I’M TRYING TO BE STRONG

“I Remember Tigger” 

I always felt (and still do!) that pets add additional challenges to my life. For many years my children had begged me over and over to allow them to have a pet. Six years ago, a good friend finally convinced me that a cat wouldn’t be too much work. She recommended a certain pet store where she knew the owner. I followed her suggestion and went over there to purchase a kitten. The store owner told me he could sell me a kitten that had been abandoned behind his store for $50.

When I brought home the kitten, it was like bringing home a new baby. My children were ecstatic with the tiny black and white tuxedo cat. They decided to name him Tigger. Tigger cried a lot that first night when I told my children that he needed to stay in the area near the washer and dryer. Not long after that, Tigger ended up sleeping with my children.

Sometimes in the morning after my husband left for work, Tigger would visit me. While I was still lying in bed, he would jump on top of me. He tenderly purred and flattened himself over my stomach. In between, he would do dance steps. I marveled at what a friendly creature he was. 

I told myself that I was too busy to become attached to this creature. I wasn’t happy at all about the additional responsibilities related to him; I hadn’t wanted any more work in my life. However, it was all to make my children happy, and they certainly loved this special kitten.

Tigger was only about four months old when I took him to have his nails trimmed at a local pet store. I was too inexperienced to know how to trim them myself back then. The lady working there brought something to my attention. She told me that Tigger’s ears were unusually yellow. I hadn’t noticed it at all. Tigger’s illness began with that simple observation. When I brought him to a veterinarian, he explained how the yellow color was a result of jaundice. It turned out our kitten had a liver problem.

I had not wanted a pet that involved extra work! 

But that wish was not the reality. After spending several hundred dollars on lab tests, the vet told me that our best chance to help Tigger would be with medication and a special diet. The problem was that Tigger had stopped eating. I purchased a special formula from the veterinarian that was very expensive. It had to be administered with a syringe into his mouth. It did not escape me that my five-year-old son, Jason, had also been fed that same way many years before because he did not have the strength to suck a bottle. 

Tigger needed to be fed every few hours. My husband helped during the evenings and on the weekend. My two older children made a chart and they took turns. While they were in school, I became responsible for Tigger’s feedings. I became very focused on saving our pet. It was a job I took seriously, and it was very familiar for me. This went on for several months. 

Some good friends asked our family if we could go to the beach with them that summer. They were stunned when I told them we could not be away for that period of time because our cat needed to be fed. It was becoming an ordeal, but our family was determined to save Tigger. 

I took Tigger to the vet at two-week intervals. At each appointment he would be weighed. He continued to lose weight. Every morning, Tigger still came to lie upon me. I welcomed his visits and realized that I had become attached to him.

A week ago, someone at my father’s facility told me that she noticed my father had “turned.” Turned was a phrase I hadn’t heard of before. 

Now I understood.

I remember the moment Tigger turned. After that, each day was excruciating for him and for me. I hated to watch his pain. 

Every morning, I wondered if Tigger would still be alive. He no longer came to purr and dance upon me. I felt dread as I wondered where I would find him. He was often under a certain piece of furniture in the living room. Sometimes he was on the cold floor of the downstairs bathroom. My heart would be pounding when I would go looking for him. 

When I would find him, he would look right at me with his pleading, large eyes. Eventually, I could no longer look at his eyes. I prayed it would end soon and I would find him lifeless and at peace. Despite that, I kept trying to feed him and gave him water. However, it was hopeless. This went on for perhaps five days. Each day became harder than the day before. Soon, Tigger’s eyes were half closed, but the pleading look was still there.

Finally, I could not stand it any longer. I made our last appointment with the veterinarian. This veterinarian was a good-looking man who always wore Hawaiian shirts and had a broad smile. At our appointment, I told him that it was hopeless now. This vet understood. Prior to this appointment, he had mentioned invasive and expensive treatments that might work. I was glad my children understood I would not go that route. 

I was amazed how all the work to feed Tigger was for naught, because now we were going to end his life. 

I had been raised to avoid death. However, I felt like I wanted to do things differently with my children. I decided to allow my two older children to stay and say goodbye to Tigger as he was put to sleep. At the time, they were twelve and fifteen years old. 

They spent a lot of time saying goodbye to Tigger before the final appointment. Now the moment had come. The vet left the room and came back with a syringe.

I remember he had such a firm hand. I was sad because Tigger was so trusting with us all there. 

He gently injected the syringe into Tigger. Tigger looked right at me. He flinched ever so slightly, and then his eyes became vacant. 

