From: When Can I Go Home?

..........When I visited her, she would repeatedly ask, “Joe,

when can I go home? Can I go home? Can I go home soon?”

Once again the familiar feeling of living death took over

inside me. Just when I thought I had nothing left, it seemed to

kill me a little more every time she asked this. I did not know

if the guilt was killing me or the utter sadness and unfairness of

the situation. I felt I had betrayed her in that she now lived in

a nursing home. Most days I had no hope for her or myself but

I went on with life. Once again, I had to block out my own pain

because there was nothing on the other side except psychological

death if I let myself feel it too much.

I did not have the heart to tell her that our home in

Erie had ceased to exist. The furniture was gone, divided up

between siblings; the house was empty, soon to be rented.

Ultimately it would be sold. I wanted to go home as much as

she did. There was no chance of her comprehending any of

this. I could barely believe it myself. I instinctively answered

her questions by redirecting her and telling her that right

now she lived with the nuns and had her own room and everything

was okay. Although I grew up learning to be honest

and candid, I struggled with what I thought was a less than

honest answer. Perhaps at the time, it was the most humane

answer, given the context. I certainly could not tell her that

she was never going home again. I was in a state of shock

over this and perhaps in a bit of denial myself. I remembered

a couple years before in theology class in high school discussing

morality and ethics and being honest and the end

justifying the means. I never knew I would be facing these

moral questions at age nineteen.

The illness had taken on new proportions. Not only had

it stolen my mother’s mind and personality, it had also stolen

my home and basic psychological safety net. My mother

would wander the halls of the nursing home, carrying her

purse, as did many of the other demented ladies. The purse

carry is an automatic response on some more primitive

organic brain level. It is almost a reflex. It can be seen on

any Alzheimer’s nursing home unit nowadays anywhere in

the United States. Despite the origins it seems to defy the

illness. The behavior seems to outlast many other cognitive

functions that have declined. It is almost a sign or atavistic

symbol that shouts, “Hey! I was a strong independent person

once, with real thoughts and feelings. I made my own decisions

and took care of my family and myself!”