I was just 12 years old when my cheerleading team visited the nursing home. I remember that day as clear as can be. There were about twenty of us, dressed in our cheerleading jumpers with black panthers on the front. I had on slouchy socks and my new saddle shoes (I miss those shoes!). We cheered, we jumped, we did cartwheels and more. Our team was a big hit at the nursing home.
When we finished our routines, we each went up to the residents and thanked them for having us. I walked up to a women in a wheelchair to offer my thanks. She gently grabbed my hand, and said she loved the show. Then her grip got a bit stronger and she spoke about having me over to her house. She kept saying, “When I get home…” She was going to knit me a blanket when she got home. She was going to make me dinner when she got home. We would do a puzzle when she got home. The more she spoke, the tighter her grip got. The more she spoke, the more my heart broke.
I knew even at 12 years old, she was not going home. I knew that this nursing home was now her home. She either did not know, or did not want to know. What is clear to me now, that was the day that I knew I would try my hardest to keep my parents in their home. What has become clearer to me now, after going through Dementia and Alzheimer’s with first my grandmother and now my Mom is that home is not always a physical place. When my grandmother would say she wanted to home, she was talking about the home she had as a child. When my mother says she is going home, she is talking about the person she used to be. That saying, “Home is where the heart is” is so true. Each person has a different definition of home, though I think what they have in common is being a safe comfortable place. Now, when my Mom says she is going home, I say ok. I know she just wants to feel safe.