Posted: November 28, 2017 Filed under: Alzheimer's, Books, Family, Florida, Health, nature, Writing | Tags: adventure, Alzheimer's, appreciation, beauty, Books, dawn, family, friends, fun, gifts, gratitude, grief, health, home, joy, lessons, love, narrative, nature, preparations, renewal, serenity, sunset, transitions, travel, trust, walks, writing
(This is a four-part series. Click here to read Part I.)
After packing and saying our goodbyes to Jean and Vicki, Gilda and I drove south towards Alligator Alley. I was excited to be driving across Florida and to get a view of the everglades. My father, a civil engineer for the Army, had worked throughout South Florida on various projects before I was born. The names of towns were familiar to me because I had grown up listening to him talk about them.
Alligator Alley: on the side of the road.
While I felt as if I were home and had hopes of catching a glimpse of an alligator, Gilda’s husband Stu had warned her not to get out of the car because he’d been warned there were large snakes in the area. Gilda wasn’t sure what to do when I pulled over and asked her to take a photo of me by the water. But she did! Then I took one of her. Just don’t tell Stu, she said. And we laughed.
We arrived in Miami in one piece and were struck by the change in scenery…busy highways, hotels, so many Spanish-speaking people. Our time in Miami was filled to the brim with non-stop activity. But a few things stand out in my mind.
The Friday night Meet and Greet was busy and loud after our quiet time at the beach in Naples. Authors were invited to leave copies of their books and business cards on the hotel counter. By the time Gilda and I arrived, there were so many books and cards, we had to squeeze ours in.
We met Laura and her sister Christina at the bar. They waved us over and introduced us to authors they had met. We talked for a bit, shouting over the noise. I’m always struck by Laura’s beauty and vivaciousness and enjoyed watching her interact. She’s a natural publicist, always sharing warm words about her authors and listening intently to the stories of others.
After the social hour, we were ushered into a large room where several presenters gave talks. The room was so full, we had to split up in order to find seats. After two presentations, Gilda and I stepped out to look for Laura and Christina. We found them in the hotel lobby and ended up pulling up chairs and spending the rest of the evening in this less busy setting.
Around the table, the four of us shared pieces of our lives and got to know each other. I couldn’t help but think how it was as if the conversation that had started in Naples was continuing. My mother, who loved stories and intimate connections, was surely smiling down on us all.
Gilda and I walking through the Miami Book Fair. Laura took the photo.
The next day, Laura, Gilda and I met in the lobby, so that we could ride the shuttle to the Miami Book Fare. It was a gorgeous day in South Florida with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid seventies. Our plan was to find the Readers’ Favorite booth, take photos of our books and then just walk around and enjoy the scene.
Gilda with My Father’s Daughter: From Rome to Sicily
Laura with Live the Life of Your Dreams: 33 Tips to Inspired Living
Me with Motherhood: Lost and Found
The Miami Book Fair is recognized as the finest literary book fair in America. I’ve never been to a street fair that was made up of so many booths of books. It lasts for eight days and is a veritable feast for a writer. More than 250 publishers exhibit and sell books and over 450 authors read and discuss their work. Everywhere we turned we found something to marvel at!
The four hours we had planned to spend at the book fair evaporated like water on a hot sidewalk. And before we knew it we were back on the shuttle to the hotel. But we had each had a sweet taste of this special festival and even had the opportunity to celebrate with other authors and meet Mitch Kaplan, co-founder of the Miami Book Fair.
Hamming it up with some of our new author friends.
There was just time to touch base with Laura’s sister by the pool, then run out to pick up some gluten-free, dairy-free food for Gilda and me before we had to get ready for the main event, the Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony.
We had heard the event was formal. But it wasn’t until I saw a few women dressed in ball gowns and sparkly, sequined outfits that I truly took that in. Gilda and I were impressed with how the event was set up with rows of white, cloth-covered chairs, a stage and photo area with a Readers’ Favorite backdrop, a bar at the back of the room, and two side areas where a buffet dinner would be laid out. If you had a good imagination, you could pretend you were in Hollywood.
The Readers’ Favorite Award Ceremony
Gilda and I joined Laura and Christina in an area to the side of the stage. The host told Laura it was prime seating because you could see well and make an early escape if you didn’t want to stay through all the awards. It turned out to be perfect.
After a short introduction, the host called authors in different sections of the audience up to receive recognition and awards. It was thrilling to hear my name and Motherhood: Lost and Found announced. And just as thrilling to join the applause when Gilda and Laura’s names were read!
Laura, me and Gilda in the photo area, a bit starstruck, after being called up on stage.
