What 10 things do you most enjoy?
1. For me, there is no physical activity as pleasurable as hiking. Even the shorter ones I now take begin to relax me on my first step. There’s a rhythm that emerges during a hike that soothes me, beyond just the physical exercise. I prefer to hike in solitude or with those who are quiet, wanting to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature. In the mid-1980s, I took a three-month sabbatical from work and drove out West to hike the five national parks in Utah. That trip was one of best gifts I’ve ever given myself.
2. Listening is one of my favorite things to do, whether I’m in conversations, tuned into music or TV shows, or out in nature. Before my out-West trek, it was rare for me to not be listening to music. While hiking the trails or sitting in a campground, however, I found myself turning off the music and tuning into the sounds of nature, the murmurs from nearby campers. During the three years that I took care of my dementia-addled mother, I often preferred silence in the house whenever she was asleep. Becoming better at listening to my own thoughts nourished me in very profound ways. I still enjoy listening to music and watching TV, but less often.
3. I love to be in an audience at a theater when watching a movie or a play. It is the emotional interplay amongst us that is invigorating. We are people of different ages, races, and walks of life, and we are laughing, cringing, tensing, or crying together because of the story being played out for us.
4. Being engaged in conversations with others (friends or strangers) is always a nourishing experience. I like to sit around and share personal stories, points of view, and conjectures regarding topics that are prominent ones in our world today. The best kinds of conversations are ones that are shared, with no one taking center stage. Some of my most interesting conversations take place via emails.
5. I’ve always loved to drive around and take the roads that are less traveled. Every time I moved to a new town or city, I’d have maps available but enjoyed getting lost and finding my way back to wherever I needed to be. I’ve seen some beautiful country and had interesting encounters because I was lost.
6. There is something poignant about being surprised, not the surprise-party kind, but the out-of-my-comfort-zone type of jolt. It may not look like I’ve enjoyed some of my unexpected surprises, but I wouldn’t know as much as I do about myself, about others without having had those experiences. Now, a jolt of surprise is like an alarm that says to me, “Relax—it’s okay. You’re going to learn something.” The experiences that popped up out of the blue during the time I took care of my mother nourished me in so many ways.
7. Being out in nature is the best tonic for me whenever I’m down and out, physically or emotionally. Let me look at or be amongst trees, birds, goats, insects (except mosquitoes!), gators—any species of flora and fauna—and I chill out, become content. I love it all: the sun, the rain, the moon, the desert, the mountains, the swamps, the ocean, a pond, a lake, a river, or even a city park.
8. Brief encounters with people I do not know usually have a gem embedded in the moment. I bump into people every day and often share a smile, a grumble, or merely a kind gesture. Even on Twitter, my brief encounters with others add a rich tone to my day. Recently, I went to the funeral of a dear friend I’d lost unexpectedly. His family offered lunch afterward as so many of us hadn’t known each other. I happened to sit at a table with a couple who I didn’t know. Cora and Butch (he had some dementia) had been married for fifty years. They were delightful together and got me laughing, taking me away from my sorrow for a time. Cora and I talked a little about our experiences of caring for someone who had dementia. To me, brief encounters are priceless ones.
9. I’ve been an avid reader since I was a kid. Stories take me all over the world to places that I’ve never been. They put me in situations that I may never experience but give me a taste of what another’s experience might be like. They introduce me to the nuances in cultures, careers, communities, and environments. My favorite books are ones in which I feel as if I’m one of the characters, seeing life and situations through their eyes. Good books teach me something even as they entertain. I’m rarely without a book (or lately, a Kindle), though I have less time to read since I began to write. Still, reading a little every day is a tonic.
10. Writing is a later-in-life activity for me; I enjoy the entire process. My mother used to hound me to write a book, but I couldn’t sit still long enough to try until she died. I’m so glad that I decided to honor her wish for writing has nourished me from the inside out. Deep inside, there’s a hum that starts up when the words I write begin to find their flow. Although it appears that I’m alone when writing, the influences of other writers and their experiences is like background music for me. Learning to write a good story is a never-ending process, so I doubt if I’ll ever become bored.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Title: Adventures in Mother-Sitting
Author: Doreen Cox
Published: January 2015
Publisher: Whistling Duck Books
Recommended Age: 16+
For a daughter, at age 61, being called “mommy” by her own mother was a heart-wrenching experience. This happened to Dody during the course of a three-year adventure as the full-time caregiver to her mother, much loved yet caught up in a downward spiral of physical, mental, and developmentally regressed disabilities.
Each day was an adventure, because when dementia is present, the typical actions involved with her mother’s daily care habits became unpredictable. The experience is also termed an adventure because of the surprising twists and turns of emotion that arose in Dody, compelling her to recognize and face deep-seated fears and unwanted emotional reactions when her performance was not in accord with the spiritual vision that she had of herself. Moments of comic relief saved Dody from the depths of despair during pill-taking and messy hygienic episodes, and during her mother’s nighttime delusions. The mantra that kept her going was an echo of her mother’s life-long response to any calamitous event: you can do what you have to do.
ADVENTURES IN MOTHER-SITTING is not just a chronicle about the dementia-induced antics of an independent, spirited mother as she approaches the time of her death. The book is also about Dody’s journey through a rollercoaster passage of grief that gets intermixed with surprisingly sweet instances of joyful connections with her childlike mother, but also with her innermost self. Throughout the book, Dody portrays the ways in which the physical and mental needs of her mother and her own emotional, spiritual needs lovingly served each other and how dementia served them both.
