I just returned from my first trip back home to visit my mom and dad. I must admit, I was a nervous wreck heading to the Tampa airport to catch my flight, so much so that I parked in the wrong parking garage. I was supposed to park in the cheap parking garage, but I somehow ended up in the charge-you-an-arm-and-a-leg parking garage. Oops! My mom, on the other hand, had no idea that I was coming home. In fact, she has no idea that I even moved away in the first place. I hadn’t seen my mom in over two months and I was worried about how she would react to seeing me. I was also nervous about how I would react to seeing her. Would she remember me? Would she be a lot worse than the last time I saw her? I was a hot mess just a couple of months ago when we left for Florida. Over the last two and a half months, I’ve worked hard to accept this move and I’ve come to a place of peace with everything. Would I be able to maintain that level of acceptance and peace after seeing my parents? Only time would tell.
A big decision I had to make when planning this trip was where to stay. My parents have plenty of room at their house, but it wouldn’t be practical for me to stay there. I’ve dealt with the stress and emotions of staying at their house a few years ago when I would come home from Alabama to visit. It was emotionally exhausting and it always took me a few days to recover when I returned to Alabama. Plus, things are a lot different now than they were back then. For one thing, my parents sleep on the first floor now. We moved their bed downstairs several months ago because my mom could no longer go up the stairs. We turned the front living room into a bedroom for them. My mom hasn’t been upstairs since Christmas time. Since there is no shower on the first floor, my mom gets a “bird bath” in the powder room downstairs now. I knew that it would be impossible for me to walk up and down the stairs without disturbing my mom while she was sleeping. And, I didn’t want to disrupt her normal daily routine, as having a routine is extremely important for people with Alzheimer’s. I was also afraid that my mom wouldn’t know who I was and would wonder why a stranger was staying in her house. I didn’t want her to get upset and agitated, thinking that I was my dad’s girlfriend or something like that. As guilty as I felt for not staying with my parents, I figured that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed somewhere else. I was happy when my Aunt Diane invited me to stay at her house, which is what I decided to do.
I went to my parents’ house for the first time the morning after I arrived in Delaware. My mom didn’t know my name or who I was, but I could instantly tell that she knew me, if that makes sense. I could tell that my voice and the way I talked were familiar to her. I could tell that she felt comfortable being around me and that I didn’t feel like a stranger to her. It felt as though we were simply picking up where we left off and for that, I was grateful. Another thing that I found comforting was that it didn’t seem as if much had changed since I had last seen my mom. She appeared to be in pretty much the same state and condition as she was when I left over two months ago. She looked exactly the same. My dad looked exactly the same. Even their house looked exactly the same. I found this comforting because it made me realize that they were getting along just fine without me. It was like I had just been at my house and drove over to see them. Also, my dad has been getting much more in-home help since my mom’s Medicaid coverage kicked in, which started just after I moved away. He usually has someone for a few hours seven days a week now. It is such a relief to me to know that he has help coming every day, even though I know it’s still really hard for him.
Although it was comforting to see that nothing had changed, it also broke my heart a little. I realized that the fact that I moved to Florida seemed to have little or no impact on their lives. Sure, my dad missed me and was happy to have me home, but my mom had no freaking clue that I had gone anywhere. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that my mom wasn’t affected by my move. I wouldn’t want her to be sad and crying because she missed me. But still, something about it is a little sad. The thought that I could just up and disappear from her life and she didn’t even know it…that breaks my heart a little. When I lived near my parents and helped take care of my mom, I thought that what I was doing made a huge difference. But to see that they were doing just as good without me, it made me feel inadequate in a way. Like nothing I had been doing was enough. It was hard to stand by and watch the aides take care of my mom, as if they now know her better than her own daughter does. I felt like I was no longer needed. I also felt a bit jealous of the time they get to spend with my mom. It seems strange to me for these women to be spending more time with my mom than her own family does. So, I’m supposed to just go about living my life while they take care of my mom? It felt as if I had been in the game all along and now I’m suddenly sitting the bench. Then again, maybe that’s where I belong for now.
All in all, I had a great visit with my parents. I got to spend plenty of time with my mom and we were able to go for one short walk even though it rained the entire time I was there. I went to a doctor’s appointment with my sister and got to hear her baby’s heartbeat. I spent time with my niece and went out to lunch with my dad. I only had one bad day, which was mostly because I spent an hour and a half sitting in traffic and had to cancel lunch with my dad. But, Alzheimer’s has taught me to focus on the good and not the bad. I was grateful that my dad and I were able to go to lunch the next day instead. I was grateful to have wonderful, caring people taking care of my mom. I was grateful to have not been the person involved in the accident that caused me to sit in traffic that day. And, I was grateful that I only had one bad day and not a whole week of bad days.
Being away from home has allowed me to accept the fact that I can’t fix it. I can’t make this problem go away. My mom will have Alzheimer’s whether I’m there or not. My dad will find good people to help him, even if it’s not me. They will get by without me. They will be just fine. I might not be there with my mom, but she is always right here with me. She’s in my heart. All day, every day. I’ve learned that the little things in life are what’s most important. I cherish every smile, every hug, every “I love you,” and every minute that I have with my mom because I never know when it will be the last. I choose to focus on the good and not the bad. Having that mindset has allowed me to appreciate our visits so much more. I returned to Florida feeling whole and at peace. I still get a little sad sometimes, but I know it won’t be long before I can say, “Mama, I’m coming home!”