Christina took photos of each of us on stage. Then we proceeded to the photo area where a professional photographer took pictures and we, of course, took our own with our phones.
One of the most interesting parts of the evening was getting to talk with other authors. Gilda and I noted how it was unusual for authors of a certain genre (memoir, in our case) to mingle with authors of another genre. In my typical day-to-day interactions, I tend to have blinders on, blithely ignoring writers of fantasy or science fiction. Yet, here we were in a room where no two authors had written from the same perspective. Once the blinders were off, I realized how much I could learn from these writers.
Posing with our new friend, Ben Burgess, Jr.
We happened to be sitting in front of Ben Burgess, Jr., for instance, who is a New York detective and has written multiple award-winning novels focusing on crime and prejudice. We all commented on how fascinating it was to hear his stories, and we ended up trading copies of our books with him for his latest novel, Black & White.
By the end of the evening, we gave hugs all around to each other and our new friends. Gilda and I were buzzing, though we hadn’t had anything to drink. We could have stayed up all night talking, but we made ourselves lie down in hopes that we could get a few hours of sleep before our alarm went off at 2:15 a.m.
Perhaps we dozed a bit because when we woke up, we were much more groggy and tired. But we managed to gather our belongings and head down to the hotel desk to checkout. We asked the young fellow at the counter if he would accompany us to our car. This was Miami, after all, and it was the middle of the night.
The dark streets were ribboned with light from the street lamps, and we made our way to the Fort Lauderdale airport easily. We turned in our rental car and stood in line at the airport. We made it through security without being searched or even taking off our shoes.
The sun rose outside our window over the Atlantic Ocean as we left the Fort Lauderdale airport.
When we settled into our seats on the plane it was close to 6 a.m. Once we were up in the air, we could see the Atlantic Ocean to our right. A thin line of light hovered at the horizon. I made Gilda stay awake long enough so that we could take photos of the sun rising over the ocean. Then we both closed our eyes and slept.
Before drifting off, I thought of Jean and Vicki and our intimate bond through AlzAuthors. I thought of my deep friendship with Gilda and our affection and admiration for Laura. I felt the warmth of each of these relationships and sensed my mother’s hand on this trip, as if she had somehow helped orchestrate these sweet connections, bringing us all together so that we could reach out to others. I said a silent prayer of thanks.
The sun setting as Laura’s plan landed in New York.
Later that day, Laura sent us a photo of the sun setting as she on her way home to New York. It seemed significant that all of us had witnessed the sun in its transitional state. Laura, who had been so instrumental in the flights of our books, generously ushering them and us through an amazing experience, while Gilda and I were coming home to what felt like a new chapter in our lives, a doorway filled with light, opening towards something yet to be revealed.
Posted: November 9, 2017 Filed under: Alzheimer's, Books, Family, Health, nature, poetry | Tags: Alzheimer's, appreciation, beauty, family, gifts, gratitude, grief, health, joy, love, nature, poems, poetry, renewal, serenity, transitions, writing
(This post was first published on the AlzAuthors
Expressing the Inexpressible through Poetry
By Ann Campanella
When I was in my early thirties, my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. She was 41 when I was born, so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a shock to see her aging in this way. But it was.
I always knew she was an “older mom.” She had been a fount of wisdom for me during my adolescence and early years of marriage.
Mom always said her children kept her young. There was a span of ten years among us, and I had vivid memories of my mother hiking, playing tennis, swimming and sailing at the upstate New York lake we visited each summer.
My grandmother and great aunts lived into their nineties. I had imagined my mother would always be there for me, at least until she was well into her eighties. But it wasn’t to be.
My mother’s mind began to unspool at the same time I was trying to become a mother and struggling through a series of miscarriages. At first her memory became slippery and she began repeating stories. Her emotions seemed out of proportion to what was happening in her life. Her words no longer matched her behavior.
Mom’s descent into Alzheimer’s was heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. Heartbreaking because she was aware that “something wasn’t right.” It was painful to see her struggling to present a healthy face to the world when her memory was disintegrating. Beautiful because my mother’s spirit showed through her trauma, and the disease became a stage upon which the love in our family could be illuminated and acted out.
Poetry has long been a way for me to attempt to express the inexpressible. When the jagged edges of loss threatened to undo me, writing poems provided a way to hold onto pieces of my mother. Each poem or “stage act” allowed me to bathe my mother’s life in light and meaning.
What Flies Away is a collection of poetry that tells the story of my mother’s illness, my father’s sudden death and the miraculous birth of my daughter. This collection of poems won second place in the Oscar Arnold Young Book Award for the best book of poems in North Carolina in 2007. I was also honored that two of the poems, “The Chase” and “How to Grieve,” earned the Poet Laureate Award.
