Let’s Hear from an Expert: Jeanne Safer, Author of Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children

In your speaking and writing, you often tackle taboo topics. What drew you to write about women who choose not to have children?
Personal experience. It took me 5 years to make the decision not to have children myself, and I wanted to use the insights I gained to help others through this essential decision process. My most important insight: I realized I didn’t WANT to have a child; I WANTED to want to have a child.

It was also wonderful to be asked to contribute an essay to the anthology Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum. This gave me the opportunity to revisit the issue 25 years after I wrote Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children. I realized how important the decision, and the decision-making process, had been in my life. Now at age 70, I can honestly say it was absolutely right for me.

What are some of the challenges these women face in our American society?
I’m sorry to say that, although the stigma has lessened somewhat over the years since I struggled with this issue, women making this choice—or even thinking about not being mothers—worry that they are selfish, unfeminine, or missing out on fulfillment. And society reinforces these fears. The women I interviewed worked this through, and, to a woman, felt their decision was right for them.

What misconceptions would these women like to clarify with mothers?
That there are many ways to nurture; that motherhood should be a choice, not a foregone conclusion; that selfishness is equally distributed among mothers and non-mothers. And that there is NO life without regrets, losses, and gains.

What advice do you have for women who choose not to have children?
Think about it fearlessly! Make a conscious decision. You will never regret doing so. Realize that you can be creative and loving and fulfilled without a child. There are lots of women of all ages who can attest to the profound satisfactions of life (and marriage) without children if that’s the right choice for you.

What resources do you recommend for women who chose not to have children?
Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, Meghan Daum’s marvelous book, which includes MEN (of all things!) for the first time, is a wonderful resource. It provides a spectrum of wise, funny and thoughtful voices.

My website has many articles and interviews on this topic that I’ve done over the years.

 

Connect with Jeanne Safer
Email: Jeanne@JeanneSaferPhd.com
Website
Twitter: @JeanneSafer

 

Jeanne Safer, PhD, has been a practicing psychoanalyst/psychotherapist in New York City for over 40 years. She is the author of 6 books on “Taboo Topics”—the things everybody thinks about but nobody talks about. Her most recent book is The Golden Condom: And Other Essays on Love Lost and Found, which explores the many faces of passion. Dr. Safer is currently working on a book about the challenges of mixed political marriage.




Supporting Parents of Adult Children: Barbara’s Story

After retiring three times, Barbara has reinvented yet again, this time seeking to bridge the divide between parents and adult children with her website and blog, Parents of Grown Offspring.

Tell us a little about your background…
I was born into a conventional middle-class, suburban American family: working father, stay-at-home mother, two children. I am now the mother of two and the grandmother of four. The only unusual features of my early years were being sent to 8-week sleep-away camp at the age of 3–and for the 13 years thereafter–and skipping my senior year of high school to start college. Looking back I seem to have been born driven, writing, and focused on the future. As proof of the third-mentioned, look no further than my last will and testament, which I wrote at the age of 8!

A portrait of me as a young girl

Although I’ve done many things in my long career, communication was the thread that connected them all. Researching, organizing, and writing an undergraduate thesis at my alma mater, Vassar College, was the very best preparation for my life as a writer. Right out of college, I joined the staff of The Book of Knowledge and then The New York Times.

After those stints, I wrote 4 non-fiction books: America Fever : The Story of American Immigration, which was inspired by my Russian-born grandfather (and put on display at the New York Public Library); Children Through the Ages, Forward March to Freedom., the civil rights leader; and Help: A Handbook for Working Mothers. More recently, I wrote two young adult novels, Animal Kingdom and Good-To-Go Café which were designed to encourage low-achieving students to aim high in the real world. These grew out of my volunteer work with would-be entrepreneurs at our local high school.

My books

Shortly after college I met my husband on a blind date and married him four months later. Making the wedding while working at a high-stress job became the subject of my first published article, “How to Get Married, Work, and Survive.” (We writers never waste an important life experience.)

My wedding day

When our younger daughter was in second grade, I joined the corporate world as a public relations practitioner, first for an energy company and then for a satellite communications firm. Upon moving from New York to California, I got in touch with my inner entrepreneur and founded my first company, Greenleaf Video, to take advantage of the how-to video craze. I ran it for several years and then was happily acquired by a public company. Upon this first retirement at the age of 47, I took classes in every craft known to woman: among them basket and fabric weaving, quilting, calligraphy, knitting, bookbinding, and paper folding. I also studied the piano, the ukulele, specialty hors-d’oeuvres, organic cooking, Pilates, and yoga. I was pretty bad at almost all of it, except for quilting, which I still do.

Eventually, my happy housewife phase petered out and I found myself putting on a suit and high heels to do the dishes. That’s when I knew it was time to go back to work. While volunteering for a political campaign, I met the head of a major accounting firm, who then hired me as a PR consultant. Strategic Communications/LA was born. I was fortunate in attracting such wonderful clients as Price Waterhouse, the RAND Corporation, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Southern California SPCA. It was during this phase that I wrote speeches, which turned out to be my favorite genre and earned me spots in Vital Speeches of the Day and a “Best Speech in Los Angeles” award. After 10 years, I split the company into two parts, found buyers, and retired again at 57.

During this second attempt at retirement, I played golf, became an environmental activist, and founded and ran the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival. After some time and some soul-searching on a milestone birthday, I realized I missed working for money. That led me to resuscitate Strategic Communications. I drew on my network of social contacts to reboot, and among my initial clients was Antioch University Santa Barbara.

When the school had an opening for a fundraiser and event planner, I was invited to apply and, lo and behold, I was hired! I got a big kick out of my lovely office, being part of a team, dressing for work again, having business lunches, being accepted by the younger staff (and they were all younger), and learning a lot about higher ed. It was truly a shot in the arm for me at this stage of my life. Alas, after a few years, circumstances at the university changed, so I retired for the third time at 73.

 

When did you start to think about making yet another fresh start?
I had been thinking of creating a blog/website for some time, but my third retirement was undoubtedly the catalyst for finally pulling it together. Over the years friends had shared their heartaches, happiness, and their own growing pains during that confusing time of life when their children left home, returned home, or started their own families.

As a historian interested in the evolution of human feeling and a mother myself, I began to ponder if there was any purpose to the nuclear family today once the children had grown up and gone their separate ways. In the past there was a definite connection: The generations often lived under the same roof, tilled the soil communally, or ran the family business together. Today, matters are much less clear-cut. In fact, parents and children often have very different expectations of their roles vis-à-vis one another, which leads to a lot of misunderstanding and hurt feelings.

 

What is your next act?
I feel my mission in life is now to help parents have a more fulfilling relationship with their adult children. My blog/website Parents of Grown Offspring (to remember, think “POGO”), which I recently launched at 73, celebrates intergenerational success stories, suggests ways to heal rifts, and lets parents know they are not alone or the only ones encountering problems with their grown “kids.”

Basically, there are three parts to our content. The first, “Think About It,” contains sticky situations à la Dear Abby, only the readers propose the solutions themselves. The second consists of interviews with experts and research on such sore-spot subjects as intergenerational communication (or lack thereof), how to give advice and when to zip it, and how to set limits when your child comes home to live. In the third, we offer cartoons, poems, movie reviews, songs, and jokes about parents and their adult children.

Designed to be interactive, POGO encourages readers to help each other by sharing their own experiences and tips for an improved relationship. As I am not looking to make money from the blog, signups are free and come with The Ten Best Things You Can Say to Your Adult Child.

At work on my blog

How hard was it to take the plunge?
As a serial entrepreneur, it was not difficult for me to start a new project. But, before I did any writing for the blog, I thoroughly searched the Internet to see if there were already websites devoted solely to my topic. I can’t stress strongly enough how important (and yet how often not undertaken) it is to do “due diligence,” i.e., your homework. If you have a copycat product, your chances of success are slim. In my case, I couldn’t find anything devoted specifically to my topic, which is when I knew I had a unique niche to fill.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?
When I told the family about POGO, my husband was immediately supportive. A real trooper, he’s always there for me, no matter how off-the-wall my ideas! Our older daughter was also enthusiastic, offering to do a podcast about the benefits of having a mother with whom to commiserate about bringing up “unusual” children like her. Our younger daughter, however, was cool to the idea. She felt the subject matter and tone of the blog were negative. After hearing her reaction, I looked at my initial material with fresh eyes and agreed that, indeed, the site reeked of exasperation. I went back to the drawing board to make it more solution-oriented and to highlight successes as well as frustrations.

As to friends, by now they expect me to always have some new project brewing. Although when I took my last full-time job, well past the age when most people have retired, one woman did exclaim, “Barbara, what’s wrong with you?!”

Recent family reunion at a Santa Barbara beach, celebrating my birthday

What challenges have you encountered?
In the months preceding the launch, it was a hard slog to put together so many original articles because my web designer felt POGO should look like a going concern from Day 1. Since then I’ve been finding that researching and writing while spreading the word and keeping up with social media is a lot more work than I had anticipated. But by far my biggest bugaboo is the technology. I have no aptitude for, nor interest in, things electronic, yet here I am operating in a digital world. I’ve committed to becoming more computer literate, but I’ll probably always need a lot of propping up. I also find it a little creepy doing business in the silent world of computers without any aural interaction. I’m afraid I’m going to become one of those crazy ladies who strike up conversations with strangers on the checkout line just to hear the sound of another human voice!

 

What did you learn about yourself in this process?
I thought I was empathic before, but I’ve become much more compassionate toward parents, who have been given an impossible set of standards to live up to. I see my mission as giving them a big group hug accompanied by the assurance, “I appreciate all you’ve done and are doing. I celebrate you not just on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day but all year round. You showed up for your families.”

With my grandson

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I should have left my last full-time position as soon as it became apparent that I could never fix what needed fixing. It’s not wrong to say, “It’s not my job,” but somehow we women often feel an enormous—and misguided—sense of responsibility to try to make things right. I should have listened to my gut feelings.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Make “What the hell!” your motto. At this stage of life, there’s little at stake; no one cares if you try and fail or try and lose interest. Give it a go, get what you can out it, and when it’s time to stop, stop. If you can afford it, undertake only what interests you and what feels right. I like participating in the world because I conceptualize life as a piggy bank: You have to put in to take out. My mother started to suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease when she was younger than I am and slowly deteriorated for 15 years. Given that family history, I’m grateful (and amazed) every day that I still have the brainpower to do what I love—work.

 

What advice do I have for those interested in pursuing your reinvention path?
Altruism does not come free. There are many start-up costs and ongoing fees associated with creating and maintaining a blog/website, not to mention Facebook ads and other social media boosts to build your list of followers. Unless you are remarkably adept at website design, know the ins and outs of the Internet, and live and breathe social media, you are going to need help and that help is going to cost. Even if you are doing this as a labor of love as I am, you have to face the fact that at some point you may have to monetize your site. You will also have to pay to get out the word because, as one blogger warned me, “If you build it, they may not come.”

What resources do you recommend?
Books:

I Only Say This Because I Love You: How the Way We Talk Can Make or Break Family Relationships Throughout Our Lives by Deborah Tannen. The classic on intergenerational communications.

You’re Wearing That?: Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen. Drilling down to particularly fraught interactions.

Setting Boundaries® with Your Adult Children: Six Steps to Hope and Healing for Struggling Parents by Allison Bottke. A tough love approach with a Christian perspective.

When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up?: Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult by Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Fishel. For parents whose children are 18-29.

When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along by Joshua Coleman, Ph.D. You’ll find a lot of fresh, sensible, and actionable advice here.

Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Parents by Jane Isay. Heartfelt wisdom shared parent-to-parent.

Websites:

Grown and Flown. Insights for parents whose kids are just entering or just leaving college.

Next Avenue. PBS site with some articles on parents and their adult children.

Ga Ga Sisterhood: Grandmothers’ site with some articles on interacting with daughters-in-law and other aspects of intergenerational relationships.

Empowering Parents. Some articles on dealing with young adults.

 

What’s next for you? Do you have another next act in your future?
I sincerely hope not. I have ambitious goals for Parents of Grown Offspring that should keep me busy until the end of my days. I want to create an awareness that parenting grown children is a separate stage of life—with its own pitfalls, protocols, and opportunities—and initiate a national dialogue on responsibilities and reasonable expectations on both sides of the parent/adult child divide.

I’ve also acquired a new passion, assemblage, so perhaps I’ll be the Grandma Moses of art from found objects. I scour thrift shops and tag sales for odd items that will add interest to my pieces. Tellingly, no matter how disparate my pieces, they always seem to include at least some writing. As I just told a young audience at Girls Inc., if you cut open my veins, words will come tumbling out . . .

 

Connect with Barbara Greenleaf
Email: info@parentsofgrownoffspring.com
Website
Facebook
Linkedin
Twitter: @bkgreenleaf
Instagram




Writing a Memoir to Shed Light on Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Lucinda’s Story

LUCINDA 7 APRIL 2016Lucinda grew up with an abusive mother and married a narcissist. It took her daughter’s plea for her to leave everything behind, including her husband, and start over. She recounts her life, full of abuse but also adventure and comic moments, in her memoir, Walking Over Eggshells.

 

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I often describe myself as born in Dublin, dragged up in the Cotswolds and finished off in Liverpool! I was born in a time when it was not allowed to question your elders—the remnants of “children should be seen and not heard.”

I was the only child of a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who was widowed when I was only two, and quite determined to control every aspect of my life. I was only three years old when I ran away from home for the first time and I continued, at regular intervals, to escape whenever I could.

P1000284

I was always into books!

I went to college some distance from my hometown, but was coerced into going home every weekend. This continued when I had a teaching job 30 miles from home, even though I was now in my twenties. I had been so conditioned as a child it was impossible for me to say no. The guilt I felt when I disobeyed my mother was huge.

I met and married—within 12 weeks—a Walter Mitty character (from the movie Catch Me If You Can, an ordinary person with adventurous, self-aggrandizing ideas), who took me to live in Kenya, Libya, Botswana, Swaziland and South Africa. In general, he never held a job longer than 18 months and unwittingly I supported the family by continuing to teach, breed furry animals for pet shops, run a riding school, sew giant teddy bears, and work at the local radio station while entertaining my husband’s business associates and raising our two children.

One failed venture after another saw us move from country to country, often with the creditors not far behind. To my horror, after a successful career in teaching, one year into my latest posting, I was fired from a very posh school in Pretoria, South Africa. To this day, I have no idea why. In desperation, I went for a radio audition at the South African Broadcasting Corporation and, while I failed the continuity recording, the pieces I had written for the drama department were noticed and I was told to “Go home and write.”

Crew shot 0340

Filming in a children’s hospital

The result was first prize in the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) Radio Drama of the Year Award and that led to commissions for radio scripts. This eventually led to my giving up teaching—I had applied for and was accepted at another school—and after several years I moved over to scripting for television and became involved on the production side as well.

I loved the media and for the next 20+ years, I continued working in South Africa for the SABC, large corporate companies and a wide variety of clients, writing and producing programs for broadcast, conferences, educational establishments, and so on. I also contributed regularly in the print media.

Several times I suffered from burnout. I was working 27/4 to earn enough to house and feed one husband—who could not be relied on to bring home a regular salary—two children, a housekeeper, and several household pets including a St Bernard.

P1000166

We had been in South Africa about 11 years when I moved down to Durban to live on a boat, the prelude to sailing around the world—yet another idea from my Walter Mitty spouse. However, shortly after, my husband skipped the country, returning to England and leaving me with an unpaid mortgage on the boat and a pile of debt.

I had by then found work writing and producing for the local municipality and in 1994 I sold up and followed him back to London. At that time, I was determined that our 23-year marriage was going to work somehow. My biggest wish was to keep the family together.

All this time in the background, my mother was still giving me a hard time, even across continents. There were the constant criticisms, the deliberate attempts to break up my marriage, the cruel stories about my childhood she shared with my children. Outwardly, I was a successful entrepreneur working in the glamorous world of television, while inwardly I was an insecure, miserable wreck.

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

The “aha” moment was the day, back in London, when my youngest climbed onto my lap—she was 16 at the time—and said “Mummy, I don’t like it here. Please can we go home (back to Africa)?”

I had never even considered leaving my husband, even if he had run out on me. That old school adage “You made your bed, now you lie on it” had always been part of my belief. I learned later that a woman is not capable of leaving an unhappy situation unless she is given permission. Not knowing this at that time, I went to Relate, a government counseling service in London and, during our discussion, the thought came to me that I should, could, and would leave. I was 46 years old, with two kids (one who was grown and had left home), no life insurance, no pension, no home, and no certain future.

While some people would argue that I had never been sexually or physically abused—if you don’t count some severe spankings in childhood—I had been emotionally battered from the time I’d been born. I’ll never know what gave me the strength to get on that plane with my youngest daughter, say goodbye to my husband, and return to South Africa with less than $100 in the bank. I had nowhere to live, three cardboard boxes full of clothes, a car—I’d left it there to sell and now the payments were months overdue—a stack of bills, and no work.

CIMG3572

Back in Africa

On the plus side, I was offered scripts to write a couple of days after my return, and I had my sense of humor and, I was told, the ability to write. I think that’s what saw me through. It wasn’t easy, and again I buried myself in my work.

My daughter and I celebrated the day we could afford to buy a bottle of orange juice as a treat and I cried on the day I bought a second plate so we could eat at the same time—and the damn thing broke the first time I used it!

