Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Interview with Carol D. O'Dell, author of Mothering Mother

Carol D. O’Dell’s latest memoir, Mothering Mother, deals with a timely topic that we as women and mothers have to consider.

** How do age-related changes affect our parents?

** What should we do if a parent goes through Alzheimer
’s? And how can we tell?

** What do we do if our parents can no longer take care of themselves?

** I know all of you have thought of this at one point or another, I know I have. But how do you handle it?

Carol’s book, Mothering Mother, shares her true-life experiences—funny, sad, hopeful—and how she made these decisions. She’s an amazing woman, an expert writer, and uncovers this heart-touching topic with grace.

WOW: Welcome to the WOW! Blog, Carol. We’re excited to be able to chat with you today! So tell us, how did you get started in writing?

Carol: How far back do you want me to go? I got the bug in elementary school. Remember the old spelling words? I used to take all twenty and weave them into a crazy story. The teacher would read them all, and everyone would laugh—and I was hooked.

WOW: Oh how funny! I just talked about that in an interview I did with Chynna Laird on AC... about elementary school and the big lines on paper. Well, we’ve both come a long way... especially you Carol!

Congratulations on your latest memoir, Mothering Mother. We’ve heard great things about it. In fact, one of our contributing editors had already purchased your book right when it came out. Please tell our readers a little bit about the book and why you decided to share your story.

Carol: I was a 39 year-old wife and mother. I had started and was directing a private school (and writing short stories, essays and articles on the side) when I realized my mother could no longer live alone. I made that big leap and brought my mother into our home. At that time, we all moved from Georgia to Florida and found a house we could build a mother-in-law suite onto our house. I put the ole’ novel I was working on in the back of the drawer and dove head first into caregiving.

But I didn’t want to give up writing.

My soul ached for something beyond the typical medical based literature I was finding. I yearned for something for my soul, intellect and creativity. Most days, I felt as if I were the 89 year-old. I wanted something that addressed our relationship—as mother and daughter—and my relationship with my daughters and my husband—and how caregiving was impacting not only my life, but my perceptions.

I couldn’t find anything that encompassed these deeper, more intimate issues. So, I began to write—every day. I wrote my fantasies, fears, and frustrations. I wrote about the terrible things you think you can’t say out loud. I wrote how scared and isolated I felt—so that hopefully, no one else would have to feel that alone.

WOW: Carol, you definitely accomplished that with Mothering Mother, and helped readers relate. And for family members who’ve experienced a loved one going through Alzheimer’s, it causes so much agony. Do you remember the first signs or symptoms in your mother’s life?

Carol: Looking back, I see a lot of signs I either missed or ignored. We all know that as we age, a certain amount of forgetting, senility is normal. But when is it no longer normal?

I also realized as time went on, that my mother was making excuses, fibbing, if you will—covering things up. Alzheimer’s had been creeping up on us for years. I can look back and see the series of fender benders were probably related—when she let it slip out that she was at an intersection near her house and couldn’t remember how to get home.

I now see that paranoia was an early sign. Mother always thought someone was breaking in, that people were stealing from her—all those little idiosyncrasies probably had something to do with Alzheimer’s. But I was busy. I wanted to believe my mother was all right. I wanted her to be independent—for me—and for her. I didn’t want to face what Alzheimer’s would do to all of our lives.

"I was there when everyone else went home.
That’s the day you grow up.

WOW: I can totally understand that, and it’s hard to actually know when the transition occurs. There’s no exact science to the subject, it all comes down to feelings and decisions... And one decision you had to make is whether or not to give your mother a feeding tube. That must’ve been extremely tough.

Carol: My mother did sign a living will, and because she had experienced some of the more “unpleasant” decisions when my father passed away, she was able to decide a few things about her own life. She hated seeing my dad on a ventilator. She saw him struggle with it, fight against it, and in her own way, she thought of all tubes as being like that one—intrusive.

I also knew that at the age of 92, with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and a heart condition that my mother could not come back to any real quality of life. Alzheimer’s is irreversible. Mother had declined to the point of not knowing me—or anyone else. She had forgotten how to swallow or chew food. It was time to let go.

It was harder to live out the decision to not use a feeding tube. I had Hospice there, and they assured me it was not cruel, that it was natural. I could tell that my mother was not in pain.

