Have you ever just kept moving forward during a stressful time instead of letting the reality of a situation engulf you? Psychologists say that “denial” is a really comfortable place to be – and it’s true. After my mom died 5 years ago, we were busy with our B & B and exploring our new community of Smith Mountain Lake. I became quite involved in an array of lake activities. Since Mom had lived a distance from us anyway, it was easier thinking of her as away instead of dead! But on the occasions that I wanted to call her to share some life event, I would remember! Of course this was just a way of dealing with reality short term.
While she was ill, I kept an intermittent journal and saved many of my emails between my siblings and me as we communicated about her caregiving in her final years. Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease.
It took me until this year to review the notes and emails about her care to write her story, but I did it. And in writing her story, I was able to not only deal with her disease and ultimate death, but work my way out of denial. In the past, I have published children’s books (available on Amazon), but this one was different. It was emotionally trying to go through the notes and relive each event. I pushed to get it done by her birthday (March 22) and indeed I did. I have shared it now with my sister and brother as gifts and also shared it with Mom’s best friend. I gave each of them 2 copies and asked them to pass the book along to someone else who could benefit from reading about the ups and downs of caring for a loved one with memory issues. A few people locally have purchased my book and shared with me that they too, could relate to Mom’s story because of their current or past situations.
If you are in the midst of caregiving or know someone who is, please consider reading Mom’s story and telling me how you can relate. Then give the book to someone else. It is available in hard copy and by e-book. We all need support when facing the realities of losing a loved one. This was just my way of (finally) dealing with it.
The book is entitled, Sweetness Begets Sweetness. Why that title? Mom used to say it to us when we were kids to get us to be “nice” to our siblings. It was one of many platitudes to get us to behave! I am sure you have your own family sayings that you remember!
Family is one of the most important things in life (to me) and preserving the stories and memories may be more important to me in my later years than I know. There is much to be known yet about how Alzheimer’s disease is acquired and how it may be passed through genetics. So in the meantime, we learn what we can and share what we learn!
Postscript: After reading this book, my brother wrote this memory of Mom.
9 April 2019
My sister Karen wrote a book called “Sweetness Begets Sweetness” about the fading of my Mom via Alzheimer’s. As Mom’s third born and only son I am compelled to add a couple of comments. Karen did a magnificent job of capturing most of our feelings and memories. Karen has boundless energy of which I had just a bit. Great job Sis!
Lonely screamed out at me when I first read Karen’s rendition of Mom’s life. I had to read it twice to absorb the monumental woman that Karen describes. Mom, like all of us experience moments of loneliness, it is part the human condition. Her last few years, however, must have been pure lonely torture…for a while, until she no longer understood what loneliness meant. Seems we (Sherry, Karen and Me) became lonelier as we watched Mom’s mind slowly wither away. That rock of a Mom was going away.
In her day, she was one hell of a resource; the Google of the day. One quick call and she had an answer or at least some advice. When I was really young and did something really stupid she would send me after a switch off the old willow tree out front. Normally they were too small and I’d have to go back and get a bigger one. She “blistered” the backs of my legs bright red. This was cruel and unusual punishment, at the time, but she still had her mind. Later we graduated to rulers until they kept breaking, then coat hangers and they kept bending, finally “wait until your father gets home.” But she still had her mind. Later I realized this was some good old southern discipline.
Mom also taught me how to be a gentleman: open the door for the ladies or the infirm, walk on the outside on the sidewalk less a car tire splash the lady, yes Sir, and yes Ma’am. She drilled the multiplication tables into my thick head for years (I was the slowest learner of the kids, still am). Yet now, how I long for those days of interaction and learning.
Mom loved us all so much. I know we (mostly me) filled her mind with consternation and “good grief-ed-ness.” She loved more than anyone else could have!
So, as she was slowly taken from us, we hurt exponentially. The vacuum and loneliness was deafening. She was confused when we had to remove her from her home and into a professional care facility; even there with lots of people she was lonely and then lonely and lonelier. The harder we tried to fill her mind with something she could remember, the less she remembered. Before too long, she was but a shell. That rock of a Mom was almost gone.
Seconds before her last breath she whispered in my ear, “I love you son.”
M. G. Brown
Many have asked us why we decided to build and operate a Bed & Breakfast. We generally tell the story to our breakfast guests who ask. But this week, it has become even clearer to me why we chose this life.
We explain to people that we wanted to move to an airport property in Virginia. Jack’s dream was to walk out his front door and be near his airplanes. He can hop in a plane and just take a leisurely flight over beautiful Smith Mountain Lake. He now spends 6-8 hours a day in the hangar completing a decade long project of building a 4-seat traveling airplane called an RV-10. We are hoping to travel more in the coming years!