Sometime later, my elder daughter joined us and I began to make some headway with the bills, moved us to a larger flat, and began to get back on my feet. Slowly I gained my independence and learned that I could cope, that I had been coping all those years and holding it all together. I had believed my Ex when he told me it was all down to him.

I believe I made history by handling my own divorce. By now no one knew where my husband was, and even his mother had become unlisted after threatening phone calls to her from people trying to find out her son’s whereabouts. In the end I had to serve summons on both his mother and the last girlfriend of his I had knowledge of. Although I had absolutely no plans to ever get involved romantically again, a few years later, I met my present husband, Dave.

Loraine 2 435

Dave and I in Paris

I made several attempts to make the peace with my mother, but nothing worked. She continued to harass me and, despite my best efforts, she eventually disinherited me and left everything to my children and a young fortune hunter who appeared on the scene a few years before she passed. It’s ironic that I was the only one with her when she died, but there was no “Hollywood moment” before she drew her last breath. She said not a word.

In the meantime, life was becoming more difficult in South Africa; our domestic help was shot outside our house, crime rose, all our children had left, the cost of medical aid was soaring, my new husband had been made redundant at work and, worst of all, my video production company was being sidelined—all work was now going to black South Africans. My husband and I decided to retire to Spain, where we now live a simple life in a small rabbit hutch overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

ALL MY BOOKS MARCH 2016

My first 5 books

 

What is your next act?

After years of “writing to order,” I have discovered a whole new career and am writing what I want to write—I admit to spending most of my days on the laptop! Amazon has offered so many of us the opportunity to share our work with the world, and I’ve now published six books. After the hurt of putting my memoir together and baring my soul to the whole world, I think in a way I was taking control back when I decided to write my first full-length novel. I chose a heroine and for once I was in complete control—no client to tell me what to write or what stats to include, but a character I could torture or make happy, absolutely anything! I wrote my first novel in six months; the result was Amie: An African Adventure, which came out in 2014.

Next, I decided to write about my life in the media before I forget what I’ve done, and that came out in two volumes in the Truth, Lies & Propaganda series (in 2014 and 2015), followed by a second Amie book (Amie and The Child of Africa, 2015).

Not only is it fun writing, it’s invigorating learning about blogging, tweeting, and other social media, along with more marketing techniques that hopefully bring in sales. I am busier now than I have been since I stopped work formally and I am passionately happy doing it.

 

 

Lucinda-72dpi-1500x2000.jpg NEW WOE

How did you come to write your memoir?

After years and years of working non-stop, I thought retirement would suit me, but it was at this time that my mother became senile and eventually passed away and by an amazing twist of fate, twice in one day, I heard about Narcissistic Personality syndrome. It explained so simply why my mother had behaved the way she had, what motivated her, and why I had been knocking my head against a brick wall for years hoping I could get her to love me. If your own mother doesn’t love, you who can? What is wrong with you? Even though I had seen how cruel my mother had been to my stepfather, I still was unable to make that transition into thinking it was about her and not me.

The revelation that a form of mental illness had been at the root of so much trouble—making me a nervous wreck for over 60 years and influencing an unwise choice of life partner—kept me wondering if only I had known… I first wrote the manuscript for Walking Over Eggshells for my daughters in the hope it would mend fences and explain my actions. They were born in an age when children are not only seen and heard but express their thoughts forcibly—it’s the “me” generation. I wanted them to understand my generation.

It was at that point I reasoned if I couldn’t help them, maybe I could help the millions of others caught up in relationships with Narcissists. I had gone on a lot of online forums and chatted to other women in the same situation as me and I learned that 9% of the population suffer from one personality disorder or another. So I hauled out the manuscript, brought it up to date, and decided to publish it under a pen name. I told no one; only my present husband was aware of its existence. I uploaded it to Amazon and there it sat for a year, selling only 12 copies.

At some point, my children found out about the book, I have no idea how, and that’s when I decided to promote it. I had also read another book, The Secret Life of Captain X: My Life with a Psychopath Pilot and if I compared my ex’s behavior, I had married a psychopath. That explained a lot as well. More puzzle pieces fell into place.

MY WORK SPACE

My work space

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

I had no support from friends or family at all, and my children were very angry with me. But I felt that if I could help even a couple of dozen women or teenagers then this would outweigh their disapproval. I have received many emails from readers telling me the book has helped them and how much they relate to the feelings and emotions. Those letters are very precious to me. I always reply. We are fellow sufferers through no fault of our own.

My current husband is a bit bemused by it all. He expected a quiet relaxed retirement, but I am now passionately into a new career and very determined to succeed. I have always been driven. He supported my publishing the book, but I did wait until both my mother and my ex mother-in-law were deceased before I released it.

IMG_2075

With Dave in Venice

 

What challenges did you encounter?

While writing and editing the book was cathartic in a way, I find it impossible not to cry when I read it. I made every attempt to make it as light-hearted as possible but the memory of all the hurt, all the suffering, all the despair hits home all over again.

In the book, I include some letters I had written home while living in Botswana and South Africa. On one occasion while staying with my mother, I walked into my bedroom to find every Christmas and birthday present I had ever given her. She wanted nothing from me and insisted I was to remove them from her house. Beside them were the piles of letters I had written home, which she also wanted me to take. I was so hurt but tried hard not to let it show.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

When I ran my own production company and received accolades for my work, I had confidence in that arena, but I had no confidence in myself as a person. It was only after the discovery of my mother’s NPD, chatting with others on the web and with an old friend who knew my mother well, that I began to believe in myself. I still have to work at it though. I still have to reassure myself that I’m OK, at 67 years old.

BOOK SIGNING

Book signing

 

Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?

I was lucky, in a way. Going through a divorce and alienation from my only parent, all alone in a foreign country, I had no time to sit and feel sorry for myself. I had to go out there and work and put food on the table. I think that’s what saved me.

Any woman will tell you that when you have children to feed, clothe, and educate, you keep going no matter what. If I was no use as a daughter, then maybe I could be a better mother, or wife. I needed to prove myself as just an OK person and I tried time and time again. I had attempted suicide when I was a teenager, but that was the only time I tried to end it all. I just had to keep on trying again, and again, and again.

Since I now know that there is no cure for Narcissism and the only way to protect yourself is to end contact, I should have cut myself off from my mother as soon as I left home. Having said that, I did everything in my power to be a good daughter and my conscience is clear. I’m not sure I could have coped with the guilt had I cut all communication. My mother’s parents too would have been most distressed and put tremendous pressure on me to play the dutiful daughter.

View from our terrace

View from our terrace

When we retired to Spain, I was expecting long, lazy days in the sunshine pottering about the house. I still wrote a few scripts and articles for clients in South Africa, but it didn’t take too long before I began to get bored. I’ve always had a lot of extra energy, and I taught myself how to do PowerPoint presentations and gave history talks to interested groups. I was asked to speak at a couple of functions, but they were always funny anecdotes about my life—no mention whatsoever of my early days. I then began writing in earnest.

I made many friends when we moved to our present house in Spain and I was surprised to learn there were many others who had also had a difficult start in life. I often think that if you are dealt a challenge in life, there are only two ways to go: over or under. I remember a girl at my school whom I’d really admired, especially as my mother was constantly comparing me unfavorably to her. She was pretty, popular and all the boys loved her. We both trained to be teachers but only two years after qualifying, she committed suicide. I was knocked sideways—I remember telling myself that whatever happened in life, I was not going to let it beat me, ever.

Friday morning market

Dave and I shopping at our Friday morning market

Apart from all the writing and marketing, we have a close group of friends and have the odd dinner party, or sundowners and chats, and there are masses of restaurants in our area as it is a year round tourist destination.

I facilitate a group of people who have all lived in Africa and we get together once a month for a meal. I also visit at the local hospital and co-ordinate the visitor list for volunteers. We go to check on the English-speaking patients and make sure they have visitors and know where to go for help—Spanish Social Services are not as active here as they are in the UK.

I also continue with my monthly column, a political satire, which is certainly not meant to be taken seriously, and I’ve two more history talks coming up soon.

And, like everyone else you can add to this the cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing, ironing, polishing, sweeping and all the other really boring mindless stuff we have to do in our day to day lives. Why, if we can send men to the moon, can’t the scientists tell me how to keep dust out of my house!

One reason for my writing is to make a few pennies so we can travel, which is something I love. There are so many places to see and people to meet – but I’m a little too old now to backpack!

IMG_0258

In front of the Prado Museum, Madrid

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife? What would you say to women in an abusive relationship?

Believe in yourself and realize that we are much, much stronger than men. So often we have such little faith in ourselves. Take one day at a time, set out to accomplish one goal, and mentally reward yourself when you have achieved it. You CAN do it.

If you feel you are in an abusive relationship, seek out those who are in similarly abusive relationships. While the media appears to understand physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse can be just as damaging if not more so. There are so few outward signs. I was brought up in a good middle class home, attended a private school, was taken to ballet lessons and well clothed and fed. Yet my childhood was a living hell, every single day with a mother who never once told me she loved me, never gave me a hug, and destroyed my psyche and my self-confidence, and left me with no coping skills for adulthood.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in writing a memoir?

Since I was a small child, I remember reading, even if it was under the bedclothes. My one ambition was to write. I had a massive career change at 37 from teaching to writing. It doesn’t matter what work you do, you have to have a passion for it, then it’s not work. If you can jump out of bed and cry “Yes! It’s Monday” you can cope with so many other things.

Sit down with pen and paper or a keyboard and just write. No one can teach you how to write but once you have your story on paper, there are people who can help you get it into shape. Write with passion, write to tell your story, as a form of catharsis but also with the idea that you will either entertain or help or comfort the reader

Giving a lecture

Giving a lecture

 

What resources do you recommend for women who are victims of abuse?

My first lifeline was a small group of people who met to discuss their week and give each other help and guidance. I didn’t realize it at the time but our leader was a trained counselor and for the first time I learned that men had feelings! It made it so much easier talking to people who were also going through relationship issues.

I also found a website called Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers and I had many chats on there. I checked out the list of symptoms and behavioral traits of the syndrome and the friends I made on there were a huge help.

Then the site imploded, there was a lot of bitching and backbiting and the site went down. I was devastated. I was losing so many close online friends all at once. There is another site up now by the same administrator but I would only find it useful for definitions of the disorders; there is no forum.

I did find another forum, which is still up and running and has been for several years, Charlotte’s Web of Narcissism. There are some really nice people on there who helped me through a particularly difficult time with my children.

Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life by Susan Ward gives examples of adults who had toxic parents.

Joint book signing

Joint book signing

 

What about resources for would-be writers and memoir writers?

There is an excellent Facebook group called We Love Memoirs. you are not allowed to promote your book on their page, but the administrators will do that for you. There is an offshoot, WLM Authors, where you can ask questions and get advice. Indie Author Support and Discussion is also excellent, again for general chat and answers to technical problems. The author members are always willing to help other authors and we have warm and friendly communities.

I write a blog each week to make friends, not necessarily to spam my book, and by connecting to other blogs there is a wealth of help and knowledge out there. It is so different than working in the corporate world where we are friends, but rivals. The writer community is always willing to support and advise. There are also books to help, too numerous to mention here, but you will find them on blogs and Facebook posts and you can ask if they were helpful and provided value for the money before you buy.

I rarely read memoirs, especially by famous people, but my favorite might be Margaret Eleanor Leigh’s books, like The Wrong Shade of Yellow and Everything will be Just Perfect!. They are written with a wry sense of humor, which I love. Also Valerie Poore’s books, especially the first one, African Ways, about living in Africa not too far away from where I was, although we only met on Facebook years later. I also love Ghost No More: a memoir by Ceecee James and The Secret Life of Captain X: My Life with a Psychopath Pilot by Mrs.XNoMore.

 

book

What are you working on next?

My latest book, Unhappily Ever After: A Fairy Tale for Grown-ups, will surprise many of my readers who think they know what to expect, as it’s a fantasy satire set in Fairyland. I’ve revisited it 200 years after that memorable Ball when Cinderella lost her shoe, to find that, raised on the wrong side of the tracks, Cinderella has had quite enough of the prim and proper Prince Charming. She wants a divorce.

The other royal families are also having problems. Snow White is refusing to please her husband Harold and go where every woman has gone before, while Sleeping Beauty and Augustus have the opposite problem: a brood of 28 they can’t afford to feed.

Enter the Green Giant who’s been sent to foment unrest among the peasants and disrupt this year’s ball.

It’s a little politically incorrect for this modern day and age, but as it is an historical account, I hope people will understand. I have no idea how many will buy it, but I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from early readers who laughed all the way through.

Laughter is so healing and many of our most famous comedians have had very sad private lives. Makes you think.

 

Contact Lucinda E. Clarke at lucindaeclarke@gmail.com

Blog

Website

Amazon Author Page 

Twitter @LucindaEClarke

Facebook




Founding a Nonprofit to Support Caregivers: Lisa’s Story

Lisa most current headshot (1)Lisa completed both a college degree and a graduate degree in Counseling Psychology in midlife. With her father’s passing, and his inspiration, she chose to use her gifts to launch a nonprofit helping the unsung heroes who care for the ill and the elderly.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh called Westwood, the youngest of six children. My parents founded and managed a roofing company, where I learned the value of a work ethic. At times, my father would have my sister and me help with cleaning up the shingles that were ripped off the roof—whatever fell into the yard or bushes, that didn’t make the dumpster. We would also clean his shop. I also learned from my mother, who ran the business from the office, and her many organizational skills; at times, she would have me help with sealing and stamping envelopes.

Werwie Picture

My father was an avid outdoorsman and we spent many hours in the summertime at a cottage near Pymatuning Lake, in Espyville, Pennsylvania. Learning to explore the creeks, trails, and lakes of that area gave me a love for nature and all things growing.

I am still married to the wonderful man I married at 19; Chuck is the complete opposite of my free spirit but recognizes my need for constant exploration and an ever changing identity. Marrying young and moving to Arizona helped shape who I am today. In Arizona, Chuck was in school full time studying aeronautical engineering while I owned and operated a daycare, driven by the need to work but the desire to not put my first two children in daycare.

Wedding 1982

By 27, we were back in Pittsburgh, having had two additional children. I started a small embroidery business out of our home and kept busy with the children’s school PTO. I spent a large percentage of my married life as a work-from-home mother and, once my younger two children were in middle school, I began working outside the home as a secretary.

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

Cropped picture of me and my dad a few years before he died

With my dad a few years before he died

With a burning desire to receive an education, I began working on my undergraduate degree when I was in my early forties, while also working as a secretary, at Robert Morris University (RMU). It wasn’t until my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died in 2005 that I had an “aha” moment that created a desire to charge full force into finishing my undergraduate degree. As I was exploring core subjects, I realized psychology would be the best fit for me.

I then left RMU and transferred my credits to Chatham University, completed my undergraduate degree in psychology and then my graduate degree in Counseling Psychology, all the while achieving a certificate in horticultural therapy and starting a non-profit. While I was in my studies at Chatham, most of my elective courses were in death, dying, and grief counseling. Still struggling somewhat with the loss of my father, my second parent—my mom died when I was 22 years old—I felt disconnected from the world, about as unpredictable as nature.

Master's Degree Graduation

Graduating with my Masters

Searching for a way to keep evolving, I planted, with the help of my family—including our soon to be son-in-law, Josh—my first vegetable garden. Always an avid gardener of flowers, moving forward with the idea of nurturing the body, mind, and soul through vegetable growing became a passion. I found working with the plants holistic and healing; soon gardening provided a space for me to come to terms with the identity loss that so many experience with a loss. As I began to reconnect, a dream from my late father divinely inspired me to begin helping others to feel the same way.

Inside Pap's Garden

 

What is your next act?

Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 11.01.21 AMIn 2011, at the age of 47, I founded Hope Grows, a nonprofit providing support to caregivers, mainly family caregivers. Our mission is to inspire hope through nature while empowering caregivers to seek wellness of mind, body, and spirit. Our core values are deeply embedded in the belief that nature and the natural world are therapeutic and that wellness can occur through mindfulness, positive thinking, and a connection of mind, body, and spirit. Our services include counseling and support through mental health therapy, peer support groups, and education. We offer therapeutic respite through the use of essential oils, nature walks, labyrinth walks, and programming that allows the caregiver a short break. We are developing a professional caregiver model of stress management, compassion fatigue, and mediation between the professional health staff and the family caregiver.

 

Garden of Hope-4

In 2015, our third year as a nonprofit, Hope Grows served, on average, 50 caregivers and care recipients every month, and has provided 62 hours of education, 96 hours of therapeutic respite, and 380 hours of volunteer service. We have a very active board of directors with seven individuals currently helping to run the nonprofit, donating their time and energy to carry out our mission. I am the (volunteer) Executive Director, counselor, and go to person but I do hire sub-contractors to help with our programming and activities.

I also do speaking engagements, typically by word of mouth and referrals. I only charge when I am presenting on a topic that is educational in nature, such as stress management or compassion fatigue. I do not charge when I am presenting about Hope Grows and advocating for the need to support family caregivers. I typically ask for a donation to the organization. Most of my speaking has been local but I just recently received an invite to present to an agency on aging in another county in Pennsylvania. I am also submitting a speaking proposal for the National Arch Respite Conference in September, which will be held in Denver, CO.

