A Letter to My Children

open-letterA friend recently sent me a link to a blog titled “God’s Grace and Mom’s Alzheimer’s,” and specifically to a post from August of 2013: “What I’ll Say to My Children If I’m Diagnosed With Alzheimer’s.” I agree with many of her sentiments and recommend the blog to anyone caring for someone with Alzheimer’s. Here’s a sample:

I fear having AD someday myself. (My mind already concerns me too often.)  But if that day comes … what I would say to them is this…. Pray and trust God to guide you.  Get as much help as you can.  I don’t want you to sacrifice your life plans or family for my sake, but I want to always be part of your life.

If you need to find a nursing home for me, I understand.  Pray about it and seek wisely. And then visit me often. Even if I don’t seem to know you, believe in your heart that part of me does.  Hold my hand and talk to me.  Tell me all about your life.  Sing to me and read the Bible to me, please.  Brush my hair and tell me memories of your childhood.

Everything will be better in heaven.  Meanwhile, when I can’t talk anymore; just know that I love you forever and that being a mom to you was an honor and the delight of my life.

What powerful words. I wish I had known about this blog during the decade or so that I was caregiving for Mom, because I think we are kindred spirits. I can’t find the author’s name on the blog (or the blog’s Facebook page) but I’m sending kudos to her, and also saying, “Memory Eternal” since I just read that her mother recently died. Maybe she and Effie are exchanging stories in heaven.

“There’s This Cute Boy”

WSJ articleWednesday’s Wall Street Journal had an excellent article in the Life & Arts section, “‘There’s This Cute Boy…’ Secrets to Getting Teens to Talk,” by Anne Marie Chaker. The article is about kids and their parents writing journals to each other, sometimes instead of talking, but hopefully to break the ice for difficult conversations.

The article reminded me of something I’ve blogged about before—the many letters I wrote to my grandmother during my childhood (in the 1950s) and into my teenage years and even the early years of my marriage. I felt “safe” telling my grandmother things I might not tell my mother—including how I felt when my mother and brother yelled at each other (which happened a lot, and I would go to my room and turn up the radio to block it out) but also poignant moments like my first kiss. I have a shoebox full of those letters, which are a treasure.

So sometime last year I started writing to my granddaughters who live in Denver, and receiving precious letters back from them, especially the older two, who are 6 and 7. Recent letters from these two were especially touching.

Grace (7) told me she is studying Black history in second grade. She said her teacher told them that there was slavery in Mississippi, and since I’m from Mississippi, she asked whether I knew any slaves when I was a little girl. I responded by explaining that I lived many years after the slaves were freed, but that unfortunately many Black people were still being treated unfairly when I was a little girl (and even now), and how important it is for us not to judge people by the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes (this granddaughter is Asian), or which country they are from.

Aslan1Anna (6) wrote a letter to Pops (my husband) asking him two questions: (1) What is your favorite color? And (2) What is your favorite animal? He answered her back: BLUE, and LION. Now, I’ve been married to this man for almost 47 years, and it never occurred to me to ask him either of these questions, so we had a revealing moment and discussion. Turns out he loves lions not only because they are majestic and beautiful, but because of the lion, “Aslan,” who represents Christ in the Narnia Chronicles. He has asked me to bring some of the Narnia books with us to the beach next month so he can read them to his granddaughters.

Today I know that “Face Time” (which we enjoy with all 4 granddaughters) has probably replaced hand written letters as the primary means of communication between the generations, but I plan to keep up the letter writing as long as my granddaughters will participate. There’s something really special about it. I feel a different kind of closeness in this exchange, and I hope they will keep responding to my letters!

Woozies and Glam and Flowers, Oh My!

What a fabulous birthday I’ve had. Dinner out on birthday eve with my sweet hubby last night. Visits from several friends today. Packages and cards in the mail. Phone calls and text messages from children. And about 150 Facebook birthday wishes. I am feeling the love. THANK YOU, everyone!

 

Flowers and cards.

Flowers and cards.

Pearls and feathers from sweet hubby.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Woozies to keep wine cold, from sweet Madeleine and Damon.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock martini glasses from Beth and her family. Perfect.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Peacock sticker for my new MacBook Pro, selected for me by almost 5-year-old Gabby.

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Beautiful JJill necklace from Jason and his familiy. They know my taste!

