Author of the Lumby series
In His Care
There are two distinct memories I have of Monday June 14, 2004; it was the morning that a neurologist indifferently and with no warning diagnosed my mother, sentencing her to a life with Alzheimer’s, and it was the afternoon that I finally told my mother that I was turning my back on a successful corporate career to follow a deeper calling and passion. As it would later unfold in the following years, those two seemingly independent disclosures would regularly intersect, pulling me to emotionally opposite extremes.
Less importantly, I remember Monday, June 14, 2004 to have been a stunningly beautiful summer day with azure blue skies and a gentle warm breeze – weather so inviting that, at my mother’s request, we took a long stroll along the boardwalk before driving to the medical center later that morning. With my arm around her shoulders, we walked for an hour, laughing at the antics of the seagulls, reminiscing about how our family used to boat across Long Island Sound for fresh crab dinners, how my brother and I played in the sand as children, and how my father taught us to fish off the adjacent pier. On that day, her memories of those distant years were amazingly focused, as was her ability to tactfully steer the conversation in a direction she thought more pressing.
As with most discussions I had with my parents throughout my adult life, the topic ultimately worked its way to my career. My mother had carried on the support and inquiry, offering solicited and unsolicited advice, where my father left off when he passed away ten years before. She nudged my side. “So, when do you think they’ll make you a....?” “Partner?” I said, completing her sentence as I had unconsciously begun to do when I saw she couldn’t find the right words. “I don’t know,” I answered. “And where were you last?” she asked. “Hong Kong,” I repeated. I evaded her other questions as much as possible – this wasn’t the time or place to tell her that I would soon be stepping off the corporate ladder into a very uncertain future.
Two hours later, I squeezed my mother’s hand and fought back tears while the doctor began a monotoned discourse as to what we were to expect in the coming months and years. His words screamed in my mind: dementia, plaque, neurons, anxiety, assisted living, stage two, nursing care. When he finished, my mother stood, politely thanked the doctor and walked out. If nothing else, my mother was fiercely independent and she wouldn’t even consider the possibility that she had an incurable disease. She had overcome other misfortunes in her life, and this would be no different. But, as I walked behind her and saw her struggle to remember if she had worn a jacket or brought her purse, I knew this could not and would not be defeated no matter how much determination she had.
Although neither of us were hungry, we found a quiet café for lunch. “Do you believe in God?” she asked out of the blue. I was surprised by her question, “I do. Do you?” Her eyes filled with tears. “Maybe a little less today,” she said, with a strained smile. I looked at her and my heart broke. Underneath her strength and fortitude was a very intelligent woman who knew her fate had just been sealed, and there was nothing she could do to change it.
My mother had accomplished so much in her life. The day after she sent me off to the first grade, she enrolled in a class to become a realtor. Within a few years, she had founded a real estate firm in our small town and over the decades, grew it into a substantial company. She had shared my father’s work ethic: stay the course, nose to the grindstone, and expect nothing less of yourself than the very best you can be. Together they built a successful life, instilling those same values in their children. But recently, I had decided to deviate from their conservative advice and leave a well-nurtured career. But I didn’t know how to tell her.
As we finished our coffee, I watched my mother. For the first time in my life, I felt our days together would more sooner than later, come to an end. “I’m leaving corporate,” I whispered, knowing there was no more time or reason to stall. My mother looked up in bewildered astonishment. Her generation would never consider turning their backs on success and financial security. “Why?” she asked. I leaned towards her. “I want to write and I want to spend more time with my husband. I want to have a life of meaning.”
She stared into my eyes, more intently than I had ever remembered. She was quiet for several minutes and I could see she was thinking about what I had just said. “Well, good for you,” she finally said, speaking words I never expected to hear. “But promise me one thing,” she said. “And, what’s that?” I asked. “Write something heartwarming – bring joy and laughter to people.” Perhaps this request was a reaction to that morning’s crushing news, or just simple advice coming from a woman who frequently ignored adversity in favor of more positive thinking. “And write something I can escape to,” she added softly. “I will,” I promised.
I stayed with my mother the rest of that week, our time together taking on new meaning. My reaction to her forgetfulness changed from frustration to deep sadness as the reality of her Alzheimer’s began to sink in - this was the beginning. But she would soon lose her independence and I knew that during my next visit, she and I would need to visit and evaluate different assisted care facilities.
