The other day Mom remarked casually, “Well, I wonder when all this…” she gestured circularly around the room,”…will be gone.” Usually she’s referring to Bickford when she makes that gesture. I asked if she meant Bickford. She did, and I asked if she thought Bickford was going to close. Mom looked at me, surprised, as if I’d missed a well-known and important fact. “Yes,” she said, but indicated she thought it would eventually reopen at a much later date. When I asked her where she was going–I already knew, and dreaded, the answer–she replied, of course, “Home,” again giving me the where-have-you-been look.
This sense that they should go home is common among the confused residents of assisted-living and nursing homes, I’m sure. The 104-year-old lady who lives next to Mom is often in front of the front door, and if I ask her where she’s going, the answer is the same: home. Home, of course, where most of us like to be if there is any shred of comfort or sense of safety and peace there. I once continued the conversation, asking her who would be there–this question was an attempt to “enter her reality,” as some dementia experts suggest. It would be her mother, she said, the most wonderful person she had ever known. The house was white, her mother would be cooking, and it was easy for me to imagine the scene from a turn-of-the-twentieth-century home, nearly 100 years ago.
Mom, though. I asked her which home she meant: Wheaton, IL, where most of her growing-up years took place? Or 711, her home for 53 years? She hung her head for a moment at the mention of 711. “That’s gone, I know,” she said softly. I agreed that it was, my heart aching for her, and asked if she remembered why they had moved from 711? I enumerated the reasons: it was getting too hard to cook, shop, clean, launder, pay bills, do house maintenance and repair, etc., etc., which I’ve told her in similar conversations before. One thing both Mom and Dad seem to have always known is that you have to face reality, that much of the time reality is no fun, and that you just have to tough it out and be brave and uncomplaining about it. In my parents’ cases, I’m afraid they have been a little too ready to accept a negative–Dad deciding he could never move from a chair again unless an aide was with him (NOT true, and he gets around well, now), or at the VERY extreme, my mother telling herself that once my brother had left for college, she would probably not see him again.
I also reminded Mom that we knew that both she and Dad were ready to move to a facility that would take over the chores that were too hard, and that we were so happy to find Bickford because Coco could live there, too. Mom smiled, and we both agreed that Coco is a GOOD dog; we looked at her, lying comfortably on the floor. Then I went on to say that Bickford was not closing, and that, for better or worse, Bickford is her home, that this–I gestured as she did–is her room, and that the pictures over the bed of her babies (four of us, all photographed at age one) were there to remind her that this is her home. Mom, as always accepted this. “We’re sorry, so sorry,” I said, “that you can’t be in your home anymore. If you could, we would make it happen, Mom. But you can’t, and Bickford is the best alternative. This is why [my sister] and I come to visit so often, to remind you that you are loved, wherever you live.” “And I love you,” Mom said. I know you do, Mom. You make me feel loved ever day.