Give a warm welcome to author Doreen Cox, affectionately known as Dody!
It's great to have you here, Dody! You're a good friend, a talented writer, and someone I greatly admire. I'd like to share a little bit about you before we get to the interview.
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.
Thanks so much, Jan, for inviting me to your flavorful, interesting blog. Do you think some of your great romance-writing abilities will rub off on me? Hope so.
Okay, folks, grab a cup of coffee (or beverage of choice). It's time to pose some questions to Dody.
First, I'm going to ask you the questions most authors get asked. What inspired you to become a writer? Who's your favorite author from the past?
When I left home for college and then afterward, on to Washington, D.C., I wrote many letters to my mom. They were descriptive ones about my work and social activities, and about my thoughts and opinions about life. For years, she'd nagged me to write a book, but my life was too full for me to settle down and write...until after she died. I discovered that she'd kept every letter that I had written to her. So I wrote "Adventures in Mother-Sitting" to honor her wish.
As was my mother, I'm an avid reader of a variety of genres so determining a favorite is impossible. The main criterion for a story to be a favorite is that it "hums" for me; the author crafted the story so well that a tonal quality streams beneath the storyline. Take a look at my Goodreads page and you'll see many of my favorites.
You've written both fiction and non-fiction. Can you tell us which genre was the most difficult? And why?
For either form, getting me to sit down is the most difficult task. There's always something else to do, people to see, places to go, or tweets to check out. One author friend told me to put glue on the seat, metaphorically speaking, of course! Once I do sit down, however, I often get lost in the experience. The most difficult aspect of writing the memoir was handling my emotions; there are no windshield wipers for glasses. I even threw drafts into the garbage can on several occasions -- they always got retrieved. Writing fiction is difficult when a tug of war ensues between my muse and the critic in my head. The critic likes to be in charge, and when she is, it's difficult to turn her off. Creating a flow within the story then becomes a challenge. That's a job for my muse, and she's very patient with me. Overall, though, I love playing with stories; there is never a dull moment.
Your books are packed with emotion. I laughed and cried when I read them. Would you like to tell us a little bit about your stories?
I'm glad to hear that you reacted, Jan, to the emotion in my books -- thank you. Adventures in Mother-Sitting, is a memoir of the three years I spent as full-time caregiver to my mother. I was working as a group counselor at an alternative school when her physical and mental condition deteriorated. It was difficult to let go of a job that I enjoyed (and the income), but I didn't hesitate -- the bond with my mother had always been strong. It became my ultimate adventure for her dementia challenged me in so many ways. The unpredictability regarding the daily care habits and reactions of my mother was a daily challenge. And there were a lot of embarrassing moments when I literally erupted, had such intense meltdowns. It was like being run over by a runaway train as I couldn't stop myself from erupting. But my reactions taught me a lot. The last year of my mother's life -- when she was "my child" and approaching death -- was incredibly tough yet so amazingly rich, both emotionally and spiritually. To stay sane, I kept a journal. It was after she'd died that I saw being her care bear as a final gift from her. I expressed my gratitude by fulfilling her long-held wish: for me to write a book.
My first short story, A Sacred Journey, was fun to write though also got to me emotionally. It's transformational in theme, a fantasy with a touch of paranormal. My mother's bout with dementia acted as fertilizer for the plot. During the end phase of her dementia, she'd often woken during the night, caught up in delusions. Since her death, I'd often wondered about what was going on in my mother's mind during those delusions: who was there...where was she going, who was she? All I had gotten from her episodes were pieces. So this story depicts a fanciful yet profound possibility of an end-time. The story embodies four major themes that are central to my outlook on life: first, be willing to see everything and everyone around me with fresh eyes. Second, stay open-minded as to the element of mystery that exists in our world. Third, affirm the sacredness inherent in the time of dying -- beyond specific religious views. These three themes are enfolded in threads of humor, the fourth theme.
Dody, can you share more about Adventures in Mother-Sitting and perhaps your favorite passage?
I've just completed a revision of my memoir and published a second edition. It's been a few years since the first publication, and I'm less emotionally distressed than I was back then. Of course, the story itself is unchanged. It's had a face lift (lovely cover) and a tummy tuck. I did some deleting of redundant passages and a refinement of some of the experiences. I think my descriptions are more vividly expressed in this version because of the way I've learned to craft my words, thanks to help from several author friends and my job as a GED teacher.
(Excerpt from chapter: As the End Nears) On another day as our verbal exchange danced along its familiar path, I experienced an epiphany. Instead of remaining frustrated, I calmed as a sense of curiosity took over. Lightly stroking her arm, I did not speak another word, merely nodded and smiled directly at her. Mother calmed down, too, yet continued to babble. I was fascinated, watching the animation on her face shift to glee instead of the often-seen display of agitation. Though I remained attentive to her, aware of her animation and tone of voice, I drifted into my own stream of thought.
