Cry of the Blackbird Pt. 3

When you’re younger, you never dream of getting to the day where you have to begin to watch any of your loved ones dwindle away. The truth is, you also plow through your own life thinking you’re untouchable. Eating what you want, doing spontaneous things with an indirect carelessness. Never thinking of the later in life consequences that will be waiting. When those days come, they slam into you like a ton of bricks.

I can remember very clearly the seldom good memories that surround my adolescent years. I can tell you with absolution that most every one of them involve my grandparents. They hold such a huge piece of this puzzle that has been my life.

I can hear my grandmother’s laugh. Her incredible sense of humor lit up the entire room every single second she was present, and you absolutely noticed when she wasn’t around. Her immense sense of innocence from the time she grew up in was so humbling, and honestly to us growing up, hilarious. No matter what, she loved people with her whole heart. Even when they treated her unfair or unloving. She was the direct reflection of Christ. She cooked the greatest of meals, and had a perfect medical remedy for any sickness or ailment you were suffering. It was all right there in a medical search book that was almost bigger than she was.

The most fondest of times throughout my life was watching the love between her and my grandfather. 70 years of marriage and not a second of love lost. A type of relationship that will almost die with their generation. Her being 16 when they married, and living of poverty that most people only read about. I’ve heard time and time again, throughout my entire life, the horrors of their starvation, kids left wanting, tears from not knowing what they were going to do, but also the beautiful stories of togetherness, all the way up until the time my grandfather miraculously got the job that would change their life forever. It’s a story for the books. A story for the world. In the most humbling of sorts, and I want to hear it over and over. I hear something new every time that I do. The part that strikes me as rare, and as the realest form of love, is the fact that throughout all of these years of struggles and fear, they never faltered in their love for one another and their family. They never gave up on each other, even when they wanted to.

My grandmother, the great mother of this whole family, went through so much in her life. An alcoholic father, and a detached and seemingly emotionless mother. Yet, when you meet her, she is one of the most selfless, caring, and loving people you will ever meet in your life. She is one of the rarities that go through trauma, struggles and strife, and make it out in the end making the tough decision to not only not let it define her, but also choosing to love all people right where they are. She incredibly chose to love them with an unconditional love and kindness that is immeasurable. No matter what you were going through, she saw through the bad and could always find the good in anyone.

I can look back on an extensive amount of time I took for granted with my grandparents. Beautiful times I simply flushed down the toilet being selfish, being absent, and most of all, being angry in the most evil of ways. The way I spoke to them and the way I treated them and walked all over them is something that haunts me to this day. Being overly passive, they let me walk all over them. And absolutely never gave up on me. They are two that I can say with absolute certainty, that 100% believed in me, and loved me through every very horrible moment up to this very day. They were and are the reason that I learned the very basic of skills that started me out in this world and kept me alive in the hardest of times. Times that someone of such a young age should never have to experience. I credit them for the gift of prayers, protection, and immense amounts of love that at that time, and sometimes even now, I didn’t and don’t understand, and definitely didn’t and don’t feel I deserve. But my grandmother, she is the one that stands out. My best friend, my confidant. The one person I have always ran to when things were crumbling and completely hopeless. Always having the greatest words of encouragement, and never failing to remind me that I was capable of anything and everything in this great big world.

I never, not in a million years, thought that I would watch my grandparents dwindle away to nothing. My grandfather, now 92, is ate up with Parkinson’s disease, shaking and stumbling around, stubbornly, on a walker, and stumbling around like the tin man. He spends all of his days planted on the couch, a prisoner to his body, falling asleep and drooling on himself. I try to reach back in my mind and picture him out in his building tinkering with a new project, perfectly manicuring his perfect yard. Labeling everything, down to the fly-swatter and each lightbulb throughout the house with the date purchased, and/or the first date used. The memories of those days are fading from my memory, and being replaced with these sad days on repeat.

My grandmother, now going to be 87 this month, is just a shell of herself. Dementia tearing away at her entire being. You yearn in each moment with her to reach in and pull out that comforter, to watch her put on her signature red lipstick, to hear her incredibly encouraging words to pick you back up, but instead, each sad moment, current and long ago, playing on repeat in her mind like a skipping record. The recent death of her sister, the recent death of her pastor’s wife, her brother being in horrible health and on a defibrillator. All seeming to bounce around in her mind like a pinball machine and as each one makes its way to the front, she voices it again, as if it’s the first time.

We can’t and shouldn’t tell her any of the sad things anymore. Most in the family are the doing the selfish thing and telling her anyway. Which is the ultimate selfish act. It’s like writing in a diary that reads it back to you. I don’t. I no longer confide in her, or fish for her encouraging words. I cherish the days that they are offered naturally. There is no red lipstick, hair is never brushed, and she is always in the same outfit with the same house robe on top of it. She waddles around, door to door in the house, sitting blankly on the porch. Day in and day out, the same day over again. I want to hold her. I want to tell her everything is going to be ok.

She repeats a story to me. We took care of her mother who had and ultimately passed with Alzheimer’s disease. She has always repeated the same thing to me. I will go any way the Lord wants me to, I just ask him not to take my mind. And now, here it is. The one thing she didn’t want to happen. She still repeats it, even in her deteriorating state, that everyday she prays to hold onto her mind, and that home-health says she is doing great, even though we know she’s not.

I’m sure the black bird’s cry is louder than ever. I yearn to peek into that realm even if for just a moment to see what they’re seeing, to hear what they are hearing, to think what they are thinking, and to feel what they are feeling. But it’s for selfish reasons. If only just to comfort myself on the feeling of having already lost them, or even to understand it a bit better when it’s time for them to fly away swiftly with those waiting on them.

