"Look at the female cardinal, Mom!"
Mom followed the direction of my finger as we marveled at the bird's appearance. The cardinal sat perched on her only leg—just like Dad.
My parents had been living with our family for five months when we noticed a small blood blister on Dad's big toe of his right foot. This was a serious concern as Dad was an insulin-dependent diabetic. Eventually, that tiny sore led my mom, dad, and me through an emotional journey fraught with heart-wrenching decisions, and eventually to an unthinkable operation—the amputation of his right leg below the knee.
While Mom and I sat on the lanai, Dad lay in a hospital bed at a rehabilitation center. We were all exhausted.
Exhausted because Dad hallucinated after the surgery, leading us to believe he'd lost his mind. Exhausted because he was angry and unkind to us and to the aides. Exhausted because my strong, outgoing, passionate father had become weak, introverted, and dull.
Where is my daddy?
Sitting on the porch that morning, I recalled the verse in which the apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in everything. I wondered what Mom and I could rejoice over, what we could celebrate. We knew that Dad wasn't progressing. One infection after another continued to plague him. Eventually, these infections led to another operation, taking the same leg above the knee. We knew that the above-knee amputation would significantly affect his rehabilitation. We also knew my 76-year-old father would probably never walk again.
The days trudged forward. Each morning, Mom and I continued our coffee ritual on the porch. The one-legged cardinal continued to visit our yard and feed with her mate. Often her partner ventured on to another feeder and brought back her sustenance, while she waited. He fed her. She devoured the seeds.
The thought came to me, and after a moment I said, "Mom, why don't I try putting birdseed on Dad's windowsill?"
My Own Rehabilitation Program
It was a thought from God. Dad had always been an avid over-the-edge bird-watcher. As a teenager, I was embarrassed when he'd stop the car in traffic and pull out his handy binoculars to view a particular species of bird. My mind went back to one particular day.
"There's a yellow-bellied sapsucker! First one I've ever seen in the wild!" He cut across traffic and pulled onto the median as I sunk down into the seat.
I don't care about the yellow-bellied sapsucker. I'm concerned about the red-blooded, football player, my 15-year-old self thought as my shoulders caved in. I pulled my coat collar close to my face and ducked under the dashboard, pretending to pick up an imaginary item from the floorboard.