My fascination turned inward, thinking about how everything I did each day was so linked to Mother's needs. My focus had gotten so caught up again in deciphering her ramblings in order to determine her needs that I neglected what she really needed: merely to be heard. I continued to nod and grin at Mother yet scenes from the recent past held my attention. When my memories floated back to the times Mother and I handled her issues together as a team, I got blind-sided by a huge wave of sadness.
The ache to see my mother in front of me again, the person whom she used to be, was intense. It felt surreal, as if I had drifted into some dream. The oddest thing, though, was that I didn't feel unsettled at all. I could see myself still nodding and smiling at a mother who was physically beside me, yet also aching with sadness because she wasn't here anymore. It felt like I was two people: one was smiling, attentive to Mother. The other was struggling to handle strong pangs of grief because she missed her mother. I kept breathing through this strange experience of yearning, until finally the pangs calmed enough for me to know what to do -- turn on the TV.
Instantly, Mother turned her attention from me and onto Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Although I continued to watch with her, my attention stayed inward yet turned in a more personal direction. Do I still miss the person whom I used to be? I took some time to consider this question. Three years had almost passed -- I was older. And there was no doubt that my care-bear adventure would soon be over. I did still miss the freedom to come and go and do what I wanted in any given moment, but this missing was usually fleeting. As far as my counseling job at the alternative school, the yearning to return and again step into those shoes was gone. It would have been nice, though, to walk out the door and go for a swim, a hike, or a bike ride.
Mother grabbed my arm then, jolting me back to the present. She was pointing at the TV screen and babbling excitedly, so I bent down and gave her a kiss. Laughing along at Clifford's antics for a few minutes satisfied her, so I let my attention wander back into reflection.
There would be life after caregiving, but this experience had changed me. Did I define myself differently now? I was still a sports enthusiast, nature lover, movie nut, book and music lover, and I was a care bear. Before Mother-sitting, my life had seemed full and rewarding. My basic character was still fairly defined: friendly, funny, caring, trustworthy, dependable, honest, a generally nice person. Chuckling to myself, I also admitted to being stubborn, perfectionist, overly analytical, and sometimes too much into dreaming and procrastination. Perhaps not much had changed. Then I recalled that people who had known me before I became Mother's care bear had never thought of me as someone who lost their temper, or someone who had a lot of unresolved anger.
Shaking my head, I laughed and muttered, "If only they could see a video of me in action during these last two years." My temper had shown it's behind no matter how much I had tried to contain it.
I sighed contentedly then and grinned at Mother, enjoying listening to her garbled words of glee when Clifford got a big goofy hat put on his head. Laughing along with her, I nodded to myself in acknowledgement that a large chunk of emotion during this passage through grief had involved the loss of me in the life that I used to live. I also realized that I no longer missed that life. My life had taken its own turn, giving me a different kind of experience. That person was still around though her self-perception had changed. In her place was someone whom I had come to like, very much.
I looked over at Mother still babbling away, fascinated by the animation on her face as she watched the antics of cartoon characters that were dragons. "I love her," I whispered, and my breath caught in my throat as tender affection welled up within me.
When the sensation eased, I leaned toward Mother and gave her a long hug then whispered, "I love you, babe."
She turned her head to look at me, grinned then kissed my cheek and responded, "Grzt jru." In the next moment, she turned back to the TV and pointed at Clifford prancing along the screen.
"Yes, look at Clifford," I said, squeezing her hand.
And then I joined with Mother completely. We became two little kids in grownup bodies, pointing and laughing at the characters on TV, blurting out any word that caught our fancy. Words became unimportant to us. We were two grown-up kids frolicking together in gleeful companionship. Such instances of spontaneity cannot be planned. I haven't experienced that level of carefree joy since, yet my memory of this moment with Mother reminds me that other spontaneous bursts of joy might just be around a next corner.
Dody, it would be great to hear more about A Sacred Journey, and perhaps a favorite passage as well.
I'm quite proud of this story because it came from my heart as well as my imagination. I hope that readers experience the reverence with which I hold all aspects of our world and our passages through life towards death.
(Excerpt) Merlin soared effortlessly through the trees, leading Leah and two deer who had volunteered to serve as escorts. During passage through the densest brambles that bordered the trail, the deer used their bodies to hold back the undergrowth for Leah. The trees along the way sang softly, their leaves rustling in time to a gentle breeze. Periodically, Merlin lit upon a branch, giving Leah time to catch up and take a moment to breathe in the energy of the forest; he knew that the forest scents were restorative to her tired human spirit.