The grass grows up past the sidewalk now. The flowerbeds choked with weeds. Building in the backyard, in the past filled with noise of new projects being completed, now sitting in rot in the overgrown yard. A lonely shrill in the air. A sadness in the waiting and the not knowing. An almost beautiful feeling in thinking that every time you’re there with them, is the last. Teaching you, and forcing you to cherish each and every second of the time spent with the parts of them that are not already gone. For now, the black birds compete with the song of the blue birds, which is a lasting hope I’m holding onto.

Cry of the Blackbird Pt. 2

pawpaw and us

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…

Cry of the Black Bird Pt. 1

pawpaw black and white

It’s erie.

You step outside. There are so many noises around. Sometimes, you hear nothing but the loud, echoing cries of the hundreds of black birds seeming to surround wherever you are, like the start of the greatest battle. It’s a screeching that sticks with you. Echoing, even after they’ve long flown to a different portion of trees in the distance.

They have an incredibly scary ora about them.

You can imagine the things they have long been witness to. Generations come and gone. Old homesteads freshly built with hardworking hands, down to the moment decades later, where they crumble from lack of attention. They watch as families abandon each other. Heads of the table that loved their famillies with everything and would have given every breath and parcel of their own bodies for their families, grow old seemingly alone as most of whom they loved ignore their need and brand their lives with small excuses, just enough to sleep at night.

The black bird waits. Speaking to the other black birds as this head slips from existence as its bloodline carries on.

I sat with my grandfather one day. The day was sunny. The tv was as loud as it could go. He is incredibly hard of hearing. And when in the room, so are you. But with the tv muted briefly, I spoke with him of the amount of black birds that surround the trees at the farm I live on, on a daily basis. As if they are plotting something of foul play. He began to describe to me what he hears in his now, 91 year old ears. He said it was mysterious that I brought up the black birds and their echo’d screeching. He says as he sits there day in and day out, that is all he can hear in his ears. All day screeching, ringing in his ears. Like a mixture of white noise, with bird.

I tried to imagine what that must be like. To constantly be trapped in a room with birds. It frightened me.

These black birds, I wonder. Did they see the life he had led?

Had they been on his homestead where even as a young boy, he worked fields, starved, and learned to be appreciative for even a sweet bite of an unripe banana? Where he, as a young boy of 10, watched his father die right in the living room of the little shack that his siblings, himself, and mother shared. Then, because of the times, also watched as his father’s body lie in state across the worn kitchen table, leg hanging off and draining in a bucket as the children went about their way with normalcy? All the village’s men in that same livingroom shack all night as a sign of respect. Nothing but a candle, and a lit fire. And maybe the screeching black birds lined around the trees outside in the night.

Did they watch as my grandfather met the love of his life in a lunchroom? Predicting to his associates that this was the woman he was going to marry, at first sight?

Marrying her at her young age of 15, did they follow the life of love and poverty as they moved back and forth with his almost unpaid touring gospel group? Proud as they were to sing as the “Pioneers”, Were they screeching as each child was born and the struggle became that much harder?

I can imagine the screech of these black birds raging across the fields of different zipcodes when my grandfather finally landed the job that would save his starving family. The proud job he had worked for and after 25 years, would retire from.

Through the years, did the black birds cry out when my grandparent’s first born died later in life after having a family of his own? Did they hear my grandfather screaming out in the night in agony? Did they see the change? A man grieving his deceased son, all the while almost forgetting for a while that he had any other family, and understandably so. Did the black birds lower their screech to a whisper to pay their respects to a pain that no one would be able to take away?

Have they watched this man throughout the years age all the while grandchildren grew into adults themselves, and even great grandchildren?

Have they bowed their heads as most go on with their lives not seeing this man’s great sadness for his family, for his ailing wife?

The wife now with her own memory failing at 86, stands by his side, trying to remember what she can, day to day, to keep a routine. Bacon, eggs, biscuits. Bacon, eggs, biscuits. Sausage, eggs, biscuits. Cheese toast on the days that are just too much. Both unable to drive any longer, as per doctor’s orders. Do these black birds watch in awe of these two loves as their spirits lower each day?

And now, as the old man sits in a nursing home rehab, unsure about his coming days. His wife faithfully coming each day to be with him all day. Each time he closes his eyes to sleep, his brain seemingly empties, and he calls to each of the family for them to explain to him where he is, why he is there, and when his wife is to be with him. He cries, not understanding what’s going on. He speaks of hallucinations. The walls disappearing. The windows disappearing. People disappearing, and how he’s pretty sure that at this man’s apartment he got “dumped” at, he had to use this man’s bathroom and had to issue an apology to him. The apartment of course, being the nursing home rehab.

As though in another dimension, this old man comes in and out of this confusion as if coming down off of a twisted drug and as the day goes on, you can see pieces of the actual him return. Then, as if reliving a nightmare, this man starts over again with it all the next day.

All the while, the black birds in his ears, screeching.

I hope they haven’t told him how his family whom he has loved with every fiber, have came up with excuses of why they’re just too busy. Kind of makes you feel sorry for the old man, who his entire life, gave up anything he ever wanted to bring joy to everyone else in his life. Always at the expense of himself, and the wife at the expense of herself, only ever caring about what others thought and felt. Laying there in that bed now, seemingly alone.

In the end, the blood you bleed is just the blood you own. The heart that pumps it, is just that, a pump. It’s a simplicity that everyone tries to exaggerate throughout life until they get to the end and realize that it will quit pumping when its reached its time with no magic exaggeration to save it.

The black birds gather each day over-powering any other noise in the vacinity. Are they there waiting? He hears them. He told me again. And I hang on every word.