VIOLA - I’ve often heard the saying, ‘Home is where the heart is,’ but is it?
Last weekend, my family worked like oversized ants and in five hours moved my mom’s belongings from the apartment she’d lived in for the past three years into her new assisted-living home. While Mom was spending her last day in a dungeon-like care center, where she’d been receiving rehab for a broken arm, the result of a fall, we hung her pictures and shower curtain, folded her afghan over her lift chair, carried in her red loveseat, washed her bed linens and made her bed, watered her plants and arranged them, and organized her drawers. We also bought fresh fruit, cleaned off her toaster, made sure she had peanut butter, and placed a bouquet of flowers in her favorite vase on the kitchen table.
We were excited for Mom. She would have a lovely apartment with three nutritious, home-cooked meals a day, and if she needed help, any at all, she could push a button on a cord around her neck and the friendly, professional staff would assist her.
After getting Mom settled, I was surprised when the staff invited us to stay for a fish and shrimp dinner. We dined at round polished wood tables decked in white linens and flowers, with Mom and 19 other folks who live in the facility. My heart swelled to have found such a wonderful home for her.
Mom mentioned she wasn’t happy to have to dine with a bunch of old people. Trying for levity, I pointed out that she was 92 and might well be the oldest. “I am not!” she scowled. My heart deflated as she declared the soup cold and asked to go back to her room. Mom was tired and wanted to go to bed. As I tucked her in we practiced using the call button. I kissed her goodnight, turned off the light, and closed the door to her new home.
Weeks earlier, my niece had moved her mom—my sister, Jill—into her new homeat a memory care facility in Waterford, Wisconsin. Sam took a lot of care to move Jill’s family photos and favorite keepsakes. Jill, who suffers from early Alzheimer's, had been living independently in a home she had owned for 16 years. Falling, confusion, and forgetfulness made it unsafe for her to remain there.
The morning after we moved my mom, Dane and I drove to Waterford to visit Jill. She came out to greet us wearing a long, bright blue skirt and a slim gray sweater that matched her thick, wavy gray hair.
“How did you do that?!” Jill cried, coming toward me with open arms. “How did you surprise me?”
Sitting hip to hip on the couch in one of the many sitting rooms, I handed Jill a copy of my book, ‘Finnegan’s Springtime Guide.’ She held it upside down, studying it intently as I pointed to Sandhill cranes, bluebells, and marsh marigolds. Jill clapped for the flowers.
We walked the hallway to her room, which she calls ‘my house.’ I asked Jill how she was doing; as always, she replied, “Oh, not so good, but how are you? Tell me about what you do.”
I commented on her newly manicured nails. She sat up straighter, crossed her arms, and told me she was a model and that “They do that here.” Enjoying the moment, I snapped a few pictures and we shared a few laughs.
When it was time to leave, we stopped at the front door and I told Jill I’d be back next weekend to visit. I asked if there was anything she’d like me to bring her.
“You,” she answered. “Just you.”
The attendant kept my sister from following me out. Jill’s eyes were red and wet with tears. They matched mine.
Before heading home, we visited my mom again. She was sitting in her chair after a sleepless first night in her new home. She wasn’t happy with the way we’d arranged her apartment. There were too many pictures on her wall, and she’d had to eat breakfast with those peoplewhom she couldn’t even understand. When I asked what they’d served for breakfast she replied, “A cold hamburger.”
I moved plants and rearranged knickknacks, tried to locate her glasses, and talked with Mom while she ate her lunch in her room, of turkey, mashed potatoes, and green beans. But mostly I listened to how horrible everything was there. After all, it wasn’t the home she had left when she had her fall.
Finally, exhausted, I kissed her goodbye and told her I’d be back next weekend.
“Lock my door,” she said. “Why do they keep leaving my door open? I want it locked.”
On the way out, I stopped in the kitchen and asked what they had served for breakfast. “Homemade blueberry muffins, eggs, hash browns, and fresh fruit. Your mom ate well.”Turning onto County SS, the last leg of this whirlwind weekend trip, Dane and I were greeted by a flock of turkeys and more deer grazing in the cornfield than I could count. We passed my friend’s house and in her front yard were two Sandhill cranes. Smiling, I knew my homeis where my heart is. But sometimes, it’s only where you hang your hat.