Wednesday, January 18, 2017
AlzAuthors: Ann Campanella Shares Her Story of Motherhood and Dementia
by Ann Campanella
In my early 30s, I learned that life can change direction when you least expect it. My husband Joel and I had moved from Houston to North Carolina in order to be closer to my parents. We both had successful careers – he as a businessman and me as a writer and editor. We were looking forward to building a barn for my horse Crimson and excited about starting a family.
Life was humming along. Then I had my first miscarriage at the same time my mother began her slow spiral into Alzheimer’s. Motherhood: Lost and Found tells the story of losing my mother while I was trying to become a mother and suffering through infertility. For almost a decade, I walked a painful path of questioning who my mother was becoming and if I would ever be a mother myself.
Most of my friends had children of their own and spent their days caring for them. I was thrust into the role of caretaker for my parents, while I yearned to focus on my own children. My mother had always been kind and compassionate, so it was a shock when she wasn’t able to comfort me in my pregnancy losses.
A long-time horsewoman, I was blessed to have a surrogate family of riding students – young girls who, like me, were in love with horses. I spent afternoons at the barn teaching lessons or riding Crimson.
In the beginning of her illness, my mother became angry and upset at her own confusion. I made regular trips across the state to spend time with her and try to understand what was happening to her. I often came home to an empty house because my husband traveled frequently. Horses and writing were my solace. Seeing my mother’s anguish was heart wrenching. I wrote poems and poured my emotions into my journals. Writing provided a way for me to put some distance between myself and the grief I was feeling. When the pain was too much to bear, I would go to the barn. Some days, I could do no more than lean my head against my horse’s neck.
Crimson would stand like a statue absorbing my emotions.
Amazingly, despite this decade of loss, a part of me felt more alive than I’d ever felt before. A sense of compassion for others and appreciation for each moment grew within me as I
experienced the ragged edges of life – my mother’s illness and my own miscarriages. And I couldn’t help but be inspired by my mother’s will to live, communicate and love even as her faculties slipped away.
My faith, which had lain dormant for years, became a bigger part of my life. While the losses I experienced were heartbreaking, I also received incredible gifts of grace from my husband, family and friends, moments of intimate connection with my mother and the final miracle of a beautiful daughter.
My writing about Alzheimer’s has been received with more warmth than I could have imagined. After reading my memoir, Former North Carolina Poet Laureate Fred Chappell wrote, “I found this story valuable in an intensely personal way,” and my mentor Tony Abbott, professor Emeritus at Davidson College, said, “Motherhood: Lost and Found has much to teach us all as human beings.” I’m pleased and honored to share my story with others in the hopes of offering them comfort on their journey.
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 is a guest blogger about Alzheimer’s at www.careliving.org, a blog created by Kim Campbell, wife of country music singer Glen Campbell. Twice, Ann 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.
Connect with Ann Campanella