HOME SWEET HOME
“Here it is!” I said.
This had become a regular routine, searching for my mom’s missing mouthguard that kept her from grinding her teeth at night.
“It can’t have just walked away!” she would insist while getting ready for bed. “Goddamn it D-D, help me find it! Maybe you put it somewhere.”
“Mom, I haven’t touched it,” I’d explain. “I’ve looked everywhere. You’ll just have to sleep without it tonight.”
While my mom was frustrated by her missing mouthguard, I was equally frustrated that bedtime had stretched another 20 minutes as I picked through drawers and cabinets and pockets searching for the U-shaped piece of plastic (which, by the way, cost $500 every time I had to replace it, which, also by the way, was often).
But by April of last year, Kathy was less and less concerned with the whereabouts of her mouthguard, and more and more concerned with “going home.”
“I wanna go home,” she’d tell me. “D-D, will you please take me home?”
At first I told her she was home and she’d lived in this house for almost 40 years.
“Quit saying that. This is not my home,” she’d insist. “Why won’t you just take me home?”
Sometimes, she’d even cry.
“What does home look like?” I would ask her.
“Oh you know! It’s yellow,” she’d say. “It’s just down the street from here.”
Sometimes, I would agree to take mom home. I’d make her potty. I’d put on her coat. I’d put her in the car. And I’d start driving.
“Mind if we go to Starbucks on the way?” I’d ask. “I want a Chai tea and I’ll bet you wouldn’t turn down a mocha latte.”
“Yay!” she’d cheer. She loved Starbucks.
So we’d sit by the fire and sip our drinks and tell tall tales, and when we were finished, we’d go home.
By the time we arrived at her real-in-life-but-not-real-to-Kathy’s home, she’d be tuckered out from her coffee date and she would completely have forgotten about wanting to go to some other home, possibly her childhood home.
As the urgency to “go home” intensified, I learned to shorten the trick and just take her to the bathroom and she’d forget she had to get home. Or I’d walk her to the mailbox. Or I’d just put her coat on and take it back off and that would be enough to redirect her focus on “going home.”
As she caught on to my tricks, she had a few tricks of her own. She started getting up in the middle of the night and whispering to Arthur, “Come on Arthur, let’s go home.” As she tiptoed down the stairs, Kimmie (my niece) or Dennis (her husband) would jump up and guide her back to bed.
Neighbors were on full alert to walk Kathy home if she was found wandering. The police became familiar with our calls of the grandma escapee. We even put locks on the inside doors and windows so she couldn’t sneak out, but she was good … she figured out how to escape when we got sloppy and didn’t have the house in full lockdown while showering or having a private moment in the loo.
But eventually, a series of falls, my mother’s loss of appetite, and overwhelming depression incited me to find the right home for her and let her live in a community with a social life, 24-hour medical care, and alarms on the doors. While there’s the not-so-little part of you that dies when you “put Mom in a home,” it was so clearly the right thing to do that it’s been less traumatic than I expected. The staff at Sunrise (her home) have been phenomenal, her apartment is like a five-star hotel, and only in the beginning did she ask me to take her “home.”
Well, not completely true. She still asks me where she is and I tell her, “You’re in an apartment with 24-hour medical care. Your doctor wants you to live here while your hip heals (she has an arthritic hip).”
“It’s better,” she’ll tell me.
“OK, then let’s go home,” I say, standing her up.
“Oh, my hip, oh oh oh,” she’ll say doubled over in pain.
“Well, do you want to stay here one more night to get over that pain?”
“Oh yes I think so,” she’ll say, sitting back down.
“Oooh, cookies! Want one?” I ask, redirecting her attention from her pain and the unsettling issue of going to a home that only exists in the recesses of her mind.
“Yes! I’d love a cookie!” she glows.
It’s been almost a year since my mother first moved to Sunrise. The last time we went to Starbucks she didn’t understand where we were and her mocha latte was “horrible!” We also brought her home once for a party. I was worried she would cry and beg to stay. But she didn’t. She enjoyed herself immensely, and when I said, “Let’s go get your meds,” she got in the car and happily went to Sunrise, put on her jammies, tucked into bed, and took her evening pills.
The house is mostly empty now. Nobody from my family will live in it again. We are grown up. We own our own homes. Even our children are grown up. It’s time for the mid-1970s faux tudor home overlooking a forest at the end of a cul-de-sac on a bustling little island to welcome a new family. Yet-unborn little feet can toddle around the hardwoods. Different dinner aromas can sweeten the air. The neighbors can celebrate the Fourth of July with a new mom or dad lighting fireworks safely on the concrete.
But we are finished there.
I’ve cleaned out most of the drawers and broken clocks and unworn slippers. Updated lights have replaced the ochre and fake brass lighting. Wool-blend Berber carpets will replace the brown and gold shag carpets. Eggshell paints will disguise the cigarette-stained walls.
As I continue to sort and clean the house, I find the objects of my life – long-lost diaries, files marked “Private: DO NOT TOUCH” that carry old Teen Beat magazines; the dolls whose hair I cut and whose faces I burned on the cooktop when I was three; the hand mirror that my mother held in bed every Sunday as the morning sun revealed the stray facial hairs that needed to be plucked. The many sets of reading glasses that my father kept around the house as his eyes aged; the unopened, unused bandaids that are now yellow with time. And the mouthguard.
I go downstairs and grab Tupperware that my mother stored her mouthguard in. I run back upstairs and fill it halfway with water – as my mother always did. I place the mouthguard in the Tupperware. And I place the Tupperware on the window sill, where it belongs.