“Take me home,” he begs.
Every time I hear my father utter those words; my heart breaks. Sadness clings to me like day old rice when I think that my father can't recline in his own chair nor sleep in the bedroom he’s shared with my mother for over fifty years.
My father is in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and like a thief in the night, this relentless disease has robbed him of his independence. A year ago, my mother made the agonizing decision to move him to a nursing home. His increasing confusion along with deteriorating health forced our family to agree he needed more care than my mother could offer.
Dad’s home is his castle. Like most men from his generation, he considers ownership a sign of prestige – proving he could provide for his family. As a child, I watched him tackle meticulous remodeling projects. Paneling replaced wallpaper – a carport materialized over a driveway – a bathroom appeared where once stood a closet. His improvements increased my pride not only in the place where I brought home friends but in my father, too.
Due to conflicting schedules, I had seen my father only once since his most recent illness and subsequent move to the facility. I feared my visit would be more difficult than the last because his demands to go home had increased alongside his dementia.
I worried how he would greet me. In his cubicle of a room, a shrunken version of the man who raised three daughters acknowledged me with a slight hug. I wanted to rush from the room but the duty to explain to my father why he could never return home fell on my shoulders.
His words came quickly.
“Why can’t I go home? I paid for it!”
Gnarled hands clenched in his lap while his jaw set as though prepared for battle. He viewed me as the enemy – but in reality, I was the daughter who was sad he was there and only wanted the best for both my parents. In that awful moment, I had become the person preventing him from rocking on his front porch - the person preventing him from soothing his sweet tooth with his hidden stash of candy bars - the person keeping him from enjoying ballgames on a Sunday afternoon.
I’d traveled two thousand miles to tell my father he could never go home, but all I really wanted to do was throw myself into his arms and beg his forgiveness. I wanted to take back my role as the daughter who brought him bread from the local deli –the daughter who beamed when he complimented me on my latest cooking disaster – and the daughter who helped him paint the garage one more time. I didn’t want to be the daughter who now had to tell him his disease had taken over his life.
As each word spilled from my mouth, his eyes clouded further. Once more Alzheimer’s cruel hand had robbed him – this time of his ability to fully understand the most important change in his life.
“I’ll call a lawyer.”
His fingers clutched his blanket in rhythmic clasps. Tears that were mirror images of my own welled in his eyes. The man, who proudly served in WWII, was now fighting his hardest battle yet – the right to live in his own home.
Everyone in the room knew he’d lost the war except him.
“We’ll help Mom take care of the house,” I promised. He turned his head and bit down on his lips.
“I want to go home,” he pleaded.
I bent down for a hug from a man who had lived his entire adulthood on the same street. Because of cruel fate, he would live the remainder of his life in a place he always feared.
“You are home Dad,” I whispered through my tears.
My husband drove me back to the house I grew up in. Memories of my father rushed back at me. His manicured shrubs greeted me as they had for decades. The pillows I quilted for a birthday present still cradled the imprint of his head.
Alzheimer’s stole my father’s ability to live in his home, but it didn’t rob my family of our memories. Someone once wrote ‘Home is where the Heart Is.’ I believe those words were meant for me because my heart will carry Dad’s memories forever.
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