Crossword Puzzles and Alzheimer’s

Crossword puzzleThis morning I worked today’s crossword puzzle (from the newspaper) at one sitting. I work these puzzles almost daily. I also play Scrabble regularly with my husband (Pass ‘n Play on his iPad). I read somewhere that these activities can help stave off the ravages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Well, my mother and her mother both died with Alzheimer’s, and they both worked the crossword puzzle DAILY until, well, until they couldn’t. I don’t care what the research says, it’s not a magic bullet. So there have to be other motivations for working puzzles and playing games. How about fun?

The same article I linked to above included reading and writing as activities that help slow the processes of dementia. Reading. Writing. I’ve already read four books in 2017 and I write (or edit) daily.

I’m doing my part. Did I mention praying? I do that as well.

So, my daughter and her family are spending a few days with us (from Denver) so this will be short…. Have a great weekend, everyone, and if you’re doing crossword puzzles to prevent dementia, just keep on keeping on and have fun!

Time Was Soft There—Literary Gossip and Catnip for Book Junkies

55008Flying to and from Austin (through Atlanta, of course) gave me several extra hours of reading time this weekend, so I finished my third book of 2017:

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

I had planned to write a book review today until I found a Kirkus Review that pretty much says what I would have said. I’ll add that when I was in Paris last May, I stopped into Shakespeare & Company right after visiting nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I wish I had read this book before visiting the legendary store. I had no idea that people lived inside the store (for free) nor did I know any of the owner’s colorful history. Read the Kirkus Review for a quick summary. I’ll share the closing line here as a teaser:

Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.

Susan and JulieWe had a wonderful time in Austin at my first cousin, Julie Johnson’s wedding this weekend. What a beautiful city and surrounding areas—the wedding was held on a deck/patio high up at The Oasis at Lake Travis, with an incredible view of sailboats on the lake (temperatures in the 70s) and later, a windy and cloudy but powerful sunset. My husband and I also loved hanging out with two more of my first cousins (Jimmy and Johnny Jones from Jackson, Mississippi) during the weekend, so, as weddings often are, it was a fun reunion. Johnny remarked that it was great getting together for something other than a funeral, which is the main time we usually see each other! My husband and I had a great time shopping for his first pair of cowboy boots, and a new cowboy hat for me (I collect them from most cities I visit), which we wore to the wedding.

Now I’m back home in Memphis, enjoying editing the essays that are arriving in my inbox for next year’s anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. I love my job. Have a great week!

 

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

On the Fourth Day of Christmas…

four-gospels… my true love gave to me: four calling birds! In the Church’s tradition, those birds represent the four gospel writers—the holy apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (seen in these icons). They are “calling” to the world to hear the message of Christ’s incarnation.

So how am I celebrating the fourth day of Christmas? We just got home last night from spending a wonderful Christmas in Denver with two of our kids and all four of our grandchildren. So we are tired but happy. Of course I’m unpacking, doing laundry, and grocery shopping today (and starting back on exercising on the elliptical)… but it’s also a day for Christmas cardsopening more Christmas cards and reading through so many wonderful Christmas letters from friends and family near and far. Sending Christmas cards is one of my favorite traditions, and receiving them is such a treat.

This year I didn’t come up with a creative way to display them, so I just spread them out on our dining room table as they arrived. This morning I captured them in photos, then I took down last year’s photo cards from the bulletin board in the kitchen and replaced them with this year’s. Well, some of them. (They don’t all fit!)

It was fun to group some of them:

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

children, grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews, great nieces, and great nephews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

Cards with original artwork (children and adults)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spiritual/religious cards

spiritual/religious cards

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year's cards arrive!

kitchen bulletin board (with some of our 2016 photo cards) will stay up until next year’s cards arrive!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to everyone who was thoughtful enough to send us a card and/or a Christmas letter this year. I hope you are enjoying this tradition as much as we are!

A Thrill of Hope… the Weary World Rejoices!

imagesA couple of weeks ago I did a post about a favorite Christmas hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” This morning I woke up thinking about another favorite, “O Holy Night.”

