Adventures in Mother-Sitting
By 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.
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.
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.
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There is a tour wide giveaway. Prizes include the following:
A $15 Amazon Gift Card & ebook copy of A Sacred Journey
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Adventures in Mother-Sitting Book Tour