I have become involved in the local community with singing, photography, and gardening.
We have met many interesting people who have walked through the doors of Bedford Landings. We enjoy preparing a personalized home cooked, made from scratch breakfast with love and care. We have found this a welcoming community offering the type of the activities that are a fit for us. We are indeed happy that we made the decision to live here. People ask if running a B&B is a lot of work? Indeed it is but we like the schedule. We are up at 6:30, serve breakfast at 8:00 and the kitchen is clean by 9:00. We check-in people in the afternoon and are generally free to make evening plans.
• When people don’t come down for a fresh, hot breakfast, we are disappointed. When they say, ”I’m not much of a breakfast eater.” We silently wonder why they chose to stay in a full service bed and breakfast.
• When people decide to stop to go antiquing or for a late dinner before checking in without calling. Then we have to cancel our evening plans.
Other than these few pet peeves, we truly love sharing our home and helping people understand more about Smith Mountain Lake. Many who visit, come to spend time on the water or to attend a wedding or a family reunion, while others may be searching for a retirement home.
But there is more to why we retired nearly 10 years ago to move away from our three children and six grand children to build a B &B at an airport. It has to do with “living.” This week on March 7th, I turned 65 years old. On March 8th, Jack turned 66 years old. My dad died one month short of his 65th birthday (cancer). Jack’s Dad died when he was 68 (cancer). His dad was a medical doctor and worked until shortly after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. My dad took an early retirement as a university administrator at age 60. He moved to Florida with my stepmother and was having a blast exploring, meeting new friends, golfing and generally socializing; until he couldn’t.
Unlike our fathers, we didn’t want to work until we died. As a tenured professor, I had so enjoyed my active career but wanted a new challenge and to do something totally different. As a mechanical design engineer, then an engineering manager, Jack was tired of boring budget meetings, corporate transitions, and laying off staff. He wanted to quit that life but not sit still!
My mom died 5 years ago, as we were finishing up building the B&B. Her birthday is this month. So I am looking into the future through the lens of my parents. With nostalgia, I am entering into “old age” and wondering how I will gracefully accept my wrinkles and gray hair. Jack’s mom is the epitome of grace as she nears her 95th birthday still living in the house in which Jack grew up.
A friend said to me recently, “I’m not afraid of dying, I am afraid of not living.” Thank-you Joe, you expressed what I was feeling. We moved here to LIVE and we will continue to LIVE and hopefully thrive–until we can’t!
Do you consider yourself playful? Do you like to laugh? Do you think it is fun to play pretend games? Do you like to meet and mingle? If the answer to these questions is YES (or even no!), then you will enjoy an evening of mystery and problem solving! A murder mystery storyline has been written especially for the evening of March 2, 2019. The event will take place at Bedford Landings Bed & Breakfast, located near the airport at Smith Mountain Lake. Only 35 tickets are available and 25 have been already reserved. To get your reservation, go online to purchase your ticket.
You will be e-mailed a character bio just a few days before the event. It is best to keep your bio private and use the details provided to solve the mystery. You will build your own character based on what you have been given in your bio. You don’t have to divulge a thing about yourself as a REAL person. That’s part of the fun!
Food and beverages will be provided by Karen & Jack at Bedford Landings. You are welcome to BYOB but non-alcoholic beverages and ice will also be provided. Start time is 5:30 pm.
I am growing to love photography and our bird feeder right out the living room window gives me some pretty remarkable sights for taking photos, especially on these a cold days! All I have to do is feed the birds and they entertain me by visiting. It seems that I always seem to get the same birds! I learned today (in Moneta Garden Club) that the birds I feed are seed-eaters and the ones I am missing are worm eaters or bug eaters, probably foraging in the trees.
I realize that I have spent a great deal of my life learning about things other than wildlife, but I just didn’t realize that there are over 10,000 species of birds and that we only have about 973 of them in the United States.
I loved observing the ravens when we visited Yellowstone a few years ago.
and I even liked the cute budgies at the natural habitats at Natural Bridge zoo,
but also I have gotten to know the birds right out my window!
I realize that these wild birds are quite different from my domestic chickens, but they are birds still!
(An aside) I am proud to report that our chickens are laying this winter. Upon the advice of friends with chickens and chicken books, I extended their day light by about 4 hours with a lamp on a timer in their hen house!
But wrapping up my little flighty blog on birds, here are your fun facts about birds…
Go watch the birds!
