March 2020, my grandfather, still in rehab, watched and listened as the world began to crumble. A plague of sorts, not his first of course, had began to ravish the United States. All the while, my sister and I panicked. We begged my mom and uncle to remove him from the nursing home. It no longer mattered to us that his time in rehab since his hospital stay had not yet reached the 21 day insurance order.
I had already began to see the nightmare that was happening in other states to long-term living facilities, and rehab facilities. They were the first places to begin to be locked down. The patients, like prisoners. No visitors. Families that were lucky enough to have loved ones near a window talking through glass. Confused and mentally disabled patients not understanding why their loved ones or visitors wouldn’t just come inside and sit for a while. Then, like a catastrophe, as one elderly patient got sick, therein followed 10-20 more getting sick. All locked inside with each other. Most facilities such as this, seemingly left to their own devices. CNAs and nurses within the facilities pretty much locked inside with them, their only care.
The days started to go by. Being high risk, I was the first to tell my family, and especially my grandfather and grandmother that I could no longer visit to protect myself and my daughter. It was devastating to me. For years, it had just been myself, and my sister when she was in town, taking care of my grandparents. And there had already been turmoil come between us and everyone else once my Uncle had gotten Power of Attorney.
Everything seemed to be like something out of the twilight zone. A dark cloud of sadness in slow motion. My grandfather’s health seemed to improve. The doctor’s decided to release him. It had already been 2 weeks since I had seen him at all.
On his last week in the rehab facility, very intimidating health officials showed up with orders. They locked down the facility and no longer allowed anyone inside, with the exception of close family. My grandmother faithfully had one of us drop her off each day. She had to have her temperature checked before she could enter the front door. And even after that, the officials would decide if they wanted her to enter.
Finally, one day, my mom and uncle arranged and ok’d it for my grandfather to leave. It was as though the grace of God worked his favor on us, because as soon as we got my grandfather home, the next day they began to lock down the facility completely, just as all of those facilities we had heard nightmare stories about in other states.
We were blessed to have watched such a turn around in my grandfather’s health. He had went from shaking like the tremors of an earthquake, and severe memory loss, along with hallucinations, to back his normal self by the time we got him home. Although, even that is not 100% because he’s 91 years old with Parkinson’s Disease.
In the months since, we have seen a tornado of change. Sacrifices by the plenty. Weeks at a time not being able to be in the same room with the grands. Depending on who had possibly been exposed to the virus.
I think at first, back in April, most of us wanted to believe that this virus had been blown out of proportion, even myself, the hypochondriac that I am. However, it didn’t take long for me to fully convince myself that this was the worst. In comparison with the Spanish Flu, dated in the 1950s, this was our depression.
Around May, my grandmother’s mind seemed to deteriorate with intensity. And her complaints about roaring in her ears also intensified. Her balance was not great, and had not been great since about August of 2019, because of Vertigo and Meniere’s disease, which is chronic. This year alone, I can’t count the amount of times I have thought to myself, is this hell, or the twilight zone??
Because of an extreme fear of birds, mainly fearing that they will defecate on me, lol, I’ve also thought it strange that the thought had to cross my mind that a possible slew of birds were taking over my grandparent’s brains. Crazy yes, but after having them my whole life, and now quickly seeing that disappear right before my eyes, I can’t help but not dismiss any excuse I can come up with to explain to me why they have to go one day.
At the end of May, I decided to visit them through their front door, like visiting a prisoner, wrongly convicted. I had them come to the door and sing Amazing Grace with me in harmony, and had my daughter video it. It is something I regret not doing more when they were in better health, but also something I will always truly cherish. Music is something so expressive in my family, like a letter you’re writing that you never quite finish. And no matter how old I get, I can close my eyes and remember being little and waking up on Saturday mornings, the whole house filled with the smell of bacon and eggs, and hearing my grandparents in the kitchen singing and harmonizing with each other. It is one of the memories out of my dark, harum-scarum childhood, that I will always cherish the most.
I consider myself to be quite a strong person, to a point, but also quite vulnerable at times. Looking past my fears of the birds for a moment, I can’t help but admit, I want to hear them. Even if just for a moment, I wanna know what they are hearing and feeling. And I want to take it from them. I want to see my grandfather working in his shop in the back yard again, or sneaking a dip in the laundry room. I want to see my grandmother laughing so hard at me that she cries, cackling. I want to see her understand when we are making a joke, and for my grandfather to even be able to hear me at all when I am talking to him. My mind stays in chaos trying to discover ways I can bring them back around, even though deep down, I am also trying to find a way to let go and accept that what they are now, is what I am blessed with for however long until their ailments worsen, or til they’re gone for good.
Most people think of cardinals as the spiritual presence of a loved one, but as for myself, I follow the black birds, hiding so I see them, but that they may not see me. I will always see them as the loved ones who are screeching around us, decade after decade, generation after generation, watching us succeed, watching us fail, watching us grow old as they did, and waiting for us to one day, join them…