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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After the Eclipse

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.

 


August Sky: Preparing for the Eclipse

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.


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.


As June Gives Way to July — Pausing to Give Thanks

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.

Foxie surveying her kingdom.

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.


Podcast: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

straightfromhorse

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.


The Resonance of November: Part II

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Me and Mom