I loved that picture so much that I taped it to the side of a wardrobe in my parents’ guest room. That was four years ago.
Facing the bed, this picture is the first thing I see when the gentle song of a robin wakes me up each morning and the last thing before I close my eyes at night.
Everywhere in Dad’s house are hidden traces of his dementia.
Layers of gathered paper cover the huge dining room table. Bills and reminders. Some urgent with red ink that screams first or second notice. Dad’s paper work. Nobody, least of all I, anticipated my well-organized father to lose control over his previously meticulous bookkeeping. What once was a well-groomed flowerbed, has turned into a jungle.
I have to find my way through it. Avoidance doesn’t make the heap shrink. An official document grants me permission to get rid of weeds and stranglers that have taken over his table and life. The weight of this permit has multiplied ever since Dad and I signed on the dotted line.
I take a deep breath and look through the patio door and windows, all slightly ajar. A morning breeze from the mountains refreshes the stale air in the large room, a reminder of ancient books and closed windows overnight. Outside, dew sparkles on grass blades. Pink peony heads shake off droplets of last light’s rain. Bluish-green dragonflies shaped like helicopters pursue their prey. Giggles and shrieks from teenagers on their way to school bring my focus back.
I pull out one letter after another and start sorting. A system, a strategy reveals itself the further I advance. The result are neat stacks left and right of a clearing.
With no Internet connection in this house, the telephone is my immediate ally.
Another kind of jungle starts, even more daunting than the first: After not having lived in my home country for 28 years, I have to figure out an entire palette of policies and guidelines from various insurers, banks, and service providers. They all differ. My head spins. I order myself a break and go to the mailbox.
My soul rejoices in the scent of freshly mowed grass. Rays of sunshine caress my face, my bare forearms. Amidst a cacophony of bird voices, I catch the repetitious call of a cuckoo in the distance. Every cell of my body longs to stay outside and go for a walk!
My hand opens the mailbox.
A bunch of rectangular envelopes greets me. Red flags go up in my head, my stomach churns the second I read the senders’ names. I take in another deep breath and let my distress go with the exhalation. I have to postpone my urge for movement. Offices are still open for business before their lunch break. Time to put some calls behind me.
I return to my makeshift office. Frustration, and anger bubble up when I open the new mail. Obligations that I believed fulfilled require additional paperwork, or have been replaced by more bills, notices, and friendly reminders. Clearing the jungle’s undergrowth had only dislodged broken trunks and branches which have become new traps.
No time for self-pity, I need to keep weeding. With another deep breath, I dial the first number on my list. And find myself entering yet another jungle: the game of answering automated questions by pressing buttons in between and/or waiting on hold for an actual human voice to interrupt the repetition of the same music.
My eyes wander to Mom’s flower beds. How well-tended they once were! Ever since she died, Dad and his occasional house keeper have removed the worst weeds, but they can’t keep up with nature’s ingenuity. Mom’s flowerbeds resemble a colorful marriage of intention and chaos, resulting in a natural habitat for more species than ever.
“Thank you for your patience! How can I be of service today?” A friendly voice on the other end of the line awards my patience. “Please pretend I come from Mars and have no clue about how things work here …” I start my usual apology about not being familiar with company regulations. To my own surprise, people are amused by my introduction, which opens the door to be frank and honest. More often than not, people react with understanding and helpful advice to my conundrum. The clearing continues.
While offices are closed for lunch, I grab my laptop and set out for a steep hike. Business correspondence needs printing. A friend has agreed to let me use his printer at no cost. Although well-trained, my muscles moan a little when forced up and down all these inclines at such a fast pace. I don’t mind this physical exhaustion in the hope it might improve my sleep that night. My loose-fitting blouse is damp by the time I reach the top of the last hill. The church clock sounds three times. I am early. I slow down and ponder briefly whether to stop at our family grave before this visit. The graveyard is only a couple hundred yards away from my friend’s house. I decide to do it afterwards. The magnificent solitude of this location overlooking the entire lake and surrounding mountains invites people to linger.
Hours later, laughter and dance music from a beach festival float through the wide open balcony door while I feed the machine. With the annoyance of a dentist’s drill, metal teeth slice a writer’s lifelong creations. Draft after draft, chapter after chapter, folder after folder, each one archived with purpose, turn into white curls. These paper piles have a disturbing resemblance to heaps of human curls during WWII. An intermittent stream out of exhausted eyes moistens the curls until they almost dissolve. Space for more! Within no time, thousands of curls fill the large blue recycling bin. With the latter being emptied only once a month by the city, I realize that there will be many trips to the recycling center in order to properly empty trash bag after trash bag filled with these shredded carcasses.
Daylight makes its exit. I lift my head from the destruction and look outside.
Post-sunset gives mountains and lake a rose-colored hue.
Late flocks of water birds dive over the roof and into the reeds.
Three bats of different sizes circle the backyard in pursuit of insects.
A hedgehog looks for ants on the patio.
The moon’s crescent appears behind towering evergreens.
Another day put to rest.
Time to withdraw to the guest room and its ominous picture. Who is my father indeed?
About the author
Anja Kerstin Kuentzel,
Advanced Grief Recovery Method specialist, nature lover, photographer, and bilingual wordsmith combines her passions to offer a different perspective on life that might inspire, raise awareness or even heal.