Our biggest endeavor is the opening of a bed & breakfast for caregivers to be able to escape to a retreat that will help them to regain balance, as well as seek counseling and support. The goal is to help them return home with coping skills that will allow them to increase their quality of life and decrease the occurrence of chronic illness. We currently have a home that is surrounded by 2 ½ acres of nature. There are five healing and restorative gardens on the property and we have plans to develop the remaining acreage. We are applying for a county grant to be able to complete the zoning required for house renovations and the development of the remaining gardens so that we can open our doors to caregivers.

Our Home - Future Hope House

Future Hope House

 

What are the needs of caregivers that you are working to address?

Caregiving takes a significant toll on the caregiver’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Studies show that caregivers are in worse health than others due to lower levels of self-care; they have an increased risk of heart disease, show more frequent signs of depression, and suffer from high levels of stress and frustration. They pay the ultimate price for providing care—an increase in mortality. The sad part to these statistics is that caregivers are more likely to ignore their health and NOT seek support, often due to tight budgets; caregivers spend on average $5500 a year on care costs and many quit their careers to provide care in the home, as most cannot afford reliable replacement care.

This is why our mission is so important to me and hopefully to all of you, building awareness of the need, creating a unified front with larger caregiver communities, and developing a model that will empower caregivers to seek wellness of mind, body, and spirit. I remain passionate about achieving our vision in putting a stop to the ultimate risk of caregiving, death! Caregivers should not die for providing care to others and your help is needed. Sorry, I really get passionate about educating people on the need for this support.

Butterfly in the Woodland Garden

 

Why did you choose this next act?  

The inspiration for this work with the nonprofit is rooted in my love for my father. His death inspired this change and after he died I learned there was not enough support for the family caregiver and their families.

I believe in the power of the connection between people and plants, and the maintenance of optimal health through a holistic and mindful focus. I recently have been told that I am a Renaissance woman, but I consider myself to be a trailblazer—through the garden path—in providing a new way for the healthcare industry to view the silent client, the family caregiver.

I believe I chose this next act to be able to share this vision and empower the community to become part of the mission.

IMG_5114

Our Hope Grows office

What other options did you consider?  

I did not consider other options. I learned through my journey of grief is that listening to my higher self (intuition or gut feel) became the fuel for finding my purpose. I continue to always reinvent me within this spectrum of purpose. I have always been someone who was extremely aware of me, but I continue to learn about mindfulness in that spectrum of mind, body, and soul awareness.

I also learned through the path of sadness, that spirituality played an unexplainable role in the determination to make sense of my loss and how it was affecting my entire being, mind, body, and spirit.

Miniature Garden

Our miniature garden

 

How did you figure out which way to go?

Dad and Lisa

With my dad, as a young girl

I followed my heart and intuition, that gut feel that I have always listened. Before my dad died, I used to be the type of person that when a door closed (an opportunity) I would stand behind it (not literally) and contemplate what I might have done wrong. I now ask my dad to show me the open window and 99% of the time something happens that leads me to the next step along this journey.

I’m not quite sure how I was motivated to take Hope Grows from idea to implementation, other than the guidance of my deceased father and the support of family and friends. To this day, I feel like I had a spiritual push that continues to drive my motivation. I have never been purpose driven but this truly has become my purpose.

From the start, I knew Hope Grows needed to be a nonprofit because family caregivers could not afford to receive services. This type of support is also not reimbursable through health insurance. As mentioned above, caregiver budgets are already tight and more work needs to occur for “respite money” to be put towards a “caregiver break.” Getting the larger caregiver communities on board is vital in supporting their caregivers to gain an overnight break, at a place like the bed & breakfast Hope Grows is creating.

IMG_4603

Volunteer with child of a caregiver

I founded Hope Grows shortly before I graduated with my Masters in Counseling Psychology. After graduation, I began working in the hospice field as a spiritual and bereavement counselor while working towards my credentials to become a Licensed Professional Counselor and a certified Thanatologist (someone who is trained in the studies of death and dying). Just recently, I left that position to devote myself full time to Hope Grows.

 

How hard was it to take the plunge?

I don’t recall it being hard to take this plunge, because I didn’t see it in the terms of falling, pushing, or throwing in the sense of the definition of the word. I saw it as opportunity for growth, and evolving, and reinventing. I am a cautious risk taker and typically not afraid of taking chances or changing, so I think in part with my Type A personality, I saw it as an adventure. In addition, when one works through grief, a part of that journey is reinventing your identity while finding a place for the memories of the one you lost. I was searching for a new identity.

I began by seeking out resources and support in the nonprofit area, and then researched how to incorporate and start a nonprofit. I looked at local resources and went to workshops to learn how to start a nonprofit. I continue to educate and surround myself with people who know more than I do.

Chuck, Lisa, Children, and GrandChildren 2015

Chuck and I with our children and grandchildren

 

How supportive have your family and friends been?

My family and friends were and still are very supportive. Two of my high school friends currently serve on the board of directors for Hope Grows. One in particular, Denise, was very supportive of my passion and desire to achieve my degree.

I would have to say, my spouse was not as supportive as I had hoped in the beginning. I’m going to stereotype a little here, but I think the male ego is fragile and I think he saw this new change in midlife as a little bit threatening. I mentioned that I was a housewife and mother first and Chuck was comfortable with this arrangement and with being the breadwinner. Don’t get me wrong, he is a great guy and, once his ego was in check (a little psychology for you), he has been hands on and supportive with everything that I am doing.

Chuck serves on the Board of Directors and helps out wherever he can. I have a nephew who also serves on the Board of Directors. My niece has given many volunteer hours helping with administrative work. My children and their significant others help with garden maintenance and attend all of our events and support and help in any way they can. I have extended family, sisters and brothers, in-laws, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends who contribute time and donations, and support in any way they can. I am blessed to have so many loving members of my family and extended community, people who believe in me and in my ability to take Hope Grows from an idea to a sustaining organization.

Chuck, Chaz (son), Josh & Brenden (son-in-laws) building greenhouse

Chuck with our son and son-in-laws, building our greenhouse

 

What challenges have you encountered?

I would have to say the biggest challenge I have encountered is balancing everything: attending school, being a wife and mother (and a grandmother eventually!), managing our household and social life. Thank goodness I didn’t have to work on top of that; I have been very blessed in that area of my life.

As for the organization, one challenge is in the area of communication. As with a lot of missions, ours does not speak for itself. Unless you have been in those shoes, it is hard to relate to the strain and stress and have it pull at your heartstrings. We use social media, word of mouth, and the larger caregiver communities for referrals to our services. Not having a lot of money for advertising or paid employees, we have to balance the aid we can provide with the appropriate infrastructure to support it. We are making progress, learning how to use social media and communicate better, and leveraging interested communities and our volunteers to help. In time, we will be financially sustainable and I can take off some of the many hats that I currently wear.

Screen Shot 2016-05-14 at 4.02.14 PMAnother challenge, maybe our biggest, is making sure Hope Grows becomes financially sustainable. We raise funds through two events per year along with online donation campaigns and small grants. We have an event coming up May 22 called A Victorian Tea and Tee Time Golf Classic. The Victorian Tea is in our third year and survey results suggested we add a golf event since it was held at a golf club. So this year, we are adding the golf outing and including a dinner with good food and entertainment, raffles and auctions. Our event is based around creating conversation on caring for the caregiver. Gaining a national corporate sponsor would be ideal in helping with our cause. In the fall, we host a Hike for Hope, walking in nature in the support of caregivers.

Robert Morris University Psychology students help with these events, as well as with maintenance of the healing and restorative gardens on the property of the future Hope House. We typically get interns from local universities and Bidwell Training Center. Bidwell has a horticulture training center among other vocations, and their students help through their externship program. By accepting interns, we are slowly becoming a training center that gives back to the academic community. Our model, when completely in place, has the potential to support 12 different academic interns at the Graduate and Undergraduate level to vocational, technical, and certificate levels.

Our support programs and therapeutic respite activities— such as the Take a Break in the Dirt Program—are run by interested colleagues and trained volunteers. Take a Break in the Dirt is an adaptive gardening program for children with disabilities and their family caregiver. We were funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and implemented an evidence-based respite care worker volunteer model from Temple University. A seasonal program, it provides adaptive gardening for children in a garden setting that they otherwise might not explore while their family caregiver gets to take a short break.

Take a Break in the Dirt Program (2)

Take a Break in the Dirt Program

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up? 

During the time I was getting my degree I did not think about giving up, however, there have been several occasions I have wanted to throw in the towel with the non-profit. I have often said that it was a good thing that running a non-profit was not my experience or background; knowing what I know now, I may not have started one! I work from home without a salary. The organization currently does not have the budget to hire a full time administrative and other paid positions that a nonprofit could benefit from. Thankfully, I have a great board of directors and we could not do this without our volunteers.

What keeps me going are my spouse, my children, my friends, but most of all the larger community that shares my vision and the need for supporting this worthy cause. And of course, the feedback I receive from the caregivers that we have helped.

IMG_4752

Volunteers working with caregiver’s children

I met one woman in one of our support groups called Life After Caregiving. She was struggling with the loss of her spouse, whom she cared for while he battled cancer, while she was also caring for both of her aging parents and working full time. She kept all of her emotions inside and would not open up and talk about her experience. After the first support group, she opened up and began processing her loss.

Here are direct quotes from others we’ve helped:

Lisa really saved me… She pulled me up from drowning. I needed to be with someone who understood what I was going through… She helps you understand that you aren’t going crazy, that your feelings are normal. She is a breath of sunshine when you are going through this [grief]. 

I really do not have words that can thank you and Hope Grows for the support you give. Some days just coffee and someone to chat with is all it takes to get me through the day! Unless someone has done this job, they will never know. To think at one point I was caring for three loved ones at the same time. Truly it is a group like yours that saved me from jumping a bridge! Keep up the things you do! I hope to be a bigger part of Hope Grows in the future.

  Wisteria Vine in the Garden of Hope

 

What have you learned about yourself through this process?

I learned that I have a lot to offer. I think living a purpose-driven life fuels me. I have also found a voice, a different one but one I knew was always deep inside.

I have also learned that every part of who I am now has been influenced by many factors. I believe that heredity and environment, my family and schooling, have all shaped my beliefs and values. My philosophy of living has been molded by the developmental growth of life experiences.

 

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

It’s kind of ironic that I am answering this question today because I just met someone, this morning, who asked me this same question. I read an academic book once called Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. The message that I learned was the importance of always having the desire to reinvent yourself at any age. I shared today with this woman that when you feel stuck in midlife or what you are doing isn’t working well for you anymore, it’s time to start the reinvention of your identity.

Our identity is always changing and listening to intuition and our “gut” about what path to pursue is vital to staying young at heart. I truly believe that our purpose in life, our journey through the unknown, is defined by what feels right in our hearts. Also, our careers or jobs do not define who we are. What defines us is how we continue to reinvent who we are along this short passage of time on this earth. For me, it helped to believe in spiritual signs to help guide the way.

There are many factors to consider and I’m probably looking at this question as too broad for everyone because everyone has different circumstances. I guess the counselor in me is coming out, but if you don’t know how to begin reinventing you, then seek support to understand your risk level, your fear level, your motivation for a new journey. Put your support systems in place even if it is just one person who believes in you, and go forth at full speed. Looking back is a waste of time because you can’t repeat anything.

IMG_3587

Spring volunteer garden day

 

What advice do you have for those interested in launching a service-based nonprofit?

Research the needs of the community and what nonprofits may already be targeting those needs. Just because you have a great idea for a service doesn’t mean that there isn’t something already in place providing that same line of support.

Collaboration is key and you need to check your ego at the door. What I mean by ego (noun) is the inflating feeling of pride in being superior to others. Stay focused on your mission; for me it was to help others. When it becomes about me, the path becomes distorted with weeds and overgrown plants that are out of control.

 

What resources do you recommend for caregivers? For those wanting to start a nonprofit?

For inspiration:

Everything Matters, Nothing Matters: For Women Who Dare to Live with Exquisite Calm, Euphoric Creativity & Divine Clarity by Gina Mazza Hillier

Three Weeks with My Brother by Nicholas Sparks

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuehlo

Like the Flowing River: Thoughts and Reflections by Paulo Cuehlo

The Celestine Prophecy: An Adventure by James Redfield

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, a Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom

Nonprofit Resources:

The Bayer Center for Nonprofit management at Robert Morris University is where I attended workshops.

Guide Star

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Nonprofit Center

Web Design: OrgSpring

Legal Help: Ryan Lemke at Hergenroeder Rega Ewing & Kennedy, LLC

Strategic Planning: Amy Fazio & Associates

Communications Planning: Kelly Burgos Creative Services

Caregiver Resources:

Memories of My Parents by Amy E. Madge

Daily Comforts for Caregivers by Pat Samples

Finding Your Way a Practical Guide for Family Caregivers by Dr. Linda Rhodes

National Alliance for Caregiving

Caregiver Action Network

There are many organizations that caregivers can tap into by connecting on the Internet, but I believe that it only helps temporarily. Humans need social bonds for ultimate wellness, where they can tie the knot of connected services that links to “in person” support.

Most current photo of chuck and lisa-June 2015

 

What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?

My main focus is on the sustainability of Hope Grows and our mission. We are still a very new and vulnerable organization and I want to know I can eventually walk away and the nonprofit will succeed. I currently work without a salary and, while I am fortunate that I can do that, I would like to gain financial stability.

I continue to speak on behalf of the need for an organization such as ours; as people become aware of Hope Grows, the mission gains support. I would love to see several Hope Grows locations throughout the country and have our services, mission, and vision everywhere.

With fortitude and determination, I feel I can make my dream of providing services for caregivers come true.

I have been given the opportunity to teach at Robert Morris University in the near future in the field of death and dying and grief counseling; I am also working on a couple of research and writing projects.

I think I will always have another next act in my future. I need to stay evolving to stay well and I have quite a large bucket list of items to complete before my time on this earth is over. I have a burning desire to write a book; I have a topic but it is becoming the book that I’m afraid to write for many reasons that I am not ready to share. I also have a desire to live in another part of the world for a couple of years, maybe when I decide to write my first book—or another one.

I have also thought about starting a for-profit business, maybe a diner after the memory of my mom or some type of nature store for mind, body, and spirit. But who knows, one day at a time and one breath at a time.

 

Contact Lisa Werwie Story at info@hopegrows.net or 412-369-4673

Lisa Story, MSCP, LPC, CT

Hope Grows for Caregiver Support

Website

Facebook

Twitter




Writing About Delayed Motherhood: Debbie’s Story

656A8488HRThe realization that her and her friends’ daughters were not having children of their own prompted Debbie to delve deeper into the subject, eventually publishing UnPregnant Pause, based on dozens of interviews with health professionals and parents alike.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in suburban New Jersey in a highly dysfunctional family. I was the middle child, the only girl between two brothers. This is relevant because the expectations for me differed greatly than those held for my brothers. Both my parents thought my older brother was a genius (his burden) but had little expectation for me. I was encouraged to become a teacher so that I would always have something to “fall back on.” My mother was originally a nurse, but got her teaching degree to support herself when she and my father eventually divorced. The house was loud and tempestuous with outbursts of domestic violence directed at my older brother and mother. We saw our father hit our mother a number of times.

IMG_0730

With my grandmother Edythe, who was a great source of love in my life

My mother supported my going to college, although my father thought it was a waste of money, as I would only end up staying home and having babies. But my mother prevailed. I graduated from Syracuse University with a dual degree in Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education. After a semester of student teaching, I decided I was not happy confined in the classroom all day. I needed to do something where I could interact with adults. I really loved learning about children’s literature when I was in college, so I chose to work in publishing instead.

I met my husband, Jeff, at summer camp, where I was hired during college to do scenery for the plays they produced; he was the director. I had done a lot of theater in high school and really enjoyed it. All that school and camp theater work really was the training ground for my later career path. We married the Thanksgiving after I graduated from college.

Jeff, at five years older than me, was my knight in shining armor and rescued me from my mother’s house. While my mom fought for me to go to college, she was a difficult woman who suffered from what would now be called bipolar disease. She was never easy to live with or deal with as an adult and required a lot of intervention.

IMG_0747

Pregnant, with Jeff

Jeff and I raised our children in northern NJ—my kids attended the same high school I did. We had four babies: our daughter Bailie (first born) and our sons Ted and Mickey. Our second baby, Jillian, was stillborn. It was a sad time for us and Bailie’s first memory is of my husband telling her that she was not going to have a little sister after all. This loss had a profound effect on me and really created the separation for me from being a “kid” to being an adult. Death was an adult issue and this was my first real exposure to loss. Luckily, I had good support groups and excellent therapists to help me move forward from this devastating event.

I stayed home with my children during the day when they were young but worked in the evening at different youth group programs, since my husband was home with them after his workday ended and we could save on babysitting. Jeff is a financial planner and was able to be somewhat flexible with his hours and often covered for me when I had daytime meetings. He was also able to attend all the kids’ school events and coach their sports teams. I have been fortunate to have a husband who has supported me in all my creative activities even if they did not produce a significant amount of income.

IMG_0732

Ironically, I did use my teaching degree during these years as schools and recreation programs were happy to hire a licensed teacher. I took a test in the late 90s for permanent teaching certification, so that I would always be able to use my license, but over the years, I have become fully convinced a contained classroom is not the place for me.