O Holy Night wasn’t traditionally sung in the Presbyterian church of my childhood. It was saved for special solos and performances outside the regular church service. At least in my experience. But my favorite memory of this hymn is from Christmas gatherings (and also Thanksgiving gatherings) at my aunt and uncle’s house in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s through the 1980s. Aunt Barbara Jo was the “glue” in our extended family. Ten years younger than her older brother—my father—Barbara Jo was always more like an older sister to me. She loved family and she loved having us all in her home. Uncle Dan was a military man with a career in the Mississippi National Guard. But he had a softer side, and the most beautiful tenor voice I’ve ever heard. My father was also a tenor. When my Aunt Joy was visiting from Texas, she would play the piano (by ear) and we’d all gather around and sing Christmas carols. At some point everyone would get quiet and we’d know it was time for O Holy Night. As Joy played, my father and Uncle Dan sang the most beautiful duet, always moving me to tears.

So, this morning I did a little research, learning something of the song’s history. It was written in 1847. In light of our country’s (and the world’s) current political unrest, I found it interesting that the history of this beloved Christmas song is also filled with politics and war. Here’s more of the story, from a post by Tsh Oxenreider at (in)courage:

A parish priest in a small French town commissioned a local poet and wine commissionaire, Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure, to write a poem for the village’s Christmas Eve mass. Cappeau read through the birth of Christ in the gospel of Luke en route to Paris, and finished the poem O Holy Night by the time he reached the city.

Cappeau turned to his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose the music to the poem, and three weeks later, the song was sung in the village on Christmas Eve. Initially, Cantique de Noel (the song’s French name) was widely loved by the Church in France, but when leaders learned that Cappeau was a socialist and Adams a Jew, the song was uniformly denounced as unfit for church services. But the common French people loved it so much, they continued to sing it.

The song came to the U.S. via John Sullival Dwight, an abolitionist during the Civil War. Moved by the line in the third verse, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother, and in His Name all oppression shall cease,” he published it in his magazine and quickly found favor in the north during the war.

Even though it was banned in France, the song was still popular among the people. On Christmas Eve in 1871, in the midst of fierce fighting between France and Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, a unarmed French soldier jumped out of the trenches, walked into the battlefield, and started singing, “Minuit, Chretiens, c’est l’heure solennelle ou L’Homme Dieu descendit jusqu’a nous,” the song’s first line in French.

After singing all three verses, a German solider emerged and started singing, “Vom Himmel noch, da komm’ ich her. Ich bring’ euch gute neue Mar, Der guten Mar bring’ ich so viel, Davon ich sing’n und sagen will,” the beginning of a popular hymn by Martin Luther.

Fighting stopped for the next 24 hours in honor of Christmas Day. Soon after, the French Church re-embraced O Holy Night.

My wish these days leading up to Christmas is that we would embrace one another, and that the fighting would stop.

Click here to enjoy Jordan Smith’s wonderful tenor voice in this arrangement of O Holy Night.

Behind the Scenes with Tangles and Plaques and Richelle Putnam

Richelle Putnam

Richelle Putnam

This morning I was interviewed on Behind the Scenes with Richelle Putnam on Meridian, Mississippi’s 103.3 Supertalk Mississippi radio station about my upcoming book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.  You can listen to the 16-minute interview here.

When you click on the link, fast-forward to 5:15 minutes in to listen to the interview, which ends 21:35 minutes into the one-hour show.

Richelle and I met almost ten years ago at the first Mississippi Writers’ Guild Conference in Clinton, Mississippi, (August 2007) and we’ve been keeping up with each other Facebook. She’s not only a radio show host, she’s also a musician, songwriter, and author. I’m looking forward to being with her again in person some time this spring, when I’ll be in Meridian for another interview as well as a literary/musical event with Richelle.

My particular interest in Meridian stems from the fact that my mother was from Meridian, and I lived there for a couple of years when I was 3-5 years old (1954-56). And some of my favorite childhood memories are of summer vacations spent with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) who sewed all my clothes for the coming school year while I was with her each summer. For many of those summers my parents would come over (from Jackson, Mississippi, where we lived then) for a few days for Dad to play in the Northwood Country Club golf invitational tournament. As I got older my pre-teen and teenage memories include hanging out at the swimming pool with friends I made in Meridian—including Carol Pigford and Missy McWilliams—while Dad played in the tournament. And I loved following him around the course each year that he was in the final round of the championship flight.

I haven’t been back to Meridian since the last trip I made there with my mother about fifteen years ago. We visited the cemetery where my grandparents are buried, and old neighborhoods and homesteads. I look forward to returning in the spring for an event for Tangles and Plaques. Stay tuned for more information. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy the interview.

