The Longest Day: As the Seasons Turn

Mom, Daddy and Joel sitting outside our house in Houston.

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.

Me and Mom. Forgive the fashion faux pas. 🙂

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.

Mom and I in our living room in Houston. She was dressed in “travel” clothes, and I was in “work” clothes.

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.

Daddy and Mom in the field of Texas wildflowers.

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.

Being silly as we played 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.

Sweet memories!

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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.

But wait! There’s more!  You’ll be able to get the audiobook (if you purchase the Ebook, or already have it) for only $7.49. as opposed to the list price of $24.95…a savings of $17.46. So hurry and get your discounted Ebook and audiobook now.

To purchase your Ebook click here, and to purchase your audiobook click here.  Thank you for your support. A percentage of sales will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.


Thoughts on #TheLongestDay

Late May through June always tends to be an emotional time for me. I’m not sure if it’s because there are so many endings –  end of school year, high school and college graduations, reunions,  end of spring, my pansies are dying – and new beginnings – a new rhythm for the summer, lots of weddings and wedding posts on FB, new jobs, new summer flowers.

But I think it’s more. The trees become heavy with leaves, the temperatures begin to rise, humidity sets in and there are layers of memories. It was this time of year that my 80-year-old father fell and broke his hip. Two weeks later he died. It was an unexpected ending to a life I had counted on. He had moved into my mother’s assisted living facility a couple of years earlier. Not because he needed assistance, but because my mother did. My father’s presence grounded my mother in a sea of confusion brought about by Alzheimer’s.

My father helped ground my mother in her Alzheimer’s.

My father’s sudden departure stunned all of us, especially my mother, who asked repeatedly, “Where’s Wint?” until the answer, “He died,” given every five or ten minutes (because we couldn’t keep this news from her) became a macabre joke.

All of us shifted that summer. No longer could we count on my father’s presence to anchor my mother. Her disease became both bigger and smaller. Bigger because we as a family had to consider all of her needs. Mom no longer had her “better half” to provide a boundary for her, familiar partnership routines to contain her. She had already left part of herself behind. Now, who would she be without my father?

Her disease became smaller because in unexpected ways, my mother expanded. She stepped into the space that had previously been filled by my father. She seemed to intuitively understand that if she was going to live, she had to become more of herself.

After years of living with dementia, she began walking again; she interacted, and although it didn’t seem possible, she was more present.

Mom still had Alzheimer’s. There was no way she could live on her own. But to some degree, her disease seemed to reverse itself. She made the most of the moments her family was with her. She listened. She nodded. She spoke. On occasion, I noticed the old spark. Even words of wisdom.

My daughter finished ninth grade near the end of May. A couple of weeks ago, my family returned home from an annual beach trip with my husband’s extended family. I celebrated my 35th college reunion recently. Today is the summer solstice. There are so many beginnings and endings, familiar cycles and patterns, yet each day is new.

In less than a week, it will be the anniversary of my father’s death. Daddy died the day before my mother’s birthday. This year would have been her 98th. My father has been gone 17 years, my mother almost 10. Yet their presence still echoes through my life.

Mom and Daddy on their wedding day, Dec. 1949.

***

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. For one day only, starting at 11 a.m., E.S.T., on June 21st, Motherhood: Lost and Found will be available for $0.99. Each day after, the price will go up $1.00 until the promotion ends on June 25th.

But wait! There’s more!  You’ll be able to get the audiobook (if you purchase the Ebook, or already have it) for only $7.49. as opposed to the list price of $24.95…a savings of $17.46. So hurry and get your discounted Ebook and audiobook now.

To purchase your Ebook click here, and to purchase your audiobook click here.  Thank you for your support. A percentage of sales will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Association.


Complicated Emotions: Mothers and Daughters

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.


More Class Reunion Reflections: Space Travel and Alzheimer’s Intersect

What does space travel have to do with writing and Alzheimer’s? At first glance, not much. But, during my 35th reunion, I had the wonderful opportunity to do a “Coffee Talk” about my memoir, Motherhood: Lost and Found, alongside Tom Marshburn, a classmate who is an astronaut with NASA. My book tells the story of my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s at the same time I was trying to become a mother, while Tom is one of the few people who has actually walked in space.

Sally Sharp, the organizer of the event, wanted to bring the Class of ‘82 together to give us a chance to pause in the midst of our busy lives and a full weekend of activities to talk about where we’ve been and the paths we’ve taken to get to where we are today.

Davidson College students are typically overachievers, so to sit in a circle with them can be daunting. There are doctors, lawyers and business people at the top of their fields, people of faith, artists, educators and politicians who have made an impact in their communities. Yet, one of the things I found most profound about this special time with them was that we share both a history and a common place in our lives.

Our classmates were engaged and curious. They asked questions about my experience with my mother’s Alzheimer’s and what it was like to write a memoir. Deep questions. I felt heard and appreciated as I shared a brief passage from the book about my years at Davidson and discussed the 14-year period of my life when I helped care for my mother during her illness. I talked about how the experience changed me in ways I am still discovering.

To have my personal story juxtaposed to Tom Marshburn’s exciting journey into space was fascinating. My writer’s brain was busy making connections – big and small. Each of us in that room had been on a journey. Each of us had experienced joy and loss, fear and death. We’ve all taken physical trips and undergone internal shifts. We have all been at the edge of a new world as we stepped into new phases of our life.

Tom shared about how physically challenging it was to come home and deal with the forces of gravity after being in space for an extended period of time. He said even “his lips felt heavy.” I remember times when my limbs were heavy with grief, and I felt as if I’d been on another planet as I cared for my mom.

Another classmate told us how she was involved with “Dark Skies,” an organization that works to stop light pollution in cities. We all agreed how important it was for kids to be able to see real stars, rather than only experiencing space as a virtual reality. There was a pause in the discussion as our class absorbed the impact of children growing up without ever seeing the Milky Way.

Tom had us all laughing about how it can stink in a spacecraft if people don’t practice good hygiene. Another classmate shared funny stories of her mother’s dementia and how she had made a conscious choice “to laugh instead of cry.” Her husband talked about his own mother’s bi-polar illness that he only discovered upon his father’s deathbed. Despite the gravitas of the situation, his story was infused with gentle humor.

And Tom told the poignant story of how he learned about a family member’s death while up in space. Despite the cramped quarters, the news was delivered in a thoughtful, private manner. Tom shared how work became a kind of balm.

Whether dealing with death, Alzheimer’s or a space flight, each of us in that room were human and had been touched by the fragility of life. I emerged from the event feeling as if I had been on a flight with my classmates. For a short time, we had been launched into space and had the opportunity (as Tom had) to look out our small window, view our place in the world and give thanks for each other and the beautiful, small spinning planet we call home.


Podcast: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

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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.


How the Story Evolves

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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.

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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.

Click here to purchase a copy of Motherhood: Lost and Found.

 


The Horse Story Behind My Memoir

* 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.

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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.

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Crimson and I at a horse show in Houston.

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.

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Crimson, my steady boy, carried me through so many hard days.

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.

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Crimson grazing with a pasture mate.

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.

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Crimson taking Sydney and me for a ride.

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.

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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.