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  • Writer's pictureBrandi Bird

Pink Moon

Updated: May 4

I can't remember having a busier month. So busy that I'm almost a week late on my full moon post. So busy that the south yard resembles the savanna from Lion King when my miniature lions stalk dragonflies in the tall grass. So busy that sleep is officially off the menu as is sitting down to eat which was removed a few weeks ago. Sleep is an overpriced side dish to be ordered a la cart for a special occasion treat. Neighbors have called, my daughter has messaged, "when can you talk?" My brain responds with "2026, probably" but I type: "this weekend!" It's been a very white rabbit kind of energy, when I'd rather project more of the blue caterpillar vibing on the mushroom.

Part of this frantic pace is because I have the World's Worst Boss and that boss is me. No days off, no breaks, and no leaving the office because the office is wherever I am. Also no benefits or retirement and not much of a salary. It's a pretty sweet deal, but we aren't hiring, so too bad for you. The truth to working for myself is that this unsustainable tempo is self-induced, so I have to ask myself, "why?"

The answer is because my responsibilities feel like seaweed tangled about my legs. My grandmother and aunt need me so much more now. I play out future scenarios in my head every night and none of them are good; it's like Afghanistan, a clean extraction is impossible and whichever way it ends, it's going to be a costly disaster. Dementia used to be a picture hanging on the living room wall. If you didn't like looking at it, you could find another chair, or go into another room, and there my real grandmother would be, waiting. Now her dementia is the wall to wall carpeting. It's the nails in the tin roof. The faded wallpaper marked with time. It's in every room, gathering in every corner.

My unmarried aunt has always lived with my grandmother and over the past few years, increasingly played the role of live-in caregiver. Doling out the pills, making the endless appointments, seeing to the housekeeping and countless other tasks that come with caring for an adult who can no longer care for herself. She put so much of herself into the demands of this work, that her own health spiraled rapidly. This spring she has started the show the early signs of dementia as well. Throwing myself into my work has felt like a needed respite from the unsavory reality of caring for two disabled dementia shut-ins indefinitely.

And it is unsavory. Do not be deceived by Hallmark into thinking that old age will settle about your shoulders like a wooly sweater. That it's all rockers on the porch and wisdom. It's hiding all the tape from my grandmother because she keeps taping her mouth shut at night, "so the bugs don't get in" and putting bells on the doors so she won't try to go outside at 3:00 a.m. because she insists her friend JoAnn is picking her up for work at the mill. It's the constant battle over taking baths and miles and miles of unwieldy adult diapers. Dementia is gently disarming an 83 year old women waving a rusty screwdriver she feels she needs to defend herself from "the man over the hill" she is convinced tried to break into her room to attack her. When I finally succeed in securing the weapon, she screams how much she likes my sister more than me and that I'm worse than the Gestapo.

"I don't even have a sister!" I tell her, in final exasperation. She pauses for a moment.

"You're lying," she says wagging her finger triumphantly.

And more than anything, dementia is so much bitching. The confusion and psychosis would be bearable if she could just be happy. Instead, dementia seems to be the compression of your life's worst memories into a playlist of pure fiction on repeat.


"The Gypsy Nurse Stole My Things!"

"They Beat Me with Sticks at the Hospital!"

"I Was Left Alone in the Woodshed All Night in the Dark!"

And while it sounds like a tragedy, the situations I find myself in are nothing short of comedy, because what else is there? The best writers in Hollywood could not churn out the comedic gold of a random Tuesday morning when I have to take them both to the doctor. The loading and unloading of two walkers, two addled and cantankerous women, and the armloads of geriatric accessories including my grandmother's Leviathan pocketbook, this makes for a morning of unparalleled slapstick genius. There is nothing important in her purse, mind you - no money or ID, and every third time we take it somewhere, it gets misplaced and I have to do deranged detective work to relocate it. Once it was distressingly heavy and I unzipped it to reveal a horde of wrapped pennies. Another times, it felt suspiciously liquidly, and sure enough, a carton of sour cream was stashed away. Another time, I watched her stuff her purse with sandpapery tissues and latex gloves from the doctor's office. It wasn't worth the argument and I was occupying myself by playing with the ear looking thingy anyways. My aunt shouts, inches from my grandmother's ear, because she hears only the loudest volumes now.


The walls shake from the loudness but my grandmother is unphased. She starts stuffing tongue depressors in her bag.


They probably hear her all the way in Shubuta, but my grandmother continues to ignore her. Now that is it a direct order, she will resist reason with every fiber of her being. It would be easier for me to build a bathroom around her where she sits than convince her to come with me now. Repeat scene, forever, for years.

