I should have been paying more attention to the puppy–what she was eating, where she was digging, how often she did her business. Instead, as I followed our five-month-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Harper, from one corner of the yard to the other, my mind flitted anxiously through the details of our lives: Work. Errands. Kids. Dinner. Then there was Mom. Those other things I could do something about, but my mom’s situation left me with a continual low-grade sadness I hadn’t been able to shake.

I’d been caring for mom to varying degrees for more than three years now, with the ongoing effects of her stroke continuing to deal blow after blow to her independence … and mine. The declines were gradual at first, an occasional fall, slurred speech, and difficulty planning. But after Mom sold her three bedroom ranch and moved into a two bedroom apartment near me and my family, the declines came more quickly. I thought of her now, slouched over in her wheelchair at the skilled nursing facility where she lives.

The puppy pulled hard on her purple nylon leash ready to go in, but I couldn’t yet. I wrapped my husband’s flannel jacket closer to me and walked toward our lone tulip poplar tree with the resin face I hammered in myself. I ran my hand along the deep ridges in its trunk. Then, without thinking, I threw my arms around it, leaning in and resting my face against the roughness of its bark. I resisted tears as I thought about all the new items on my to-do list recently: Paying Mom’s bills, calling Medicare about an unpaid claim, wiping drool from her shirt, even ironing on labels so the nursing home wouldn’t lose any more of her pants or socks. It can be so lonely being a caregiver, I thought, exhaling slowly into the tree.

This time, Harper jumped, and her leash snapped me back to my yellowed winter lawn and the swirling frigid wind. I squeezed the trunk one last time, feeling bolstered by its sturdiness, and headed toward the house.


Originally published at The Perennial Gen on August 4, 2020.