“Where’s DJ??” my mother called from the car. She peaked up from under her pink New Zealand hat, signed by my sister’s former University of Michigan and two-time Olympic champion running mate Nick Willis, a.ka. “our mother’s hero”. She squinted into the sun.
“He’s eating a sandwich!” I said. She rolled her eyes and chuckled.
“I heard DJ is gluten-free now,” my sister’s friend Kevin said. We laughed.
DJ entered our lives when Mom became completely immobilized from primary-progressive M.S. We had known him for years now, leaned on him as a source of comfort, and never, ever left the house without him. Though he was a quiet guy, he provided more care than he could ever know.
DJ was a cushion. Literally. An eight-by-eight inch patterned blue square of utility and comfort.
The nature of my mother’s M.S. caused her legs and feet to twist around one another at night. DJ, inserted halfway between the calves and ankles, solved this problem. When sitting in the wheelchair we took for outings, Mom’s body often slumped to the side. DJ, propped under her right elbow, next to her side, helped to center her. Over time, the absence of DJ became a void we were eager to fill. He soon had a seat on the couch and took to watching our favorite shows, such as Gossip Girl, with us. He sat patiently at the dinner table despite not having a mouth to eat with. The fact that he had been created with the same paisley fabric that adorned our kitchen windows made his presence all the more natural. DJ, we’d joke, where’d you go? You’re blending in with the background! Or at times more seriously: DJ, what would we do without you?
In the world of caregiver topics, “MacGyver-ing your home” doesn’t get nearly as much air time as it should. In my humble opinion, caregivers are more like care heroes, swooping in with red capes and hard hats ready to assess and solution for any number of complex problems, conundrums and befuddlements. Not unlike the secret agent of the eponymous 1985 hit show, our wits are our deadliest weapon. Can't carry the laundry basket up and down the stairs anymore? No fear! We'll jerry up a pulley that can run the basket down and back up, so you are hands free to safely mobilize, maintaining your sense of accomplishment and independence. Can't reach the water cup at your table? We'll invent a longer straw. Can't adjust your covers at night? We've got solutions for that, too.
Now, growing attached to an inanimate object may seem a little…strange. But when it comes to care, nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. If it makes your loved one or your family happy, go with it. Embrace the weirdness. Adopt a cushion pet. Make a sock puppet like that pets.com dog. Put up a cardboard cutout of David Hasselhoff. Program Alexa to play show tunes. Disregard what “other people will think” or preconceived notions of what’s normal. Find comfort in the small, silly things that make up our lives. Channel your inner child. Run with your imagination. You’ll be surprised how much joy you find, if you set your mind free.