As most of you know, my husband and I temporarily moved to Fort Rucker, Alabama about one year ago so that he could attend flight school and pursue his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot. Since then, I have tried to go home to visit my Mom and Dad about every two months. So far, there has been only one time that I went longer than two months without going home to visit. That was due to a cracked out, bat-shit crazy dog sitter, who caused me to cancel my trip home entirely and reschedule it. I ended up going a little over three months without seeing my Mom and that was too long. The dog sitter has since been replaced and I’ve been able to go home exactly every two months since April. Although I am very grateful to be able to see my Mom so often, these trips home can be very stressful. Granted, I don’t HAVE to go home every two months, but, at the same time, I HAVE to go home every two months. So, I choose to endure the stress and pack my suitcase every two months. Why is it so stressful, you ask? Allow me to enlighten you.
First of all, I have major, crazy-ass, mental-patient, should-probably-be-on-meds-but-I’m-not OCD. The laundry, the packing, the unpacking, the repacking, the unpacking again, and the laundry again routine is enough to make me the next Girl, Interrupted. It drives me insane. No matter how many trips I take or suitcases I pack, it always stresses me out beyond belief. Not to mention the fact that I come home to a house that my husband has been living in freely, without restrictions, for a whole week. It takes me at least two days to do my laundry, pack, and get everything in order for my trip. I try to take care of everything before I leave so that my husband doesn’t have to worry about anything while I’m gone. He can just focus on flying and studying. Then, it takes me at least another two days to get my house back in order (to my standards), unpack, do my laundry, and decompress when I get back from my trip. Yeah, I know, I’m crazy. I’m always the first one to admit it. I own my craziness, so you bitches don’t have to talk about me behind my back. I’m the 2007 version of Britney Spears, except it’s 2015 and there will be no comeback for me.
Aside from my OCD struggles, there are other factors that contribute to the stress. Being that my Mom has Alzheimer’s, my trips home are an emotional fucking rollercoaster. Staying at your parents’ house for a week is one thing, but staying at their house for a week when your mom has Alzheimer’s is another. I don’t know if the average person knows what these trips home are like for me. I mean, some people probably think that going home to visit my parents is like an episode of 7th Heaven. It’s not. My Mom doesn’t clean my room, fluff my pillows, and make me breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. She doesn’t make me my favorite home-cooked meal and take me shopping for new clothes. We don’t play board games together and paint each other’s nails. I don’t go home so that my Mom can pamper me and take care of me. It’s quite the opposite. I go home to take care of her. Not that I know how to cook anything or paint my nails, but still, you get the point. She needs help with basically everything at this point. And so, my trips home usually go a little something like this.
I arrive at the Philadelphia Airport, head to baggage claim, and step outside to meet my parents, who always pick me up. Without fail, a big, huge wave of depression and sadness hits me like a bus. You would think that I would be excited to see them. I am excited to see them, but I never know what to expect. In between trips, I call my Mom every couple of days, but that’s totally different than being right there, in front of her. I never know if her condition is going to be noticeably worse or if she’s having a good day or a bad one. I never know how hard it’s been on my Dad that day or what kind of mood he’s going to be in. I never make plans with anyone for the first or second day that I’m home because I want to spend time with my Mom and Dad. For some reason, knowing that I’m going to be spending the next 48 hours with them makes me feel like I’m stuck and suffocating. Harsh, but true. Sure, I could easily make plans with friends for the first or second day that I’m home, but I don’t want it to feel like I’m running off the minute I get off the plane. So, I just deal with it. I let the wave of depression and sadness hit me and I submerge myself in it. I let it surround me and wash over my head, for I know, like all waves, that this one will pass.
Once the depression has faded and we’ve arrived at my parents’ house, I endure the stress of unpacking my suitcase. While I know that I don’t have to unpack, I like to do it anyway. My parents’ house has become one hell of a disorganized and cluttered mess since my Mom got Alzheimer’s. Unpacking my bag, putting my clothes in the drawers and hanging them in the closet, and lining my shoes up neatly in a row, allows me to feel some sense of control and organization. Once everything is in its place, it calms me. I immediately feel more settled in and relaxed. Although the process of unpacking is stressful to me, I know that it will be worth it once I’m done. After I unpack, I usually make a trip to ShopRite to load up on the essentials for the next week. My parents have hardly any food in their house and a lot of it is stuff that I don’t eat anyway, so I always make a trip to the store myself. Plus, anyone who knows me well knows that ShopRite donuts are my drug of choice. They are a must for my first night home, along with my favorite pizza from Marino’s. Feeling fat and happy after eating all of my favorites, I start to feel better. But, I know that the feeling won’t last long because each trip is filled with many high and lows.