My work at youth group programs grew to be a pretty full “part-time job” when I became the Youth Director at a local JCC (Jewish Community Center). While at that job, I started directing and producing musicals with the students. This also grew and I developed a very busy theater program. From there, I was drafted by a big school district and went on to produce and direct high school plays and musicals for many years.

Because I always liked to write and to meet people and tell their stories—everybody has a story, you just have to look hard enough—I wrote articles for a local weekly, The Jewish Standard. They published many of my essays and often gave me the cover feature. They also just wrote a very nice article about me. I was also co-president of the PTA and eventually elected to the school board. You know the saying: You want something done, ask a busy woman. I loved being involved in every facet of childrearing and school/community life.

DSCN0454

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

When my youngest child was about ready to finish high school, I started to worry about how I would fill all that time I had spent at home nurturing and in the community doing volunteer work. I began seriously thinking about what I could do that might synthesize all the creative things I loved and (my first AHA! Moment) I decided it was time to stop nurturing the creative development of my students and focus on myself. With the full support and encouragement of my husband and kids, I quit my job and started taking playwriting classes in New York City. I wrote a play, Gate B23: Carry On Baggage, that was accepted into two festivals, NYC International Fringe Festival and Winterfest! at Manhattan Repertory Theater. It was very well received.

I started directing and producing shows with professional actors, with very satisfying results. When I did The Last Five Years at Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY, it starred Broadway actors Julie Reiber (Wicked, Priscilla) and Matt DeAngeles (Hair, Once), Those were my biggest stars.

IMG_4416-1024x682

Julie Reiber and Matt DeAngeles

One of my favorite productions that I directed and co-produced was The Apronstrings Project in Riverhead, NY. I had written a story for Dan’s Papers in the Hamptons about an exhibit of antique aprons that was on display at the Suffolk Historical Society. When I entered the room where dozens and dozens of aprons were hung on clothesline, I was immediately struck by the many stories enfolded in their fabric. I dreamed about a theatrical presentation that would feature the aprons and tell the story of the women behind each one. Along with my friend and colleague, Cindy Clifford, a radio personality in Riverhead, we put together a team and solicited stories based on the aprons. We got over 100 responses from writers across the globe. We chose 90 minutes of material, including several original songs, and wove them together into a musical play. We pledged the profits to a women’s shelter in Southampton. We ran for three nights to sold out audiences and it was one of the most satisfying theatrical events I have ever staged.

debbie, aprons and me

As my family grew, I started to think about being a grandparent. I missed the nurturing stage of life, and it wasn’t enough to “mother” the dog. My daughter was approaching her mid 30s and, after a brief marriage, was single and involved with her career. My son Ted was newly married and Mickey was still in grad school.

I started talking to women I knew about when they thought they would be grandparents. One night, I looked around my book group. We had been together for 15 years, since the PTA days. There were 8 women with 7 grown daughters among us. No one was a grandparent by their daughter (two were by their sons). Why was that, I wondered (my second big AHA! moment). I started asking everyone I knew and discovered that it was indeed a trend.

I worked up a book proposal and set about trying to get a deal to actually write a book about this topic.

IMG_0715

With my book group

 

What is your next act?

9781939682178-CoverI am the author of UnPregnant Pause: Where Are the Babies? It is about millennial women and their mothers and its essential question is this: Did feminism turn around and bite us (the baby boomer generation) in the ass? Did we raise our daughters to be such empowered women that while leaning into their careers they forgot to have a family altogether? And hence: We have no, or few, grandchildren.

I have really loved exploring this topic fully. I have interviewed many doctors—fertility specialists and gynecologists, as well as psychologists—and many men and women about this topic. Their stories have informed me, surprised me, and ultimately moved me deeply. I feel honored to be able to tell their stories through my book, as well as share my own story. It has been a really gratifying experience to go out and promote the book and hear new stories from the women and men who read it.

 

How did you go about writing and publishing this book?

I had never stopped writing—articles, plays, poetry. The idea of a book came about because I thought there was too much to explore in an article. I had written two (unpublished) novels and felt that I could undertake the challenge. The largest part of the challenge was going to be finding a publisher. I already knew what was involved with that from my first job in publishing (children’s literature).

My desk

My desk

The first step was writing a book proposal. I already knew the basics from having worked in publishing, but I also Googled new formats and a friend who has published a lot showed me her proposals. I was not going to write the actual book unless I knew I had a publisher. It would have been too much time away from other projects that were not as speculative. I only met with two agents, who told me that although my topic was sharp and current, I didn’t have enough of a platform (read: celebrity) to be represented by them. I met my publisher at a women’s networking event at my husband’s office, which I attended just to help fill the room. She is a small independent publisher, Figlo Press. The publishing process was very collaborative. I was assigned an editor and he and I went back and forth on questions and clarifications. We didn’t always agree, but we came to a good place in the end.

I used a detailed outline and worked my way through it, writing chronologically as I put the book together. Then my editor had me regroup the chapters and reorder the book to build a better arc. I set very specific goals regarding time. I wanted to finish each chapter by a certain date. Often I shut down all social activities and wrote for a big block of days to meet my self-imposed deadlines. I am a great procrastinator, but I am NEVER late on deadlines (or anything else; I value promptness as a sign of respect) even if it means working very hard at the last minute.

IMG_0523

With Dr. Miriam Greene of the Sexual Health and Gynecology Show on Sirius XM Doctor Radio

When it came time to find people to interview, I broke my subject down into segments: the experts, the women themselves, the men who know/date/love them, and my own personal take. I explored the biology, psychology, religious, and ethical sides of the discussion and found an expert in each field to interview. Sometimes I got introductions, sometimes I emailed out of the blue. They were all very nice and forthcoming. The interviews were conducted in several ways. I did most of them in person, where I used both a tape recorder and my Ipad to take additional notes. I did follow up by phone and by email. A very few were done over the phone and with email questions because of the distance.

The process of writing the book has been challenging, gratifying, frustrating, emotionally draining, and overall very satisfying. It has been like birthing a child—from inception to delivery. I have been so very lucky to have good friends who opened their hearts to me as well as their list of contacts. Without that, I am not sure I would have had a book at all. These same women have been so supportive. They turn up at every reading and beam at me from the audience. They are the best of women!

IMG_0516

 

What challenges did you face?

The frustrations came about mostly from my loneliness. When I wasn’t interviewing doctors or the men and women whose stories I tell, I was alone for many hours at the computer. Spending that much time by myself felt very isolating and I sought out opportunities to procrastinate. Sometimes I would take my laptop to Starbucks and write there, just not to be alone. I did too much shopping and lunching. I was keenly aware of how much I missed working collaboratively.

IMG_0178

Dramatic reading from my book at Montauk Library, with Jeff and actress Jody Lynn Flynn

 

What advice do you have for women who are thinking of reinventing in midlife?

The biggest piece of advice I can give to women in midlife is that, if they can afford to do so, they should do that thing they have most wanted to do. Life is not a rehearsal. Time is short. People get sick. Do it now. Take the risk. I love the Teddy Roosevelt quote about taking a risk. It really helped me. It was better to try and fail, than to have spent a lifetime wondering what if.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

teaching in Kenya JPG

Teaching puppetry in Kenya

 

What advice do you have for women interested in publishing nonfiction?

I think that if someone wants to write a book, this is the best time ever to do it. Even if you can’t find a publisher, there are so many options for self-publishing and so many ways to promote using social media. And if they don’t know how to use social media, they can ask their kids or another young person. I did. They helped immensely with what programs to use, where to look for things, what was trending. I use Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. That takes up so much time as it is, I don’t have time for any other avenues. I did hire a wonderful publicist, Emi Battaglia at EBPR (email: ebpr@yahoo.com) who has been in the field for many years and is very knowledgeable.

If someone is interested in writing, I suggest adult or continuing education programs as a place to start. I took this one memoir class every semester at NYU for about three years because the instructor was so terrific (she has since retired). I learned so much about structuring a personal essay and was able to hone my craft. My two favorite writing books are Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Annie LeMott and Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, who advises you to “throw out your darlings” (meaning that often you have to discard what you have written and are very attached to in the interest of a more cogent piece of writing). You need to learn to edit yourself, however hard it is to toss out those phrases you love but that don’t serve the work.

IMG_6158G

Speaking at Barnes & Noble in Paramus, NJ

IMG_6165G

Signing books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are favorite nonfiction or fiction authors/books you love?

I am mostly a fiction reader. One of my all-time favorite and most recommended novels is The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. It is about motherhood and mothering, but in a most unexpected way. Another favorite is Tawni O”Dell’s Fragile Beasts. It’s a killer!

IMG_0652

What’s next for you?

When I think about what is next, aside from promoting the book, I think about returning to playwriting. I have an idea that I am working on with my college roommate. We hope to write it and produce it, and I am looking forward to working on this together, to a sense of camaraderie. Working on a theatrical production is always a group effort and I am looking forward to having a little more of that back in my life. I also hope to continue writing short essays, as I am now a blogger for HuffPo50, and I really like the short format. Your write it. Polish it. Publish it. Someone hopefully reads it. And then you start again on something new. With my book, it took about three years from beginning to end. I am ready for a fresh topic!

 

Contact Debbie Slevin at unpregnantpause@gmail.com

Book: UnPregnant Pause: Where Are the Babies?

Website

Twitter @unpregpause

Facebook Page

LinkedIn




Writing About Race, Adoption, and Identity: Catana’s Story

#5 My Faves Nov.2013Adopted by a white family as a black child, Catana struggled with issues of racial identity. With her late husband actor Fred Tully’s encouragement, she wrote a memoir about her experience, in the hopes it will help other multi-racial adoptive families.

Tell us about your background…

I was born in a humble remote village in Guatemala, and was told that shortly after my birth I was adopted by a family of White German settlers who lived there.

withbirthmotherRosa

With my birth mother, Rosa

with germanmotherMutti

With my German adoptive mother, Mutti

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I grew up as a German child in Guatemala City. German and Spanish were my first languages, soon followed by English, so that by age eight, I spoke and read three languages fluently. I attended the best schools in Guatemala then was sent to an international British boarding school in Jamaica, West Indies. My High School diploma came courtesy of the University of Cambridge, England, because at the time, in 1959, Jamaica was still a British colony.

 

withgermansisterruth1948

With my German sister, Ruth, 1948

 

With the intention of becoming an international translator and interpreter, I enrolled in the language academy in Munich, Germany. However, because of my exotic appearance and fluency in High German, I was offered a part in a play—the rest is history, as they say. Based in Munich, I worked as an actress in Germany, Austria, Italy and France in films, television, and stage, and also traveled the world as a fashion model. Check out my work (in Europe I was Catana Cayetano, in the US Catana Tully).

 

AsElizainscenewithHerbertLom

As Eliza in a German production of Uncle Tom’s cabin, in a scene with Herbert Lom

In many a European imagination, I became what can only be called the “darling exotic.” ­— intriguingly unusual, different, alluring, attractively foreign… Only positive connotations. I was always referred to as the beautiful exotic Catana… I had a nationality that was respected (Guatemalan) and a positive image of self.

coverofChicfashionmag1970

Cover of Chic fashion magazine, 1970

 

modelforfashionphotographerhadoPruetzmann1970

Modeling for photographer Hado Pruetzmann, 1970

modelinginUSA1978

Modeling in the US, 1978

I met and, after five years of courtship, married my American actor husband, Fred Tully. For a White middle-class American in the ‘60s to marry a Black girl was extremely uncommon. (I capitalize the words Black and White because no one is the color black, or the color white. It is to separate race and culture, from the mere color. Even the darkest African isn’t black, nor is the palest European white.) Then we had a son, and because Fred spent months at a time working in the US, I decided to move to Los Angeles for the sake of our family.

withFredRome1969

With Fred in Rome, 1969

At 35, with no positive Black frame of reference, subliminal messages had created in my mind a negative vision of Blacks. Having to identify as Black, as was demanded of me in the US, was extremely irritating, particularly when my appearance had elsewhere been to my undisputed advantage.. Looking back, I guess I was. At the time, although I was aware of the attention, I did not capitalize on it. My sense of self became brittle, so that in spite of having landed a role in a major US film (Swashbucklers) and a recurring part in an educational TV series, I gave up acting. After three years of grappling with racism and discrimination, I moved the family back to Munich. The confusion led to further resettling: one year in Munich, two in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and, finally, upstate New York, where my husband’s family lived.

PatrickShermanOaksCA1978

With Patrick, 1978

At 42, and in need of work, it was time to finish my college degree. I was mischievous as a school kid, but studying came easy as a focused adult. I enrolled at the University of New York at Albany and obtained a Master’s Degree in Latin American and Caribbean Literature, followed by a doctorate in Humanistic Studies. With those degrees in hand, I applied for and received a tenure track position at the Northeast Center, Empire State College (ESC), New York. The college is part of the State University of New York system. I was exactly 49 years and 10 months old when I signed on the dotted line. I created a variety of courses in undergraduate and graduate studies in Latin American and Caribbean literatures, cultural studies, art history, and social studies.

DrofHumanisticStudies1989

Graduating with my doctorate in Humanistic Studies, 1989

While the position allowed for much academic creativity in designing my courses, my real learning came from mentoring adult students who wanted to complete a degree they had abandoned years ago, many of whom had acquired significant knowledge in an area for which college credit could be awarded. Reinvention was everywhere. With completed degrees, doors opened for these students to significant positive changes in their lives. There are several who, after completing their bachelor’s degree, continued studying and are now faculty in colleges and universities. They all taught me about courage and perseverance in the face of adversity.

ProfTullyaddressinggraduatingclass1992

Addressing our graduating class, 1992

ESC was a simulating environment, and I would have stayed longer, had my husband not come down with cancer. When it became clear his time was coming to an end, I retired at 63. Fred wanted to see me among family when his time came so we sold our home and moved to Guatemala, but it was hard for me to adjust to living there again. When our son married and moved to Sedona, Arizona, a haven for alternative medicine practitioners, I again packed our household up and moved back to the US, this time to Arizona.

Fred passed a few months after our arrival, and I returned to ESC as part-time faculty in the international section of the college, teaching art history and cultural studies and mentoring students through their degrees. After traveling to locations such as Beirut to open the semester, I could teach online from the comfort of my home in Arizona. I also became the interim program director for the Dominican Republic and was regularly in Santo Domingo.

withmystudentsBeirutLebanon2010

With my students in Lebanon, 2010

 

What is your next act?

I am the author of Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity which I published in 2012 at the age of 72. In my memoir, I explore questions of race, adoption, and identity—not in the role of a professor in cultural or social studies, but as the Black child of a German family in Guatemala. I began to research the mystery of why Germans became my parents after my reluctance to being Black in the US became a psychological obstacle. I entered therapy while I was pursuing my Master’s degree. I concluded that it was not only my foreign accent that alienated me from Blacks, and discovered that under the layers of privilege (private schools, international travel, my life as a model and actress), the most important story was that of disinheritance—cultural and racial.

51IadN2L81L._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

Propelled by that understanding and my therapist’s direction, I began my search. I first found and met my biological father, whom I at first embraced and then rejected (to say more would be a spoiler), and then traveled to Guatemala and the jungle village where I was born to connect with my biological mother’s family. I was floored at how my memory had been kept alive as legend among my siblings and the village. In the end, I discovered the truth, when my German sister, after all my previous efforts, finally came clean. Again, it would be a spoiler to say anything more.

reunitingwithbiolfatherGil1992

Reuniting with my biological father, 1992

The response has been wonderful. A student at USC picked up a copy of my book and suggested it to one of her teachers. The book became required reading as case study in the Masters in Social Work at USC, Los Angeles. English mayors at Georgian Court University, a liberal college in NJ, were assigned to book as part of their readings about identity and nationality. It has also applied in four high schools that I know of in NY, and CA. Various book clubs in the US added Split at the Root to their reading list and invited me to participate in the discussions.

atbookclubluncheonsedona

Book club luncheon, Sedona

I’ve been interviewed multiple times on adoption blogs, have significant amount of positive reviews, including one in the Huffington Post by Myrah Riben. I’ve also had interviews and discussions on some 28 radio shows throughout the US and Canada, and one coming up in England. In late 2015, with the help of two German translator friends, I finished the German translation, titled Gespaltene Seele: Aufzeichnungen über Liebe und verlorene Identität. Once I catch up with my neglected blog, I will start to record the book in both languages.

Initially, the significant response to Split at the Root led me to consider becoming a coach for adoptees and adoptive parents, primarily those grappling with their identities and searching for their purpose in life. While I concluded that I’d done enough coaching and mentoring to go back to that form of engagement, I have, nevertheless, selected a few clients.

withgermantranslatorEddaMunich2013

With my German translator, Edda, 2013

 

How did you come to write and publish your memoir?

I wrote the initial version of my memoir back in 1995, when I was 55. I wanted to write about the issues I had dealt with all my life to a larger or lesser degree, on a conscious or less conscious level: issues of misplaced identity, of profound insecurities when among people of my race, of having no understanding of, or a connection to, Black cultures. It took years for me to realize that my perception of the world was detrimental to my emotional and social framework. It had taken me over a decade of therapy to come to a point of self-acceptance and healing.

