The Changing Moods of Lake George

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.


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.


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.


Father’s Day: Memories of Daddy

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.


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.


Reflections on my 35th College Reunion

This weekend was my 35th college reunion. Reunions tend to throw me out of my natural rhythm. All these people from my past, the stirring of old memories, event after event where there is a LOT of socializing. Did I mention that I am an introvert and easily overstimulated?

A part of my brain is busy assimilating these new/old faces, wondering about the lives they lead, wanting to know more about their present stories, remembering (or trying to remember) interactions from long ago. I suppose it’s in my nature (as a writer) to constantly be imagining the different paths my life could have taken.

After all, when I went to Davidson, I was young and unformed, like most high school graduates. I was both bold and fearful, ready to take on the world and, at the same time, hide myself from it. I didn’t take full advantage of my Davidson education. I spent more time exploring my social life, trying to find a place where I fit in, than looking outward.

Thirty-five year later, something has changed. Some of my fears have morphed into a new awareness. The decades of living and loss have left their mark on both me and my classmates. I find myself smiling into the open faces of friends and those who I didn’t know so well, hearing words that touch my heart and remind me that we are all on this journey together.

One fellow alumni made the pronouncement that here at our class reunions, he has found “his people.” He lives a few states away and has a wonderful home and community, yet he spoke what I presume many of us were feeling.

We are no longer the disparate group of students who came together back in the fall of 1978. But over the four years we were together, and the ensuing three decades and a half, we somehow became a cohesive group, a group that shares a history and a perspective, a group that folded in a mix of personalities and experienced an evolution together. An evolution of both the outer world – our political and socio-economic culture – and our own inner worlds as together we have weathered the ups and downs of a career life, families, broken relationships, aging parents, health issues and joys and heartaches of all sizes. We are no longer the wide-eyed, insecure innocents we once were.

The experience of sharing not just four years together, but a succession of life lessons, has uncovered a sense of appreciation. Not just for what was…but for what is. Who we were and who we have become. The threads of commonality have pulled us together, created a net of friendship and community, a sweet spot where each of us can land as we reunite.