Mom’s visit for Thanksgiving started off perfectly. The pickup was smooth, and the three hour ride back to New Hampshire gave us terrific quality time. We chatted about what seemed like everything and nothing. Just catching up. Just being together. Mom was relatively clear and she seemed comfortable. And happily, that trend continued.
Her smile was bright around the children. She was engaged. And she did really well in the larger group on Thanksgiving day. We’d made preparations to set her up for success–minimized the length of the day out, made sure she had a nice quiet spot to rest, packed fun games she could play with the kids or others–and they worked! I had been anxious leading up to the visit, but as it turned out, my angst had been unnecessary. It was a great day all around and it felt awesome to have Mom with us on the holiday.
Until Saturday morning.
As I filled my coffee mug, I was thinking to myself how nice everything was; we were all just lounging around on a lazy Saturday morning. The kids were doing kids things. The adults were doing adult things. Mom seemed perfectly content lounging on the couch with her tea, bouncing back and forth between talking with the kids and reading the newspaper. It was a little, but wonderful, moment. I wasn’t thinking about dementia, or doctor appointments, or wondering how Mom’s night was. She was right in front of me and I was so glad she was there. She was glad too. It was a prototypical family weekend moment–and it felt wonderful to have Mom in the mix.
Then I heard the words:
“I want to go home, Matt. I need to go home. What time are we leaving?”
The serenity of the moment was shattered (in my head) by the two clipped sentences and question I had just heard. I responded, hoping to brush it off and get back to enjoying the special nothingness of the morning, “Oh, Mom, you’re staying here one more day. I’m bringing you back down to your place tomorrow.” But she wasn’t having it, “No, Matt. I need to go home today. I’ve been here too long.” The warm smile that had been on her face seconds earlier had been replaced with a different look. She was serious.
Mom’s words hung in the air. I was stunned and my feelings were hurt. An avalanche of thoughts crashed through my head. They ranged from curiosity and sadness, to frustration, disappointment, and defeat.
She seemed like she was having a good time.
Did she think she was going home Saturday?
How could she say that in front of the kids?
Is she not comfortable in her room?
Does she realize it takes us 6 hours round trip to get her up here? Does she?!
It’s nice she thinks of her assisted living community as home.
Are the kids too much for her?
Does she feel like she’s in the way?
Does she realize we have plans for today and bringing her home ruins them?
Why can’t things go completely as planned, just this once?!?
Reeling from the sting of her words, I became defensive. I was thinking about me instead of Mom. Thankfully, Lindsay was there to quickly get me back on track. With my thoughts (and calm) collected, we moved our plans for the day (and I took my coffee to go). Mom said her goodbyes, and I hopped in the car to make the six hour round trip to take her home.
Again, we talked on the ride, and I tried to better understand why she wanted to leave. I didn’t learn much, other than Mom felt it was a long time time to be at our house. Fighting my instinct to try and fix everything, I took a deep breath and moved on. I wanted to at least enjoy the ride–and we did. I know Mom didn’t mean anything by her words, and I definitely know that she wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings. She wanted to go home, and that’s ok. But even now, three days later, the feeling of my initial reaction still lingers, and I feel guilty for thinking about me in that moment.
In retrospect, five days really is a long time for Mom to be at our house. That’s five days out of her routine. And five days with our girls–eleven, eight, and five–our very active (and loud) girls. They rarely stop. Nor do we. We’re always on the go. I was so happy this time because everything was working out so well, I might not have noticed Mom getting tired, missing her routine, or just wanting her own space. So next time, we’ll try to end the visit while she’s still enjoying the activity and commotion we call home and bring her back to the peace and quiet of her own home. Lesson learned.
I’ll get over the guilt in time. I know that. And even in spite of the abrupt ending, the visit was awesome. With the lesson learned, I hope the next visit will be just as wonderful.