Last spring, I was blessed with the incredible opportunity of recording an audiobook version of my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. I spent an exciting, fun and intense week up in Syracuse, NY, in early June. In order to prepare my voice for the marathon recording sessions, I practiced reading my book for hours. I wanted to be sure I knew every word, every nuance of each line.
Reading a book aloud is obviously different from writing a book. While you might “hear your voice in your head” while you are writing, to read the words aloud takes breath and awareness and presence. I wanted to inhabit each scene, not rush through them. I wanted to remember what it felt like not just to write the words, but to live the experience.
Since Motherhood: Lost and Found is a memoir about the loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s and my desire to have a child, it was easy for me to slide back in time and feel the tenderness of those years. I could feel the vibrations of my mother’s voice as she wondered why my father would no longer let her drive. I could almost inhale her familiar scent as I pressed against her, hoping to calm her as she waited (in her confused state) to be admitted into the hospital.
Certain experiences seem to create chords within us, a deep resounding that is old and familiar. The heartache of a miscarriage, whispered words of comfort, a mother’s hug, the touch of a loved one who is slipping away. I found it healing to relive my memoir this way, even if a part of me wanted to turn away.
Giving voice to a story adds a richness to it, a quality for which I wasn’t fully prepared. At the end of my week in Syracuse, I felt both wrung out and new. The days had been full as I recorded 75- plus pages each session, taking small breaks to sip lemon water and ease my throat. I remember emerging from the basement where we recorded, being amazed at the sun and wind and light. I had forgotten there was another day going on around me as I had tumbled back through time, reliving my own version of some of the most intense moments in my life.
I felt I had given something more through this reading. Not just an account of my losses, but a full-bodied expression of my love for the people and animals in my memoir. My parents who struggled through their final days, my husband who stood firm beside me, despite his own callings, the horses and families who filled our barn, my siblings who linked hands and hearts with me, and my precious daughter whose unexpected birth brought light and life to Joel and me.
It’s been said that writers write to discover who they are. Reading aloud Motherhood: Lost and Found was also a discovery process. Through the experience of giving voice to my own words, perhaps I understood a little bit more about what had drawn me to spend a significant part of my life crafting this story. And putting a voice to it somehow claimed it as mine.
To listen to a sample of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. This audiobook was just released TODAY on Audible, Amazon and iTunes. Motherhood: Lost and Found is also available on Kindle or in hard copy here.
In last week’s post, I talked about how the process of marketing Motherhood: Lost and Found has added new layers to my story. Each time I prepare for a presentation, sit down to write a press release or have an interview about my memoir, I have the opportunity to look at my relationships anew.
I treasure this time spent in contemplation about my mother and the depth of her influence on my life. While Alzheimer’s shifted the course of our relationship in unexpected, painful and challenging ways, it also taught me to slow down, release expectations and open myself to the gifts within each moment.
My perspective has changed, of course, with my mother gone. It is much easier to see that while the care taking and the grieving seemed endless at the time, it was but for a season. I am reminded that all of us lead lives that are a series of seasons, seasons that in the conglomerate make up who we are, seasons that lead to our final act.
I have transitioned from a childless woman in her early 30s to a mother in her mid 50s who has laid her own parents to rest. Time has evaporated. The reason I continue to share the story about my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my own infertility is to provide a message for those who have suddenly become stranded on their own island of grief. My hope is to reach out a hand, to let my readers know they are not alone.
I hope you find meaning in this podcast. Thanks for reading and listening!
Click here to listen to the podcast.
To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here.
Over the past several months, I’ve had the privilege of sharing the story of my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, through personal appearances, guest posts, magazine articles, etc.
Today, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Paula Slater for the podcast, Straight from the Horse’s Mouth. Paula interviews people in the horse world who are striving to make the world a better place through their creative work.
After living through my mother’s Alzheimer’s for many years, and then writing about it for two decades, part of me was ready to move on. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue retelling the story.
However, I’ve found that each time I talk or sit down to write about this experience, a new facet of my history rises, giving me the opportunity to remember my mother and thoughtfully examine our relationship. I’m reminded of how my mother and I used to enjoy long conversations where we discussed the underpinnings of our family, who we were and how we became the people we thought ourselves to be.
It was rich soil for a writer’s mind…and we were both writers. Yet, when my mother’s mind began to unspool, it was difficult for me to understand and corral what was happening. How could Mom be herself if she no longer had the ability to think through issues, to probe, to verbally massage and circle ideas?
