May 2008 Issue
Columbus author D.G. Fulford shares her journey into caregiving.
When she needs a good cry, author D.G. Fulford heads to the place that’s become a bastion of calm in a turbulent sea: her neighborhood Starbucks.
The soothing cup of comfort always at hand, the words of encouragement delivered by the staff –– Fulford credits the coffeehouse with helping her face the uncertainty that’s become a constant companion as she cares for her 88-year-old mother, Phyllis Greene, who suffers from congestive heart failure.
“They are so nice to me there,” Fulford says. “Everyone always asks how I’m doing and gives hugs. They also send their love to my mom, even though they don’t know her.”
Those small niceties have become sweeter than a caramel macchiato as Fulford copes with the litany of fears that accompany the declining health of a loved one. For nine years, she’s been the sibling in charge of her mother’s care, a journey she chronicles in her new book, Designated Daughter (published this spring by Hyperion). The tome’s title, Fulford explains, pays homage to the sisterhood of women who are instantly recognizable to one another.
“We sit,” she writes, “in doctors’ waiting rooms holding our mothers’ hands. We hold the coats, we hold the purses, we hold our mothers’ arms like suitors. We become so close, so bonded, we form a two-person silhouette.”
It’s a role Fulford, 58, never imagined she could successfully step into. The middle child in a family of three siblings, flanked by her well-known older brother, writer Bob Greene, and younger brother Tim, she describes herself as the last person anyone would choose to be a caregiver. Opting for a life that was “art, not responsibility,” Fulford plunged headfirst into her journalism career, co-authoring To Our Children’s Children: Preserving Family Histories for Generations to Come with Bob in 1993; and co-founding TheRememberingSite, a Web site which assists families with writing, archiving and publishing their life stories.
“I’m a lifetime of denim, while my mother is full-blooded Talbots. I do things scattershot, she does things nicely,” says Fulford about Phyllis, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wellesley College who served on the Franklin University board of trustees and chaired the Columbus Metropolitan Airport and Aviation Commission. An accomplished author, her mother wrote the 2001 Random House best-seller, It Must Have Been Moonglow: Reflections on the First Years of Widowhood.
But when the need arose, Fulford didn’t think twice. She left what she calls a bohemian lifestyle in the mountains of Nevada to return to Ohio after a 20-year absence, seamlessly resuming the sort of relationship daughters everywhere have a right to envy.
“Mom is,” Fulford says quietly, “my best friend and soul mate.”
The ensuing years have resulted in a book that’s a TripTik filled with self-discovery and fraught with sadness.
“It seems as if it happens in an instant, but it takes a lifetime. Our mothers go from aging to old,” Fulford writes. “We Designated Daughters become familiar with crisis mode, as our mothers’ well-being differs from day to day. They put their trust in us, though we do not always trust ourselves. The road ahead is not going to be easy, each step a different test.”
Phyllis also penned her poignant perspective for each chapter. She shares views ranging from the numbing grief that accompanies the death of a spouse to the overwhelming urge to deny physically failing, which, she writes, “is a bitter pill to swallow –– along with the 19 others” taken daily. “It is beyond my control,” Phyllis adds, “and I want to be gracious as others do for me, but it is not what I would have chosen.”
When the book debuted last month, life was on the upswing. Now it’s not, as Phyllis recovers from surgery and her daughter copes with her own back pain and navigating the mind-boggling maze of power-of-attorney decisions.
“We’re going through a rough patch,” Fulford says with a sigh. “We’ve had three weeks of absolute fear. I’ve learned never to say, ‘OK, we got through that,’ because there’s always another bullet to be dodged.
“But we’re so fortunate to have each other and the love that surrounds us,” she adds.
“It’s been said better: It’s the best of times and the worst of times.”