The job market in New Hampshire where I lived was very weak at the time and I really needed a change. So I packed up all my belongings and moved to the state of Florida. At the time I only had two family members living in Florida, my paternal grandparents.
Nana and Papa, were my closest living blood relatives. I tried to visit them at least once a month. It was a three-hour drive so I usually spent the weekend with them. My grandparents were a very close couple. Papa used to tell us how they met on Valentine’s Day. It was love at first sight.
When I first arrived in Florida both Nana and Papa were in pretty good shape. They would throw dinner parties. They volunteered with their church. Papa worked for H and R Block and Nana would hold open houses for a local realtor to supplement their income. Our favorite activities together were golfing and watching Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics games depending on the season. Papa and I would have a few beers while watching the games. Sometimes Nana would join us. On Sundays we would go to church.
As time went on Nana’s memory started to fade. She had developed Alzheimer’s disease. Papa did his best to keep Nana at home. He hired a string of home health aides to help them around the house. But as time went on Nana got more and more confused. This confusion led to Nana wander off from time to time. The local police started to become accustomed to picking her up and driving her home. She would have driven off, but Papa would always make sure she didn’t have the car keys. They didn’t have a silver alert system back then.
Eventually Nana’s confusion led to violent episodes. Even though her mind was going she remained physically a strong woman. In her younger years she used to arm wrestle my father’s college classmates and win. These violent outbreaks became more than Papa could handle. It broke his heart but he had to put her in a nursing home.
As far as nursing homes went this was one of the best ones I ever seen. It was clean and had a very nice common area for families to gather and spend time with their loved ones. It had an ice cream parlor and they even had church on Sundays.
Papa would visit her every day for most of the day. I would visit on weekends. We used to take Nana for walks on the property. They used to sit on a bench under and oak tree that papa would call an apple tree. He called it and apple tree because of the old song “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me”. Papa love Nana so much.
When Christmas time came Papa wanted to bring Nana home. We planned what may be our last Christmas together. I was a CNA at the time so I was more than able to take care of Nana over the holiday. So, that Christmas, my wife, Amanda, and I made the three-hour trip and the four of us spent a very nice Christmas together.
When spring arrived my brother came down for a visit. He spent most of the week with Nana and Papa. From what I’m told they had a very good time together. I picked my brother up on February 13 so we could take him to the airport the next day. Early Valentines morning the phone rang, it was Papa. Nana had passed away on Valentine’s Day; the anniversary of the day they met. Papa had lost the love of his life. He was heartbroken. My brother postponed his flight and we rushed to Papa’s side. We helped him with the funeral arrangements and the rest of the family flew in for the funeral. We picked out a dress and an urn with praying hands on it.
Now that Nana was gone I still made the trip to visit Papa as much as I could. Papa was still in good shape. We would go golfing with his friends. I could out drive them but they almost always would win the hole.
On the first trip Amanda and I made to visit my grandfather we spent the day watching sports, drinking beer and reminiscing about Nana. Papa placed the praying hands urn in Nana’s chair but moved it to the top of the television so I could sit with him. We were sitting in his living room and a bird flew up to the window and started tapping on it. I asked Papa about it and he said, “It’s a common yellow throat that has been tapping on the widow for a week or so.” I joked and said, I think Nana sent him to watch over you.”
For the next two or three years every day that bird would tap on the window. I said, “Nana must really want to keep an eye on you, Papa.” He grinned but he wiped a tear from his eye. Then one visit the bird did not show up. Papa didn’t know what happened to his friend. He or she just stopped coming.
My very next visit something peculiar happened. A cardinal started tapping on the window. This cardinal started coming every day for a few months and then stopped. He said, “Nana is still watching out for me.”
After a few months, the cardinal stopped coming. Then, to our amazement, a little chickadee started tapping on the window. The chickadee was more ambitious than the other two. One day when we were grilling in the back yard one of us opened the back door and the chickadee flew in. It flew around the house landing from time to time. It took us about an hour to guide it back out safely. Nana must have wanted to take a closer look. The chickadee continued tapping on the window daily but never tried to get back into the house again that I know of.
Papa’s health was declining and he decided he could no longer live on his own. My brother had a big house up north with an extra room so they decided he should live there and sell the house. Now being the closest relatives the task of cleaning the house fell to Amanda and me. It was our task to sort through a lifetime of Nana and Papa’s memories. So we rented a dumpster to get rid of what we couldn’t salvage. We rented a U-Haul to bring the rest of their possessions up north for the family to decide what to do with, and cleaned every inch of the house.
Now Nana’s nightstand hadn’t been touched since she passed away. I was amazed to find what was in there. I pulled out three plates with pictures of birds on them. One plate had a common yellow throat on it. One plate had a cardinal on it. And one plate had a chickadee on it. These were the very same species of birds that had been tapping on the window.
I guess Nana had a plan to keep an eye on Papa after all.
Philip Sullivan is the proud dad of a four- year- old son. He lives in St Petersburg, FL with his wife Amanda. He is an officer in the Bay Pines Toastmasters Club. He works as an RN at a veteran’s hospital.