I’ve been at the lake for almost a week, just enough time to slip into the rhythm of a lake dweller. Someone who has forgotten the minutiae that occupied my mind before I arrived, someone who eats meals on the deck and no longer cares about washing my hair, someone who takes note of the wind and checks the surface of the lake each time I’m outside. Someone who cools off before dinner with a swim.
Here at Lake George the weather shifts from cool and windy to warm and sunny to damp and rainy within a few hours. This year, we’ve been blessed with beautiful days where we’ve enjoyed being out on the boat, swimming to the float at the family beach, spending a morning on a dining porch or an afternoon on a dock chatting with cousins, watching the sun set over the mountains.
The first few days, we rushed to get everything in, still running on the energy of our regular lives. But today, my last day here, I want to slow down and absorb the messages this place holds.
On our first days, we took Sydney tubing with a cousin, went kayaking around the bay, swimming at the beach. We gathered with cousins for our annual family meeting and picnic. There was a flurry of activity and fun.
Midway through our time here, something slowed inside me. My daughter and I canoed to Joshua’s Rock. The wind was so strong, we hardly needed to paddle on our way out. We sat on the ledge that I’ve shared over the years with my mother, my siblings and cousins and looked out on the expanse of lake. Neither of us said much. My daughter picked wild blueberries from the bush beside her as I studied patterns of moss on the granite under my bare feet. On the way home, we had to dip our paddles deep to keep from floating backwards with the current.
Before sunset, the wind died down and we took our friend’s pontoon boat out. The water in the bay was like glass and the sky a tapestry of greys.
Today, I walked down the hill to the beach and felt the echo of my childhood footsteps, how I couldn’t stop my young legs from running, skipping over the stones that rose from the green grass like the brows of my uncles.
The sight of water behind the tall pines along the shore never fails to lift my heart. And on a day when the sky is china blue and sketched with white clouds, this place feels like a small piece of heaven.
When you write a book, you don’t do it alone. And when you market a book, you stand on the shoulders of your friends. Through the promotion of Motherhood: Lost and Found, I have been so blessed and fortunate to make so many new friends in the Alzheimer’s world.
One of the first people I connected with as I tentatively opened the door to social media was Jean Lee. Both of her parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on the same day, and her book, Alzheimer’s Daughter, is based on that experience.
Jean is one of the founders of AlzAuthors.com, a fantastic blog full of books and resources for those who are living with Alzheimer’s. She invited me to contribute a piece for the blog, and she encouraged me to be active on Twitter. She even shared about and taught me how to do Canva, a site where you can create beautiful images that fit the different specifications needed for social media.
Jean and I connected immediately because we both believe wholeheartedly that we need each other and that anyone going through the devastation of Alzheimer’s needs support. Neither of us had had the kind of resources that are now available at the time we were living with our parents’ illness, and we both wanted to provide that for others.
If you are looking for support and a wonderful selection of books and authors who understand Alzheimer’s, check out AlzAuthors.com.
I’d love to hear about who has helped you on your journey.
I woke early to the raucous sounds of birds and the early morning light filtering through the pines and into the windows of the Owl’s Nest, my great great grandfather’s home. It’s always a bit disorienting to wake here, after the flurry of packing, a long day on the road and the rush of unpacking, checking the house, settling the dog and so on.
Suddenly, all is quiet … except for the birds. Actually, it’s more like time has stopped … or I’ve entered a place where time has new meaning … it loops back on itself, reveals spirals, reinterprets the life I thought I knew.
I am deeply attached to this place, and yet I don’t always like it. Maybe it’s the fact that the layers of memory are so deep. It’s never a simple vacation … a place where we can “get away from it all.” Rather, it’s a place where the old returns.
Sometimes that is a gift and a deeply comforting one. My mother is near to me here. I see her making beds, walking up and down the creaking stairs of this old house, sitting on the stone porch. And I feel her love of place and family. It is so ingrained in who I am.
But this place also holds memories of losses – the years when my mother’s mind was slipping away, her confusion, the hurts she held onto. Things I don’t want to see.
Yet, it also reminds me that these things are like the rings on a tree. Passing phases in the life of a family. Last night when I walked down to our dock, I took a photo of the waning sun and studied what used to be my grandparents’ boathouse.