While Mom gradually lost her ability to consistently use language in this way, she still existed, and she still had feelings. And, interestingly, her intuition seemed as strong as ever.
I had to learn to look at her differently and accept that there were still many undiscovered layers beneath who I thought she was. And I was also changing. The personas I had created for both of us were stretching, evolving.
I’ve heard it said, “We don’t stop changing until we die.” I believe our relationships continue to shift and grow right up to and even beyond death. Talking with Paula today reminded me of the gift of my mother’s conversations. Thank you, Paula, for getting me thinking… in a new way… again.
I look forward to posting a link to Straight from the Horse’s Mouth where Paula and I discussed what it was like to witness my mother’s illness and many other topics related to Motherhood: Lost and Found.
November 17th is the anniversary of my mother’s death. This year, with the recent release of my eBook, and “A Conversation about Alzheimer’s and Dementia” at Main Street Books scheduled for this same day, the date feels even more loaded than usual.
I find myself reliving my mother’s last days. Nine years ago, we had a drought similar to the one we are having now. I remember my husband and I walking the path at Jetton Park and seeing the stretches of red clay populated with dark tree trunks and boulders that were usually underwater.
As we traversed my mother’s last weeks and days, it felt like we were walking on the moon. Normal life had receded like a distant planet as caregiving took over my days. I felt like an alien in my own skin. This week, as my husband and I return to Jetton Park, we’re seeing the same strange landscapes that are usually covered by water.
Nine years ago I waited for the fall colors to blossom and fade. I kept thinking that the leaves would be gone by the time my mother died. But they hung on, flashing a kaleidoscope of gold and crimson, russet, ginger and auburn. I drove by one particular tree on my way to the nursing home, and each day it got brighter until the day of her death it was like a burning flame.
As the years have passed by, my mother’s voice seems to grow stronger. Not a nagging voice of a mother encouraging a child to do the right thing. But the loving essence of her, the joy she took in reading and writing, her delight in nature, her natural sense of nurturing, her keen desire to continue learning and her depth of connection to her family. All of this and more surrounds me as I move through my days.
I could not be more grateful that she was my mother. Perhaps I need to say this aloud, to write it over and over because I didn’t fully appreciate who she was when she was alive. The thought makes my eyes fill with tears. I wish I had done more for her. And yet, I know she understood and gave me grace. Even when I was a self-centered teenager. She never expected me to fulfill her. I pray that I can share the same kind of unconditional love with my daughter.
So I celebrate my mother this November. Who she was and how she seasoned my life so tenderly with her love.
The month of November has deep resonance for me. This year it is stronger than ever. Part of it is because it’s National Alzheimer’s Month and National Caregiver’s Month, two things I’m well acquainted with. And, the fact that my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, has moved back onto center stage with the eBook being released and the audio version coming soon.
But there is more.
I don’t know how other people market their books. I am not and never will be a salesperson. So, instead of advertising in traditional ways, I find myself retelling my mother’s story – her descent into Alzheimer’s – along with my struggle with infertility, over and over again.
It took me 20 years to finish my memoir. That was not a typo. Twenty. Years. Of course, I didn’t spend every minute of that time writing. I set the book aside when my mother needed me. Many years into the writing process, when my daughter was born, I stepped away for large chunks of time. But I always came back. And I revised a LOT! Okay, I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Still, 20 years is a long time to work on a story, especially when it’s a book about your own life. You’d think I might get bored with it.
That never happened.
Maybe it’s because relationships are endlessly fascinating to me. I didn’t have as many years as some do with their moms. My mother was 41 when she gave birth to me, so I had a lot of catching up to do on her life. And I was only 33 when she began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. That’s pretty young to begin losing your mom. Maybe working on the book was a way to feel close to her.
Even now, I treasure the hours when I am writing about her. I’ve produced press releases, magazine articles, guest blogs posts and more. I rarely send out a duplicate story. Each piece is an opportunity to relive those years with my mother, to understand her better, to reach deep into my being for the gifts she gave me.
And the life I’m currently living with my husband, daughter and animals on our farm serves to only amplify the relationship I had with my mother. My daughter and I have a similar age difference as my mother and I did. So, I find myself not only reliving my life with my mother as she slowly spiraled into Alzheimer’s. But I am also reliving my own teen years (and thinking of my mother’s response to me) as my daughter rides her horse, enters high school, gets her driving permit and stretches her wings.
