Finding Courage

Finding Courage

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”  ~ Anaïs Nin 

3823782148A few years ago, a couple of friends and I bought matching silver “tree of life” pendants for our necklaces.  I love the tree of life and it’s representation of a healthy life with strong roots holding to the earth, and healthy limbs reaching for the sky.  Later, I added a small charm with the word courage carved into it, and another love charm later from a friend.  I treasured my jangling trio, until one day recently, I reached down and they were gone.  My necklace turned up at a place I had visited earlier in the day, but all three charms were gone.

I was thinking about my missing charms a few days later while talking with my daughter who was home on college break, and how everything is constantly changing.  It is the transition, the actual act of changing from one thing to another that is often the most difficult part.  At 19, my daughter is transitioning from child to adult and her 22 year-old brother, graduating from college soon, is doing the same.   Managing this transition is a turbulent, unsteady time for me, a time of missteps and discovery which can be exhilarating and a little scary.  I would imagine it’s similar for them.

As my children transition and step up to their adult lives, my mother with Alzheimer’s disease, is stepping out of hers.

When I was pregnant with my children, I was in awe of the women who had given birth before me.  It seemed I noticed the mothers in the world for the first time.  Her and her and her.  Mothers.  They were suddenly everywhere and they became holy members of the “mother club.”  How had I not noticed them before?  It’s like this for me now as I notice women whose children are long gone and who have surely lost their mothers by now.  Her and her and her.  Empty nesters, motherless daughters, carrying on, laughing, living.  I’m intrigued and curious about their lives, now lived without their mothers walking this earth, their children far away, and with smiles on their faces.

As my daughter shared her thoughts on growing up and the changes this will bring, we talked about how the only constant thing in life is change, and how we can DSCN0393_2 (1)open our hearts, unclench our grips, and flow with, not fight the changing currents that come our way.  As we talked about letting go, she shared her realization of how difficult it must be for me to lose my mother to Alzheimer’s.  In this moment, with a pensive look on her face,  I knew she was talking about me — that she was imagining ME with Alzheimer’s and HER saying the long good-bye.

It hit me then — my daughter is watching me navigate my mom’s Alzheimer’s disease just like I watched my mom with her mother.  What kind of message was I sending my children in my struggle to let go of my mother and of them? What were they learning from me about accepting change?  Perhaps more importantly, what message did I want to give them?  In barely a breath, a subtle shift took place and I told my daughter that letting go and embracing change is what we must do if we are to live in peace.

I realized that letting go and embracing change is what I must do if I am to live in peace.

Maybe it’s peace that I see on the faces of the motherless daughters with faraway children who seem firmly planted in their next chapter.   If that’s the case, I like to imagine theirs was a hard won peace that began with a valiant struggle against the strong tides of change, tossing them about, churning up muck, then spitting them out into calm waters once they accepted the flow — and finally let go.

A little lighter, and later in the day, my daughter joyfully tracked me down and announced, “Dad found your courage on the driveway!”  We shared a knowing look, then laughed at the fullness of the moment — my courage had been found!  It was beat up but intact, along with my tree of life and love charms which were also on the driveway.  It turns out, we had been driving and parking on them for a week.

Sometimes I miss things that have been in front of me all along.


Joanne Leonardis
Joanne Leonardis

Joanne’s most recent occupation was as a stay-at-home mom to an active son and daughter.  But due to the recent fledgling flight of her children to college, Joanne’s full-time job was recently down-graded to part-time, with most of her duties occurring during the summer months, Christmas break, and through frequent texting.

When she’s isn’t tending to her far away children, or contemplating what her next chapter will be, Joanne spends a fair amount of time as a long-distance caregiver for her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease, and her father who is bewildered by living alone after 50+ years of togetherness.

Joanne has a B.S. in Human Services Counseling, and has worked as a Social Worker with the elderly and at-risk-youth. She currently volunteers in her community in various capacities including as an Alzheimer’s Advocate.  When not traveling between Virginia and Minnesota to visit her parents, Joanne enjoys gardening, meditating, running, and spending time with her husband.

Joanne writes about preventing Alzheimer’s, navigating mid-life, and letting go of her mom on her website Racing Alzheimers
You can also find her on facebook at and twitter at

3 Replies to “Finding Courage”

  1. I can certainly sympathize you. How lovely that you found your “Courage” and right in your driveway 🙂 You are going through a lot at the moment, caring for your Mom and learning to deal with your grown children. Change is not easy for some, and it is wasn’t for me. I lost my Mom in June 2009 and she too suffered from dementia. I lived nearby but worked full time so I could not spend as much time as I would have liked with her. She lived in a nursing home which had a floor for alzheimer/dementia patients. I also am a Mom to a 20 year old daughter who is in university. She lives at home but is rarely home due to her school and work schedule. I am learning slowly how to deal with those changes and some days are not easy. Sometimes we forget that many of us are in similar situations and hopefully we can all help each other.

    1. Hi Janine! I posted on this website and then didn’t come back to check for comments! Thank you so much for reading my ramblings on “finding courage” and ultimately letting go. Yes, I do think there are many of us in this place of rediscovery and redefinition — while letting go of children and parents at the same time. I know for me, this is a churning, turbulent time that has many ups and downs. But this is life, and things change, and that’s okay. My hope for the future is that I — that we, can react to our changes with a new found sense of peace and understanding that it’s our reactions that form our experience, and that if we’re wise & brave women, we’ll choose love over fear.

      I’m sorry that you lost your mother in 2009. You’re ahead of me in this experience and I can’t help but wonder what it will be like without my mother “walking this earth.” My daughter will be 20 this year — yes, we’re right there in that sweet spot aren’t we?

      Be well Janine, ~ Joanne

  2. This is one of my favorite quotes about COURAGE:

    “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

    Maya Angelou

    Courage is the foundation for navigating the turbulent waters of midlife. In the movie CITY SLICKERS with Billy Crystal, he comes to a raging river that must be crossed to “get to the other side.” He can’t go back…going forward is his only choice. Once he musters up his courage…takes the “plunge”…faces his greatest fears…he eventually emerges with a radiant smile on his face. He has “found his smile”…perhaps like the smiles on the faces of women you are noticing who are “empty nesters, motherless daughters.”

    It has been almost a year since you first posted this article…I’m wondering where you are on your path today.


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