The highs are getting my hair cut and colored along with my Mom, having dinner with my home girls, and the tradition of breakfast and shopping with my bestie. The highs are taking my Mom to the park, making her laugh, and hearing her say that she never wants to leave. The highs are quizzing her on her ABC’s, 123’s, and spelling and seeing how proud she is when she gets the answer right. The highs are when my Mom lets me help her change into her pajamas and tuck her into bed at night, and when she helps me do the laundry and clean the house. She is always so proud of herself for being able to help out and contribute. The highs are when she raves about the PB&J that I made her for lunch or when I’m able to get her to eat something for breakfast, even though my Dad can’t. The highs are watching Homeward Bound and Marley & Me with her and dancing to Elvis. The highs are when she is laughing and I know that she is happy. The highs are when she is present, in the moment, fully knowing who I am, who she is, and how we are related to each other. Nothing is better than having a real conversation with my Mom. It doesn’t happen often, but, when it does, it is pure happiness.
Of course, with all of the highs come just as many lows, if not more. The lows are not being able to have a real conversation with my Mom because she doesn’t understand what the hell I’m talking about. The lows are when she forgets who I am, who she is, and how we are related to each other. We could spend the whole day together, but if we are apart for more than five minutes, she might completely forget who I am or how I got there. The lows are when my Mom doesn’t know her sister’s name or who she is, even though we are sitting right next to her and have been with her all day. The lows are having to hold my Mom’s hand and lead her to the bathroom, the back porch, or her bedroom in her own house every time she wants to go somewhere. The lows are when my Mom says she wants to go sit on the back porch with my Dad, so I take her there, but once we’re there, she’s too cold and wants to go back inside. Then, when she’s back inside and sitting in the living room again, she says that she wants to go sit on the porch with my Dad. I lead her to the porch every single time, even though I know that she will be too cold and I’ll be leading her right back inside. The lows are having to cut her pizza, sandwich, or other food up into small pieces so that she will be able to eat it. The lows are listening to my Mom give my Dad a hard time because he hasn’t been spending any time with her, even though he’s been with her all day. The lows are when my Mom cries and says that she’s tired of being alone all the time because she doesn’t realize that my Dad or I have been with her all day. The lows are looking at my Dad and seeing sadness, depression, loneliness, and desperation in his eyes. The lows are listening to my Dad whining, begging, and pleading with my Mom to try to get her to do something as simple as walk into another room. The lows are watching my Mom struggle to find her words, the refrigerator, the bathroom, or a chair. The lows are when we’re walking back to the car after having a nice morning at the park and a stranger says hello to us, but my Mom thinks that it’s her mom. She doesn’t understand how her mom got there or why she’s there. Even after trying to convince her otherwise, she still thinks that this stranger is her mom and she won’t let it go. The lows are having to take care of my Mom as if she were my child instead. The lows are realizing that she can no longer do yet another thing that she was once able to do and knowing that her condition is getting worse. But, by far, the worst of the lows is when she knows that something is wrong with her and she becomes embarrassed or apologetic over something that she did. That is like the sharpest fucking knife in the world stabbing me right in my fucking heart. The pain is unbearable.
Looking at my list, there seems to be many more lows than there are highs. When the lows hit, it’s really low, but when the highs come around, it is SO HIGH. Nothing makes me feel better than the sound of my Mom’s laughter and the smile on her face. She lights up like a little girl on Christmas. Still, there are multiple times during my trip that I call or text my husband and say things like, “I’m so fucking over this,” “I’m ready to come home,” “I can’t take this anymore,” or “Fucking kill me.” Even though I can be overwhelmed at times, I’m always sad to head back to the airport and leave my parents. I know that I will miss them and I’m sad that I won’t be there to help out for a while. I worry about them all the time. I usually break down crying at some point during my first or second day back in Alabama. Yesterday was not a good day for me. Like I said before, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. I could easily stay at my own house back in Delaware whenever I go home to visit, but I choose not to. My house is all closed up and practically empty inside, plus there’s no cable or Wi-Fi. I choose to stay with my parents so that I can be there 24/7 to help out and to give my Dad a break. My trips home are not meant to be a vacation or a break for me. My trips home are not about ME. They’re about HER. They’re about HIM. The two people who gave me life, raised me, and have always taken care of me. Now it’s my turn to give back and I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.