Tag Archives: father

Christmas Lights

We have our Christmas tree set up in the back room. It used to be the back porch of our house so there is a set of windows between the back room and the dining room. From my seat here at the computer, all I can see is a dreamy spray of colored star bursts through sheer white curtains and it is very pretty.

Over ten years ago, my father moved into that room for a day. He had called me in the morning and said he couldn’t take care of himself any more and would I come and take him to the nursing home. I told him that you don’t just go to a nursing home all of a sudden and instead he could come to our house to live. His lungs had been failing for years but this day he had turned a corner and he knew in his gut that there wasn’t enough of him left to be able to live alone.

That was a very long day in which we made trips back and forth with his most necessary possessions and rearranged our house and went to the store and bought some heavy green curtains for the picture windows so he would have privacy in his new room. We didn’t have time to make meals and there was one quick trip to Burger King so we could have something in our bellies.

Evening came and he was sitting up in his bed and I was sitting in his old orange recliner looking at him and wondering how we were going to manage this. He looked at me and said, “This isn’t going to work.” So we called 911 and they came and scooped him up into a big, thick blanket and carried him out of the house like that and into the ambulance where maybe he found all the machinery and lights and activity quite exciting in spite of his fear. He told me later he thought he would die that night. In reality, he lived another 26 days.

This is the first year we have had our Christmas tree in that room. I sit in there every night in the dark, with the only light being the mini-lights from the tree, and just take it in. I sit in a rocking chair facing the wall where we had set up my father’s bed and think about that night in 2004. My thoughts always go to what I imagine he could be doing now. I always imagine him flying among the stars and planets and absorbing everything he sees in outer space. I also imagine he looks out for us and has all this amazing knowledge now that he is on the other side. I imagine he knows things he would never have figured out in life because of the limitations of his physical body with its weak lungs and his Asperger’s mind. He always wanted to understand things and I like to think that now he does.

We rarely went to church when I was growing up and I do not recall ever going to church on Christmas. I do remember the awesome anticipation of there being presents from Santa under the tree. To think that someone who didn’t even know me would go to all the trouble of flying through the night sky in a magic sleigh bringing me presents! There was no other feeling like that. It was unconditional love. Maybe that’s why it took me longer than most kids to give up on my belief in Santa. It wasn’t traumatic or anything. Eventually logic out-weighed the dream.

When our kids were little, and we were living away from home because of the military, we would sometimes have Christmas on the road. We’d sneak and pack up the presents in the trunk of the car and tell the kids that Santa would find us in our motel room and leave presents there. One year we checked into our motel room and found that my father had paid for the room ahead of time as our gift. He could be sneaky too.

It was because of my father that we attended the gatherings of our extended family for as long as we did. They are not an easy bunch to spend time with, for various reasons, but he didn’t see any of the nonsense. He was happy to sit with these cranky people and enjoyed the dinners whether they were well-cooked or not. He liked sitting with the other men watching football on TV. And he liked the long ride out into the sticks to get there and back.

If he is really out in space somewhere among the stars, and if he really has ultimate knowledge, then he understands why we don’t go to the family holidays any more (in fact there really isn’t a big family gathering any more) and he is not judging any of us for it.

Because I like sitting in there next to the tree and feeling that connection with my father, I’m tempted to say that we will have our tree in the back room every year from now on. But there really is no such thing as “from now on” and there never has been any such thing. The most I can say for sure is that we will probably set it up in there again next year and it might become our tradition for a time. That’s really the best anyone can hope for.

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Kittens

We always had cats, and sometimes kittens, when I was growing up. I loved them more than I loved anything. For years I often dreamed of cats and in those dreams the main feelings were love and a sense of peace. I wanted to be buried with my favorite stuffed cat when I died, and I wanted to come back as a cat in my next life. That’s how much I loved cats.

When we had kittens, we always gave them away when they were about six weeks old. I hated not getting to keep them. But it could have been worse. The neighbors down the street always drowned their kittens. Now I realize they probably couldn’t afford to get their cat fixed. The father hated cats and his word was law. Hence the demise of the kittens.

When I was a teenager, my mother consented to let me have my own cat. I picked out a beautiful gray boy and named him Choo Choo. One night he got hit by a car, and I found out when my sister came racing into the house and said he was flattened in the road. She was kind of giddy with this exciting news. I was crushed.

The next cat I got was a calico and she, of course, had kittens as I was too young to afford to get her fixed. They all had to live outdoors in the garage. I had started giving away the kittens but couldn’t get rid of them fast enough for my mother. One day I came home from school and all of them were gone, including the mother, my calico cat. No real warning. And not a word was said when my mother got home from work. I found out later that she had her boyfriend take them away. He said he found homes for them but I believed for a long time that he killed them.

