World Alzheimer’s Day and the Gifts of September

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 Kindle version 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.

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Finding Hope in the World of Alzheimer’s

After attending the Alzheimer’s Association Dementia Education Conference here in Charlotte, I am lit from within with a fire, a desire to make things better, to provide a sense of hope for the sea of people I saw whose faces reminded me of the Sargasso Sea that I rowed on for so many years while caring for my mother who had Alzheimer’s.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t start out inspired. In fact, a part of me wanted to curl up and go to sleep, not face a full day of being reminded what it looks and feels like her to care for someone with dementia.

I didn’t want to go back to that emotional place. It was hard and lonely. I didn’t want to think about other people who are facing this pain. I didn’t want to think about my mother, how I had become an orphan in a sense before my time.

It was easier to simply put a lid on all those emotions and hide them somewhere in my heart.

At the conference, I was one of four writers in the Authors’ Corner. I was there to sell my book, offer people the opportunity to win a free Kindle version of Motherhood: Lost and Found, hand out flyers about AlzAuthors (a group of 100 authors who have banded together to provide resources for caregivers in need) and share pieces of my story – how my mother showed signs of Alzheimer’s when I was in my early 30s at the same time I was trying to become a mother.

The Author’s Corner

On the drive to the conference I prayed that God would lift me out of the swamp of my past emotions and use me as a vessel. I had no idea how this would happen. And to be honest, if I had followed my own feelings, I might have stayed in bed.

After all, going to the conference reminded me of my younger self. Twenty years ago, I went to this same conference, looking for help, seeking those who would understand, picking up brochures about places where my mother might one day be cared for. The landscape of caregiving is so different now — much brighter, with so many more options and offerings.

But what I remembered most from that long-ago conference was the sense of heaviness I carried within me. My mother was not the woman I grew up believing she would be, and I had no way of knowing how to move forward in this dusky night we both seemed to be trapped in.

There was a heaviness inside as I cared for my mother.

I came away from that day so many years ago wishing that I had a book to share with the other attendees. I had already begun working on mine, but it was nowhere near finished as my mother’s story continued for at least another decade. But, even then I sensed that my story was what I could share with others. It was the thing that might bring help and hope to people who were suffering, even as I was stumbling on my own path.

This year I came to the conference not as an attendee but as an author with boxes of books as my gift. My memoir was skimmed from the 14 years of pain and loss and grief, distilled in such a way that hope and life and light rose to the surface. My faith evolved over that time period. The hardships filed away certain rough edges of my personality. My heart was changed in ways I am grateful for, even though the process was torturous at times.

The 2017 conference brought some special surprises. I ended up sharing a table with a lovely, warm-hearted author and former nurse, Mary Ann Drummond, who has written Meet Me Where I Am, a compassionate guide about caring for those with Alzheimer’s. Her tender approach was exactly what I would have wanted for my mother. I also met Barbara Ivey and Carol Howell, two other wonderful authors who are supporting others through their books.

It was so inspiring to talk with Brian and Mary Ann.

Midway through the conference, Mary Ann and I were joined by Brian Kursonis, one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever known. Brian is 56 (my age), has early-onset Alzheimer’s and has become an important spokesperson for those dealing with dementia. Intelligent, soft-spoken and self-effacing, Brian is stepping up to the challenge of reaching millions of people in need.

How could I not be encouraged and deeply moved by these amazing individuals?

I wanted to grasp the hands of all the attendees who walked by whose faces were filled with sorrow, squeeze their palms, look into their eyes and say there is more…. There is hope… This is but a moment in time. I see you, but more importantly God sees you and He sees your loved one. It is okay, even good to cry. Your deep sadness is a stamp of your love. You are not alone, even if it feels that way. Each of us here at this conference has a story, each of these stories must be held preciously. Let us share them with one another and watch our burdens grow lighter. If we link hands and spirits, we will find room for hope.

 


Finding Myself at the Beach

The beach has always been a place of deep nourishment for me. When my mother passed away, after living with Alzheimer’s for 14 years, I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted. I fled to the coast in search of the parts of myself I had lost.

Each morning, I got up early and walked the damp sand, studied the shore birds, listened to the roar of the waves and inhaled the salt breezes. My mother had always loved the ocean and images of her inspecting shells or pointing out dolphins gradually began to float back to me.

As I remembered and grieved for my mom – the woman I had lost, the mother whose physical form had departed this world – tears filled my eyes and slipped down my cheeks.

