A few weeks ago, I had some time free from caregiving, and walked through Dittos [a thrift shop]. I found a colorful metal rooster that I knew had to come home with me. There has been this connection in a way, with Les and me to chickens. I never loved them growing up on the farm; I actually detested gathering the eggs from under a “brooding” hen. But when my children were growing up, I had sewn a blue calico chicken that I stuffed into a nice fat hen, and she took her nest in a basket on the wall of the kitchen. She was part of our decor.
That was where she was supposed to stay, but the kids decided to use her in a game of “keep away” from Mom many times after mealtime. Somewhere along in my life, chickens and roosters began to be part of every house decor. Les felt quite differently about growing up with chickens. When he worked on a farm, tending the chickens was one of his favorite chores. In fact, he had one that became a pet, and she would sit on his lap while he petted her.
So when chickens appeared after we married, he critiqued each one and some became his favorites. After the loss of our house to fire, I had to find a few chickens to bring back the country in each of us. In spite of his dementia, Les would often look to the top of the kitchen cupboards to see how they were faring, and he would smile.
This past Monday, Les was admitted to a nursing home. Not because of serious changes with him, but because every joint in my body was crying out that I couldn’t keep lifting him. My own body had quit on me. It had denied me my promise to keep him home until death parts us. I hated it.
The house is empty now. His hospital bed stands in the second bedroom, but it’s empty too. I cleaned up all the other equipment we used and moved it today to the garage. It was while I was in the garage that I remembered I had never brought in the new rooster from the back seat of the car. I picked him up, grabbed the ladder, and found a place on top of the cupboards. He’s a colorful bird and stands tall and proud up there. But I look at him now, and I feel sad that Les won’t notice him there and smile. Such a silly little thing to ponder, but it becomes a symbol of what is yet to come.
Oh, Les didn’t talk much anymore, he didn’t laugh out loud, he didn’t help with anything around the house. He didn’t tell any stories. He couldn’t remember the name of the farmer who owned the farm where he had fallen in love with chickens. But he was present. Perhaps it was caring for him that gave me a purpose. He was the man I had loved for 27 years, and he was no longer here.
Tonight, I was told by a friend who had just come from a visit, that Les was in a fit of agitation when he visited. He couldn’t be quieted or reasoned with for well over 40 minutes. He had never seen anything like that with Les before. I had coped with a few episodes like it. But hearing it now leaves me sad. The nurses told our friend that when I leave, that’s when Les gets agitated. What do I do with that? I’m not there. I can do nothing from here to help.
I know that all the roosters on the cupboard will never bring my man back here to enjoy them with me and smile. All the roosters in the world cannot halt this process of aging that messes with the mind, distorts our space, and takes away the ability to cope. And all the roosters cannot take away the reality of my own aging arthritic body. Chickens and roosters: a simple symbol of the losses that I now feel and perceive are coming. But as sure as the cock crows in the A.M., I too will have to walk through and experience this and many more losses.