As an adult I can have as many cats as I can care for. I have three now and that is my limit based on how much litter I want to deal with and how much annoying cat behavior I can tolerate.

Temporarily, I am also fostering two babies.

They were abandoned in a friend’s yard and were probably about a week old at that time. Nobody else could foster them as everyone else in my circle works. I knew they had to be fed every two hours and that was the extent of my knowledge of how you replace a mother cat.

Fostering baby animals is not an activity I would ever recommend to someone with depression. I’ve just about gotten through it and they have turned out damn fine if I do say so myself. But it was probably the roughest activity I could have come up with for myself during these days of healing. It was a risky thing to take on.

The first thing I discovered was that I do not exactly have a knack for taking care of baby animals. They would not eat for me at all at first!!! Here I thought my biggest issue would be waking up every two hours to feed them. Nope. The biggest problem was being awake all the time trying to figure out how to get them to eat anything at all. They might have been starving, but they were also stubborn and my efforts were met with resistance.

A friend offered to come over and show me how to do it. She has lots of experience with baby animals. She is Dr. Doolittle. Each kitten calmed down in her hands and easily ate from the syringe and it took mere moments. I was shocked.

After she left and it was my turn to try, they went right back to being overly excited. But they did eat better than before so I couldn’t really complain. But what a thing. Blind and deaf baby kittens somehow picked up my “electric” vibe just the way humans do and could not settle down in my hands even to eat.

There were several nights when I truly thought, these cats will be dead by morning. How can they go so long without eating? They could sleep and sleep. Their schedule was nothing like the suggested routine on the kitten milk container. During those long nights when I thought for sure they would die, I would mentally kick myself for even taking this on. If I had let them be, they would have died in their sleep the night they were abandoned in those frozen bushes. They wouldn’t have even known any better. Instead, I decided to bring them to my house only to starve to death at my hands.

The first day, I called around for help. I called our veterinarian and the local animal shelter. Neither place could take them off my hands but they did say that no matter what happened it would be a 50/50 chance of them living or dying. They offered other bits of advice including the one that helped me the most. “Keep them warm, let them sleep, and do your best.” That one became my mantra.

For at least the next month my priority was the feeding and care of these kittens. This meant that I accomplished next to nothing else. All my sewing projects stayed in their bags. I missed dance classes. I turned down invitations to go places. I didn’t even bother to call my mother as I knew she wouldn’t be able to work around my kitten feeding schedule and wouldn’t even support this idea of mine to do this in the first place. It was kind of a bleak time.

Fortunately, a friend offered to take them when they are grown enough so I didn’t have to keep kicking myself for taking them in and ending up owning five cats, which is too many. I didn’t have to break my promise to myself keep it at a barely manageable three cats. I do not need more things to kick myself about.

However, my next worry became: how can my friend take you guys if you refuse to eat solid food or drink milk from a bowl? Yep, I discovered that they were supposed to have started solid food at about four weeks and by six weeks should be almost done with kitten milk. OMG! Here we were still tussling over the bottle feedings at six weeks!!! I’m failing miserably at this fostering business!

Depressed people simply do not need such triggers as come with fostering baby animals. I suppose there are emotionally ill people for whom this activity would be empowering. For me, it has been another trial by fire.

The past week or so has been satisfying. They are super cute. They play, run around, do big cat things in miniature. They learned to eat and drink from bowls and one of them has litter-trained himself.

Which reminds me–Shorty! Pee Wee! Cat with the white nose! Whatever-your-name-is-or-will-be!!!! You will never be able to go to your new home if you keep refusing to use the litter box! This is not funny anymore! Get in there and do it!!!

There were times I prayed. It seemed like the best thing to ask for was, let us heal together, me and these little abandoned babies.

I would have to say that my prayer was answered in the affirmative. But it was pretty dicey along the way.

I will not search out another opportunity to foster baby animals. At one time I thought maybe taking care of animals would be a good job for me. Now I know that it is not.

Taking care of animals, or any living creature, is actually another one of those things that I can make myself do in a pinch. But it takes the kind of toll on me that I cannot afford to pay. Especially at this stage of my life where I have depleted my reserves to a dangerous level.

My reserves are so low that I think it is permanent. From now on, I need to mostly do things that will fill me up. I need to rest a lot. I need quiet. I need to not have power of life or death over any creature.

These kittens have turned out well and I think they will make good companions for my friend and her family. I don’t know if they made it because of me or in spite of me.

I feel a little bit proud. I felt a lot of shame and fear and despair and love along the way. I learned many lessons, too.

I hope I am done with the particular lessons this experience brought me. We shall see.

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