Today, we have the pleasure of welcoming author Carol D. O’Dell to our blog as she continues her virtual book tour and answers our questions about her new book, Mothering Mother.
Carol’s memoir is bitingly humorous and unflinchingly honest as she narrates her feelings of the moment — love, grief, humor and even bitter resentment. When Carol’s mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and a heart condition, Carol’s decision not to put her mother “in one of those homes” had far-reaching consequences for her family. She learned to mother her own mother. Her book will help baby boomers struggling with their own decisions on elder care in the home. Mothering Mother touches on what our relationships do to us, how they impact our souls, our beliefs — about ourselves, about life and the quality of life, about faith and hope and finally, about death.
Because you may now or one day face similar choices and experiences when caring for your own aging parents, we want to share with you our discussion with Carol. Here are some questions we posed and Carol’s answers. Feel free to ask some of your own and look for the answers here in our blog or visit her website, www.mothering-mother.com.
Phyllis & Rosemary: How did you balance all your responsibilities to your family and career with the challenges of caring for your mother?
Carol: I learned I couldn’t necessarily go by who “screamed” the loudest. I had to assess each need and not live from crisis to crisis. My mother was the worst because she desperately wanted all of my attention. She was actually jealous of the time, money, energy I spent on my girls. I wish she could have felt more grandmotherly, more a part of our family and loving and supporting the children as most rational adults do. But my mother’s dementia wracked mind was more childlike. Of course, my husband helped, and I hurt for those single moms out there. We tag-teamed parent–one of us would stay with my mother and one of us would attend an event, go to a dr.’s appointment or whatever was on the day. You learn not to panic at every little thing.
Rosemary & Phyllis: In what ways were you able to attend to your own needs during that difficult time?
Carol: Of course, journaling. I had developed the discipline and the passion to “go to the page,” and I truly believe that saved my sanity. I also lived in a beautiful area and simply looking out my window and going for a walk in my own yard healed my soul. There’s art and beauty in nature everywhere. Become a bird watcher, grow a small flower bed, feed the squirrels–something that connects you with nature is incredibly healing. Also, my ability to make light of a situation, to be humorous, sarcastic, and even my anger kept me from going under. I “used” it to vent, to get things, done. Anger (not the destructive kind) is like jet fuel. It keeps you moving.
Phyllis & Rosemary: What did you learn about accessing your internal strengths and using community resources?
Carol: I say it “Takes a village to raise an aging person.” It’s true! My mother’s neighbors, community and church kept her independent for much, much longer than she would have otherwise been able to do. In turn, they helped me, her daughter and primary caregiver. So many neighbors and friends were so kind and giving to her. They watched out for her in a myriad of ways.
Being active in church gave us access to many people who volunteered their time and energy to help my mother. In the early months of her living with us, my mother actually went to a separate church than we did. I’d drop her off and a kind lady would take her out to lunch and bring her home. This gave my mother a sense of independence, and it was good for her. Over time, our world grew smaller as her care load grew more difficult and we needed “professionals” who knew how to help if she fell or became belligerent. I’m grateful to everyone. You learn you have to piece your care and help together.
Rosemary & Phyllis: How did your care-giving experience change the relationship with your mom?
Carol: My mother has passed away, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a “relationship.” She’s still teaching me, nagging me, whispering in my ear. I feel more connected to the bigger picture–to the present and even to the “beyond.” I do feel her acceptance of what I’m doing. I feel connected to my girls, to all the caregivers I talk to. I see us more as points on a web and ways we intersect and help each other.
Phyllis & Rosemary: How did “mothering your mother” transform you?
Carol: I’m more at peace, less frenzied. I’m grateful for my time as a caregiver. I felt as if I were tested to the bitter edge and I somehow survived. It slowed me down for awhile, tightened my family circle, showed me my own strengths and my family’s love.
Visit Carol’s website, www.mothering-mother.com, to learn more about her book and to register for the contest she is sponsoring. You can win prizes either by attending this virtual book tour, or submitting a photo with your loved one, or writing a short story about caregiving.