Journaling Through Advent

My friend Julie Cantrell (who happens to be an award-winning author) has been posting Advent Journal Prompts on Facebook every day since December 1. When I first started trying to participate, I was a bit overwhelmed by the depth of Julie’s words. (She should hang a shingle.) I thought I would write from her daily prompts, but quickly realized it would take an hour or more each day, and I decided not to participate at that level. I have continued to read them every day, though, and even thinking through what I might write has been helpful.

adventjournalslice1

 

Julie leads us through a journey back to our childhoods, to our happy memories, our sad memories, traumatic events, and victories. She asks us to remember who was at our side during all of these times—who cheered us on, but also who might have been jealous or not supportive at times. This might sound negative, but she goes on to encourage us to not only be thankful for the support we have received in our lives, but also to forgive those who haven’t been supportive, or who have hurt us. Although I’ve already worked through many of the “steps” she is suggesting, I did find it helpful to be reminded of my journey.

I love what Julie wrote on Day 1:

I believe every spirit was brought into this life for a reason. Your life is no accident. You are no mistake. Search your soul. Why has God really brought you here? What is your true purpose in this life? …. And then ask, am I on the right path to achieve that missions? If not, what steps can I take today to reach that goal?

I found this to be extremely helpful. Life offers so many options, including choices that can lead us off the best path for our lives. I’ve definitely strayed from that best path many times in my 65 years, and I’m sure I’ll continue to make some bad choices in the future. But focusing on what my “true purpose” in this life might be really helps.

P1010320For some people, their true purpose is revealed to them clearly—through a career, or being a parent, or a caregiver, or living a life that involves helping others. But for those of us who are artists—writers, musicians, painters, etc.—I think it’s harder to be clear about this. Making art can be a solitary pursuit, and it’s easy to feel selfish spending so many hours every week alone with our work. We don’t even have the opportunity to reach out to coworkers and maybe be the light they need in their lives, since we don’t go to an office and we don’t have coworkers. This is probably the thing I miss most about working alone. So I have to consciously reach out to find others with whom to interact. In my younger years I found these people through my children’s parents at school, soccer games, and other activities. As the children grew older and away from me, I found these people more through church activities. In recent years, I’ve found them right outside my door, in my neighbors. And also in my writing community, although we communicate more through emails and Facebook than in person. I am thankful that one of my neighbors is also a writer and has become a close friend. And I am thankful for my writing group that meets monthly, not only to critique one another’s work, but for that interaction we all crave.

In Julie’s Journal Prompt for today (December 7) she asks us to look back at challenges we have survived that we thought we wouldn’t be able to handle. And also:

What accomplishments have you achieved that you once believed were out of your reach?… Write an entry in honor of your beautiful, brave, survivor spirit. Celebrate the fact that you have already endured many of life’s greatest battles….

And then she asks, “What has kept you going through the hard times? When you felt most alone, most unloved, most afraid… what got you through to your next breath? Do you have a name for that? Would you call it God? Why or why not?”

I love that she points us in such a positive direction after a week of pretty heavy soul-searching (Journal Prompts 2-6, which I didn’t write about here). As a survivor of sexual abuse and cancer, and a daily struggler with eating disorders and depression, I can say that although sometimes it is a person—a friend, or my husband, or one of my children—who gets me through each of these hard times, at the end of the day it is God. The God of my childhood, my early adulthood, and now, of this later season of my life.

Thank you, Julie, for guiding us through what can often be a difficult season (Christmas holidays) with your wisdom and kindness. I look forward to continuing the journey.

The Personal Essay at Its Best

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden

In lieu of writing a post today, I’m going to share a personal essay by a friend, the excellent writer and teacher Lee Martin. “This October Sunday,” published in The Rumpus, is the personal essay at its best—filled with intimate truths and universal pathos.

I knew that Lee had a difficult childhood. I had read about it in his wonderful memoir, Such a Life. His personal struggles along with his excellent writing skills led me to ask him to write a blurb for my book, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s, which is coming out in February. Lee’s words were encouraging and humbling:

Susan Cushman writes with clarity and grace about the gnarled pathways between her and her mother, and about the terrible disease that holds a surprising grace within its irrevocable sadness. Tangles and Plaques has the courage to see it all. This is a memoir about caretaking and taking care. It’s a book that will touch your heart.

—Lee Martin, author of From Our House and Such a Life

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Lee. In your memoir. In your novels. And in such a fine personal essay.

 

 

Rumpus original art by Liam Golden.

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