Now, ten years later, my collection, The Beach Poems, has been published. I consider it a sequel to What Flies Away, as this group of poems shares the story of what “comes after.”
I’ve always loved Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book where the author reflects on the patterns of her own life. I was able to do this at the beach.
My mother had Alzheimer’s for fourteen years, and her disease changed me. After a decade and a half of caretaking, it took time for me to find myself again.
During a series of retreats, I spent time walking the sand and absorbing the rhythm and beauty of the coastline. Gradually, held in the arms of the wind and waves, I was able to release my grief and begin to heal. Memories of my mother and the time before she was ill slowly trickled in. To my surprise, joy washed over me and I felt my spirit come alive again.
Writing about my mother’s Alzheimer’s experience, whether through poetry or prose has been a privilege. I spent 20 years working on my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, which was featured on this site on January 18th, 2017. My memoir has been recognized internationally and my poems have received many awards.
But I’m most grateful to have had the opportunity – through readings and speaking engagements – to meet and link hearts with those who are walking their own difficult path through Alzheimer’s. The Beach Poems is my gift to them.
I am here
at the edge
of the earth
on a mat of sand
wind cups the curves
of my body, waves
a constant roar
in my ears
blue belt of sky
presses against the horizon
I think of my mother –
all that was and never will be –
cry out into the void
but wind and sand and sea
my mother is here
and not here
and always will be
I hug the earth.
(from The Beach Poems, Main Street Rag Publishing Company)
About the Author
Ann Campanella is the author of the award-winning memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found. Formerly a magazine and newspaper editor, her writing has been widely published. She blogs about her life and horses at Fields of Grace and has been a guest on many blogs and podcasts. Ann’s poetry has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. Twice, she has received the Poet Laureate Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society. She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina with her family and animals.
Fields of Grace
https://www.amazon.com/Ann-Campanella/e/B001JOWQ3A (Amazon Author page)
https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=the-beach-poems (Main Street Rag Online Bookstore)
Posted: November 3, 2017 Filed under: Alzheimer's, Books, nature, poetry, Writing | Tags: Alzheimer's, appreciation, beauty, gratitude, grief, joy, lessons, poems, poetry, renewal, serenity, transitions, writing
Happy November, everyone! I have a couple of special announcements today. First, November marks the release of The Beach Poems! If you took advantage of the pre-publication discount, you should be receiving your book soon.
November is National Caregivers’ Month. It’s so perfect that The Beach Poems was birthed during this particular month because these poems tell the story of what it was like being a caregiver for my mother who had Alzheimer’s for 14 years and what it was like after she passed away.
The beach was the place I went for respite and healing. I took a series of retreats on the coast and in the midst of the wind and the waves, I gradually rediscovered who I was again. Memories of my mother and my younger self came flooding back to me, and I was able to release the grief I had carried for so many years.
Like a shell caught in the tide, it felt as if my heart was rinsed over and over, scrubbing away the grime of what had weighed me down. My mother was now free and so was I.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the transformative power of the sea as much as I enjoyed working on this collection. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share a few stories and poems from that time.
The next big announcement is that for the entire month of November, in honor of my mother and all the hardworking caregivers, the eBook of Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available for only $2.99, less than half the original price of $7.99. Click here to get your copy, and feel free to share the word!
For anyone interested in a signed copy of The Beach Poems, leave a comment and include your email.
Thank you to the many friends who supported me on the journey of caring for my mother and sharing our story through poetry and memoir.
Posted: September 21, 2017 Filed under: Alzheimer's, Books, Family, Health, nature, Our animals, The farm, Writing | Tags: Alzheimer's, appreciation, beauty, Crimson, family, gifts, gratitude, grief, health, horses, lessons, love, narrative, renewal, transitions, writing
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.
Me, Sydney and my mom.
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.
Me with Crimson.
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.
My mom, Sydney and me on my birthday 15 years ago.
Posted: August 21, 2017 Filed under: Family, nature, Our animals, The farm, Writing | Tags: appreciation, barn, beauty, clouds, Eclipse, family, farm, Foxie, friends, fun, gratitude, home, horses, lessons, narrative, nature, serenity, Shady, Sunny, sunset, transitions, trust, walks
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.
Posted: August 18, 2017 Filed under: nature, Our animals, The farm, Writing | Tags: appreciation, barn, beauty, chores, Eclipse, farm, Foxie, home, horses, lessons, narrative, nature, preparations, serenity, Shady, transitions, trust, walks, writing
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.