At times, it’s as if I’m living in an echo chamber and the memories are reverberating like voices all around me.
* In honor of my horse Crimson, I’m giving away a copy of the Kindle version of Motherhood: Lost and Found. For a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of this post. Be sure to include your email address. A winner will be selected next week. Good luck!
* Two winners have been chosen. Thank you for your comments.
Motherhood: Lost and Found tells the story of my struggle to have a child at the same time I was losing my mother to Alzheimer’s. For those of you who don’t know me, the back drop of this story is my love of horses.
During this decade of loss, I was deeply involved in the horse world. Most mornings I could be found at the barn grooming or riding my horse Crimson. My afternoons were spent teaching dressage and hunter/jumper to a group of riding students who I adored.
Crimson was a very special horse. He happened to be a grandson of the great Secretariat. An Appendix Quarter Horse, I learned that Crimson had won one race before his career at the track ended. I purchased him as a green six-year-old when we lived in Houston, and trained him to jump. We transported him to North Carolina when Joel and I moved back home to be closer to my parents.
A chestnut gelding just shy of 16.2 hands, he looked a lot like Secretariat. And he had the heart of a champion. Crimson was the kindest horse I’ve ever known. When I was overwhelmed with the grief in my life, I went to him.
Some days when the sorrow was too much to bear, I would go down to the barn and watch him grazing with the other horses. Other days, I could do nothing more than lean against Crimson and rest my head against his neck. He would stand like a statue absorbing my emotions.
My mother’s illness lasted for over 10 years before she died, and for much of that time, Joel and I remained childless. Because my mother required constant care, I had to board Crimson at other farms for months at a time. It was heartbreaking to let him go. But I sensed that he understood. I was also fortunate to have wonderful horse friends who helped care for Crimson while I was away.
After my daughter was born, I was finally able to bring Crimson home. It was a gift to have him at the barn. His kind and gentle nature always lifted my heart. Each morning, I did chores – cleaning stalls and filling water buckets – while Sydney rode in a pack on my back. It was hard work taking care of a mother with Alzheimer’s, a young child and Crimson. There were long days when my mother was sick, Joel was out of town or my daughter had been teething throughout the night. But Crimson’s presence gave me strength and peace.
During those years, I didn’t have much time for riding. But occasionally I would hop on just to feel the rhythm of Crimson’s gaits, his rocking canter. I remember one day wanting to share this wonderful feeling with Sydney. She was delighted when Joel lifted her up on the horse in front of me. Crimson was a perfect gentlemen, as I knew he would be.
I’ll always be grateful for the time I spent with this wonderful horse. Crimson passed away in 2003, after a serious attack of intestinal colic. He was 19, the same age his grandfather Secretariat was when he died. We laid him to rest on the farm near the magnolia tree given to me by my friend Lyn in honor of my miscarriages.
To order a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, click here. I’m so thrilled that it has been No. 1 on Amazon’s Hot New Releases for Eldercare. For more information, please see my website: www.anncampanella.com.
After saying goodbye to April, it was time to let Foxie and Shady get to know each other on their terms. We turned Foxie and Shady out into adjacent pastures, so they could visit over the fence. To my surprise, there was no squealing, just some touching of noses and then a sweet moment of mutual neck scratching.
Since things were going so well, I decided to let the horses graze together in the paddock. I watched them for a long while to see how they would get along. Mares are typically “in charge,” and will often put a gelding in his place with a well-timed bite or kick. Shady was clearly more interested in Foxie than she was in him. He followed her around the pasture, never letting her get more than a few feet away without walking or trotting up to her. Foxie seemed mostly disinterested, though occasionally she would pin her ears at Shady, as if to say “That’s close enough.”
That evening, I turned Foxie and Shady out into the big pasture together for the first time. In preparation for this, earlier in the week, I put April and Foxie in the big pasture during the evening and put Shady in the ring where he could graze and see them. I wanted Shady to get a feel for the openness of the larger pasture, and I wanted Foxie to get used to Shady’s presence.
Shady cantered up the lane to the big pasture, and Foxie trotted behind him. I hoped that this would mark the beginning of their friendship — an evening together, grazing and watching out for each other in this larger space. Later that night, Sydney and I walked down to see how the horses were getting along. All looked calm and peaceful.