After returning home, I began writing and what came forth was a marvelous thing called Lumby. The anecdotal town, its valleys, streets and townsfolk are an escape – a sanctuary from harsher realities – because at the heart of the town I authored is the decency and honorableness of good people who are carving out the best lives they know how. It is a town that is reminiscent of yesteryear, a community as it was intended to be - caring, forthright and authentic. Lumby is also where I found myself. In creating the town and writing the details about the stores, the monastery, the local newspaper and Montis Inn, I discovered what was within my core, and began composing, along with my novels, a life of meaning, a life that would make my mother proud.
My first novel was completed in four months, and with divine intervention by my friends, the monks of New Skete Monastery, I was signed by Yorkville Press and the publishing wheels started. The day I received my author copies of The Lumby Lines was one of the happiest in my life. The following morning, I took several copies and drove down to see my mother. She had since moved from her home to an assisted care facility.
When I walked in, her eyes danced with delight. Although she couldn’t remember my name, she knew who I was. I gave her the book and together we looked at it for hours. She slowly began to read the first sentences, frequently stumbling over the words, and then I would continue reading for her. Following every word, I could tell she loved Lumby, the quirkiness of its residents, and the humorous benign mayhem that unfolds. “I’m glad you included the monks – they’re close to God,” she said. “Yes, they are. As we are,” I replied. “As we are,” she repeated. We then talked about the courage, strength and solace we found in God as we faced the heart wrenching consequences of her disease. That was the last coherent conversation I had with my mother, and it was a day I will always cherish.
Shortly thereafter, my series was sold to the Penguin publishing group, so a year passed until The Lumby Lines was re-released, during which time I finished the second Lumby novel and much of the third. When the new Penguin copy of Lines came out, I followed the tradition and drove down to see my mother. She had since been moved from assisted care to the nursing home, and although I visited her regularly, I was always surprised by the relentless progression of her Alzheimer’s.
When I arrived, my mother was resting in her chair. I laid my hand of her shoulder and she looked up at me with her charming smile. The sparkle in her eyes still danced, but much slower now. “Who are you?” she asked kindly. “I’m your daughter Gail.” But she no longer understood that world or the relationship in represented. “And what do you do?” she asked. “I write books,” I answered. “She does too,” she said, pointing to a photograph of me on her nightstand. I picked up the picture and held it close to my face and smiled. “See, it’s me, Gail.” A very dim light came on. “It’s you.” I then sat close to her and began to read the first chapter, and she smiled.
When my second novel, Stealing Lumby, was released in September, I made my pilgrimage to my home town to again share the joy with my mother. She was much worse – she had been sleeping very little at night and was agitated during the day, using only the few words she had to communicate her anxiety. My mother no longer knew me or herself. Her body was beginning to fail her and the sparkle in her eyes was extinguished. During that visit, I quietly read to her until she fell asleep. When I kissed her goodbye, she woke and tried to say something, but no words came out. “We are in His care,” I said.
My third novel, Lumby’s Bounty, will be released in January, and I will once again sit at my mother’s bedside where I will read her the first words of my novel. I will rest my head on her shoulder, say a soft prayer, and so deeply wish that she was still with me. But I will also feel so grateful for the life we shared and the faith we had, and I will always remember how she helped my find Lumby and my life of blessed meaning.
~ Gail Fraser ~
Author of the Lumby series
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Prior to changing her life and becoming a novelist, Gail Fraser had a successful career in corporate America holding senior executive positions in several Fortune 500 corporations. A few years ago, she gave it all up to move to the rural landscape of upstate New York, and became a full-time novelist, writing The Lumby Lines, Stealing Lumby and Lumby’s Bounty published by the Penguin Publishing Group. When not writing, Gail enjoys working on her pottery, gardening, cooking and bee-keeping. She is married to rural folk artist Art Poulin, who created all of the art in the books. Now, in a case of life imitating art, Gail and Art are building their own "Lumby" called Lazy Goose. They recently purchased 40 acres of land, demarcated by a 200 year old stone wall, with a view of the Adirondacks and the Catskills. Like Montis Abbey, the property is a work in progress. Please visit Gail at www.lumbybooks.com
[ By: Gail Fraser, Copyright © 2007 -- Submitted by: Gail Fraser ]
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