by Theresa Snyder
I prefer my life to run smoothly. I am a creature of habit and comfort. It pleases me when Dad is awake early enough in the morning to give me a goodbye kiss. I like the cat to meet me at the door in the evening. I want my desk to be in the same condition as I left it the night before. I am remembering, too, how grateful I always felt when I opened the door and saw Mother asleep in her favorite place on the couch.
I have always been a worrier. If there were such a thing, I would be a major shareholder in the International Worrier’s stock market. I usually deal quite well with worrying, keeping it on a level of “concern” most of the time. However, I recall a few years ago when I was not only worried, but scared too. I do not like being scared.
During my holiday time off, I noticed that Mother’s short-term memory was more off than usual. She had trouble remembering what she had for lunch unless it was an event, such as a luncheon at a favorite restaurant.
Rather than taking Mom and Dad out in the cold December Troutdale weather, I had made plans to bring the company and entertainment to them. I arranged for us to have guests each day from December 16th through December 25th, either for brunch, lunch, tea or dinner. I thought we would just kick back the second week and relax.
Mother worked better if she had a goal, so on the third day I told her we were having company for tea. About thirty minutes later, she asked if she needed to get dressed for any reason, or could she just stay in her robe? I told her once again that Cindy was coming for tea. Forty-five minutes later, she asked who was coming to tea. I told her Cindy. Now I was beginning to get scared. I asked her if she was feeling okay. She said yes, just a little tired. However, twice more before Cindy’s arrival, mother asked me who was coming.
The next day she tried to cover up her lack of memory by telling me that she was simply reassuring herself that she remembered who it was who was coming. This went on all week.
I admit this behavior caused me to be short with her a couple of times. Truthfully, I was frightened. My mother didn’t seem to be “there” half the time.
One day the following week, I decided to give Dad a day off and take Mom to see the Hesse Exhibit at the Art Museum. I asked Kim, a dear family friend from out of town, to join us. Kim and I wanted Mother to have a nice outing and Mother and I wanted to show Kim a bit of Portland, Gresham and Troutdale.
We had lunch at Old Wives’ Tales, a lovely time at the museum and a late afternoon treat of tea at Rose’s in Gresham.
We arrived home at five o’clock. I knew Mother loved to tell about her outings, so I encouraged her to tell Dad about the day. She swore she had the best time ever, but could not remember a single thing of where she had been or what had happened. At this point, I took Dad aside and asked him if he had noticed this memory loss in the days leading up to my time off. He said he hadn’t.
I called the doctor on January 3rd. I told him about Mom’s memory loss and assured him that if it is just a natural part of aging, I would deal with it. I could step back, take a deep breath and worry, rather than be scared. He wanted to see her.
All three of us went into the examination room. The doctor spent a full hour with Mom, giving her an oral memory test and telling her all the possible causes of memory loss: medication imbalance, kidney failure, low potassium, low vitamin B, stroke, Alzheimer’s, tumors. I tried to remain calm but none of this sounded good.
The doctor said it was a matter of eliminating things. He would do a blood work-up first and if that did not show anything, then he would recommend a brain M.R.I. which would show if she had experienced a stroke, had a tumor or Alzheimer’s.
We received the blood work results on Sunday. The news wasn’t particularly good; however, the doctor advised adjusting Mom’s medications and waiting a couple of weeks to see if that helped. A slight sigh of relief came over me but the feeling didn’t last long. That night Dad had a heart attack.
Dad survived his heart attack and continues to be the loving, puckish and helpful father he’s always been. Losing Mom in 2011, four years after the memory loss episodes began, was extremely difficult for both of us. However, with grit and determination we continue caring for each other and enjoying our shared home and gardens.
This is the 12th and final episode of “We3” published here. We selected these particular chapters in order to give the reader a glimpse of Theresa’s loving and stalwart determination, her delightful sense of humor and the ability to find the bright side of life as she navigated the joys, delights, worries and travails experienced living with and 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 work at Baby Boomer Caregiver.