I was there every day—every minute, and even in the middle of the night. I made sure she was serene and comfortable. Those last few weeks were rough. I had made a decision and I had to live by it. I was responsible. I was there when everyone else went home. That’s the day you grow up.

WOW: Carol, I admire you so much. What heavy decisions to have to make... and I know you did the best thing. Considering your mother’s battle with Parkinson’s disease—do you have strong views on stem-cell research?

Carol: I do, but I also know that my mother had perhaps different views than I had. Stem cell research is inevitable, and we’re finding more options, more alternatives than before. We’re going to have to learn how to use it ethically and responsibly.

I believe we need to talk, and argue, and grapple, and work through these issues. I understand and respect the moral implications that add to the complexity of this issue, and I think it’s important that we do speak to one another with kindness and respect for differing viewpoints, but in the end, I see stem cell research and applications as being “here to stay.”

There’s so much good to be gained, and I do believe that scientists can find many solutions, alternatives and possibilities regarding stem cell research.

WOW: Oh, I fully agree! I know that there are moral issues, but in my humble opinion, the benefits are great. Another tough decision you had to face was choosing in-home care. But how do you feel about care centers for the elderly? Not everyone can afford in-home care, as you know.

Carol: I am honored to speak to many people across the country online and in seminars and support groups who are grappling with elder care needs. There is no one perfect solution and caregivers need to realize they will most likely be a caregiver more than once in their lifetime—and that their needs (as a family and the care receiver) change over time.

For example, your loved one wants to live independently, and they do—for a time. Then you hire live-in help, and that works for a while, and then something happens. Do you bring them into your home? Can you afford to be there a good part of the time, or do you need to work? Is adult day-care available in your community? Things change again, your loved one may have been hospitalized, or their medical condition may have worsened.

Again, you have to make yet another decision. Is assisted living right? Does your loved one need skilled nursing care of a memory care unit?

Things keep changing. You think you have it all figured out. You work months to come up with a good living arrangement, and BAM. Back to square one. I tell you this not to discourage you, but to help you plan and prepare. Know your options now. Look into all the alternatives now. Start by looking close to home—yours or theirs. Find out what your own community has to offer. Your loved one needs to be nearby. They need an advocate, a family member who can look out for them. No matter how much they fight you, someone needs to be nearby.

"Memoir writing is not an autobiography.
A memoir means literally, a memory."

WOW: That’s excellent advice, and something we’ll all have to think about sooner or later. You must have grown a lot spiritually by writing this book. Has your experience with your own mother affected or changed your views for your future?

Carol: Yes. Caregiving transforms you, and I believe it makes you a better person. You can’t “stare death in the eye” and not come out a changed person.

My views for the future…living this experience with my mother has taught me a few things:

  • Forgive. Forgive now and let go. If not, it festers, and it’s really ugly.
  • Examine and then let go of every fear you can possibly get rid of.
  • Be flexible. Don’t demand things of others. Invest in those you love—invest your time, your money, your encouragement, your commitment to their lives, and do so willingly with no strings attached.
  • Trust—trust that you’ll be loved and cared for. Have a good attitude no matter where you end up. Choose to be happy.
  • Be easy to love. Relax.
  • Be grateful. Every day, for little things. Today, I was grateful for my cup of coffee (I’m always grateful for that), for the sand between my toes, for my beach walk and prayers, for my puppy dogs, and that first kiss from my husband when he returned from work. Gratitude works.

"Art is more about what you choose to leave out
than what you include."

WOW: I totally hear you, sister. That’s great advice! And that’s what I love about writing... it helps us gain perspective. So how did writing a memoir compare to the other styles of writing you’ve done?

Carol: Memoir writing is not an autobiography. A memoir means literally, a memory. An easy way to think of it is that you take a memory—a thought—an idea, and you put it in a bubble in the center of your page. Then, you begin to look at your life and only write in that bubble memories, thoughts, events, reflections that have to do with that “topic” you placed in the center.

For example, my book was about becoming my mother’s mother. So, each vignette is how that decision to be responsible, to allow caregiving to impact my life and those around me, how I perceived myself, my faith, my actions as it pertained to my mother and me—and our changing roles. If it doesn’t connect in some real way to that thought in the bubble, it doesn’t go—in the memoir you’re working on. Art is more about what you choose to leave out than what you include.