Because of my long experience regarding misplaced identity, I felt I owed this book to White middle class families in the US and Europe, who had started to adopt children who did not look like themselves. They needed to learn that regardless of their well-intended efforts, loving their child was not enough, and they could not control what their child absorbed or thought.

Fredandpatrick

Fred with baby Patrick

No books about the subject had been written in 1995. The college supported my efforts by awarding me time to travel and research my origins, and stipends for editorial input. Not until the last of my four trips to Guatemala, when the truth I was looking for came through, could I sit down and hammer away. It was March 1995. Fred was in LA, our son Patrick was in boarding school, so that in a matter of five uninterrupted weeks of writing, eating, sleeping, repeat—the time of day or night did not matter, I was in a zone—I produced a 500-page manuscript. I sent it around; it was received with much interest but the recommendation was to work with a book doctor, which I did.

Writing was one thing, rewriting quite another. In the process, working diligently on the rewrite for several months, I lost my original writer’s voice. The second draft was a slick, polished, well-written book that lacked emotion. What kept me devoted to the work was the reason for having written it in the first place, as well as my staunchest supporter in all my endeavors, my husband Fred, who read every word in my writing process.

withfred1995

With Fred, 1995

Sometimes years went by before I’d pick up the manuscript again; I have six completed drafts. Still, Fred kept at me. Toward the end of his life, disappointed he’d never hold the book in his hands, he said, “I’ll have to die so you can dedicate yourself to finishing your book.” It would take another six years after his death before I returned to the manuscript. I had to publish, I still had the audience, and in fact there was a larger audience now: Adoptees had grown up and they identified and grappled with the same issues, and were looking for solutions in their own lives. Not to disappoint Fred, the staunchest believer in me and in my work, I felt destined to publish.

It became clear that I needed to leave the obligations of a job to dedicate myself to my next reinvention. I was 70 when I retired entirely from work at the college and I began in earnest to call myself a memoirist. Almost two decades had gone by from the time the original manuscript was written to the publication of Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity. With the changes in the publishing world, I was not going to spend time looking for a publisher. To prove to friends, colleagues, and family, that I had done what I’d for so long been talking about, I self-published in 2012.

signingSedona

Book signing, Sedona

 

How supportive were your friends and family?

Friends and family might have sensed to some degree my issues with identity. But they saw my life as charmed, for in their eyes I was living in the best of all worlds. Not until they read Split at the Root did they discover the inner turmoil that had for so long engulfed me.

Fred was more in tune with my inner turmoil and must have understood, better than anyone else, the indelible scar the separation from my birth mother left on my soul. It was he who held us together through all the conflicted times and situations I created. He was as close to me as my skin. By exiting my life when he did, I was forced to grapple with my personality, my being Black, and come to a deeper sense of my purpose in life. I believe he still guides me from beyond by directing me toward blessings that nourish my soul on a quiet, introspective, spiritual path.

July 10-2013 copy

With Patrick

My son Patrick is the other source of unconditional love and support. I am time and again surprised at his enduring love for me. I tell him he needs therapy because he lived through the many shortcomings I faced while raising him. But he insists that throughout his life, he always felt loved, secure, and well protected by his parents. The many upheavals and changes in direction he was a part of as a young child, have given him an unusual degree of sophistication and polish as an adult. While in younger years I had strong racist tendencies, he has none. He is not only my son; he is also my best and most trusted friend.

Regarding my German family, my parents had both died, and it was Ruth, their other daughter, who was very supportive. However, she kept her distance. She still lived in the home we’d grown up in, in Guatemala City. Our relationship had been stormy at times, as sibling rivalry can be. But she was the one whose memory was intact and who knew how things had transpired throughout my early life. She knew my Black family but held back the information, although in the end she did come through. She was actually very supportive and sensitive, and fully understood my cultural alienation. But the final revelation did not come easy for her.

withruthandhersons1986

With Ruth and her sons, 1986

 

What did you learn about yourself through the writing process?

Writing Split at the Root was at times cathartic. There was much anger and lashing out and feelings of having been wronged, particularly when writing about the disrespect I was allowed to harbor against my birthmother. In the subsequent reviews and revisions, I removed the self-pity and meanness. It had been good to vent but, as in life, it was important to get rid of what no longer served a purpose. My German mother would remind me, whenever she felt I was about to have a fit, to put my moral corset on. Pretty much like Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey, referring to the vulgarity in displaying emotions. When writing a memoir, it behooves one not to offer gratuitous hatred, and indulgent self-pity. It’s good to vent, and best to remove what reflects poorly on the author and does not contribute to the story.

Being a funny person who delights in getting others to laugh, I have a good sense of pacing and delivery. But that is not necessarily storytelling. In writing Split at the Root, I learned how to tell a story. When the book came out it was revealed to me that I was a fine storyteller. I now strive to tell stories on my blog. Writing is my new frontier where I am free to experiment and be challenged again and again. But writing is not easy.

bookfestivalsedona

Book Festival in Sedona

 

What advice do you have for those thinking about a change in midlife?

I view the propensity for getting the itch and courage to make changes in mid-life from an astrological perspective. (I’ve studied astrology for over 50 years, initially as part of trying to discover who I really was. I use it as a tool only when guiding others.) There are life stages when realizations come through quite clearly. A clear midlife situation occurs when transiting (current) Uranus opposes the position it had in the birth chart, usually around 45-46 years old. It is slow and takes from two to three years. For women, it often comes with the onset of menopause.

Challenges need to be faced and dealt with. Depending on the sort of disruption, one way or another, one needs to confront the situation. Often there is the “aha” moment, revealing with clarity where one needs to go, or what it is one wants. Taking the challenge and riding the wave will help smooth an inevitable transition. If there’s a desire for change, there is also an opportunity to do so. Youth is fading yet one is still in the midst of life. Supportive peers are needed and welcome, but also friends who are a generation older, who have gone through that sense of detachment from the past, or a generation younger, who still have the hopes and dreams and are working toward them. There’s no need, at a time of change, or ever, for skeptics and critics.

The next significant jolt comes around age 56-58, Saturn’s second return to the original place in the birth chart. It’s another slow transit that takes about two years to go through. Another stage with issues around accomplishments achieved or not, and how much time might still be left to reach hoped for goals. Sometimes change comes from exterior forces, other times through inner needs for breaking loose from what feels constraining.

One should never think of oneself as foolish for daring to change paths. Fred used to say: “Just because you’ve made a mistake does not mean you have to live with it.”

 

hikingbrycecanyonutah

Hiking Bryce Canyon, Utah

What reading do you recommend?

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, by Nancy Newton Verrier. This seminal book in the study of the mother/child connection, underscores what I wrote about as well. It was an act of love when my birthmother left me with the Germans; she suffered immeasurably for having done so. I was well cared for and learned to rationalize and conform. Sucked it up, as it were. The injury of separation from the birthmother is indelible, and deeply rooted in each of their Souls. The Primal Wound needs to be read carefully by everyone who picks it up.

YOU-TURN: CHANGING DIRECTION IN MIDLIFE: Over 40 Stories of People Over 40, by Nancy Irwin, PsyD. Is an inspiring read; the author describes her guidance and success in helping people change course.

The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity, by Tristine Rainer. Some people like to journal. Journaling is a path into exploring what lies beneath the surface of one’s desires. I recommend this book, whether one has been journaling for some time, or is considering doing so.

Your Life as Story, also by Tristine Rainer. A magnificent guide to writing memoir.

hikingzionwithfriendcallie-1

Hiking Zion with my friend Callie

What’s next for you?

I am now focusing on blogging about a variety of issues, mainly recognizing and honoring what growing older makes us think about. I have many years to look back on, and am time and again shocked that I’m already 75. It’s a good thing I don’t look or act it. I’ve concluded that the Universe is indicating there’s reason for my good fortune in being healthy and having a youthful appearance and disposition. I’m destined to offer more. Exactly what more, I don’t know. But it will reveal itself as long as I continue moving forward. No longer needing or wanting to battle the storms of youth and society, I find myself looking inward in contemplation of self and the intangibles of mind and spirit.

M'Penzi-onhikeSedona

Hiking Sedona with my dog, M’Penzi

In my last act, I no longer feel I need to create deliberate intentions. I’ve always been a rebel of sorts, and am seen by the next generations of my White and Black families as the elusive, eccentric family member who separated from the fold to lead an eclectic, colorful, conflicted life. Perhaps some day I’ll wear purple. Until then, I’ll continue to relish my hermit’s existence in Sedona, where I experience daily the delicate veil between the worlds. Being alive is indeed a privilege. With friends who are one or two (even more) decades younger than me, I go on hikes in the wilderness, meet for lunch, and talk about books, horses, dogs, birds, about the simple pleasures derived in a life that’s becoming increasingly less complicated.

 

Contact Catana Tully at Catana@splitattheroot.com

Website

Facebook

Twitter

IMDb

LinkedIn




Advocating for Dementia Awareness: Vicki’s Story

VickiTapiaHeadshotWhen both her parents were diagnosed with dementia, Vicki was thrust into a caregiving role and coped with the ups and downs of the disease by writing a journal. She would end up turning that into a memoir and speaking out to raise awareness of dementia.

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up in Miles City, a small town on the eastern plains of Montana, population 9,000, in the 1950s and 1960s, a 4th generation Montanan. My only sibling, a brother, 15 years older, had moved away in my youth so, for all intents and purposes, I grew up an only child with older, perfectionistic parents. My parents’ friends had no children, so I spent more than the average amount of time in the company of adults. I don’t know if my proclivity toward introspection was primed by this experience, but I do remember being a quiet, observant, and sometimes reticent, child.

1955

1955

HawaiianDancein MT1960

Hawaiian Dance, 1960

My father operated a small, corner grocery store, and was mayor of our small town for most of my childhood years; I sometimes felt alienated, as only a “mayor’s daughter” might understand. Combining this with my shyness earned me the label “stuck up,” although I believe “introvert” might have been a better description. My solitary and somewhat lonely life was forever changed when a family with a girl my age moved into the vacant house next door during the summer of my 11th year.

1966withBFFKathy

With my BFF, Kathy, 1966

Kathy quickly became my confidante and closest friend. Over the next seven years, we grew from free-range children who loved the outdoors, into conscientious and studious young women. We talked endlessly about “deep” subjects. Both of us still have vivid memories of late summer evenings spent sitting on the curb under the corner streetlamp near our houses, analyzing every detail of our lives, while also pondering the meaning of it all.

firstjournal1968

My first journal, 1968

The summer of my 16th year, I began keeping a journal, with a deep and secret desire to someday be a “writer.” I’ve continued to make journal entries for the past 48 years, learning early on that writing is a way for me to cope and attempt to sort out life’s dilemmas.

classof1970

1970 yearbook photo

I graduated as Valedictorian of my high school class in 1970 and became the first member of my family to attend university. Offered an academic scholarship, I attended Montana State University in Bozeman, graduating in 1974 with a degree in elementary education. I’d married my high school sweetheart halfway through college, in September of 1972 and, after graduation, we embarked on a backpacking tour of Europe. With our backpacks and a Eurail pass, we spent two months vagabonding through eight countries, relying on serendipity for our direction.

Europe became my new classroom. For a small-town girl who had traveled little, it opened up a world of possibilities and created a sense of adventure that I’ve embraced ever since. While in no way do I discount my four years at university and all the experiences afforded by higher education, I believe the school of travel has been as much of an education for me as my time in an actual classroom. Traveling has helped me learn about myself and gain a broader perspective of different cultures. A favorite quote of mine about travel that I believe whole-heartedly is from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…”

My husband, a newly minted chemical engineer, had a job waiting at Dow Chemical in Midland, Michigan, so after returning from Europe, we moved to the Midwest. Teaching jobs were scarce, so I also found employment at Dow Chemical, but in the Salaried Personnel Department, not in Engineering. Thank goodness for those two years of shorthand and typing in high school! This job suited my curious nature and within a couple years, I’d worked my way up to Senior Administrative Office Assistant for the department head, before I eventually made a lateral transfer to work for the head of the Psychology Department.

1(a). Sept '78 with Megan

With Megan

My life changed profoundly when our first child, Megan, was born in April 1978. No advance explanations could truly describe the transformation I would experience. Before I held my daughter in my arms, I believed I’d return to work, but it took little time to recognize that I wanted to be the one to hear my daughter say her first words, watch her take her first steps, and kiss her boo-boos in real time.

Luckily, by being frugal, we were able to live solely on my husband’s salary, an option not available to many then and even less so in today’s world. Breastfeeding my daughter led me to the breastfeeding support group, La Leche League, where I found like-minded women, and my niche.

A long and cold fourth winter in Michigan, coupled with a desire to be closer to family, led to a search for job opportunities out West. When our daughter was six months old, we moved to Seattle, where my husband went to work for Boeing Airplane Company. During the four years we lived there, we had a second child, Kyle, in 1980. By our fourth winter in Seattle, we decided we missed blue sky too much to live in the grey drizzle. After securing an engineering job in Billings, we happily moved back to Montana, where our third child, Jill, was born in 1982.

2. With Megan, Kyle & Jill Dec '93 (1)

1993, with Megan, Kyle, and Jill

Over the years, serendipity has woven its way through my life. Soon after we moved back to Billings, I took a pregnant friend to a La Leche League (LLL) meeting. Impulsively, at the end of the meeting, I approached the leader, Diane, and asked about becoming a volunteer leader myself. While I’d lived in Seattle, I’d been a pseudo breastfeeding counselor for all my friends and found that I loved the interaction and satisfaction of helping a mother and baby succeed with breastfeeding. After a year of training, I became a La Leche League Leader in 1983. I began to lead meetings and take phone calls from mothers with breastfeeding concerns, receiving back more than I ever gave. I’d found my groove. I loved being a mother and I loved helping other mothers/babies succeed with breastfeeding.

MedMissionDR2012

As an outlet for creativity, it was during this time I learned calligraphy and the art of flower arranging. I also found my first opportunity to be involved with writing, when I became the state editor of the LLL newsmagazine, published four times a year. I solicited, as well as wrote articles, did the layout, calligraphy/artwork, and mailing. In the beginning, my work was done on a typewriter. Imagine my glee when my husband and I got our first word processor/computer. I could actually make corrections without correction fluid or tape. A miracle!

lactationarticles

In 1986, although I was still active as an LLL Leader, Diane invited me to join her fledgling lactation consulting business. This was my first foray into reinvention, as we sought to shift our lactation know-how from volunteer to income-based. Diane and I worked diligently at promoting our business, Lactation Associates of Montana, over the next three years in an effort to convince local physicians that providing a lactation consulting service would be a helpful and time saving addition to their practice. All we managed to find were closed doors.

3. State LLL Conference with Diane & Marian Tompson, LLL Founder May '94

With Diane (middle) and Marian Thompson, LLL Founder, 1994

Finally, just as we were about to give up, a local pediatric practice took a risk and hired us to visit their new mothers and babies in the hospital each day, at no charge to the mothers. Since the beginning, this group of pediatricians has always completely underwritten the cost of the lactation consulting service. It was remarkable in many ways that they hired us, as on-staff lactation consultants were not common in 1989. We became the first non-medically degreed people to ever receive hospital privileges at our local hospital.

Diane and I job shared this consulting business, each working three mornings a week, plus taking phone calls 24/7. It was the right amount of work while we were raising our children. In 1994, we both became internationally board certified. We also offered training seminars for nurses or others interested in learning more about teaching mothers and babies to breastfeed. Besides speaking at local conferences, we traveled to speak at different venues in the United States and even once, internationally, to Vienna, Austria.

 

With Diane in Vienna

With Diane in Vienna

Writing was another arena in which Diane and I collaborated. Our articles and case studies have been published in different lactation journals, cited in textbooks and other research articles, as well as included in several monographs. Although it was in a more technical sense, I first became a published author in a lactation journal in 1996.

As a lactation consultant, I had truly found my passion, my bliss. Over the next 25 years, I had the joy-filled opportunity to meet and serve around 20,000 mother/baby dyads in both hospital and clinical settings. Diane and I worked together until 2000, when she accepted a new full-time position at our city’s other hospital, leaving me with her half of our joint job, although we continued our speaking and writing collaboration until I retired.

During these years, my children grew and, one by one, began to leave home for college. In 1999, when Megan was a college junior, Kyle a high school senior, and Jill a sophomore, my marriage of 27 years ended.

In the summer of 2001, a mutual friend introduced me to the man who would become my second husband. A pediatrician, Lionel and I had much in common, particularly enjoying the outdoors through hiking and cycling. We also discovered our shared love of new experiences found through travel. Lionel and I married two years later, in August of 2003.

2008CairowithLionel

With Lionel in Cairo

As I’ve long considered travel my classroom of the world, my education began in earnest after we married. Not content with journeys that are designed by others (read: tours), we’ve typically arranged our own adventures, and to date have either, hiked, cycled, walked, dug (archeological dig), or served (medical mission) in the U.S. and 19 foreign countries on five continents.

 

MedMission2

Lionel and I on a medical mission in Haiti

Lionel and I were married nearly a year when both my parents were diagnosed with dementia—Mom with Alzheimer’s disease/vascular dementia and Dad with Parkinson’s-related dementia. Over the years, Mom and Dad always insisted they’d live and eventually die in Miles City, but after their diagnosis, I began to encourage them to consider moving two hours west to Billings to be closer to me. Mom, especially, was adamant they would not be moving. Life intervened.

