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.