Why? Read the rest of this entry »
Thinking of my father today. He was a strong man, not perfect, but he loved me with an unconditional love that made me feel special. He knew his own mind and never wavered from his course. As an engineer, he was logical and he understood structure. He was economical and efficient. Now that I’m older, I see how my natural inclination towards editing came from him. My creativity and love of writing came from Mom. But Daddy’s influence encouraged me to be efficient with words, to understand the structure and underpinnings of a story or a collection of poems.
My father was a storyteller. In his later years, he loved nothing more than to spin tales of his years as a young man in the military, disobeying orders to wear his life jacket “because you couldn’t sleep with that thing on,” as his ship sailed through the mine-infested waters of the Baltic Sea.
When I was in high school, I was surprised when my father – who was not a reader like my mother – handed me a book and said it was his favorite. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegman. I remember reading it and searching for my father within the pages. What was it about a wheelchair bound historian narrator who was trying to write his grandmother’s biography that appealed to my father? I wasn’t sure, and my father wasn’t one to discuss his thoughts.
Several years later, Daddy gave me a worn copy of Last of the Breed by Louis L’amour. “You should read this,” he said. “It’s a great book.” As an English major, I quietly scoffed. Louis L’amour was a popular author, not a literary one. But I read the book and found myself gripped by the plot, unable to put it down. And this time, I understood why it appealed to my father. A Native American air force pilot is shot down by the Soviets and taken prisoner. He escapes and must use his wits to survive as he moves through the Siberian landscape.
I couldn’t help but see my father as the main character. As a child, Daddy’s parents had been wealthy. But they lost everything in a house fire. My father told the story: “I was walking home from school one day, and I looked up and saw a charred square of ground where our house used to be.” After that, my father had to use his wits to survive. One of nine siblings, he helped to put food on the table by delivering papers on three routes. As he got older, he and his brothers earned spending money by winning fights in the boxing ring. During WWII, he enlisted, and he eventually finished college on the GI Bill.
Life couldn’t have been easy for my father. But he seemed to welcome every challenge. Even when my mother came down with Alzheimer’s, he wasn’t one to quit. He fought to hold onto her as long as he could. In his own way, he stood beside her.
Thank you, Daddy, for loving your family so fiercely.
What does space travel have to do with writing and Alzheimer’s? At first glance, not much. But, during my 35th reunion, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a “Coffee Talk” about my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, alongside Tom Marshburn, a classmate who is an astronaut with NASA. My book tells the story of my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s at the same time I was trying to become a mother, while Tom is one of the few people who has actually walked in space.
Sally Sharp, the organizer of the event, wanted to bring the Class of ‘82 together to give us a chance to pause in the midst of our busy lives and a full weekend of activities to talk about where we’ve been and the paths we’ve taken to get to where we are today.
Davidson College students are typically overachievers, so to sit in a circle with them can be daunting. There are doctors, lawyers and business people at the top of their fields, people of faith, artists, educators and politicians who have made an impact in their communities. Yet, one of the things I found most profound about this special time with them was that we share both a history and a common place in our lives.
Our classmates were engaged and curious. They asked questions about my experience with my mother’s Alzheimer’s and what it was like to write a memoir. Deep questions. I felt heard and appreciated as I shared a brief passage from the book about my years at Davidson and discussed the 14-year period of my life when I helped care for my mother during her illness. I talked about how the experience changed me in ways I am still discovering.
To have my personal story juxtaposed to Tom Marshburn’s exciting journey into space was fascinating. My writer’s brain was busy making connections – big and small. Each of us in that room had been on a journey. Each of us had experienced joy and loss, fear and death. We’ve all taken physical trips and undergone internal shifts. We have all been at the edge of a new world as we stepped into new phases of our life.
Tom shared about how physically challenging it was to come home and deal with the forces of gravity after being in space for an extended period of time. He said even “his lips felt heavy.” I remember times when my limbs were heavy with grief, and I felt as if I’d been on another planet as I cared for my mom.
Another classmate told us how she was involved with “Dark Skies,” an organization that works to stop light pollution in cities. We all agreed how important it was for kids to be able to see real stars, rather than only experiencing space as a virtual reality. There was a pause in the discussion as our class absorbed the impact of children growing up without ever seeing the Milky Way.
Tom had us all laughing about how it can stink in a spacecraft if people don’t practice good hygiene. Another classmate shared funny stories of her mother’s dementia and how she had made a conscious choice “to laugh instead of cry.” Her husband talked about his own mother’s bi-polar illness that he only discovered upon his father’s deathbed. Despite the gravitas of the situation, his story was infused with gentle humor.
And Tom told the poignant story of how he learned about a family member’s death while up in space. Despite the cramped quarters, the news was delivered in a thoughtful, private manner. Tom shared how work became a kind of balm.
Whether dealing with death, Alzheimer’s or a space flight, each of us in that room were human and had been touched by the fragility of life. I emerged from the event feeling as if I had been on a flight with my classmates. For a short time, we had been launched into space and had the opportunity (as Tom had) to look out our small window, view our place in the world and give thanks for each other and the beautiful, small spinning planet we call home.
This weekend was my 35th college reunion. Reunions tend to throw me out of my natural rhythm. All these people from my past, the stirring of old memories, event after event where there is a LOT of socializing. Did I mention that I am an introvert and easily overstimulated?
A part of my brain is busy assimilating these new/old faces, wondering about the lives they lead, wanting to know more about their present stories, remembering (or trying to remember) interactions from long ago. I suppose it’s in my nature (as a writer) to constantly be imagining the different paths my life could have taken.
After all, when I went to Davidson, I was young and unformed, like most high school graduates. I was both bold and fearful, ready to take on the world and, at the same time, hide myself from it. I didn’t take full advantage of my Davidson education. I spent more time exploring my social life, trying to find a place where I fit in, than looking outward.
Thirty-five year later, something has changed. Some of my fears have morphed into a new awareness. The decades of living and loss have left their mark on both me and my classmates. I find myself smiling into the open faces of friends and those who I didn’t know so well, hearing words that touch my heart and remind me that we are all on this journey together.
One fellow alumni made the pronouncement that here at our class reunions, he has found “his people.” He lives a few states away and has a wonderful home and community, yet he spoke what I presume many of us were feeling.
We are no longer the disparate group of students who came together back in the fall of 1978. But over the four years we were together, and the ensuing three decades and a half, we somehow became a cohesive group, a group that shares a history and a perspective, a group that folded in a mix of personalities and experienced an evolution together. An evolution of both the outer world – our political and socio-economic culture – and our own inner worlds as together we have weathered the ups and downs of a career life, families, broken relationships, aging parents, health issues and joys and heartaches of all sizes. We are no longer the wide-eyed, insecure innocents we once were.
The experience of sharing not just four years together, but a succession of life lessons, has uncovered a sense of appreciation. Not just for what was…but for what is. Who we were and who we have become. The threads of commonality have pulled us together, created a net of friendship and community, a sweet spot where each of us can land as we reunite.