For five full years, we have kept journals in the guest rooms. They are there as an option for guests to share their likes and dislikes about their stay in our B & B. It is hard to read them on a day-to-day basis, so after five years of guest journal notes, I decided to put my qualitative analysis skills to the test and see if there were trends in the open-ended comments.
There were 210 journal entries representing approximately 654 people. Most (163 entries) came from the journal in the Fourth Room, which is our largest and most expensive room. The second greatest numbers of comments were found in the Fishing Room journal, which is considered our smallest (but often referred to as “cozy) room. We have had visitors from China, Canada, France, Italy, England and points far and near. Some are here for vacations while others are just passing through as they travel north or south.
Most of the comments were simply saying “thank-you for opening your home.” The words used to describe their experience at Bedford Landing were positive and varied but the most used word was “beautiful” (55 times). Many indicated that they wish their stay would have been longer (17) and nearly everyone said they would refer others to stay with and that certainly they would return for a visit in the future.
• Delightful, charming, great ambience, unique exceptional, 5-star (29)
• Relaxing, quiet, peaceful, a respite, great get-away, felt pampered, I am recharged, great escape (27)
• Comfortable, feel at home, comfy beds (24)
• Amazing, remarkable (21)
• Romantic, breathtaking, wonderful, magnificent, fabulous, superb, (18)
• Great attention to detail and room décor (12)
Aspects of the house that were mentioned in a positive light included the hot tub (8), the theatre room and movie selection (4), the comfy beds and sheets (4). It was interesting how many people mentioned our previous dog Kramer (RIP) and current dog, Bella (16). One person said the house was “clean and fresh” and at least four people mentioned our fortunate we are to have a housekeeper like Patty.
Regarding the breakfast, all comments were positive with the exception of one person who had stayed a full week for a family reunion close by. The comment was “there was a little too much food but we love that there is a cookie platter out all day long!” We were a bit perplexed by this comment!
• A delicious, divine, yummy, or incredible breakfast (48)
• The bacon was out of this world (7)
• The French toast was scrumptious (6)
• Loved the truffles in the room (5)
• Awesome biscuits (3)
• Very filling breakfast, plenty to eat (2)
• Memorable, an adventure (10)
• Perfect, would not change a thing, lovely stay (6)
• Appreciated the extra attention, appreciate the attention to my dietary needs (4)
• Gracious and warm hosts, wonderful hospitality, felt welcome, perfect hosts, kindness, thanks for the maps and local information (67)
• So enjoyed the conversation with Karen & Jack (22)
• Made new friends (2)
• Enjoyed the hangar tour, loved flying over the lake (15)
• Exceeded our expectations
• I slept like a log
• Your house is an oasis
• This is truly a gem
• This is a slice of heaven
• You and Jack have boiled inn keeping down to a perfect science
• The breakfast was fit for a king and queen
What should we make of all of these delightful comments? Jack and I enjoy pampering people who appreciate it! Through trip advisor, we have a 5-star review track record and many of the comments in the journals are also reflected in the Trip Advisor, Google Business and Facebook reviews. We strive to maintain all five stars! Our motto is “comfort better than you will find at home.” Our job is to make our guests feel welcomed and pampered. We do have few additional insights into what this data seems to tell us.
First, it seems that the dog is a therapeutic touch, especially for those who have left their pet at home. We are not dog friendly in that we know that people who love their pets enough to want to travel with them want also to sleep with them so that policy will not change. Bella does not go to the guest room level on the second floor so there is no dog odor, nor dander on that level. She is a small non-shedding dog and that helps us keep our home pet odor-free.
Secondly, we often just “click” with our guests in terms of personality and tastes. Their overwhelmingly positive comments about the warmth and friendliness of Bedford Landings may come about because we enjoy what we are doing. We live on site and can be helpful if needed but we “read” our guests to try to determine the extent to which they want or need interaction and attention. We offer personal touches to attend to dietary needs as long as we know in advance. We find that people are grateful for attempting to meet their needs.
We work well together in the kitchen making this a team effort and people seem to appreciate that we both are present and interact with them asking about their lives and answering questions about our lives and our home. We have implemented many unique aspects to our business including a mouse hole, a bedtime story book, local artisans, a giant chessboard, sight seeing flights and more. People find these things charming and they add to their “get away” experience.
We have met many people who were just visiting the lake area who in time decided to buy a house and settle here. We often feel very must like ambassadors to the lake as we respond to questions about things to do, Internet, golf communities, how to rent property, distance from attractions, realtors to use, how to get a boating license, and more.
All in all we will continue to be innkeepers until we don’t want to do it any longer. As long as we enjoy sharing our home and have gracious guests, we will be here!