The next morning, I woke up to the quiet anticipation of seeing Foxie and Shady together in the big pasture, noticing their interactions and watching how the feeding routine worked itself out. Which horse would lift his or her head first? Who (if either of them) would come to the sound of my voice? Would Foxie whirl and try to kick Shady to teach him to respect her? Or would Shady come galloping over, leaving Foxie to meander to the barn at her own pace?
The first thing I noticed when I got to the barn was that the large back doors were parted and Shady was peering in. We close them in the evening when the horses are in the big pasture, so that, on the off chance that Foxie might wander back to the barn, she wouldn’t be able to slip through the white bars at that end, walk through the aisle, slip through another set of bars and escape. She did this once a few months ago, when April was here, and she stayed near the front of the barn contentedly grazing on the fresh grass there while April called to her and paced back and forth at the back of the barn. April was a little afraid of the sound that the white bars (which were basically chains covered in pvc pipe) made when they moved, so she would never try to slip through them. And I had the sense that Shady felt the same way.
But my first thought when I saw the barn doors partway open was NOT that Foxie had slipped under the bars. Shady wasn’t acting anxious or worried as a horse might if he’d been left behind. He simply seemed happy to see me and ready for his breakfast. So I brought him into his stall and gave him some grain and a flake of hay. Then I walked out to the big pasture and called for Foxie. I was a little surprised that she wasn’t nearby, in the lane or on the hill going up to the ring. But, maybe she was pouting about April being gone…and keeping her distance from Shady.
I looked at the stand of trees near the driveway. No Foxie. As I crested the hill to the ring, I expected to see the top of her back. She was often hard to spot until you were almost upon her because of her low head carriage and the way her light palomino color blended with the morning sun. But she wasn’t in any of her usual places…near the fence by the road, in the far corner of the pasture. A flash of panic went through me. She’s gone!
I made myself think logically. Maybe she was lying down. Could she have colicked during the night? The stress of being with a new horse could have made her sick. She could be in a low spot in the pasture, more difficult to see. No. The pasture appeared to be empty. My mind started clicking…Where could she be? Looking for April? She was in heat yesterday, the sides of her vulva slick with moisture. In the past, when she was in heat, she often ran towards the fence to our west. We often joked that “her imaginary boyfriend” lived over that way. But once or twice when she had perked her ears and called out, she actually received a long, neighing response coming from somewhere in that direction.
I half-ran back to the barn, threw another flake of hay to Shady, who was getting antsy by himself in the stall, turning in circles and whinnying. “It’s okay, fella,” I said softly. “We’re gonna find her.” I walked back up the hill to the house. My plan was to get in the car and drive around the pasture, to look more closely at every spot of the field. And I needed to tell Sydney. I hated to wake her with this news. But Foxie was her horse, and she would want to know. I also needed her help. If we found her somewhere, one of us would have to lead her home, the other drive the car.
“Sydney, Foxie’s gone. She’s not in the pasture,” I said. It didn’t take her long to process my words. “What? Where’s Foxie?” I could hear the panic in her voice. “How’d she get out? Where did she go?”
“We’ll find her,” I tried to be reassuring. “I’m going to drive around the pasture to make sure she’s not there. But I don’t think she is. I’ll come back to the house after that. If I don’t find her we’ll need to search for her.
I drove the car slowly around the perimeter of the pasture, looking for any golden swell close to the ground that might turn out to be Foxie. But I saw nothing but grass and weeds. I drove up our next-door neighbor’s driveway. They have a park-like area next to a creek where cows who escape from the neighboring dairy farm sometimes come to graze. The grass is lush and green. I peered into the shadows under the trees. No Foxie. I drove towards the back of their property where there is a half-acre field, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Still, no Foxie.
As I drove back to the house for Sydney, I considered dialing 911. Is that who you call for a missing horse? Or should I call Animal Control? In all my years of working with horses, I’d never had one go missing. I could post a notice on Facebook, share the news with the local horse forum. But, first, I thought I should stop and talk with the neighbors. We had wonderful neighbors. Living in the country over the past two decades, I’d learned that neighbors look out for each other. This past week, after Shady arrived, April had escaped, the first time she’d ever left the barn (and Foxie). As best we could figure she jiggled the latch to her stall door with her nose and opened it, then jumped over the white bars. Our neighbor saw her cross the road and his father, an old dairyman, was able to catch her and lead her back to our barn with a string of twine. This was the same neighbor who built our barn over 20 years ago.
