This time of year has always been special to me. Typically in the Carolinas, on the first day of fall the summer heat begins to ease and we get a hint of the cooler weather that is to come.
World Alzheimer’s Day and my birthday happen to fall side by side, which somehow seems appropriate.
Tomorrow is my birthday. For the past 16 years, I’ve also had the joy of celebrating with Sydney. Motherhood for me arrived three days before my 41st birthday. My daughter couldn’t have been more welcome, especially as she was delivered in the midst of my own mother’s long descent into Alzheimer’s.
The years before Sydney was born were tough and filled with loss. I had a series of miscarriages and every day my mother seemed to lose more of herself. There were times I forgot how to hope, which is one of the reasons I feel compelled to reach out to those who are traveling their own difficult path of caring for someone they love.
But grief passes…like the seasons.
I didn’t know that after close to a decade of infertility, I would be blessed with a beautiful daughter.
I didn’t know that six years after my mother passed away, my memoir would be released.
I didn’t know that last year, on my birthday, the eBook of Motherhood: Lost and Found would be distributed internationally by Divine Phoenix and Pegasus Books.
I didn’t know that my audiobook would come out on the day of the Kentucky Derby (this past May) where years ago Secretariat, the grandfather of my beloved horse Crimson, won the first leg of his Triple Crown.
There was so much I didn’t know.
This September, I’m honored to be working with a group of passionate and generous women who have created AlzAuthors, a blogsite with over 100 resources for people living with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Next week, as World Alzheimer’s Month comes to a close, AlzAuthors will be holding an eBook sale from September 27th – 30th to honor those who are living with this disease.
In memory of my sweet Mom, the eBook of Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available at its lowest price on Wednesday, Sept. 27th, and deeply discounted through Sept. 30th.
As a special package, if you buy the eBook, the audiobook is available for only $7.49, instead of $21.95, a discount of almost 70 percent.
Last, but not least, my publisher is offering a drawing for a free audiobook on Twitter. To enter, follow Laura Ponticello https://twitter.com/lauraslist and Ann Campanella https://twitter.com/authorAnnC on Twitter and follow Laura’s instructions.
I like to think of Motherhood: Lost and Found as my love letter to those who are dealing with grief. Without support, it’s a lonely road.
Please feel free to share this post with anyone who is in a season of caretaking. Sending out prayers of hope to all.
The evening after the eclipse, Sunny and I take a walk. The sky is mostly clear, except for a few dramatic clouds hovering behind the tree line. The horses are grazing as usual, their coats covered in fine sweat that is just beginning to evaporate as the heat and humidity slowly lift. It is 8 o’clock, four hours after the sun and moon finished their dance through the sky.
Joel, Sydney and I went down to the barn and watched the eclipse from there. We did the pinhole through the cardboard trick and used eclipse glasses to take short peeks at the scooped out sun.
Sydney and I let the horses out because they seemed eager to enjoy the grass under a slightly cooler sky. The temperature gradually dropped from 91 to 87°.
At one point I brought a chair and sat in the shade under a tree. I was surrounded by the shapes of crescent moons created by the sun filtering through the leaves.
As the moon covered 97% of the sun I looked and listened for anything that might be a sign. The cicadas continued chanting, a single bird chirped behind me, the horses eagerly cropped grass. Sydney noticed that one of the cows from next door was looking at us and the herd was slowly making its way toward the neighbor’s barn. Maybe the unusual light made them think it was time to come in.
And suddenly the crescent shapes shifted from one side to the other, and the scrim over the sky seemed to lift.
I thought of all the people looking up – friends and family in the mountains, at the beach, in town, in faraway states. For that one moment, we were linked. Held together by a celestial ribbon, an awareness perhaps of the beauty of our sun – its strength and fragility.
When the eclipse was over, I was exhausted and empty, as if a part of me had been scooped out. I hadn’t expected to feel that way. Actually, I hadn’t thought about what would come after. Maybe I was picking up on the collective sigh from our country.
Tonight, I am grateful for the presence of horses grazing in the fields, the dog who walks by my side, my family and friends who share this wide world with me and the glorious colors left behind by the setting sun.
Three days before the eclipse and the sky is on fire. Not in the west, like it normally is when the sun is going down, but in the east. What does it mean?
Sunny and I were heading back up to the house. But the glow was so beautiful it stopped me in my tracks. We had taken a walk, and I finished the barn chores while Sunny patiently waited for me.
I wasn’t in a rush. I had spent the day with writing friends. It was early evening and the air was still warm and humid. My skin was slick with sweat. Once you step into a barn and the dust settles on you, there’s nothing to do but surrender and enjoy being dirty.
I’d walked up to the ring to check the water for the horses. I caught Foxie rolling and Shady studied me with his ears pricked up, alert.
Earlier in the day I had read a funny strand on an equestrian site about horses and the eclipse. A woman was wondering whether she should do anything special to protect her horses during the event. Several people responded jokingly: “Buy the extra extra large eclipse glasses,” “Have you ever seen a horse look up at the sun?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
I remember a partial eclipse I witnessed back in 1984 in Charlottesville, VA. The sky darkened slightly, as if storm clouds had gathered. But they hadn’t.
William E. Schmidt, a reporter for The New York Times, described the eclipse in Atlanta, where it was close to full. “The temperature dropped six degrees, flowers closed their petals, dogs howled, pigeons tucked their heads under their wings as if to sleep and the whole city was bathed in a kind of diffused light….”
“As the light from the Sun passed through the leaves of trees,” Schmidt continued, “it projected on to the sidewalk pavement tiny wedgelike images of its own crescent silhouette.”