The memoir depicts the role changes that occur in the relationship between Dody and her beloved mother, but more so, it portrays the more compassionate relationship that she gains with herself as she learns to walk more honestly and gently with her fears, worries, and shortcomings.
Excerpt from Adventures in Mother-Sitting by Doreen Cox:
As had become her usual habit, Mother fell asleep shortly after her dinner, around 7:30 p.m. After cleaning up the kitchen, I watched some TV then started working on a jigsaw puzzle in order to stay awake until midnight. If Mother didn’t wake up before midnight, there was a good chance that she would sleep until morning. By 10:30 p.m., however, I couldn’t keep my eyes open so gave up the puzzle and crawled into bed. About to drift off, I groaned when I heard noises coming from her room, sounds that portended the smooth flow was about to change. It was a few minutes before 11:00 p.m. when I heard Mother babbling loudly in conversation with what I assumed to be was her cast of invisible nightly visitors.
I stayed in bed at first, annoyed that her medications were not doing their job in managing the delusions. She wasn’t jangling the bedrails for all she was worth, so I did not feel an urgency to get to her room. However, when the word “catheter” zoomed into my foggy brain, I jumped out of bed and hustled down the hall, slowing as I got to her door. Mother was touching the bedrails a little when I peeked into her room, but she did not need me at all. She was having a pretend conversation with the three stuffed animals that shared her bed. Mother was trying to place the little bunny-eared duck onto the bedrail after having successfully propped her larger otter and tiger onto the rail. Now with a brain set at toddler age, Mother was talking and playing with her stuffed animal friends. In the midst of my recent musings about why humans hang onto life when any quality left in living seems almost nonexistent, an unexpected answer had come my way.
My annoyance disappeared immediately and was replaced with a feeling I had never felt so strongly before: fierce belly-warming surges of love and protectiveness. This must be what mothers feel when they watch their toddlers at play, I thought while gazing with moist eyes at Mother. If I had stepped into her room at this moment, I am sure that she would have given me one of her toothless grins and tried to say, “Look, Mommy!” But I didn’t step into the room. I’m sure my heart would have burst if I had heard those words. Love and tenderness had enveloped me so completely—it was hard to contain this unexpected sense of motherhood.
I stood and watched until she had drifted off to sleep then went in, picked the duck off the floor, and tucked Mother in once more. After getting back into my own bed, I lay awake for a while and thought about toddler-age children. Most are unable yet to totally understand the onslaught of images, words, objects, and noises that come and go at them throughout their day. Make believe conversations and playacting with small dolls, stuffed animals, and toys engages them completely; to them, their play is real. So, too, was having make-believe conversations with stuffed animals and imagined people so real to Mother. During delusions, her hand gestures became flamboyant, her face animated, and even her sentences were understandable instead of garbled.
This particular incident made me consider a poignant question even more seriously: is it possible that, on some level, dementia can be viewed as a blessing for those who have it and are at the end of their life? For people with dementia, make believe seems to be as much a part of end-of-life experience as it was when they began life as a child. A wave of melancholy hit me strongly then as sadness over the loss of Mother’s adult personality and her motherly presence in my life moved through me. After this wave passed, a feeling of gratefulness lightened my grief. Mother was having her own experience of delightful fun, so real to her. The dementia that had caused her brain to regress back to the age of a toddler served a greater purpose than I had ever imagined. It was me that had to adjust and discern the benefit to her.
The pictures I took of Mother lying in bed surrounded by her animal friends are priceless to me. She loved each one and handled them differently. She was constantly putting on and taking off beaded bracelets from around the neck of her bunny-eared duck. Toward the end of her life, a bunny rabbit propped up Mother’s head when it weakened and began to droop. After her death, each of us took one of her animal friends into our homes. They are our reminders that Mother did experience her own brand of end-of-life joy.
This is a compassionately written account of a three year period in which the author took on the responsibility of primary caregiver to her infirm, elderly mother. It is sprinkled with flash-recollections from past events written in a easy to read style. The narrative struck a chord with me because my stepmother suffered from Huntington Chorea. The ailment is different than dementia but difficult on family members in similar ways. For me, this book brought back many fond and loving memories of my courageous step-mom.
I admired the author’s fortitude and honesty in capturing the anger, helplessness and stubbornness that she felt as the dementia progressed, stealing her mother away from her. Never did Dody allow herself to wallow in despair. Woven throughout were instances of small pleasures and unexpected joys that often made me smile. Dody’s soul-searching was particularly poignant and beautifully lyrical in many places.
This book was given to me in exchange for my honest review.
Reviewed by Laurie-J
About the Author:
Born with a sense of wanderlust, Doreen (Dody) Cox had a somewhat convoluted career path, working in various business-related and mental health occupations. When dementia began to debilitate her mother, Dody resigned from her job as group counselor at an alternative school in order to take on an unforeseen endeavor: become her mother’s care bear. It was after her mother’s death that Dody’s path took another unexpected turn. She chose to honor her mother’s long-held wish: for her to write a book. ADVENTURES IN MOTHER-SITTING is Dody’s first publication, a memoir that emerged from the pages of her journal. Writing was a steadying outlet throughout the three years that dementia took her and her mother on an unpredictably tumultuous, yet heartwarming adventure.
Currently, Dody lives in her native Florida and works part-time, teaching a GED class comprised of multicultural adults in one of her favorite places: a library. She continues to write and has recently published A SACRED JOURNEY, a fictional short story with themes relating to nature, spirituality, hope, and dignity in death.
There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:
- A $15 Amazon Gift Card & ebook copy of A Sacred Journey
Giveaway is International.
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