by Theresa Snyder
If I started this column with that old horror story cliché, “It was a dark and stormy night,” I wouldn’t be too far off.
In April of 1995, my father had undergone open-heart surgery. He had been acting as my mother’s caregiver. However, with Dad down recovering from his surgery, I became caregiver to both my parents. My days were a blur of work at my job and caregiver duties for my parents. I spent what seemed like endless hours in the car dashing between places. My cat showed signs of stress from lack of attention. My friends had to catch me at work in order to talk to me. Something had to be done.
Fast forward about six months. Dad was up and about, but Mom was the same or worse. We agreed I couldn’t continue the caregiver role unless there were some drastic changes. We needed to move in together.
Admittedly, we were not all functioning at our best when we picked the manufactured home that seemed to lend itself well to a two-family dwelling. I figured we would have a new house, we could put in a couple of trees, throw down some lawn, and we’d be done.
So it happened that on a dark and stormy day in April of 1996, I stepped off the driveway and onto the indoor-outdoor carpet covering a sea of mud in front of the new house in Troutdale. My foot sunk in so deep that water ran over the top of my low-rise boots.
I had gathered all my friends to help get us moved into our new place. Dad was the smart one – he disappeared to his part-time job. Mom was inside directing the placement of furniture and boxes. I was outside in the rain, directing and unloading.
The first sign of trouble was my friend Lynn calling my name, a tone of panic in her voice. Mom was having a meltdown. What can I say? Mom’s sugar was out of control and she was suffering from undiagnosed gallstones. She was standing there, all five foot two inches of her, demanding that we stop moving her antique oak furniture because it was getting water spots from the rain.
I am afraid I went slightly ballistic. I was soaking wet, tired and stressed beyond belief. All I could see was the specter of my friends deserting me in the face of this little Irish hellion. I morphed into a recruit’s worst nightmare of a Drill Sergeant. I told my mother there would be no stopping until we had all her things moved. I turned and ordered all my friends back to work. Thank God, they are all such good friends that they took this from me.
At lunchtime, I went to check on Isis, my cat of nine years. Earlier the vet had instructed me to bring Isis and her things into the new home and close her up in a separate room while we moved everything into the house.
Upon opening the door, I discovered my cat so upset she was frothing at the mouth and throwing her 13-pound self against the windows in an attempt, I suppose, to break out and go back to her old home. There was a distinct possibility she might succeed. I did my best to calm her, but to no avail. I remembered my emergency kit still had some tranquilizers the vet gave me years ago. They were three years past their pull date and the dosage was supposed to be one-half tablet. I administered a full pill to Isis, hoping that would calm her down.
Thirty minutes later, the poor cat couldn’t hold her head up. I called the vet (yes, odd I hadn’t thought of that prior to shoving the pill down her throat). I explained, while blubbering almost hysterically, that I thought I had killed my cat. The vet, knowing Isis’s “cat-from-hell” constitution, reassured me and told me I had not tranquilized her – I had anesthetized her. She would recover by morning.
Later that evening I sat on the bedroom floor cradling Isis in my lap as she growled at me – I suppose for lack of anything else she could bring her body to do. Tears ran down my cheeks. What had I gotten myself into? After 20 years on my own, I was once again living with my parents. This time, in a house sitting in a sea of mud, not a single tree in sight, not a soul around, not even the welcoming glow of a street light – and I had almost killed my cat. Where could it go from here except up?
This is the second in a monthly series, “We 3,” which introduces VoiceCatcher readers to Theresa Snyder and her stories – sometimes touching, sometimes hilarious, always authentic – about caring for aging parents. First printed as a monthly column in the Gresham Outlook between 2003 – 2008, they were collected in book-form in 2007 (Mt. Hood Community College Press). The columns have been updated and are reprinted here with permission of the author.
Theresa Snyder has been writing ever since she can remember. In 1996, shortly after she moved her elderly parents in with her, she realized she couldn’t resist writing “out loud.” She found an audience in east county interested in reading about the challenges and rewards of being a baby boomer caregiver. Unlike other authors, she does not possess a degree or a long list of publishing credits. Instead, she likes to think she has earned her title as “author” through life experience and a great deal of reading. Check out her other work www.theresasnyder.blogspot.com.