Pascal wrote that all of man's unhappiness stems from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone. I couldn't disagree more, because frankly, sitting quietly in a room alone sounds like the perfect day to me. There is nothing I long for more, except maybe walking alone in the woods, same idea, different scenery. Alone is my factory setting, and I revel in it. I think unhappiness is the inability to accept your current conditions. That is what the great yogis teach and I have come to believe that my current role as misguided caregiver is my temporary cosmic dharma, or duty. One may have many dharmas in a single lifetime on the pathway to enlightenment. I have been a soldier, a mother, a teacher and many things in between and each felt like a calling in it's time. Learning the language of the plants and animals that round out my life now feels like a calling as well, a connection to a living source. I might not have come as fully into this path had it not been for the ugliness of dementia pressing into the boundaries of my life.

My grandmother and I have always shared a deep love for growing things. She was not a, what she calls "fancy" gardener, but she was a terrific roadside relocator. She dug up ditch lilies, primroses, and native rudbeckias and transplanted them around her property. Her spotless green Oldsmobile sported a cardboard box and shovel in the trunk for plant thievery. She planted bulbs and plant divisions gifted from friends, called pass-along plants here in the south. On rare occasions, as she is a true spendthrift, she ordered flowers from catalogues and we have spent many happy hours together, reading seed catalogues in silence side by side, then trading catalogues, having dogeared the pages of notable specimens for one another. She turns her nose up at the outlandish, preferring the proletariat zinnias. Her yard was a real delight and although she never said it, she was pleased when people would drive by and stop to share how beautiful her azaleas looked along the fence line. She planted roses from cuttings and trained morning glories up the phone poles. I remember many nights on the screened porch watching the flowers close up and go to sleep. One of my earliest memories of her is kneeling beside her as we planted small brown and gold marigolds, a variety I now know as "Pot-of-Gold". Her gloved thumb made sure dimples in the dark dirt and I felt very important handing her single seedlings from the 6 pack. She guided my hand to pat down the dirt, reaches across herself because she is left handed like my mother and brother. She grew tall sunflowers and pretended she couldn't find me hiding and giggling in the tall canopy they made. She left most of the seed heads for the birds.

It has been many years since she could garden outside and she has never been one for houseplants. She insists that something needs to produce a flower or something good to eat if she is going to bother with tending to it. Cotton was planted clear to the porch when she was a child; I always felt her love of flowers was her way of rebelling against that forced economy. Her landscaping is entirely too much for me to manage; it used to take three full time able bodied adults to manage her gardens. They are overgrown and in shambles, but fifty years of care gave the red dirt a type of muscle memory. Unassisted, the roses still come up, the azaleas are overgrown, but still muster reliable blooms, gladiolas, iris, lilies - day, Madonna, and Easter, honeysuckle, rudbeckia, dutiful daffodils - they all show up for role call. And favorite of all is the gorgeous pink camellia she planted many many years ago when I was born. I find perfect blooms to bring in to her, since she no longer goes outside. I bring her tiny bouquets of whatever is blooming from my yard or the roadside.

I don't know where the gardening part of her brain lives, but it's the last part of her untouched by dementia. The flowers make her happy, if only for a fleeting moment. We pot three waxy begonias for the screened porch ledge she can get to. They bloom the pale pink of a baby's toes in the partial sun of the porch until the cold finally claims them. I bring her amaryllis bulbs and poinsettias in the winter and she keeps them alive for weeks and weeks, marvels at their color, picks spent petals off diligently. I order every gardening catalogue I can get my hands on and bring them to her to devour from cover to cover. I bring her my first puny sunflower, no bigger than a fifty cent piece, the best of my gladiolas, and an intoxicating Stargazer lily I coaxed from a bulb. We laugh at my paltry sweet potato harvest, which I present with a dramatic flourish. I light these humble offerings like candles in the darkness, hoping to make enough enough light for my grandmother, my real grandmother that I love, to find her way out of the dark room where dementia has locked her away. Her eyes are filled with the relief of a weary traveler having roamed an unfamiliar hotel alone and finally turning a corner, finds welcome in the friendly eyes of a stranger. I come in the house to find an envelope on the kitchen table scrawled in her once careful writing. She has collected zinnia seeds for me, it must have taken her an hour to make her way with her walker and then using the ledge to stand, she made her way to where she could reach the zinnias from the safety of the porch, the boundary of her universe now.

When I was younger and would come to visit, before deployments or during leave when I was in the Army or later when I was older and had a family of my own and baby in tow, she would always leave the porch light on for me. That meant she was waiting up inside, probably dozing off in her chair with her slippers on, waiting patiently for my arrival. I would ask if I had woken her and she would always say:

"No, I was just resting my eyes!"

Mississippi was never less than a 12 hour drive, and more often 18+ hours from wherever I was living. It didn't matter if it was midnight or 6 am, the beacon of the porch light meant, "I'm here! Waiting for you! Come right in!" It was the comfort of a familiar place that has been made for you with an open heart. Perhaps that was her dharma then, to keep the light on.


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