WOW: I love what you just said, and am writing that down... what a great quote! You have a great deal of wisdom on writing, and we have readers who are currently trying to get their memoirs published. What advice do you have for them in terms of how to seek out an agent/publisher?

Carol: First, tell your truths. Dare to be real on the page. Not vulgar. Not shocking, but real. Your story has to have an idea or concept that others can relate to. The personal is universal. You don’t have to be a celebrity or cut off your own hand to write a memoir, but it has to be real, and it has to be something others can relate to.

My advice is to build your literary ladder as I call it when I speak to writer’s groups. Write articles, essays, contribute to anthologies, write for your town newspaper. Build your publishing credits. You have to have some sort of a track record. Write, blog, submit, submit, submit. Get used to rejections, and keep submitting. This could take years by the way, so keep your day job—for now.

WOW: Speaking of taking years, oftentimes a memoir can be a hard sale; do you have any ‘insider tips’ on how to pitch a memoir?

Carol: Sell excerpts to magazines. You prove it’s sellable. An agent gave me that advice, and I think it helped. I had sold six excerpts before the book came out.

WOW: You seem to be very hands-on in terms of promotion and marketing. From your experience, what is the best way for authors to get their books into as many hands as possible?

Carol: The Internet plays a big part now, so blog, join forums, submit e-zine articles. Write for free, (in the beginning) but keep a list of your publishing credits. Networking is vital to a writer.

I do a lot of caregiving/Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Baby Boomer talks. I still believe you sell one book at a time. I like to and need to meet my readers. Go where they are. Don’t expect them to come to a bookstore. Whatever your subject is, there’s probably a hobby or organization for it—join in, get to know people, and let them know about you.

WOW: Excellent. So, any future writing ventures in the works?

Carol: The prequel to Mothering Mother is under consideration at my publisher’s now. It’s working title is Said Child, and it’s about being adopted at age four—and eventually finding my birth family—and loving and accepting both.

WOW: Carol, you have a lot of story in you. I anxiously await your next book! Do you have any closing tips for our eager authors-in-waiting?

Carol: Persistence, I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s true. So many people never turn a dream into a goal. You have to put legs on your dreams. Writing and publishing aren’t quick ventures. Relax, and enjoy the journey—and never give up.

WOW: Thank you Carol for a wonderful and enlightening interview! You have a great spirit and vision, and are a remarkable woman. Thank you for chatting with us today—I’ve learned a lot!

Mothering Mother is published by Kunati and available on Amazon and in most bookstores. Check out Carol's website at www.mothering-mother.com to view her touring schedule, Virtual Book Tour, contest, and radio and television appearances.

Carol D. O'Dell is available for conferences, seminars, and interviews. Her topics include inspiration, spirituality, medical based talks, caregiving, and women’s issues. Her brochure is also available on her site.

You heard it ladies! This is a must read and an opportunity of a lifetime!

Carol has a wonderful contest on her site featuring all kinds of goodies. And when you think about gifts this holiday season, remember Mothering Mother for the perfect gift, and a caring gift... the gift of words, kindness, and love for your mom, and an enriching gift for your family.

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Blogger Sue said...

Carol, you are so wonderful! I applaud your strength and courage for writing this book. My parents are in their 80's. And, though we're not going through the debilitated phases yet, we've been to the emergency room for terrifying moments. I think your work and your words will provide a much needed outlet for many caregivers. Thanks so much for your work!

Thanks, Angela, for this awesome interview!

5:40 AM  
Blogger Chynna said...

I am such a HUGE fan of Carol's for many reasons--mostly because of the feelings her book elicits: anger, tinges of resentment, heartfilled love and everything in between. She doesn't apologize for any of her feelings; she expresses them honestly and openly. I love that!

Thank you for telling your story, Carol, and for talking about a tough subject in a beautiful way; Thank you for sharing a few "inside tips" for us on how to pitch and sell a memoir (selling excerpts to magazines...I never thought of that!). And thank you SO MUCH Angela for this touching interview. I appreciate it more than you know.


6:18 AM  

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