It was over. 

I stifled a sob and thanked the vet. He warmly hugged my children and me. I asked the receptionist how much I owed for our final visit. She said, “I was told there is no charge for today.” My children were silent as we left. 

I drove home and the car’s silence was broken first by my son’s sobs. He began to howl. Soon my daughter joined in. A moment after that all three of us were wailing in unison as I drove down that freeway.

It was something I would never forget.

“I’m hanging in there”

Currently, my book is with an editor. My journey led me to a very special woman who I am certain will be pivotal to my success. It happened through meeting someone at my parents’ facility who recommended her. I believe it was meant to be, and is part of my beautiful journey. 

Last week, my editor let me know that she had completed reading approximately 75% of my material. In another few weeks, she said she would be ready to meet with me and discuss some of her ideas to improve my book. I have been very patient and I let her know I was eager to implement her input. Her response was that she appreciated my willingness to do so. She said many writers were not so eager to make changes to their material even though they had sought out an editor’s advice! 

With both my parents in nursing facilities at separate locations, my life was quite stressful. I received numerous calls throughout my day, and many of them were quite sad. Often, a nurse would call to notify me that my mother had an unexplained bruise or had lost weight. On top of the many calls from their facilities, I also received many calls from both my parents. My father’s boredom was such that it was the highlight of his day to speak with me. 

My mother’s dementia had caused her to become so agitated and confused that calling me was often the best way for her to achieve comfort. Many of her calls became even more tragic, because I was already on the phone with my father who was moaning to me. My mother did not comprehend my father’s situation at all, and he definitely had no patience for her. In August, they will celebrate their sixty-first anniversary.

I concentrated upon singing whenever I had any free time. My recording area was my bedroom walk-in closet, and without air conditioning I was limited to the times I could record. Much more energy was invested for me listening to my recordings and inserting the best vocal lines into my songs’ arrangements. It was tedious, but very rewarding when I completed a song. 

There were many similarities between creating a song and creating an illustration for me. Just like illustrating, sometimes the process was magical. A sensitive vocal could emerge easily without a lot of concentration. Other times, I worked so hard to “get it right” that my song became overworked. I put in endless hours on something that in the end I didn’t feel was good enough. 

However, all of the my singing practice was useful and became a learning experience for me. Even if only one song in five was good enough, I reveled in the fact that the one song was still vastly better than it’s prior version. 

Yesterday, I went to my weekly voice lesson eager to share my progress with Peaches. I told Peaches that I had heard an amazing singer perform the night before at an open mic venue where I played. However, I was not impressed with her vocals because her words were not sung clearly enough to be understood. Her magnificent and powerful voice eclipsed her message. I always made sure that every word I sang could be clearly understood. I decided that I far preferred my own voice. 

I had never felt that way before about my own voice, so it was wonderful to have that realization! 

It was so comforting to be with Peaches because she truly understood about my passion. My passion was about creating music that was the best I could do and at the same time completely connected to my heart. 

After our lesson ended, Peaches asked me how things were going with my parents. I shared with her some of my challenges, hugged her tightly and went to my car with an aching heart. Despite having “my musical elixir,” there was still so much pain for me. 

I left the lesson to go over to the nursing facility where my father was. I prepared myself to have the strength to handle my evening. 

My father had invited himself over to my house. When he had mentioned it to me a few days earlier, I was pleased. He had said, “I want you to pick me up and bring me to your house. I’ll eat one slice of pizza and I’ll look over my mail. Then you’ll take me home.” 

He told me he was bored to death, and I felt glad to know he had some motivation to live. 

Still, I wondered how I would physically bring my father into my house. I would need to take his heavy wheelchair because he was far too weak to walk. Earlier in the day, I had received a call from a physical therapist at his facility. She said, “We are going to discontinue your father’s physical therapy because he is uncooperative and he cannot progress.” 

My father always kept his room dark, as he slept most of his day away. I came into his room and asked him whether he was sure he still wanted to come to my house. He said he wanted to try, although he was moaning loudly. 

I asked him if he was in pain and he told me he was defecating. I quickly left the room and waited outside until his diaper was changed. I decided I would call my mother while I was waiting. She answered the phone, but her confusion was quite evident as we spoke. It was hard for me to even respond to many of her statements. Our conversation abruptly ended because she accidentally hung up on me. I tried calling back but could not reach her because her phone was now off the hook. I was frustrated.

I went back to my father’s room. A kind nurse had him sitting up and was buttoning his shirt, but many buttons were missing. He barked commands for me to help the nurse put on his shoes. I ignored him and allowed the nurse to finish dressing him. 

