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.
For three-quarters of a decade, I have kept these dried flowers on a bureau in the hall, in a place where I could see them from my office. For a period of time they gave me comfort. They reminded me of my mother, who loved nature and the outdoors. I would glance at them as I was working on my memoir and think of her. But a year or two year ago, I began to feel like it was time to clear out the old and replace it with something new. It suddenly started feeling a bit morbid to have dead flowers from my mother’s funeral still in the house. Every week or so, I wiped away another handful of disintegrating dry petals from the surface of the bureau. My mother died in 2007.
But I didn’t want to just throw them away. I knew the flowers were a representation of my mother, not her ashes. But still I wanted to “let go” of these dried bouquets in a way that would honor her. So, during one of the cold days of winter, I came upon an idea. I held it in my mind for a while, caressing it for any rough edges. My idea was this: On Mother’s Day I would take the dried flowers to the graveyard on our property. We have several animals buried there: a beloved kitten named Spunky that wandered into our barn when it was first being built, three horses — including my beloved Crimson — and various other pets (some owned by others). At the back of the graveyard is a magnolia tree that Joel and I planted. It was a gift from my dear friend Lyn after one of my miscarriages. I imagined sprinkling dried petals around the base of this sweet tree that blooms each spring.
As the days gradually warmed, my idea evolved. I would take some of the flowers and leaves and distribute them around our farm. After all, Mom was (and is) ubiquitous in my life. I remember her walking around the property, waving her arms and exclaiming at the beauty of the woods the same way she exclaimed over the beauty of her beloved Lake George. I spent 20 years writing a memoir about her. And, yet, there is so much more to say. Her kindness, her gentleness, her tender heart are all things that bring me to tears. I missed them after she had died and still do. Even though, over 10 years before her death, she had descended deeply into Alzheimer’s, her gentle spirit was always present. But, still, it took time before I remembered the mother who had been there before the illness.
Gradually, as the weight and exhaustion of care taking lifted, the layers of who she was began fluttering through my mind like loose leaf pages. She was disorganized, but spontaneous. Ready for an adventure at a moment’s notice. She continually expressed pure awe at God’s handiwork. She was at home on the water. She loved sailing and canoeing, watching the sun set over the glistening waves. She enjoyed the occasional mountain hike or a roadside overlook, encouraging her children to pause and take in the views, listen to the birds. She was a lover of words — writing weekly feature stories for her town’s newspaper for years. As I think about it, one reason I think her stories were so appreciated by the community was that she really and truly wanted to know her subject. She found people endlessly fascinating and complex. But she approached them with no judgment whatsoever.
That quality of “wanting to know” may be what I most miss about her. To have a parent truly “want to know” you is a gift. My mother listened intently, cared deeply. She did not always “get” me. I suppose that is not unusual, maybe even a necessary stage in the mother/daughter relationship. And I realize, all these years later, that I was not exactly someone who was easy to know. But she tried, and she was always present to whatever was going on between us. Is it any wonder that I tend to idealize my mom? Maybe it’s no wonder that I kept the dried bouquets from her funeral on my bureau for seven and a half years.
So, finally Mother’s Day arrived. I looked at the dried flowers half dreading, half thrilled to be getting rid of them. I had told Joel a few days earlier that I wanted to save the pink contoured vase holding one of the collections of dried flowers. Both the color of it and the curves delighted my eyes. I also loved knowing that caring friends or family members had bought this particular vase filled with flowers and given it to us during the time of my mother’s death.
Joel presented me with a beautiful bouquet on Mother’s Day morning, and the roses would look gorgeous inside the vase. Our family went to church that morning, then Joel and I spent a leisurely afternoon — napping and taking a walk. Sydney, who wasn’t feeling well, went to bed early. The sun was just beginning to go down when I remembered that this was the day I wanted to dispense with the dried flowers. I smiled to myself, thinking that my mom — who rarely followed a plan that was laid out — would understand. Still, I didn’t want to wait another year!
So, I quickly emptied the bouquets into two plastic grocery bags. Then I had to put the flowers Joel had given me into the pink vase. Voila! They looked as beautiful as I had imagined.
As I stepped out of the house, I wandered around the foliage in our yard, placing a dried bud here, some disintegrating leaves there. I walked down the driveway in the gradually fading light. I dropped a few flowers into the woods, knowing I’d forget where they were, but liking the idea that they were there…or at least the remnants of them would finish decaying on my well-worn path.
I paused at the creek and sent a few dried petals floating to wherever the creek empties, knowing my mother, although tied down with a military husband and four children, also enjoyed her freedom.
I stopped by the barn and placed a dried flower in the door of Foxie’s stall, thinking of how my mother had loved my pony Cochise and that she must be smiling down on Sydney and her horse. I continued on, stopping here and there, including at the big rock we jokingly call “Joshua’s Rock South” in honor of the place “up north” deeply connected to my mother’s family’s heritage.
Eventually, I got to the graveyard. I had forgotten that Joel had not yet mowed it this year. I was in shorts, and prickers and Poison Ivy were everywhere. Once again, I remembered how my mother would toss her head when coming to an obstacle and light-heartedly move in another direction. She would understand, I thought, as I left a small bouquet at the entrance of the graveyard.
On the way back to the house, I paused at the places I had been, smiling and sighing. It felt good to relieve myself of these dead flowers, to spread their husks into the world, allowing them to be remade over time into something new. As I was approaching the big creek, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. It was a bird. Not just any bird. A robin.
The bird was dusky with a definite tint of orange on her breast. My mother loved all birds and would exclaim over every cardinal or blue jay or purple martin that she saw. But robins were what I considered “our birds.” My middle name is Robin. And each time she spotted one, she said it was “Little Robin Red Breast,” and mom would look at me tenderly, as if the bird and I were one. Over the years we spotted many robins during our spring, summer and fall walks, or my mother would call to me when she noticed one outside her kitchen window. There were many sightings.
This little robin on the driveway was a messenger, a gift, a reminder of my mother’s love and the fact that her spirit can not be contained in a few bouquets of dried flowers. I needn’t feel bad that I was letting this tangible reminder of her go. Reminders were everywhere. The woods were full of them. And somehow setting myself free from the burden of holding on, allows me to feel the joy of her life. In the darkening light, the robin stayed with me, never more than a few yards ahead, as I walked. I thanked God silently for this amazing little bird and for my mother, all that she was and always will be. When I reached the house, the robin flitted towards a tree (for safety or to build a nest?) as the dog came running up to greet me the same way life rushes in.