Thirty-three years ago I was on a farm in Virginia, and I noticed those crescent silhouettes sprinkled around in the grass under the trees. So many years later, they are still vivid in my mind.
On Monday, we will experience a 97 percent solar eclipse here on the farm in North Carolina. I don’t believe that horses need special sunglasses or that the world is coming to an end. But maybe the glow in tonight’s August sky and the coming eclipse are simply reminders. The world is full of incomprehensible beauty. The least we can do is pay attention.
Today we had the vet out for the horses’ annual shots. It was a routine visit, one that snuck up on me as I had scheduled it weeks ago. But what surprised me even more was the emotion that came over me after the visit.
The story actually begins back in the spring. That was when I heard the news that the large animal vet that we usually use was no longer practicing. I was sorry to hear this because he was someone we liked and respected, and (as a horse owner) it’s a big decision to find a new vet.
A few weeks later, I learned that Dr. Bob Gochanauer, a dear friend and wonderful vet, had passed away unexpectedly. My heart ached for his family who used to have a farm just a few miles away from us. Dr. Bob had also been my primary vet for Crimson for 13 years.
Between the time that Crimson passed away and we purchased Foxie for Sydney, Dr. Bob and his family moved further out in the country, about 45 minutes away. He was still practicing, but because of the distance, I had decided to use a closer vet for the sake of convenience.
After our other vet left the practice, I took some time researching vets. I’d heard it said that we had a “shortage of vets” in the area.
I decided to call Dr. Mary, who is Bob’s daughter. Yes, their office was farther away, but something tugged at me.
She and her assistant pulled up to the farm today in their big truck. I hadn’t seen Dr. Mary since she was a kid, when I used to give her riding lessons. Her face held the same open kindness that I remembered. We embraced for a long moment, and I whispered in her ear that I was so sorry about her dad. She nodded and smiled, her eyes filling.
When she entered the barn, I was blown away by how much she reminded me of her dad. Her mannerisms around the horses were spot on. She stood like him; she asked questions; she wasn’t in a rush. He had been an old country vet with gut wisdom about animals and true kindness.
I had forgotten how deeply I felt connected with him when he worked with the horses. Shady tends to get nervous around new experiences, and Dr. Mary helped him through his rotation of shots calmly and beautifully. Then she went on to treat Foxie, who stood quietly in her stall.
Before Dr. Mary left, I gave her a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found, and told her there was a chapter that included her dad. He had euthanized Little Bit, one of my school horses, and he did it in such a gentle and loving manner that it always chokes me up when I think of it.
I’d been wanting to give her a copy of my memoir for some time, but it was one of those things I hadn’t got around to. (She lived far away, I didn’t know her address, yada yada yada.) She held the book to her chest and her eyes filled with tears. We embraced again, and I cried with her.
Later, with the horses turned out to graze, after their non-eventful vet visit, I found myself still full of emotion, thinking of Dr. Mary – on the road treating horse after horse, today and every day, the way her father did. I am so grateful for the kind of compassion they bring to this world.
Is it really July already? For some reason, I thought June would continue on for a while longer. It was jam packed with so many special events and days. As usual, I need to take a moment to slow down and process all that has happened. From a family trip to the beach to my 35th college reunion where I had the opportunity to gather with classmates and hear astronaut Tom Marshburn talk about space as I shared about the experience of writing my book to the week of the summer solstice when so many people affected by Alzheimer’s joined together for #TheLongestDay campaign.
During June, Motherhood: Lost and Found also reached #1 on Amazon’s Bestseller List. This happened during the week of the anniversary of my mother’s birthday and my father’s death. And just before spending the last two days of the month in a wonderful writing retreat, I got a glimpse of the cover of my new book of poetry, The Beach Poems. Is it any wonder that I feel overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude?
None of this could have happened without the support of my amazing community – my family and friends, my publishers – Laura Ponticello of Divine Phoenix and Scott Douglass of Main Street Rag, my writing friends, my Alzheimer’s connections, even my new friends on Instagram and Twitter.
It has been such a gift to make new connections and renew old ones. At my college reunion, I found myself talking with people I had hardly known at school and feeling so grateful for the opportunity to find common ground.
I’ve been wanting to write a “gratitude post” for some time now. When you have a book that reaches wider circles than you ever dreamed, it only happens because of outside support.
A year ago, when my publisher Laura said she wanted me to become active on social media, I groaned inwardly. Instagram was something for younger folks, and I had no idea what a Tweet was.
Little did I know I would fall in love with taking photos of our horses and posting them, and that I would find a community of others who loved horses and animals and books. When they heard I had a memoir about my mother and my beloved Crimson, a grandson of Secretariat, (to my surprise) they bought it! And not only that, they wrote reviews, shared my posts and told their friends.
A special thank you to @fabfortykindnesschallenge, @leslie.jenny, @walkingfortheloveof books, @monasheeandme, @bellasdogtrot, @shelley.b.new.zealand, @dmjohnston54, @missmayaslife @originalteddybutton and @skyes.mom. These are just a few of the wonderful folks who have supported me. I know I’m forgetting some of you, and I apologize for that. But I won’t forget your kindness.
If you have an Instagram account, check out these lovely people and their accounts.
In my next post, I’d like to give a shout out to some wonderful connections I’ve made in the Alzheimer’s world.
*And coming soon, a post about my new poetry collection….
p.s. If you enjoy horse photos, I’d love to have you join me on Instagram. My account name is @horses_2nd_time_around.
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.