7. Dad's 90th May 2003

With my parents on Dad’s 90th, 2003

One evening in the summer of 2004, Dad, unstable from the Parkinson’s, lost his balance as Mom was assisting him to stand up from his recliner, resulting in him falling and pulling Mom down with him. This incident frightened Mom so badly that the next day, she deposited Dad in the local nursing home, sadly conceding she could no longer safely care for him on her own.

Next, winter descended with cold and snow, and no one to help Mom with the shoveling. It still came as a surprise, however, when she called to say she was ready for the both of them to move to an assisted living facility in Billings. I recognized how difficult this decision was for my mother and admired her bravery. She’d lived in Miles City for 86 years and would be leaving everything familiar behind. I, on the other hand, was relieved and thought moving them nearby would ease everyone’s stress. Little did I know.

Other than my new husband, I had little support. There was only so much I felt comfortable discussing with friends. Of course, my children were supportive, but they all lived far away. Not that they recognized it at the time, but my children became part of my support network. When I left the assisted living facility, I often called one of them on my drive home, simply to hear a voice with hope and a future.

As I’d always done in times of stress, I journaled over the next five years—for the first time, on a computer—which allowed me to cope with the up and down effects of dementia on my parents. Writing was the one constant in my life that asked for nothing in return.

My parents on their wedding day, 1936

My parents on their wedding day, 1936

Mom passed away March 9, 2008 (two days after my 56th birthday) and Dad March 10, 2009. While life did go on, it’s never the same after losing both parents. Sometime I still think, “Oh, I need to call Mom and ask her…”

I thought I was done with journaling about caregiving and dementia, but it seemed I couldn’t let it go. I kept remembering other incidents and refining what I’d previously written. It was then I decided to edit my narrative and compile it into a memoir for my children. Jill, my youngest, offered to help with editing, which was a wonderful way to forge a deeper connection with her. Writing and rewriting also helped me to grieve my parents’ deaths and begin to move forward.

During the dementia journey with my parents (2004-2009), I often caught myself perseverating about what my future—and that of my children and grandchildren—had in store. Did the same devastating fate await us? A few years ago, though, I turned a corner. It was at that time that I had a stern talk with myself, leaving no room for negotiation: “Listen, if you keep dwelling on this, your brain will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” It took me some time, but as a “recovering worrier,” I’ve given up perseverating. I had to. Nothing positive can come from dwelling on a potential. It’s wasted energy. Besides, who knows what researchers may discover between now and then?

Also, from what I understand, the genetic link has more to do with the early onset types of dementia. It’s uncertain whether my Grandpa, who had been diagnosed with arteriosclerosis in his mid-sixties, had actually had early onset dementia, but my mom was in her 80s, so I’ve been able to let that worry go, as well. I’ve read numerous articles potentially linking environmental factors, as well as lifestyle choices, such as smoking (both my mom and grandpa smoked), to an increased risk of developing dementia. I’m doing everything possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle with diet and exercise, staying involved and challenging my brain. I subscribe to the saying: Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today.

With my kids, 2006

With my kids, 2006

 

When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?

My passion for my work as a lactation consultant started to wane in 2010. Helping mothers and babies no longer offered the same sense of satisfaction or fulfillment that it had for so many years. Consulting emotionally distraught mothers can be extremely draining and many days, I felt exhausted before I even left the house for work. No longer did I look forward to my day with the anticipation that I’d once had. As time went on, I began to resent the constant stream of phone calls from mothers in crisis. I’d seen and heard the same situations thousands of times and I knew I needed to make a change before I began to sound like a robot.

Still, I continued to work while wondering what was in store for my future and where a new path might lie. I couldn’t walk away from 25 years of building a practice, leaving no one in my place. Finding someone who had the skills and only wanted part-time work proved to be a major challenge. Serendipitously, a chance comment at a Christmas party in 2011 to the wife of one of my husband’s colleagues led to her becoming my replacement.

Once I’d made the decision to retire from lactation consulting, the wave of complete relief that radiated throughout my entire being told me beyond a doubt that it was the right choice. Plus, I desperately wanted to spend more time on my writing, without the interruption of phone calls.

 coverwithbanner

 

What is your next act?

I advocate for dementia awareness, both through my memoir, Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia and through public speaking.

Somebody Stole My Iron is a story about my parents and the journey we traveled together down the rabbit hole of dementia. The narrative is written from my viewpoint, as candidly and honestly as possible. Sometimes funny, often sad, it details the daily challenges, turbulent emotions, and many painful decisions involved when caring for two parents with the disease. The stories are woven together in a way that shares the insights I gained, tips for coping, advice from experts in the field, and the lessons I learned along the way. I view my memoir as a practical road map for others navigating similar uncertain waters, letting them know they aren’t alone.

My presentation on dementia awareness, “It’s Only a Senior Moment…Or Is It?” shares personal stories from the dementia journey I traveled with my parents, along with excerpts from my memoir. It also explores the difference between normal aging and cognitive impairment, as I discuss some early warning signs and symptoms of dementia. I explain why early detection can help the affected person live better in the now, and also the importance of end of life conversations.

Dementia is a tsunami waiting to happen, with so many baby boomers aging. The chance of dementia doubles every decade after the age of 65. Women have a greater risk, mostly because we live longer.

In the U.S., a new case of Alzheimer’s is diagnosed every 67 seconds and by mid-century, it’s predicted to be every 33 seconds. Of the three leading causes of death (cancer and heart disease are the other two), it’s the only one that can’t be prevented, slowed in its progression, or cured. More than ten times the amount of money is currently spent in the U.S. on cancer research, despite the fact that Alzheimer’s costs more and causes a similar number of deaths each year.

Apparently, I’ve found a new passion, or should I say, it found me…

 

How did you come complete and publish your memoir?

My friend and fellow lactation consultant, Diane, asked to read the manuscript I’d edited with Jill’s help, as her parents were also both affected by dementia. She suggested I publish it to help others in similar situations. I thought this over and began to consider that my book might have something to offer a wider audience. When I tentatively decided to look for a publisher, I bought a copy of the thick Writer’s Market: The Most Trusted Guide to Getting Published, did the research, sent out query letters, and waited, slowly collecting rejection letters or simply silence. Discouraging? You bet! To help cope, I kept editing my manuscript.

Eventually, after months of editing, my daughter and I decided to move on and be finished with the process. The finished work, entitled Plaques & Tangles, went to a local print shop in 2009 to be printed and spiral bound as Christmas gifts for my three children. I figured that was that.

spiralboundemoir

However, I didn’t delete the manuscript from my hard drive, so it hung out as a PDF file on my computer. Friends, and friends of friends, with a parent suffering some form of dementia, sometimes expressed an interest in reading my memoir. With the forwarding of my PDF, it was easily done. They offered positive feedback and, sometimes, suggestions for improvement. This caused something deep inside me to whisper I wasn’t done with this project.

I was acquainted with a well-known author in our region, Russell Rowland, who in 2011 offered to read a couple of chapters. This was very possibly a hopeful attempt on his part to silence me from my continued angst over the entire project and what to do with it. His unexpected positive reaction, saying my book really did have “potential,” compelled me to hire him to edit the entire work.

With the help of Russell, along with my daughter’s input, I continued to edit and improve the manuscript into 2012, when I found a small independent publisher, Praeclarus Press, that specializes in publishing books about women’s issues. The publisher/editor of the press was also the editor of a lactation journal where my writing had been previously published, and she was familiar with my work. She read my book proposal, requested the manuscript, and sent me a book contract a couple of weeks later, which I signed in January of 2013. What started as a journal in 2005 ended with the publication of Somebody Stole My Iron: A Family Memoir of Dementia in January of 2014.

Retirement from my job as a lactation consultant freed me to devote more time to my writing and to my children, as well as a growing number of grandchildren. My journals and my memoir are part of my legacy for these children to remember those who came before.

myjournals1968to2015

My journals, 1968 through 2015

How did you start to speak about dementia awareness?

After my book was published, I was interviewed by our daily newspaper and a local woman’s magazine. Because of this exposure, both a caregiver group and a church congregation approached me to share my story. This was the beginning of how the promotion of my memoir morphed into an opportunity to educate people in my community about dementia. I developed a PowerPoint presentation about dementia awareness, interwoven with a few readings from my memoir. Since those first presentations back in the spring of 2014, I’ve been fortunate to share this talk at many different venues in Billings.

 

Why did you choose this next act?

This next act definitely chose me. Had you told me ten years ago what I’d be doing today, I would have simply stared at you incredulously. At the time, I was about a year into the dementia journey with my parents, wondering how I could be a better caregiver and questioning how I would continue to cope with all that came with this disease. I loved my parents and it was excruciating to watch them disappear in increments, first in mind, then in body. Creating awareness by publishing my memoir and speaking out about dementia awareness has become my way to honor their memory, in a belief that their journey through this disease wasn’t in vain.

Your greatest joy is your purpose.” I recently came across this quote I’d long ago written on a scrap of paper. How many of us spend our lives seeking high and low for that purpose? In fact, I know people my age who are still searching. There were times over the years, especially early on, that I worried about having wasted my time (and my parent’s money) getting a degree in education, since I never taught in a school setting. What I particularly love about this quote is the realization it’s given me. Although I am passionate about both the art of breastfeeding and helping caregivers navigate dementia, at my core, I believe my purpose, my joy, has been teaching, guiding, and gently easing people into discovery, helping them to illuminate their own journey.

While working with the mother/newborn dyad at the beginning of life and sharing dementia information with those at the other end of life may seem like two different worlds, for me there is a connection. For half of my life, I strived to help mothers and babies successfully breastfeed. I’ve now written a dementia memoir offering caregivers in similar situations a practical and helpful guide, a road map, if you will, to help light their way. It’s clear to me that breastfeeding and dementia are both journeys. One is a journey into this life and the other, a journey out. Teachers are guides and that’s what I’ve been.

I recognize that over the years, my skills have continued to build in layers. Journal writing, beginning as a teen, led to producing a newsmagazine for LLL and then technical writing about lactation, which led to more journal writing that in time, became a published memoir. Leading LLL meetings gave me my start in public speaking, which led to speaking about lactation for audiences around the world, which has led me to my current next act, that of speaking out about dementia awareness.

Preparing to speak on dementia awareness, 2015

Preparing to speak on dementia awareness, 2015

How supportive were your family and friends?

It helped that, with the exception of one friend, everyone was extremely supportive about the possibility of my manuscript being published. My husband said he felt my parents would consider it an honor that I wrote an entire book about them, especially if it helped someone else in need of support.

 

What challenges have you encountered?

One substantial challenge was silencing my inner demons; there were so many insecurities and unanswered questions. Along the way, I’ve encountered lots of mental anguish of my own making, beginning with “imposter syndrome.” Could I truly call myself an author and publish a book? Was the writing good enough for publication? Was the content worthwhile? Would anyone else be interested or find the memoir helpful?

Privacy issues were another challenge. For several years, I’d obsessed whether it was disrespectful to publish a memoir that anyone might read versus privately self-publishing a few copies for family. This was a large part of the reason I hesitated to even pursue publication. There were times I was besieged with thoughts that I’d be dishonoring my parents if I published, as suggested by a friend.

Staying positive during the process of finding a publisher and dealing with rejection meant I simply had to let it go, feeling peaceful that if it were meant to be, it would happen. Honestly, there were times when that was easier said than done. It’s difficult, sometimes nigh on impossible, for me not to personalize rejection.

When I did eventually receive a traditional book-publishing contract, another mental challenge emerged. My son-in-law showed me many reasons why I should self-publish, all of them rational and worthy of consideration. In the end, I admitted to myself that I wanted the satisfaction of being traditionally published.

After signing the book contract, I challenged myself to rewrite the entire second half of the book. That had been a suggestion of my friend, the author/editor, because he felt it would make the book more cohesive. The first half of the book was written as a narrative in a conversational style, while the second half was entirely diary entries. Up until this point, I’d chosen to ignore his recommendation. It took the realization I was actually sending my manuscript to a publisher to wake up and face the challenge of rewriting, which took an additional three months. When at last I mailed off the manuscript, I perseverated whether it was polished to a point where I felt satisfied I’d done my best work. (Never. I could still go back and do more edits.)

During 2013, as the book traveled the path to publication, my publisher started to send me information about promoting my book, and it became clear that I’d need to master another challenge: my fear of social media. For a reticent, introspective, and quiet person, book promotion was never on my list of aspirations. The past two years have stretched me in ways I wouldn’t have imagined, as I’ve learned to embrace social media and all that entails. Probably one of the last people to join Facebook, I sheepishly had to admit a whole new world opened after I finally took the plunge. I realized I rather liked connecting with old friends and meeting new ones. After learning my way around Facebook, I next tackled Twitter. Promotion does not go away. It continues to be a challenge, as it’s something I feel directed to engage with each and every day.

Blogging has been my newest challenge—finding content, agonizing over my writing, and then promoting it on social media—but one that is helping me to grow as a writer.

My biggest ongoing challenge has always been finding/taking the time to write. Family has always come first for me and while each of the following are important (especially grandchildren) and part of “living” life, it often seems writing comes last. It comes after connecting with my children/grandchildren, walking the dog, finishing household chores, updating social media and meeting various social obligations. How did writing end up at the bottom of this list, anyway? Yes, I’ve read the many ways to make writing time sacred, and it is a goal I strive toward, but somehow it’s a goal I’ve yet to achieve. 

Also, for the longest time I believed that if I wasn’t at work writing my next book, I wasn’t actually writing. But with other opportunities, such as this interview or my blog, I realize I am writing, so maybe I’m closer to my goal than I’ve given myself credit.

At my desk in my home "office"

At my desk in my home “office”

 

Were there times when you thought about giving up?

Oh, let me count the times…it definitely helps to be tenacious.

Continuing to move forward with little feedback and lots of rejection can be difficult as well as frustrating. I’ve never had a thick skin, so I would say criticism is one of my life skills growth areas. Overall, people have been very kind to me and the comments about my memoir have been positive, so that has helped me keep on, keeping on.

Before publication, there were days when I questioned why I continued to write, edit and rewrite. What was the point? I could instead be reading for leisure, spending more time with my grandchildren, doing more volunteer work, or learning the art of watercolor.

There was, however, this nagging voice inside me that wouldn’t leave me alone. What if your journey might help make someone else’s journey less lonely or painful? What if your words offered hope to someone in need of that hope? Thoughts such as these got me started again during times of inertia. In this instance, self-talk actually worked. I’ve also always been driven to finish what I start, so it was the logical outcome for me to persevere.

 

What did you learn about yourself through this process?

I’ve learned that I can still learn new things! My learning curve to publication and promotion has been steep and I continue to learn every day. It has been an excellent way to challenge my brain.

Unexpectedly, I’ve learned about strength in numbers. Through Twitter, I’ve met some other amazing authors, each of whom has also written a book about Alzheimer’s/dementia:

Jean LeeAlzheimer’s Daughter

Marianne SciuccoBlue Hydrangeas

Shannon WiersbitzkyWhat Flowers Remember

Greg O’BrienOn Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s

I have collaborated with these and other leaders in Alzheimers/dementia advocacy last year in June (Alzheimer’s Awareness Month) and again in November (Caregiver Appreciation Month) to promote our work, and plan to do it again in 2016. We’ve gotten far more visibility with our promotions as a group than individually. It’s been an incredible journey, as we’ve become not only collaborators, but good friends and supporters of each other, as well. On first glance, it may seem counter-intuitive to join forces with the “competition,” so to speak. As authors, we haven’t found this to be true. If someone is looking for a book about a subject such as dementia, most will not stop with reading just one book.

I learned more deeply the art of patience and that for all things there is a season. I learned that it’s not impossible or even improbable to develop more than one career passion in a lifetime. I learned that I had the capability and stamina, with the help of talented editors, to write/edit/rewrite numerous times a book that was not only acceptable in the eyes of a traditional publisher, but also selected as one of three finalists in the Best Woman Writer category for the High Plains Book Awards for 2015.

The High Plains Book Awards encompasses 7 western states and 3 Canadian provinces. There were over 200 books nominated in 10 different categories, including 21 books nominated for Best Woman Writer.

11. October 2015

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

Back in 1998, someone said to me: This is not a dress rehearsal. It was like a wake-up call that this really is the only life I have to live, so I’d better make darn sure it’s the one that I want. Step forth boldly, filled with confidence. If you are knocked down, get back up and never, ever give up. Amazing things await you, with patience, tenacity and perhaps a bit of pixie dust. I’ve taken the statement: If one door closes, another opens a little furtherI like to say that if one door closes and you can’t find another open one, look for a window. Follow your bliss.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in publishing a memoir?

Write, write, and then write. Write every day. It doesn’t always have to be the work in progress, as there are always other writing opportunities. If you hit the wall (writer’s block), take a solitary walk and let your mind wander. Or, go to bed early and let your mind wander, as you lie in bed in the darkened room. Many times, I’ve had an idea pop into my head while out walking my dog or am awakened in the middle of the night with one that unlocks the block.

Read, read, and then read. Read books and blogs in your genre, as well as books/articles about the art of writing. If you are fortunate enough to have one in your area, join a writing group, as there’s nothing so valuable as constructive feedback. If you have the luxury of a nearby college, perhaps consider a writing class or maybe find a quality class online.

