I don't think the home she's yearning for is a place, it's everything. Her past, her present, her mind, her life, her self...everything. Sometimes I think she can almost feel it but it's just out of reach. Like an itch she can't scratch. It's familiar but not quite right. It's here but IT'S NOT HERE. How could we possibly understand? We keep telling her she's home...
"I hate this," she says as I hold her back from following my dad outside and he closes the door in her face. I look her straight in the eyes and try not to cry. "I know, mom. I hate this too."
She knows and it breaks my heart. She's a prisoner in her own mind and body and she can't get out and SHE KNOWS. Not all the time but when she does, I just want to pull her into my arms and rock her like she used to rock me and promise her I will help take her home.
But I can't. She can't. She's here but she's not here and she wants to go home but no one can help her find her way. Sometimes I get it, I feel it for just a moment, and it totally kills me.
They say you can never go home again but that didn't stop us from trying. My sister and I left our homes and our husbands and our kids and our pets and we went home. "It'll be great," we told our dad. "Just like old times!" I'm sure he was skeptical, afraid we were staging some sort of Alzheimer's intervention, but he didn't let on. "I can't wait to see you girls..."
As much as things have changed, it actually did feel like old times. Once a family, always a family, I guess. The dynamic was very much still in tact. We laughed and cried and teased each other and shared stories and looked after one another. We found our roles - old and new - and figured out how to make it work.
We went to our favorite pub for dinner and ended up holding court the rest of the night. Every time our waitress would try to bring the check, we'd send her back for "one more" round. (Not for mom, she just hung out chugging water...). I guess we forgot how much we had to catch up on. Plus, we have this thing we do where we cry in bars. I don't know how long it's been going on but it's kind of our thing. We all do it and, while I'm sure it's super awkward for most people, I find it sort of charming. It's as close to a time honored family tradition as you can get.
We scheduled a meeting with a care counselor at the Alzheimer's Association while we were in town and it was one of the highlights of our visit. My dad wasn't sure it was necessary (he's DOING IT, all day every day...doesn't that count for something?) but I just reminded him that it wasn't for him, it was for us. Being far away is hard. Not knowing if we're on the same page, or what to expect in the future or how we can help...it makes the situation worse. We just want to do the best we can with what we've been given. How could he argue with that?
So we went, the four of us together, and it felt...victorious. There are so many things that can break a family apart - distance, time, illness, wildly different personalities, hurt feelings, the past - so just showing up TOGETHER and trying to do our best TOGETHER felt like a major win. No matter what life throws at us, I know we will work it out.
Which is what I very clearly saw in my parents this visit. They are in this together. For better, for worse, til death. I finally got it. To my dad, my mom is not a burden, she's his best friend. His partner. I saw it flash on his face when our care counselor said, "People hear Alzheimer's and they think the worst. But it doesn't have to be all bad. This is your wife, your best friend..." I heard it and I saw it and I got it. For better...for worse...
Our flight got back to Nashville really late but Bill was still up when I got home. I'm always so glad to see him. Not because of anything in particular, just because he's...home. I mean, sure he's cute and nice and successful and he made the bed and took care of the kids while I was gone and is always happy to see me - but if all that was gone, I honestly think I'd still feel the same. For better, for worse, til death. When you really love someone, so much so that you commit to spend your life with them, that love goes deeper than things you can put words to.
It's why my dad can do what he does. It seems overwhelming to me but to him it's just...home. The silences are comfortable. The dynamic is familiar. The person he loves is still in there somewhere. The things you can put words to might fade or change or disappear completely, but there's more to it than that. There has to be. If Bill could no longer talk or remember our home or do the things he used to do, I don't doubt for a second that I'd still love him. Even if he was a big hot mess I honestly think I'd still enjoy his company. He's my home, you know? I have to believe it's the same for my parents. Any why not? Life is what we make it. Why not make it the best we can.