At the same time, descriptions and words filled my head. and I began jotting down lines of poetry that turned into poems. In this period of solitude, I gave voice to the myriad emotions that came to the surface.

Little by little, a lightness began to permeate my soul. It was as if my grief had been clogging the pathways to joy. And as I gave my feelings permission to take flight through words, a sense of the sacredness of life filled me. Gradually, I awakened to some of the day-to-day blessings I had been blind to over the years as I numbly cared for my mother.

I’m excited to share my journey from grief to joy in my new collection of poetry called The Beach Poems. It will be available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co. The list price is $12. But If you live in the U.S. and you order now, you will receive the pre-publication discount of $6.50 (plus shipping).

Click here for your pre-order discount. The collection will be mailed to you upon publication. Thank you for your support, and may your beach days be blessed!


Alzheimer’s Support, Part II: A Window Into Caregiving

Spending time with my sweet mom while I was yearning to have a child.

As someone who has lived through a parent’s Alzheimer’s, I have deep appreciation for AlzAuthors and the compassion of its authors. I traveled a lonely path, caring for my mother whose memory began slipping when I was in my early 30s and trying to become a mother myself. Mom’s slow dance with Alzheimer’s lasted for 14 years.

Most of my friends had no idea what I was living through and, as a writer myself, I was hungry to read about the personal experiences of others who had gone before me.

I have a memory of standing outside my barn, feeling a light breeze as I watched the horses graze. I had no idea what was ahead on my journey with my mother, but I somehow knew that it would be important for me to share my own story.

Good books have always inspired me, and I wanted and needed to know how people not only survived this disease, but thrived in the midst of the grief and exhaustion of caregiving.

I remember spending hours late at night with a laptop perched on my knees searching every site that had the word Alzheimer’s in it. Twenty years ago, there was very little information and few books available for people like me.

Thankfully, all of that has changed. At AlzAuthors, caregivers can find a wide array of supportive resources – from handbooks on caregiving to memoirs about caring for parents, grandparents, spouses and other loved ones to fictional stories with characters who suffer from dementia to books explaining Alzheimer’s to children and more.

Part of my role on the management team will be to expand the reach of AlzAuthors on Facebook and Instagram.  You’ll be able to find us here on Facebook, and I’ll keep you posted about the upcoming Instagram account.

I’m honored to help spread the news about this wonderful resource. Let me know if you have any questions or ideas that might help get the word out to those in need.

p.s.

Motherhood: Lost and Found was featured on AlzAuthors this past January. You can read the post here.

p.p.s.

You can find “Alzheimer’s Support, Part I: Spreading the Word” here.


Alzheimer’s Support, Part I: Spreading the Word

I was recently invited to join the volunteer management team of AlzAuthors, an online site that has gathered resources for people dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Currently, AlzAuthors offers information about books (including memoir, fiction, nonfiction and poetry) and blogs written by over 100 authors. Each of these authors was touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia in some way and desires to give back.

AlzAuthors was founded in 2016 when four daughters of dementia (Jean Lee, Vicki Tapia, Shannon Wiersbitzky and Marianne Sciucco) who had written books met over the internet. They formed a friendship and a mission to create a space where caregivers could find support, and authors with stories about Alzheimer’s could connect with an audience in need.

Shannon Wiersbitzky is no longer active, but Kathryn Harrison has stepped in as the group’s Art Director.

The site says: “We share our experiences to bring knowledge, comfort, and understanding to others on this journey.”

I had the privilege of sitting in on a five-way conversation this week with the managers of AlzAuthors. It was inspiring to see how Jean, Marianne, Vicki and Kathryn work together, leaning on each other’s strengths and dedicating themselves to their mission. I was warmly welcomed into the fold and treated with kindness and respect. I’m honored to be joining this big-hearted management team.

My first project is to create and administrate a new Facebook page for AlzAuthors where we can showcase the great books and resources for those living with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers. Take a peek by clicking here and feel free to like and follow! We hope you’ll share this page with anyone who is in need of this kind of support.

Coming soon: “Alzheimer’s Support, Part II: A Window Into Caregiving” where I share some of my own story.


The Heart of a Vet

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.

Dr. Bob (photo credit: Mobile Large Animal Vet Service website)

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.

Dr. Mary (photo credit: Mobile Large Animal Vet Service website)

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.

 


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!

***

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.