9. My paperback bookshelf (there are several bookshelves in my house)

One of the bookshelves in my house

A memoir whose premise is either completely unique or else universally compelling has the potential to increase the emotional impact for a reader. My memoir was of the universal variety, as so many of us are touched by dementia.

As with most books published today, the promotion starts long before the actual book is published. Memoirs are no different. My publisher told me that it was important to begin to grow a presence on social media and/or with a blog to help build my fan base in the months before the memoir was to be published.

Unlike an autobiography, a memoir is written with a theme about a specific time period. My theme was dementia and the purpose in writing my memoir was to share my experiences, in hopes of helping others in similar circumstances. In choosing what to tell when writing a memoir, I believe it’s important to be honest and show weaknesses and shortcomings, as well as successes. I think it draws readers in to realize we’re all in the same boat; we’re all human.

Having a theme gave me the opportunity to build a platform. My platform is dementia awareness and it opened the door to speaking. I’ve found this to be an additional way to promote and sell books. Find the memoir’s niche and that will lead to the target audience, who can relate to the story. I’ve found mine through speaking engagements at assisted living facilities, retirement homes, church groups, library book group, and the physician assistant program at a local college.

 

What advice do you have for those interested in speaking about their work and advocate for a cause?

It does take a bit of self-promotion, not always easy for an introverted writer. Getting comfortable reaching out to people is key. In the first interviews after my book’s publication, both articles had a sidebar with ways to contact me, indicating that I was available for speaking engagements. I also contacted people in my niche: assisted living facilities and memory care units, offering to share my presentation at their facility. I called our public library and pitched an idea to host a book group at the library. They agreed and we set a date. The Friends of the Library purchased 15 of my books and gave them to people interested in attending the one-time book group, which I led. Seventeen people attended and I sold two more books!

bookfair2015

Book Fair, 2015

 

What resources do you recommend with respect to writing and publishing?

At the moment, I have email subscriptions to three forums, which is about all I find time to read in this particular arena. One is Writer Unboxed, which arrives daily in my inbox and is written by both unpublished and published authors, offering advice on every aspect of writing fiction. Once a week, I receive an email from Book Marketing Tools, a site that shares ideas for self-publishing and book promotion. Build Book Buzz is another resource to which I subscribe that offers information on self-publishing and book promotion.

Resources I utilize to promote my book include Google Alerts, Hootsuite, and Canva. I receive weekly updates (news articles), all related to dementia, Alzheimer’s, and caregivers that I peruse to decide which I’d like to pass along to my followers. I then preschedule these selected posts on Twitter and Facebook with the help of Hootsuite, a social media management tool.

I appreciate the flexibility of Canva when adding graphics to my original posts, for both Facebook and Twitter. It’s free, easy to learn, and you don’t have to be a graphic artist to use the site. Creating graphics is one aspect of promotion that I enjoy immensely.

While I sometimes hang out at the public library in search of resources, I find that many of the resources I use for writing are online and are quite varied, depending on what I’m attempting to create or learn. One of the reference books I like is The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. It offers a list of non-verbal descriptive words for 75 different emotions including physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses, and acute or suppressed cues for each emotion. I have found this a useful reference for character descriptions.

My parents, celebrating 50 years of marriage

My parents, celebrating 50 years of marriage

 

What advice do you have for those dealing with aging parents, dementia, and caregiving?

On a practical level, advance directives and signed durable and medical powers of attorney are crucial. Be certain this paperwork is kept in a location that is easily accessible and known by family members. The paperwork will do no one any good if it’s locked away in a safe somewhere that no one knows about. Discuss end-of-life wishes and have them in writing.

Learn all you can about the disease, so you have an idea what to expect as it progresses. Do your best to stay in the medical loop and keep the lines of communication open between different health care providers involved in your parent’s care.

Take care of yourself. Join a support group. If the first one you attend isn’t quite right for you, try another one. It’s so important to have someone to talk with and someone on a similar journey can be especially meaningful. Have a life outside of caregiving. Do not turn down offers of help! Stay connected socially. Exercise regularly. I kept a journal, which was my primary choice for coping.

On an emotional level, realize that caregiving is filled with a myriad of challenges. Remember, eventually the time will arrive when your loved one will still be in this world, but not of it. Reach out to them when they can no longer reach out to you. I mean this on both an emotional and a physical level. Find that point of loving acceptance, take life day by day and meet your loved one where they are. On a physical level, touch is so, so important. It was clear to me how much my parents loved to hold hands and receive touch until the very end.

You can never have an overabundance of compassion. Quoting Somebody Stole My Iron “Eventually, I learned to distance myself from my mother’s hurtful comments and no longer take them personally. I could listen to her, but cease reacting or agonizing over the things she said. I need not argue, reason, confront, or make nay attempt to convince her she was wrong! It didn’t matter any longer. What mattered were my parents’ feelings, accepting Mom and Dad as they were, and loving them despite their disabilities. This was easier said than done, however, as I can attest to in my journey. The sooner a caregiver reaches this place of acceptance, the less pain and angst he or she will experience.”

 

What about other favorite resources?

Alzheimer’s Association

Lori LaBey Alzheimer’s Speaks Radio & Blog

Teepa Snow

Dementia Today

Alzheimer’s & Dementia Weekly

Maria Shriver

15 Minutes of Fame: Empowering Caregivers of Those With Alzheimer’s by Tryn Rose Seley

I Care: A Handbook for Care Partners of People with Dementia by Jennifer Brush  and Kerry Mills

Novels:

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer by Lauren Kessler

My parents, 1934

My parents, 1934

 

What’s next for you?

Although this is still my working title, I recently finished the first draft of Overcoming Maggie. This biographical work of fiction was inspired by the life of my great-grandmother, a spunky and determined woman thrust into marriages of abuse, not once, but three times. I have the actual divorce transcript from the first marriage, which inspired much of the first half of the book. This story, which begins in Michigan and ends in Montana, is a testament to her determination, courage, and spirit. It takes place around the turn of the 20th century, when women had few, if any, legal rights.

 

Contact Vicki Tapia at vicki.tapia@gmail.com

Vicki’s Website/Blog

Facebook

Twitter




Let’s Hear From an Expert: Robin Gorman Newman, Founder of Motherhood Later

Screen shot 2016-01-09 at 9.45.11 AMYou became a mom at 42 and founded Motherhood Later…Than Sooner. What unmet needs were you trying to fill with this organization?

When I became a mom, I felt the need for support and to be in the company of mom peers, and I was not able to find any group or community for new mothers age 35 and up. I had lost my mom, so I did not have a maternal figure in my life and, as they say, it takes a village to raise a child. By launching Motherhood Later, I have been able to offer that to later-in-life mothers. No one wants to feel alone, and it’s hugely helpful and empowering to share experiences and wisdom, and to connect with others where age is considered an asset not an issue.

logo

What advantages are there to becoming a mother in midlife? Are there any challenges?

As a “later” mother, you know yourself better. You have more life experience, so you may sweat the small stuff less. You’ve made inroads in a career, assuming you worked, that hopefully has been and, may continue to be, satisfying. Later-in-life moms are some of the most grateful women I know because chances are, their path to parenthood wasn’t an easy one…whether they experienced unexpected fertility challenges or delayed parenthood in the hopes of finding a mate or partner.

In terms of challenges, there can be some judgment. I was once asked by a stranger in the bathroom of my local diner, when I was there with my young son while he was potty training, if I was the mom or grandma. I didn’t have a good response, but this made it clear that while in Hollywood, celebrities make headlines at any age when they have kids, in local communities, the average midlife mom isn’t necessarily embraced. I think part of the judgment comes from others thinking that a “later” mom won’t be around as long as a younger mom in terms of life expectancy, but to that I say, illness unfortunately knows no age.

londonstonehedge

With my son last year at Stonehenge

What is your advice to these midlife moms?

Be true to yourself. Trust your judgment. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Practice good self-care and model it for your child. Invite experiences into your life that excite you as a woman, and maintain your own identity beyond that of motherhood.

One of my passions is theatre, and I was Associate Producer on an Off Broadway show called Motherhood Out Loud. Because of my professional involvement in the theatre industry on the producing and marketing end, my son, age 12, has taken an interest, and it’s something we share. I urge other moms to find a commonality with their children that they can embrace together—particularly in this day and age of electronics obsession.

And, it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. I’m also the author of two books, including How to Marry a Mensch: The Love Coach’s Guide to Finding Your Mate, and my goal is to see it adapted for the stage.  I like that my son sees me having aspirations even though I’m in midlife.

 HowMarrycoverFINALMASTER2

What does Motherhood Later offer to older moms, both via its website as well as its local chapters?

I’m the head of the New York chapter of Motherhood Later, with over 900 members, and we have in-person chapters throughout the world. There is no fee to join or to launch a chapter, if there isn’t one in your town. Our chapters function autonomously and offer families a wide range of get-together opportunities, including moms’ night out dinners, playgroups, workshops, etc. We also invite members to become active participants by helping to get events on our calendar. We are growing steadily, and the needs of each mom is different, so it helps for individuals to suggest what works for them. Dads are welcome to attend as well.

We also have bloggers, including myself, who write regularly on Motherhood Later, and share about midlife parenting and other pursuits. We welcome guest blog posts by “later” moms, experts, and authors. You don’t have to be an experienced blogger to write for us regularly, just willing to share with candor and heart.

On our site, we profile an inspiring “later” mom, and in the past have featured such celebrities as Brooke Shields and Jane Seymour. We also feature news of interest to our audience. We endeavor to be a resource for both “later” moms as well as aspiring moms who want to know what it’s like to parent later in life.

janemeMASTER

With Jane Seymour

 

What are some favorite resources you recommend to women who are first-time moms later in life?

Besides Motherhood Later, we have both a community page and private group page on Facebook. We invite moms and dads to join us there to connect online. Book-wise, I’m a personal fan of Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood by Elizabeth Gregory and Hot Flashes Warm Bottles : First-Time Mothers Over Forty by Nancy London. I also admire the work of author Gail Sheehy, herself a later mom via adoption, who shares candidly about her road to parenthood and more in Daring: My Passages: A Memoir, her new memoir.

 

Contact Robin Gorman Newman at robin@motherhoodlater.com

Founder and Blogger, Motherhood Later

Publisher, Baby Bloomer newsletter for 35+ moms

Associate Producer, Motherhood Out Loud

Twitter @rgnewman and @motherhoodlater

Our Community on Facebook

Our Private Group on Facebook

Blogger, Huffington Post

Parenting/Theatre/Attractions/Travel/Products Blogger

Public Relations/Marketing Consultant

Author, How to Meet a Mensch in NY and How to Marry a Mensch

 

Robin is an ardent theatre lover and freelance writer who blogs regularly about theatre and personalities including contributing to Huffington Post, and served as Associate Producer of MOTHERHOOD OUT LOUD that played at Primary Stages in NY and is performed regionally. To promote the show, she created the Motherhood Out Loud Award covered by BroadwayWorld.com. She was involved in the marketing efforts for the show, including the orchestration of a successful mom blogger night.

She authored the books How to Meet a Mensch in New York and How to Marry a Mensch, which may be adapted for the stage. She’s been featured in the NY Times and seen on CNN and The Today Show and has made appearances Off Broadway as an author/Love Coach, participating in talkbacks at shows including I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Dinner with Friends. 

Since becoming a mom, she launched MotherhoodLater.com, which has been featured in Time, US News & World Report, USA Today, The New York Times, New York Daily News, NPR, etc.

Before the 1994 launch of RGN Communications recently changed to RGN Marketing, Robin served for six years as Vice President at KCSA Public Relations in NYC. Robin holds an MBA in Marketing from St. John’s University and a BS in Economics/Business from Hofstra University.  She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Drama League, The Lilly Awards Foundation, Off Broadway Alliance, and is featured in Who’s Who and a number of books including SOME NERVE, THE 52 WEEKS, POWER MOMS and MOM, INCORPORATED.




Publishing a Memoir about Caring for Her Ailing Parents: Jean’s Story

authorbiopic_retouchedWhen both her parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s on the same day, Jean started journaling about her experience caring for them, eventually publishing her memoir, Alzheimer’s Daughter, with the hope to help other caregivers.

 

Tell us a little about your background…

I was born and raised in a close-knit, faith-filled, family in a very small town in Ohio (population 700), married my high school sweetheart, raised our son and daughter, and worked as a third grade teacher in that same small town for 22 years. I was happy with my life, loved my family and my little students.

hp_scanDS_6112319474739

Our family in the late 1950s

 

When did you start to think about making a change?

During the last decade of my teaching career, both of my parents were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease on the same day, when they were age 86. About three years prior to their diagnosis, my sister and I had begun to question our parents’ mental clarity. Because she lived far away, in Florida, she suggested I start a journal documenting these oddities so we could discuss these concerns when we talked by phone.

I felt like a betrayer documenting these things about the people who had sacrificed and given me every opportunity in life. I hid the journal of my secret writings in the bottom of my kitchen junk drawer so no one would find my traitorous entries.

As their decline worsened, I stopped by my parents’ house every day after work, refilling meds, supporting them as best I could even through bouts of food poisoning and falls resulting in broken bones. I feared for their safety as they were near-hoarders—they were raised in the Depression era, believing every item that was not biodegradable had value—with stuff stashed in every crevice and corner and overflowing from kitchen and bathroom cupboards.

My parents did not want to leave their home or have their car taken away but, after their diagnosis, my sister and I did move them away from their beloved little town, first to a senior living facility and, after two more moves, to a locked memory care unit.

The above words sound logical as I write them, but only a caregiver understands what agony was involved in convincing them to move and losing them little by little.

hp_scanDS_6121019304722

My parents on their wedding day

My mother died in 2010. Only a few days later, my dad had no remembrance of her or their 66-year marriage. At that point, I realized my journal, still hidden in the bottom of the kitchen drawer, might help someone else. I started transposing the journal from chicken-scratched entries to something more full-bodied, a memoir of my Alzheimer’s journey with my parents.

Dad died one year after Mom. On the day of his funeral, my sister and I were cleaning his final belongings out of his room and we found the box of their love letters written to one another during WWII. We thought it would be an invasion to read the letters because they were meant only for one another. But we peeked and found the foundation of their romance within.

DSC_2791

These letters would become the chapter beginnings for my book, contrasting their young love with their decline from Alzheimer’s. Here’s an example of one of their letters. I think their voices in the book, their writings, are so much better than my own.

 

December 24, 1943

My Dearest Ed,

Momma and Daddy, Lydia, Dottie and I just came home from Christmas Eve service. I couldn’t hold back my tears while singing “Silent Night” in the candlelight.

Lydia went straight from church to Peter’s family’s gathering. I know she aches for him. Ed, I miss you terribly and wish you were here. It doesn’t relieve my sadness hearing Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Don’t misunderstand, I thank God you’re not shipped out yet and I pray for all our soldiers in danger overseas. But I long for you.

It’s been said that people in love are not sensible. We are the exception to that rule. I waited for you, a prize package. You are such a wonderful optimist about the war ending soon. You are so good to me––so considerate, kind and thoughtful. Your faith is strong, dear, and I love you with all my heart.

I’m lonesome, honey. I wish you were home for Christmas, even though I know we’ll always be together, ‘if only in our dreams.’

           Yours forever,

           Ibby

           P.S. I hope the slipper socks I knitted arrived in time for Christmas.

hp_scanDS_6123836493

My parents leaving for their weekend honeymoon

Through it all, my job teaching third graders was my “normal,” my refuge. It was the one aspect of my life where I had some control. During the time of Mom and Dad’s illness, my first grandchild had been born, but I had no time or energy to be the wonderful grandmother that my mom had been to my children. She had nurtured them, taught them to garden, cooked and baked with them. So many of their good qualities were due to my mom’s influence.

I talked it over with my husband, and decided I’d retire so I could a better grandma. I’ve never regretted that decision. Now I’m the grandma of five, three of them toddler triplets. Becoming a good grandma, like my mom, was my reason for retiring from teaching, but it also gave me time to pour into my memoir.

563025_659761114035015_2097877291_n

My husband and I with all 5 grandchildren

What is your next act?

In Alzheimer’s Daughterpublished earlier this year at age 60—I recount the grit, grief, and love of our journey. It is my attempt to tell my parents, “Even though you couldn’t understand at the time, this is what I had to do to keep you safe. I hope you can forgive me.”

Writing Alzheimer’s Daughterwas a labor of love, and I learned so much in the process, but it was also filled with personal agony. The words poured out of me. Floodgates couldn’t hold them back. I tried to stop writing and move on so many times, but the manuscript itself kept calling me back.

It took three years to write the book, after which I queried publishers for a year and launched my blog and Facebook page. I did have interest in the manuscript but was told I had no name or fame with which to sell a memoir. At that point, I researched self-publishing. Now Alzheimer’s Daughter is available through Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Without much promotion, the book is selling itself, likely because of the title. Anyone searching for books about Alzheimer’s easily stumbles across it on Amazon.

I am completely humbled by the response the book is getting. I receive reviews and letters from people I’ve never met of all ages and walks of life saying the book is helping them through a rough situation, helping them to look for the sunshine peeking through the clouds of the disease.

Blank bookcover with clipping path

How hard was it to take the plunge? How did you prepare?