My father often yelled at me. He told me he could not help it and I believed him. 

I pushed his wheelchair over to the nursing station. The nurses joked with me as I signed my father out of his facility. It was a big moment. I also remembered going through this same experience with my mother. 

The nurses gave me a packet of paperwork, which I brought home with me. There were a lot of forms for me to fill out. My father’s Medicare coverage would soon end and he would have to be readmitted into the facility as a permanent resident in skilled nursing. He could no longer live in their more independent program. 

I felt strong and powerful pushing my frail father; I knew he was depending on me. I lifted and folded his heavy wheelchair; I easily put it into my minivan. I was far more experienced now than in the past because I had learned so much while dealing with my mother’s illness. 

My father moaned and told me I needed to help pull his legs into the car. His legs were like toothpicks and he was light as a feather as I gently moved him. He cried out as I touched him. 

He told me not to buckle his seatbelt; that he wouldn’t wear it. I ignored him and buckled him in. As my car exited the facility, my father moaned loudly with every bump on the road. I drove carefully, but it was disconcerting that he still groaned so loudly despite that. 

I unloaded his wheelchair from my car, and even managed to push my father over two steps near the front door. I was amazed at my strength. I pushed my father into the dining room. He said, “Please get me a pen so I can help fill out some of those papers.” 

For an hour he struggled to fill in a few spaces on the forms. It was apparent that he did not want me to be further burdened with paperwork. He repeated over and over again, “I am going to come over more often to help you with paperwork. I am going to get you started on last year’s taxes next time!” 

He ate his slice of pizza after I cut it into small pieces for him. I jumped when he choked on a soda he had requested. He said, “It’s too strong for me.” 

Suddenly, he told me it was time for me to take him back. It was not even 5:30 p.m. and he said he needed to leave so he could go to bed. 

The ride back was even more excruciating for my father. Although he was weaker than when we had started, I could see that his spirits were higher. He kept thanking me. 

He said, “I’ve been bored to death and I appreciate what you’ve done.” I told him I could bring him over every Tuesday and it would be our special date night. 

Then, I reached over to caress his hand and he yelled at me not to touch him. I had forgotten that he did not like to be touched, and reminded myself to be more careful. I mentioned to him that he could visit me more easily if he would cooperate with his physical therapists. He snapped, “I hate them all! I want them to leave me alone so I can sleep!” 

With relief I wheeled my father into his room. I kissed him goodbye, smiled at the nurses and quickly attached myself to my iPod. Even though I was hungry for dinner, I still had to go shopping at the market before going home. 

I loaded the groceries into my car and listened to my most recent song recordings. It was when I was driving home from the market, that I allowed my pain to erupt. 

I knew I had not written for a while and that it was time for me to write for therapy. But I wasn’t sure how to write about what I was feeling. 

It was so deep. Then it hit me. I knew exactly what I would write about. 

It was about setting a soul free. 

As I thought about the story I would write, my sobs erupted. I cried as I drove. However, I wiped away the tears before I entered the house and no one noticed them at all. I was pleased when my youngest son ran to help carry in bags of groceries. 

Finally, I sat down to eat dinner with my family. My family could see that my father’s visit had been quite difficult. 

My youngest son told his father, “Mom could have filled out those papers in two minutes. It took grandpa an hour, but she kept thanking him!” 

I smiled inside. My youngest son had learned a valuable lesson from me. 

My brother, Norm, is on the right. I am about thirteen years old in this picture.

 Email message from my brother: 

Yea I know how stressful it can be with Dad. He has given up. He said he wasn’t going to cooperate and his body was too weak to walk. I told him about his comment about he would rather die on the operating table than live the way he was living. I told him he couldn’t have the surgery unless he got stronger. At that point he didn’t have any comment. I don’t know what to do with him. He is being such a pill as they say.  

Love, Norm

Hi Norm, 

I am so proud of myself for pulling off Dad’s visit to my house. It was amazingly difficult, but I did it! I’m exhausted emotionally, and I can’t even think of what I could write because I am in so much pain. 

Mom’s dementia is getting worse. She had an episode today where she started screaming at a singer there. It’s almost funny because this happened before. She thinks I’m having an affair with him and he is stealing my songs. 

Love, Jude

© Judy Unger and http://www.myjourneysinsight.com 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Judy Unger with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About Judy

I'm an illustrator by profession. At this juncture in my life, I am pursuing my dream of writing and composing music. Every day of my life is precious!
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