“My Pioneer Woman” by Lynn Dougherty


Lynn's Mother's Birthday December 2004

Lynn's Mother's Birthday -- December 2004

My name is Lynn.  I am an only child.  As a child, there was never more than my dad, my mom and me in the household.  We were a military family, never living close to family members so it was our own version of the Three Musketeers.  When Dad was sent on temporary duty assignments, it was Mom and me as the Two Musketeers.

Mom was born in Manhattan and lived there all of her youth until moving to South Dakota with Dad’s first assignment.  Life there was very different from Manhattan.  Mom never learned to drive a car since it was never necessary and, at that time, not the usual occurrence for a woman.  Living in the open spaces of South Dakota posed issues, particularly when Dad was elsewhere, sometimes for months at a time…no public transportation and harsh winters had their own challenges.  Mom always rose above those challenges…somehow.


Mom learned how to drive when I was young, maybe about 7 or 8, in the mid-1950s.  One of her first trips outside of the normal around-base travel was to California, sharing the ride with another military wife and her two sons.  I can’t imagine the courage it took for these two women to get into a car and travel so far, young children in tow, in order to not be separated from their husbands for a prolonged period of time.  Then again, Mom often showed a great deal of courage during my growing years, often in ways I took for granted.  After all, military wives are like none other when it comes to being independent and strong.


My dad fell ill when I was in high school while at a duty station outside the continental United States.  He was med-evac’d to a hospital in stateside.  Mom and I stayed behind to clear base housing which was no easy feat, packing our belongings and arranging for the eventual transport of our newly-adopted dog, all the while worried about my father’s well-being and separated by thousands of miles.  When Dad was released from the hospital to a new duty station, it was with restrictions on his activities.  When he retired from military service for medical reasons, the restrictions still applied.


Mom sought employment to help stretch the budget and make ends meet.  I went to work immediately after high school graduation and Dad eventually was able to find a job that provided for his physical limitations.  With one car between us, we made it all work.  In 1968, I married and moved to Florida to help my new husband’s father who was having health issues.  Mom and Dad moved in with us in 1970 because my father’s health had deteriorated to the point where Mom needed assistance with his care; finances just didn’t allow for Dad to be disabled and my mother not to work outside the home.  In 1974, my father died.  Later that year, Mom went back to work and moved to an apartment, trying to find a new purpose in life and a way to survive the loss of her husband.


The years between 1974 and 1996 were interesting ones for Mom.  She did a little traveling with friends newly-discovered during that portion of her life journey.  She tried all sorts of new hobbies from square dancing to joining a senior citizen entertainment group (she always wanted to be a Rockette!).  In 1996, Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor which a very skilled neurosurgeon successfully removed.  Three months of physical and occupational therapy were necessary to bring Mom back to a point where she could return to living independently.  She worked hard and she did achieve that goal!  Four years later, it was necessary for her to have a total knee replacement.  Again, physical therapy was a challenge but she did it, fighting, as she always had, to be independent.


In 2004, we began to notice changes in Mom but attributed them to her aging and the many challenges that she had endured.  In 2004, Mom came to us and told us she decided she should not drive a car any longer, certainly a decision that was difficult for her.  Each year, Mom had follow-up tests and evaluations done by the neurosurgeon to ensure that the tumor did not return.  During the 2005 evaluation process, the neurosurgeon referred Mom to a neurologist for an evaluation for some subtle changes being noted.  In February, 2006, Mom was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment; that neurologist told us to find a place for Mom to live with assistance as soon as possible.  That move was done in May, 2006.  In September of that year, Mom was moved to the secure unit because her confusion had become a problem and a worry.   In September of this year, Mom was moved to the advanced unit because her decline necessitated full care.


Throughout the disease process and many questions as to which disease was at the forefront, Mom has retained her smile and her determination.  She can no longer walk and she does bemoan that loss.  She can no longer feed herself and that offers frustration for her.  The official diagnosis was finally offered earlier this year…Lewy Body Disease with Parkinson’s.  That explains how Mom can vary so much from day to day, sometimes hour to hour, in her lucidity.  The Parkinson’s has taken a larger toll on her body than the Lewy Body has taken on her mind, probably thanks to the medications for the dementia.  But the kind, determined woman I’ve known all of my life is still there.


Mom always worried about being a burden, never wanting such a thing to happen.  I visit Mom daily, usually during the dinner hour so I can feed her and add my observations to the daily journal for the neurologist.  My wonderfully supportive husband also visits Mom nearly every day, helping to keep that connection that can so easily fade from their memories.  Mom isn’t a burden…she’s my mother.  I fear that I will become the lone Musketeer long before I would have wanted.  But, there will always be those memories of the strong, independent woman who was always there for her husband and her daughter.  As Mom approaches her 87th birthday on Christmas Eve, we can all be thankful for every moment we can still share with her.  She is my pioneer woman!


Lynn Dougherty




3 Responses

  1. You are BOTH so brave!

  2. […] Original post […]

  3. Frederick H. Lewy first described Lewy bodies in the substantia innominata and the dorsal vagal nucleus in Parkinson’s disease. (year 1912)

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