There are a number of topics and themes that I plan to write about on this platform Among them, are travel, the outdoors, off-grid living, addiction, love, life, and caring for an aging loved one who is dealing with diminishing cognitive abilities - specifically, my mother.
This first post about Mom is intended to provide a little background about her and her story, as well as our journey together as mother and son. The “mom” essays after this will run the gamut from humorous to poignant. But I feel like a quick summary from the beginning is an excellent place to start. So…
My mother had me just after her 17th birthday. My biological father had a difficult time not physically abusing crying babies and was out of the picture forever a few months after I was born. When I was less than a year old, she would meet and eventually marry a wonderful but often tortured man who suffered from PTSD caused by his service in Vietnam. He was prone to prolonged bouts of substance abuse throughout his life but was, by and large, a tremendous father to me and my two half-sisters and a caring husband.
Mom and I had a special relationship, as is often the case with first-born sons. But due to her age and other factors, for my entire upbringing, our relationship felt like a hybrid of mother/son, older sister/younger brother, and best friends. Despite her own incredibly traumatic childhood, she was an excellent mother.
When I turned 18 I joined the USAF. Shortly thereafter, things between my mother and step-father went off the rails in spectacular fashion. He had started drinking again and she joined him. I wasn’t around for this chapter but my poor sisters were and to hear them tell it, things got pretty ugly before mom and dad finally called it quits. My mother suffered a significant mental break and would eventually move to the southeast part of the country with a new boyfriend. Our relationship struggled mightily until, right or wrong, out of self-preservation I broke off all contact.
A number of years went by before her relationship with that particular male suitor ran its course. She then moved to the Oregon Coast with a friend of hers. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time and was married with a stepdaughter. So I started up a trepidatious relationship with her that was cordial, infrequent, and strained. She no longer resembled the woman who was my mother, more so mentally and emotionally, but physically as well. She had always smoked, but was now a chain smoker of the highest order, on disability for a myriad of reasons, and was on a laundry list of pharmaceuticals including narcotic painkillers. She was medicated to the fringes of functionality and could be very difficult to be around.
When the relationship with her friend soured, she moved around a couple of times before landing in a suburb of Portland where she and my grandmother would live together. These were some dark times for mom. My grandmother had been emotionally and physically abusive towards my mother her whole life, and nothing changed once they got the band back together. On top of that, grams was absolutely out of her fucking gourd.
When my grandmother passed away, mom went about the business of reclaiming her life in a way that bordered on superhuman, especially given her age and track record up to that point. It took years, but she weaned herself off of painkillers and cigarettes. Greatly improved her diet, losing over 100 pounds, and became a walking/hiking enthusiast. She was beginning to show some signs of cognitive decline, but she was once again recognizable as my mother. Just in a delightfully doddering new package with little in the way of fucks left to give. We began to spend more and more quality time together. She loved and adored Kara and vice versa. Kara was so impressed with my mother’s turnaround that she regularly called it the greatest comeback story of all time.
After the fire, I immediately moved in with my mother into her one-bedroom apartment. Despite the Phoenix-like rebirth of our relationship, it wasn’t ideal. But our initial “for the indefinite future” plan seemed legit at the time. Mom had a number of different caregivers that came by more days than not to help her out with things like cleaning the house, and since she no longer drives, take her to the store, the park, or doctor appointments.
So the plan was to move into a two-bedroom apartment and become a part-time caregiver. I would essentially be paid to take her hiking - our favorite thing to do together, and whatever other outings she wanted to partake in. And since her caregiver schedule was so flexible, I could still travel for work whenever, have a place to technically call home, and pick up hours whenever I was actually there.
The problem was that the waitlist for a 1st-floor two-bedroom apartment was a year-long at that point. That was a blessing in disguise, however. I had secured temporary accommodations in a peaceful town on the coast where I lived most of the time. And I would drive over to spend a day or two with mom as my schedule allowed. In addition to all of the other benefits I enjoyed from being on the coast, it would be a much smoother transition for me after four years up in the woods, to come back to a quiet coastal town as opposed to a large, bustling suburban apartment mega-complex.
But it soon became apparent that I was not reintegrating into society the way I had hoped for. It was constant sensory overload every time I returned to the city and it made me anxious, uncomfortable, and more miserable than I already was. On top of that, we were beginning to climb each other's nerves from time to time. So in the end, I found a more permanent living situation on the coast. Journeying back to her place once a week to provide Sunday afternoon/Monday morning caregiver shifts, and then head back home to the coast. Onward.