Friday, November 11, 2016

How a Horse Carried Me Through Family Heartbreak by Ann Campanella

How a Horse Carried Me 
Through Family Heartbreak

When I was in my early 30s, my husband and I moved from Houston to North Carolina to be closer to my parents. We brought my horse Crimson with us. We were looking forward to building a barn for Crimson and starting a family. I couldn’t wait to share our farm and our future children with my parents.

Crimson, a Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred cross, was a grandson of Secretariat. Like his grandfather, he was an elegant chestnut. I had taught him to jump and showed him in the Hunter/Jumper ring. He was hard to beat.

But Crimson was more than an equine athlete. He had a heart of gold. He was the kindest horse I’ve ever known. I could put anyone on him from an inexperienced child to an elderly adult and he would take care of them.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me that Crimson was the horse who carried me through a confluence of heartbreaking events.

At the age of 33, I had my first miscarriage at the same time my mother began showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Over the next several years, I had more miscarriages and my mother spiraled deeper into her illness. I was thrust into the role of caretaker, while I yearned to be a mother.

Through this time, Crimson was my anchor. I traveled back and forth across the state to help care for my mother. Each time I returned home, I looked forward to spending time with Crimson. He provided a sense of sanctuary for me, a safe place where I could grieve.

Gazing at the grazing horses in our pasture gave me a sense of peace in a world that had gone awry. Some days, when my grief was particularly raw, I could do nothing more than rest my head against Crimson’s sturdy neck. He would stand like a statue absorbing my sorrow.

As a lover of books and writing, I searched the internet for memoirs that shared personal experiences of infertility and/or Alzheimer’s and found very little. With my own background as a newspaper and magazine journalist, I was determined to change that.

I wanted to write the book that I had needed to read – a book that shared the story of what happens when your life shifts unexpectedly and your dreams fall apart. But I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted to honor Crimson’s memory and share the story of how our special connection carried me through some of the hardest days of my life.

I hope that Motherhood: Lost and Found will provide inspiration and comfort for those whose hearts have been bruised by the circumstances of life. And, as Crimson did for me, may the spirit of horses deliver unexpected joy in the broken places.  

Ann Campanella is the author of Motherhood: Lost and Found, an award-winning memoir that tells the story of her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s at the same time Ann was trying to become a mother. Formerly a magazine and newspaper journalist, Ann’s writing has been widely published. She blogs at Fields of Grace, a blog that documents the return of horses into her life.  She lives on a small horse farm in North Carolina.

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