I remembered making my way as a child through spider webs to climb into the old teak motorboat. For years, the boathouse was dilapidated, until a cousin recently did a major renovation on it. Now it has new life, yet its image still holds the past within it.
Perhaps some of what is difficult about being in this place is the jumble of old and new all mixed together, like the chaotic blend of birdsong this morning. A part of me is busy sorting, sorting through the amalgam … trying to understand the different songs and figure out where I fit.
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.
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.
As I began preparing for #TheLongestDay, memories began to stir. Father’s Day happened to be a few days before the summer solstice, and I found myself looking at old photos, smiling at special times my husband and I experienced with my parents.
In my memoir, I focused mainly on my mother’s illness, and how I survived that 14-year period of my life. As most people who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s understand, it’s easy to “forget” the time before. Before the confusion. Before the emotional outbursts. Before the hospital visits. Before the intense caretaking.
After my mother passed away, it took time, but there was a lifting of the heaviness I carried with me. The grief and exhaustion that comes with caring for someone who has lost so much. Memories of who my mother was before she became ill gradually began to surface. I felt a lightness and a joy that I had missed for many years.
This week, as I sorted through old photos, I found a handful from the time my husband and I lived in Houston. Joel had accepted a transfer from Atlanta to Houston. We’d been married for a few years and were busy with our careers. Joel was an insurance underwriter and I was the editor of a community newspaper.
I missed my parents, who lived on the coast of North Carolina. But the old photos I found were from a visit they made to Houston. I was reminded of how much fun we had with them.
It was a window of time when the four of us thoroughly enjoyed each other. Perhaps the distance made us appreciate each other more.
We were two couples who shared a bond. Joel and my father talked golf and business, while my mother and I lapsed into our familiar conversation about relationships, writing and our love of nature and animals.
My parents enjoyed seeing us in our home, absorbing the new phase of life we were in, getting to know us as equals.
I remember rising early to attend an Easter sunrise service, Joel and Daddy playing golf, my parents taking a dip in our hot tub. At my mother’s insistence, we drove out to see the Texas bluebonnets in bloom. We even spent a joyful evening playing cards.
Memories like these help fill in the blanks that were left by my mother’s Alzheimer’s. Seeing her smile, remembering her gentle, kind and fun spirit fills me with gratitude as the seasons turn.
In honor of my parents and the Alzheimer’s Association’s #TheLongestDay, the Ebook for Motherhood: Lost and Found will be offered at a deep discount for the first time. Today, on June 21st, Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available for $1.99. Each day after, the price will go up $1.00 until the promotion ends on June 25th.
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, and it got me thinking. Why?
Perhaps the emotions that this photo brings up are a bit more complicated. It was easy to smile at my father and know he was looking back at me with unadulterated pride. But my mother’s emotions were not so simple and straightforward.
Don’t get me wrong. Mom was filled with great love and tenderness, and I know she was happy for me. But she was a person who felt things deeply. I was her youngest child and I was leaving the nest. She was facing a new passage in her own life.
At times, she may have counted on me as the communicator between her and my father. I understood him in a way that she never did. And while Mom and I were similar in many ways, she and I did not always see eye to eye.
As a teenager, I was frustrated by many of her outdated ways of thinking, and I pushed against her a lot. Her emotions were always near the surface, and as I look back, it breaks my heart that I could so easily make her cry.
In this photo, I see the tender mix of emotions in my mother’s face. Her deep love for me, her awareness of past wounds and that our time together as mother and daughter was shifting.
Fifteen years later, my mother would begin showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Oddly, the disease brought us closer. Mom trusted me during those 14 years when her own mind betrayed her.
When my mother thought my father had hidden her address book, that someone was having a party without her, when she seemed inconsolable, she would listen to me. I couldn’t make everything better. But I could listen and be there for her in ways I wasn’t able to do when I was younger. We were given the gift of time to connect and heal.
I am thankful for every day I had with her.
In honor of my mother and the Alzheimer’s Association’s The Longest Day campaign, I’m excited to announce a special discount on the Ebook version of my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, starting June 21st.
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.