When he reached the mightiest oak in the woods, Merlin settled himself upon a branch as Leah gratefully sat down on a well-worn spot, upon a branch that dipped low to the ground.
"Thank you, Merlin," she said, gazing at his splendor. Humming happily, she stroked the two deer and whispered, "thank you," to each one.
The deer stayed near yet moved to graze on tufts of new grass. Leah breathed deeply, enjoying the musty fragrance of fallen leaves and the artistry of limbs as they twisted and turned, creating a maze of forest delight.
She had named this stalwart oak, Majesty, for its branches reached high to the sky yet sprawled out low to the ground; it had become her favorite place for communion during her last few visits to this part of the forest. Leah felt safe whenever she reached this place...safe enough to forget about those who searched for her.
By the time she usually reached Majesty, the residual, discordant noises from her day-time world had receded. Several nights ago, it was here that Leah had received the message that it was imperative for her to come into the forest tonight; that she was to meet someone who had once been with her on earth, a beloved. After hearing the news that night, it had been hard for Leah to return to the game trail, allow the trackers to find her.
But I'm here now, she thought.
Breathing in the energy of this forest, Leah felt the welcoming brush of a tiger moth's wings. She felt the earth beneath her bare feet pulse with life as tiny creatures carried out their many symbiotic tasks. "I am at peace here... Thank you, Majesty; your presence always gives me comfort," was Leah's words as she lovingly touched the branch upon which she sat.
And then, she stilled -- the peaceful energy was shifting. The two deer stopped grazing and raised their heads to stare over at a dense copse of bushes -- a slight rustle of leaves ensued as they were pushed aside and a cougar silently emerged. She was beautiful, sleek and powerful-looking.
Leah smiled and rose from her seat as the cougar padded towards her; she leaned down, touching the cougar's forehead with her own. "Hello, Kat," Leah said, as she straightened up, her hand stroking the cougar's body. "I was hoping to see you; that it would be you who brought my message tonight."
The cougar's deep-throated purr exuded comfort as she leaned into Leah and spoke: "For tonight, a special one, I am merely your escort; we go to a sacred spot."
The vibrato in Kat's purrs strengthened and reverberated in consonance with her next words, infusing in Leah a sense of renewed confidence.
Kat glanced towards Merlin, emitted a soft growl, and continued: "Danger lurks in some parts of the forest, Leah; we must ensure that you complete your journey unhindered. Two skunks have already thwarted the advance of those who track you. However, their efforts to outwit the four-legged creatures that search by smell are waning. We need your help. Do you have something with your scent that can be used to further their deception?
With no hesitation, Leah reached into the pocket of her cloak and pulled out an old cotton handkerchief, embroidered with the letter E. "Will this work?" she asked.
Kat flicked her tail and an odd shaped creature named Rosie flew down from Majesty, paws outstretched. The flying squirrel snatched the handkerchief from Leah, scrambled back up the oak and jumped off a topmost branch, beginning a flight from tree to tree, on her way to set up another part of the deception.
Dody, you have an adventurous spirit. Whose lucky genes did you inherit to have that kind of gusto for life?
Both of my parents, Jan, had the spirit of adventure in them. My mother had four girls and was widowed just after my youngest sister was born. She used to say that she lived life vicariously through my adventures since my life was so different than hers had been. I didn't get to know my dad since he died when I was three. Everyone said, though, that I took after him in spirit. He died when a safety line broke while he was at one of his favorite places to be: the top of a grand old oak tree, trimming limbs from around electrical wires. I went on a sabbatical to find myself in my late thirties, heading out West to camp and hike. I loved it when my mom shared a piece of this adventure; she flew into Utah and spent two weeks with me exploring the five national parks in that state.
Not only do you write, but you also help those who need a little extra help with their education. That is so important and remarkable. Can you give us some insight into what you do?
Some of my favorite stories to hear are about serendipitous encounters -- ones that lead a person to an unexpected place, externally or internally. (Meeting you through Twitter falls into this category) I ended up with a part-time job as GED teacher of adult students after meeting my good friend Aaron. He was friends with the man who hired me. My class is held in the meeting room of a library located about 45 minutes away from me. The drive is worth it, though, for I love the multicultural mix of students that I get to enjoy. I get to be a teacher, a cheerleader, and a coach. My students are part of my inspiration to continue to write. This is my third year in this job.
I've enjoyed finding out more about you and your books, Dody! Please come back anytime.
It was a pleasure, Jan. Your questions made me think and appreciate even more the depth of experience regarding writing that I share with others. See you in the stream!
Amazon links for Dody's books:
Adventures in Mother-Sitting
A Sacred Journey
If you'd like to follow Doreen (Dody) Cox, you can connect with her here: