Doctor My Eyes

17 04 2009

dsc_00061Yesterday was another one of those bittersweet days.  There is something about going so deeply into someone’s personal belongings that is a little disconcerting.  An empty white plastic container of personal hygiene wipes now filled with about eight different sizes and kinds of plastic bottle caps, an empty (thank GOD) 1 oz. portion cup of maple syrup stolen from his favorite restaurant, and four beautiful shells he probably got from a trip to Florida a dozen years ago.  Once it was all sorted (the shells saved – the rest tossed) it got to me again that here I was erasing the very quirkiness of who he was.

In a dresser drawer I found all of the copies of Stars & Stripes (the military newpaper) he’d saved from when he was visiting us in Spain back in the early 90’s.  There was nothing special about them – we’d get them from friends in the military just for fun…but to him it must have been reminders of coming to see us.

He was a lover of gadgets – every kind of AM/FM transistor radio, gazillions of pocket calculators and multiple pairs binoculars.  Lots and lots of sizes and shapes of binoculars.  Packing up for a Cubs game was never without a pair per person.  In later years they were readily available all over the house for birdwatching.  Today they are all on one place, still in his room – those don’t get tossed into the contractor’s grade black bags I’ve come to love. Yesterday the count was three for the garbage and three for Goodwill.  Woo-Hoo!!

dsc_0044During the search and rescue effort, I stumbled on this set of very unique binocular glasses.  You don’t even have to trouble yourself to hold them up to your eyes…that was Billy – finding a way to make taking the long view just a little easier.

Taking the long view isn’t easy when I spend time each week disassembling his life.  Last weekend when the “grounds crew” from the church were doing their thing – they took care of a biggie.  The Mrs. had been after Billy for YEARS to trim back the horribly overgrown bush from the side of the house.  He wouldn’t hear of it.  To him – it was no eye sore, or wretched inconvenience to mow around…it was his bird sanctuary.  In it hung his hand made (fashioned from things discarded for other uses) bird feeder.

In the last half dozen years the dementia made it harder and harder to address things that at one point in his life we would have been able to reason with him about.  So we let things go – knowing there would come a day that we could take care of things and not upset the apple cart at the same time.

So when she knew people armed with chain saws and safety glasses were at her beck and call, it was one of the things on the Mrs.’ wish list. When all the gear was packed up and all the brush hauled away (the very sight of half ton trucks driving on the lawn would have put him in the ground anyway), I stood at the window and looked at the raw scar on the ground.  I felt so guilty.  I felt like such a traitor.  I had a knot in my throat and I whispered, “I’m sorry Billy”.

During the course of the days I was back in the North I spent a number of nights battling the demons of insomnia as my mind was racing around all the things yet to be done in the battle of the basement.  Not so much the things that can be done with a little bit of elbow grease but the things that are beyond that and may mean some big fixes – again, something that Billy would never let us tackle.  When I get to that point of seeing a mountain – I remember that it helps to just Baby Step…what things can I do that will make me feel better right now…

I had to come up with a solution for the flocks that had just been made homeless.  Poor things – for years they fed there outside that window in that ugly bush – and in a matter of minutes they were left high and dry.  I told the Mrs. I’d get her a shepherd’s hook and we’d put the feeder there.  Then when I was there yesterday – I see in two different spots around the yard are two hooks – I could easily relocate one and not even have to spend the money for a new one.

She had a better idea.  Why not just use the weeping japanese cherry tree outside the kitchen and dining room windows?  She’d see it more often as she stands at the kitchen sink or sits out back.  So before I came home yesterday, I found a little branch where the feeder rested secure.

Just a while ago my cell phone rang and as is the instant reaction of my soul when I see her number on my caller ID and I’m a mere two hours north- my heart turns over once in my chest while I un-tense the muscles constricting my vocal chords – I try to answer like I haven’t a care in the world…

“They’re here!!!  They found it!!!  I was cleaning some windows (groan…how does an 82 year old have the energy for that when I might be lucky to get ours cleaned once a year!!!) and I heard a big fluttering commotion!  They’re all at the feeder!”

What a relief!  I’ll probably sleep like a baby tonight (hopefully not like my kids slept…3 hour stretches).  I’m glad in the long run that we didn’t have to cause Billy any more mental anguish than he was already in – to push for a different view on some things.  I’m also glad to see that the Mrs. isn’t afraid of change.  There really are things that need attention and at least she’s not sitting in a puddle of tears not letting go of things. So I’m gonna keep these binocular glasses close at hand for when I need a long view.

billy’s birds and scary squirrels

12 09 2008

Early last spring, I got to my folks on a Saturday and found my dad out in the yard in his pajama pants, ball cap too big for his head, and short sleeved v-neck t-shirt head chasing around in the yard with a broom held up over his head like a crazy man.  “I’m gonna get them!  I’m gonna get them!,” he yelled.  “Gonna get who?”, I wondered out loud. 

Somewhere in post-retirement, Billy got into birds.  It was a great hobby – they collected beautiful wood carvings to hang in their kitchen, magazines and bird watching primers were always close at hand for identification and binoculars were amassed.  On the south side of the house there is a hugely overgrown honeysuckle bush – monstrously deformed and sprawling.  A personal aviary.

He had made what he considered the best anti-squirrel design for feeding his little tweeties.  But the fates, super-squirrels and/or a design flaw was really frustrating him.  Something was keeping his fine feathered friends at bay and by spying through the window, he had solved his mystery.  

The squirrels were eating all the birdseed.  So seeing that the broom routine really wasn’t cutting it (I could hear all the squirrels and their twittering little laughs making fun of him) we had to come up with an alternate plan.  Thank God for the internet or I’d still be in the library.  Of course, on line I could find hundreds of birdfeeders designed to be 100% guaranteed squirrel proof.  He’d have no part of it.  “That stuff is for the birds…”

Next we tried a scarecrow…motion sensored, glassy eyed big owl.  We set it up on the ground under the bush – and after a bit checked on it to find that those cheeky squirrels had knocked it over (not really but that’s what Billy thought).  He fanagled a way to suspend it from the bush making it look like it was  “flying”.  Again – a wash.

Soon enough the dementia demons had distracted him to the point that he forgot all about feeding the peeps.  For the better part of 3 months no one has been paying attention to the birdy buddies.  My conscience has been bothering me…it takes two minutes to fill the coffee can with the small tin can and walk it around to the far side of the house.  That was a priority for my visit this time (and to have our phone interview with social security).  I wonder how long it will take for them to come back.  I did leave about a half a loaf of moldy bread under the bush the other day and there is not a crumb left to show for it.  Proof that we have squirrels or birds coming back.

This new chore will get added to the calendar’s ‘to do’ list as soon as we understand what garbage goes in which garbage can…recycling is tough at 81.  She loves working in the yard and if I can keep her from chopping down the aviary and even if she doesn’t have Meals on Wheels goodies to share with the squirrels/cat/birds/raccoon or whatever is snacking, she can handle the birdseed.

Yesterday I was thinking about how many people have mentioned knowing my dad by his whistle and I haven’t heard it for years.  As I was thinking about that – I heard a cardinal chirp out.  No, I’m not thinking he’s come back as a feathered friend – that’s for the birds!