I grabbed Foxie’s halter and a scoop of feed, and Sydney met me outside the house as soon as she heard my car. “Where could she be?” she asked as we drove down the gravel driveway. “I think she’s looking for April. She could be really far away.”
“I don’t think so,” I said, trying to soothe us both. But in my own mind, I imagined Foxie wandering through the brush, searching for her friend. I had felt her sadness when April left yesterday. My chest had ached when Foxie looked out her stall window and let out a piercing whinny. “We know she’s in heat,” I said. “And whenever she’s in heat, she’s starts calling for her boyfriend.” I gave Sydney a wry smile. “But I know she misses April.”
“We’ll start looking in the closest places and go from there. We’ll talk to all our neighbors in case anyone has seen her.” I pulled down the drive of a nearby farm, the place where we had envisioned Foxie’s “imaginary boyfriend” living. There was a white fence and an empty field with long grass, then a stand of trees. I kept driving and there was another pasture. “There she is!” Sydney pointed. As we both looked, we saw the shape of our Foxie standing towards the back of the field. She turned her sweet face toward us, as if to say, “Hello. I know you. Look what a lovely field I found.” There was a barn just beyond the field, and we saw a man there who must have been the one who caught her.
“Oh, thank goodness,” I said, sighing. I pulled into the driveway in front of the barn and got out of the car.
“Did you lose a horse,” the man said, straightening up from behind a lawn mower. He wiped his hands on his pants. “She’s a sweet one. How’d she get out?” he asked.
“We have a new horse at the barn,” I said, starting to explain. “She nudged the barn doors open and went under some poles.”
“Well, I guess you’ve got a job to take care of this afternoon,” he said to Sydney, his eyes twinkling.
When I called Foxie, she came trotting over, and I slipped the halter onto her nose. I looked around to see if there was any evidence of “a boyfriend.” A miniature horse was trotting around a small enclosure.
“We’ve just got a little pony around the place now,” the man said. “Want a pony?”
I laughed. “Not really,” I said smiling. “We’re having enough trouble with this one.” I looked at Foxie, who was happily grazing.
Sydney and I worked it out that she would drive the car home, while I led Foxie back to our barn along the road. It was less than a mile and Foxie behaved herself. She appeared no worse for the wear, and maybe even a little proud of herself that she’d had this adventure. She particularly seemed to enjoy ending up in a pasture with nice long grass.
Shady welcomed her home with a loud neigh. I led Foxie up to his stall and they touched noses. There was no squealing or striking out with front legs, just a calm sort of acceptance that they were back together again.
I turned both horses out into the paddock behind Foxie’s stall where they could enjoy the morning shade. The horses grazed without taking much notice of each other. A couple of times Foxie wandered over to April’s stall and looked inside. Every now and then, Shady would pick his head up from the grass and walk a little closer to Foxie. She didn’t move away or towards him, just simply continued to graze.
It’s my sense that when horses are in a small herd, as Foxie and April were, transitions are harder for them. They seem to become bonded in a deeper, more abiding way than when they are part of a large herd, or stabled with a greater number of horses.
When Shady first arrived at the barn, it shook things up. His presence was extremely exciting and stimulating for April. She went into a strong heat and was thrilled to see him…at least half of the time. April was prancing near Shady, lifting her tail and whinnying for him. The other half, April would stand in a far corner of the field with Foxie, as if they were a clique – two girls whispering about the new fellow. Foxie, on the other hand, never took a lot of notice of Shady. She seemed to be the steadying influence, the calm horse in the midst of a sea of hormonal surges. But once April was gone, I think Foxie missed her friend. It was more than habit for her to stick close to April or hide behind her. It was a sweet relationship, a deep friendship and bond that had grown over their year together.
Now that April is gone, I trust that Foxie and Shady will “work things out,” that they will become friends. But, it will be a process. I don’t expect the kind of drama that went on this morning to be ongoing. In fact, I suspect Foxie’s laid-back attitude will prevail and the horses will fall into a relaxed rhythm and routine, that Shady and Foxie will grow fond of each other. But it remains to be seen how their relationship will develop. I’ve never had a single mare and a single gelding at the barn, so I’m interested to see how it might be different from having two mares. My hope is that these two horses will grow close and learn to trust and rely on one another as Foxie and April did. But it will take time and shared experiences. There is no rush. We are at the beginning of something new….