While writing had been agonizing, the decision to publish was guilt-laden because the story of Alzheimer’s is so personal and private. In essence, I was opening my traitorous journal for the world to read.

I joined a writing group led by a salty, seasoned editor. She and other group members helped me shape what I’d written into a book that we thought could provide truth and solace to other caregivers.

 

How supportive were your family and friends?

My sister and I struggled with whether or not we had a right to publish my story; we had tried, while Mom and Dad were alive, to protect their dignity and privacy by not talking about the disease. My own adult children, however, were very supportive of my writing and of the publication of Alzheimer’s Daughter. At one point, when I was wavering about publishing, my son asked me if I’d be proud of him if he wrote a book. I told him of course I would! He then asked me if I’d be proud of him if he wrote a book about me if I should get Alzheimer’s. That hit me hard and finally made sense to me. Of course I would be so proud of him if he shared painful truths about me in order to support others on the same road.

I cannot advise others memoir writers about whether to publish sensitive life stories, but know that what you publish will be read, and will probably be read by those you least want to read it, so be sensitive and aware of that. Make sure your heart is in the right place. In my case, I was not completely at peace when I published, but I’ve found that the truth, sensitively revealed, is honored. Many of the details of Alzheimer’s are shrouded, yet revealing those details can help others know they are not alone in their journey.

IMG_1806

At a book signing

What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?

At the time I contemplated retiring from teaching, I felt like I was standing on the sill of a large open window in the darkness, about to jump out. I had no idea how far I’d fall before I landed. My future was unknown but I was certain there were other things I wanted to do in my life, namely come to know my grandchild. I’ve never regretted the decision to take that step out the window, and I approach every day of my next act with gratefulness.

If you have a spouse or partner, be sure they support and agree with your decision to leave a profession. This decision will affect your bottom line. If you can live with less, but give more to others, then cut the cord and pursue what is within you.

 

What advice do you have for would-be writers? What resources do you recommend?

First, if you are a writer, you need support and input from other writers. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be a part of a writing group. I found my writing group at my local library. We meet monthly. We range in age from 16 to 85 and come from varied backgrounds. A retired editor leads our group. We don’t study writing; we write. We submit our writing to the group for honest critique. We are careful not to become friends, because friendship could make us hold back in critique. We accept critique, positive or negative, and say “Thank you for reading, your insights are valuable.” All feedback is a gift of time from readers. Honest reactions must never be squelched.

Second, social media and technology will be integral to your success in your next act. The world awaits through your computer or smart device. You must reach out to connect. As stated earlier, I started working on my social media two years ago, during the time I spent querying Alzheimer’s Daughter.

My Alzheimer’s Daughter Facebook page allows me to post news about Alzheimer’s and share connections to my blog. Honestly, I have difficulty blogging. I knew blogging was my weakness, so I’ve started posting images I create using an app called Canva. This app allows me to incorporate words and pictures, many of them family pictures. The picture triggers thoughts within me about my experience or the caregiving experience in general; then I can write a few paragraphs related to the image.

I believe every Alzheimer's diagnosis should-2

I created this on Canva

Twitter was very intimidating when I opened my account. I started following others interested in Alzheimer’s and actively read the tweets of others daily. But it took me nearly six months of studying the hashtags, links, and use of the 140 characters before I had the courage to tweet. But, now Twitter is my best friend. I believe it is the most effective way to communicate with like-minded individuals and find caregiving resources.

I limit myself to these three social media. I think writers can become spread too thin if they try to participate in too much media, which takes time away from new writing. Through social media, I’ve connected with hundreds of experts in the field of Alzheimer’s and dementia, as well as caregivers. With the click of a button, I can talk with someone in Australia who has read my book and participate in their book club.

Third, if you plan to self publish, you must have an editor, and it must be an editor who is not just correcting spelling and grammar issues. I was lucky because the leader of my writing group had spent a career editing and took such a special interest in my book. Some of the most beautiful parts of Alzheimer’s Daughter have impact because of changes my editor crafted. If I had not known this editor, I have no idea how I would have found someone who could give this kind of guidance.

Finally, I was determined that Alzheimer’s Daughter would rival traditionally published books, so I worked with a cover designer, Robert Harrison, in order to achieve a personalized, professional cover. Then I decided to use CreateSpace (owned by Amazon) to publish the paperback version. They worked with me through their layout editing services to achieve the look I wanted for the interior of the book. For such a large company, I cannot say enough good things about CreateSpace. I was always able to talk to a live person who opened up my digital file and worked through all my questions pre and post publication. I also paid CreateSpace to upload my book to Kindle (KDP) so the interior layout would look the same regardless of whether the book was being read in paperback or Kindle versions.

Please contact me at the email listed below if you have questions about getting started on social media, if you need lists of Twitter contacts as they relate to Alzheimer’s and dementia, or if you need to talk to someone who has self-published through Amazon. I’m very willing to share.

IMG_0849

My desk in my basement office

What advice do you have for those in your situation, caring for someone with Alzheimer’s?

Most of us will care for a loved one (whether from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating conditions) in our lifetimes, or will need care from a loved one. I hope the experience I’ve been through, being the caregiver and primary decision-maker for my parents, will remain in my memory so I can be compliant when the time comes that I must relinquish control of my own independence. Honestly, if I can understand that my children love me, want only the best for me, and want to keep me safe, that understanding will be the greatest gift of the Alzheimer’s experience for me.

I was so lucky that my sister and I were able to agree on our course of action for our parents. Even though she lived 1,000 miles away, she was my rock, my therapist by phone. I had her on speed dial after every visit to Mom and Dad. I would encourage siblings to try with all that is within them to understand one another and to remain close. Yes, most likely one sibling who lives nearby will become the primary caregiver. This is not going to change. The sibling who lives far away most likely has a family and a livelihood that they cannot leave to come home to help. So you all have to do your best to support one another. There will be times when the nearby caregiver feels abandoned, but far-away siblings may be trying to do what they can on their end to help. Verbalize, communicate, stay in touch, and keep those far away informed. It’s unfair to place blame if you have not communicated your situation and your needs regularly.

A dying parent wants the love of their family to continue. Your parents will have some peace if they can envision their children going on without them, but still having family respect and harmony.

Often in the worst of times, happiness can be found if you dig deep enough. When my dad was so advanced in the disease that he didn’t know his own name, couldn’t remember my mom, or recognize me, he would murmur these words as though there was a ding in the vinyl record album of his mind, “We’ve been so happy. We’re so lucky.” Dig deep, look for any positive coming out of the negative and hold those thoughts in your mind.

The second guessing that comes from being a caregiver for an incapacitated loved one will never leave you, and you can live in torment wondering what would have been if you’d made different decisions. Or you can move on, share your experience, share your compassion, and try to make things better for the next to walk your path. Moving forward is so much better than living in regret from the past.

from beginning to end,a love story-2

What’s next for you?

I hope to continue to learn. I learn things every day, and I shock myself, at age 60, at what I’m able to do.

I continue to spend time with my five grandchildren. I babysit for them three days a week. It is my joy. Now my grandchildren bring me newness to my writing.

I mentioned that I’m the granny to triplets. My latest writing project is a series of books written at the 3rd to 4th grade reading level entitled Lexi’s Triplets, written through the eyes of the 70-pound family mutt. Each book encompasses one year in the life of the triplets and Lexi. Book one is finished, Book two is in revision, and Book three is in outline form. I have not published Book One yet, as I’m just trying to keep up with Lexi and her adventures. I could see the series having at least five books, taking the triplets up until Kindergarten.

While tears splashed on my keyboard when I wrote Alzheimer’s Daughter, now I can be heard giggling while writing about Lexi and her antics in Lexi’s Triplets.

IMG_2653

Contact Jean Lee at jean@alzheimersdaughter.com

Book: Alzheimer’s Daughter

Blog

Facebook

Twitter




Falling in Love with a Woman at 51: Lisa’s Story

LISA HEADSHOT 2011When Lisa was approached to be Virginia’s agent, she was married to her second husband and had never been attracted to women. Little did she know that her business partnership with Virginia would develop into a deep friendship and, eventually, a committed and loving relationship.

Tell us a little about your background…

I grew up as the oldest of three sisters. My father was a radiologist and my mom was his bookkeeper and owned two tennis boutiques in the tennis heyday. I graduated from Barnard College in New York City as an English major and knew I’d always work with books.

I made my career in publishing, working at a literary agency, then as a publicist at Random House and Crown Books. I was married (for the first time) in 1981 to the father of my two daughters. We were married for 14 years. I left NYC and my job when my husband was offered a position in western Massachusetts. There were no publishing options where we lived and so I decided to launch my own company doing what I loved—public relations and working with books and authors.

logo2015I established the first culinary PR agency in the country, Lisa Ekus Public Relations. Over the last 33 years, that business has grown tremendously and morphed into The Lisa Ekus Group, “Representing a World of Culinary Talent.” We have multiple divisions: Literary Agenting, Media Training, Talent Agenting, Literary à la Carte services, and PR/Marketing Consulting.

After my divorce, I raised my two daughters as a single mother with a full-time business, until I met my second husband. I was married to him for 9 years.

 

FullSizeRender[1]

When did your love life change?

I first met Virginia Willis, a chef, cookbook writer, and culinary TV producer in 2006, when she submitted her book proposal to my literary agency. Virginia was the Kitchen Director for Nathalie Dupree, Bobby Flay, and Martha Stewart, as well as being a Producer for Epicurious Television and Turner Studios.

I had never been with a woman or considered, a relationship with a woman. She was in a long-term relationship and I was married to my second husband; I had no inkling I would fall in love with her.

In the beginning, my relationship with Virginia was all business.

LUY coverBecause I work in the culinary field, representing cookbook authors, food writers, and chefs, Virginia sent me her first book proposal for Bon Appetit, Y’all: Recipes and Stories from Three Generations of Southern Cooking. It was the cleanest proposal for a cookbook I had ever received. We were both going to the Greenbrier Food Writers’ Conference that year and I made an appointment to meet with her.

Virginia’s initial appeal to me was that she is an extraordinary food writer. She is beautiful as well: Chanel red lipstick, pearls, and a way with a sentence that made me determined to represent her on the spot. She told me clearly that my agency was her first choice to represent her and she never approached another agent.

Our work together grew into a friendship, which deepened over the years. And, like a slow-cooked dish, a deliciously meaningful partnership started simmering. It was in the fall of 2008 when I realized I was falling in love with her.

I have always loved the wisdom and friendship of women, but never considered that I was gay. I still believe and feel that it is who Virginia is as an individual that made me fall in love with her. And, I have to say, we laugh that I “took to it like a duck to water.” My comfort level with this woman is far greater than I have ever felt with the men in my life. My “aha” moment came the first time we kissed. I refer to this as my midlife epiphany!

We currently commute between Atlanta and Massachusetts, as we both have important home bases in our respective parts of the country. We share Virginia’s town home in Atlanta and my long-time country farmhouse in Massachusetts.

image003

Why do you think you fell in love with a woman in midlife? 

I didn’t intentionally choose to fall in love with a woman. I feel as if I’ve lived five lifetimes—all of them very different, all of them with enormous joys and some sadness. I sure didn’t see this next act coming.

After divorcing my second husband, I didn’t say, “gee now I’ll be a lesbian.” Both Virginia and I were in emotionally unsatisfying long-term relationships. Neither of us specifically left our partners for each other, but the realization of what we were missing hit both of us pretty hard over the course of our years working together. We both wanted the proverbial “more” in life and from a partner.

I fell in love with a wonderful, smart, beautiful woman and am enjoying every minute of our deepening relationship and love. She met my intellectual and emotional needs. We are very different in terms of our backgrounds. I’m from the liberal North and Virginia from a more traditional Southern background.

We both fly a great deal for work and both of us are used to the aisle seat (leading/control). When we began flying together, we realized it didn’t have to be one or the other of us getting the aisle seat. There was room for both of us. We could sit across the aisle from each other, close while having independence. That became our joke of “aisle/aisle.” We have each met our match; we complement one another. Virginia and I each nurtured a close and respectful friendship that evolved into love and a full-blown relationship.

IMG_6144

Our commitment rings

How difficult was it to come out? Did you have to “prepare”? 

There were two levels of “preparation,” the personal and the professional. Since my girlfriend was also a client of our agency, I had to weigh the impact on and response from my other clients, as well as my family. In the end, I knew this relationship was serious and for long term and “came out” to all.

150704_4TH_OF_JULY_WKD_PB_040

With my family (photo by Levi J Miller)

I told my mom first, who high fived me! My immediate family was 100% supportive. They love me. They trust me and they had known Virginia for some years. They could see we had a deep respect and love for each other. My two grown daughters have welcomed Virginia into our family. She has a special and different relationship with each of them.

My yearbook quote in high school was “Everything I do, I do with everything I’ve got.” At this point in my life, not a lot I do surprises my family! I have always been a woman of passion and commitment. They accepted the woman I love into all our lives. Remember I come from a very liberal family. I also have a very loving and trusting family.

Virginia’s Mama and sister (and relatives) also welcomed me. I am very close to them and, like my family, they are happy that Virginia is in a loving, nurturing relationship of true partnership and support. All our friends have embraced our relationship. I have to chuckle because many of my female friends openly expressed how not surprised they were to hear this and how lucky I was to be with a woman. A few even commented wistfully “men age so badly!”

 

What challenges did you encounter?

Over the course of the next few years, we both extricated ourselves from our relationships. The decisions were hard and painful for both of us. But we were determined to be together and had enormous patience.

The greatest challenge was in my work life. Some clients had an issue with my being in a relationship with a client. I have to wonder if they would have had the same issue if I had fallen in love with a male client. Most, however, were genuinely happy for, and fully supportive of, me.

A few clients left our agency and my position is that if they couldn’t trust my ethics and commitment to each of them, then it was appropriate they move on. It’s a shame that there was this judgment, but such is life. My business continues to thrive, along with my personal life.

FullSizeRender[3]

My office

Is it a challenge to represent your partner as her agent?

Virginia is the creative and in-front person, and I’m the business and behind-the-scenes person; this works brilliantly for us. The mutual respect we have for each other’s strengths and skills, and our willingness to discuss opportunities and challenges, makes us a power couple. We have each other’s best interests at heart.

My biggest piece of advice is to set clear parameters on life and work. Virginia has two expressions: “I need to talk to my Agent Lady,” or “I need to talk to my Girlfriend.” That clues us both in as to the type of conversation and the results needed. Agent Lady is about business, and Girlfriend is “Hear me out and comfort me. Don’t try to solve it or charge it.”

Not every challenge has the resolution you want or hope for, but so many do. Focus on that. Kiss each other good morning and good night each and every day.

image004

Were there times when you thought about not going through with coming out? 

Absolutely not. I never looked back. It is seven years since that first kiss and neither Virginia nor I have ever had any regrets.

My only frustration, and we laugh at this a lot, is that I’m Northern and speak quickly and without filtering much of anything I say. Virginia is Southern, far more thoughtful, and edits her words before she speaks. I still bite my tongue and try desperately to not interrupt her long thought process. And I’ve benefited from learning to be far more patient! Do we have differences of opinions sometimes? Sure. Do we work it out? Always. She slows me down and I speed her up! I LOVE this journey together.

IMG_1443

What have you learned about yourself through this new chapter?

I’ve learned to continue to trust myself, my instincts, and my commitments. Change is the only constant and life is truly short. It turns on a dime. I want to and am embracing my joy. I have a true partner in life. That is incredible!

 

What advice do you have for women considering coming out later in life? 

Be kind to yourself. Be fearless and trust yourself. If you need to get the support of a professional therapist and tap into your most trusted friends, then do that. Some friends (and possibly family) will choose to take the low road. So be it. Embrace your happiness. Don’t postpone joy!

Look to your friends or a therapist. I confided in close friends, a lesbian couple, one of whom had left her traditional marriage for a woman. She had children and completely understood what I was going through. Having that support and sounding board was invaluable.

I’m very comfortable in my own skin so I did not doubt my choice or direction. The harder part was not choosing to be in a lesbian relationship, but to realize my marriage was over. I was raised traditionally and having been divorced once I had some moments of what’s wrong with me that I can’t sustain a relationship? What I had to realize was that I can—with the right person, with the right partner.

IMG_4825

What I do best: Entertain!

What resources do you recommend?

I don’t lean specifically towards lesbian vs. straight resources. I approach life as, how can I learn and grow? I’m interested in business books and conferences with brilliant inspirational speakers. I belong to the Women President’s Organization, which has been one of the single best learning organizations in the world to be a member of. The support of so many incredibly successful entrepreneurial women in both my personal and professional life has truly been priceless. I also have a long time therapist who has known me for almost three decades (and many acts); her insight and support has been invaluable.

150718_WEDDING_414[1]

With Virginia and my daughters (photo by Levi J Miller)

What’s next for you?

Cookbooks and chefs are sizzling hot and I plan on continuing to build their careers and my business. I love every aspect of discovering new talent and cultivating good writing.

Hopefully I have many next acts. Life is a big adventure and I fully intend to participate. What I do know is whatever comes next, Virginia will be at my side—aisle/aisle.

 

Contact Lisa Ekus at Lcecooks@lisaekus.com

The Lisa Ekus Group represents a world of culinary talent.

Website

Facebook

Twitter