Are You in the House?

me-and-mom-outside-building

(Mom and me on East 27th Street, New York City)

Are you in the house?

That’s what Mom asked me yesterday when we spoke on the phone. I haven’t seen her since Easter Saturday, and was calling to let her know I wouldn’t be visiting this weekend. I’m feeling under the weather.

“Are you in the house?” she asked.

“Yes, I’m in the house,” I said.

“How are you feeling, Mom?”

“I’m alright.”

“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking care of things in the house,” she said.

I was wondering which house she meant. Did she think we were living in the same house now? Was it the house where she grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin?  Was it the fifth floor walkup apartment in New York City where I was born, or the apartment building on Junction Boulevard that was converted into a Jack in the Box and made the Lunney family, with their 10 kids, homeless? Was it the house we rented in Jackson Heights–the last house we lived together as a family? Was it the apartment she lived in in the Bronx before Lorin and I packed up her things and moved her into the nursing home?

What is a house, after all, but a place to lay one’s head. Or was it home Mom was speaking of? A place where family gathers, and hopefully, love makes its presence known.

It’s often hard to know what she means. That’s part of the Alzheimer’s. I interpret what she’s saying much of the time or try not to question at all, to let it be.

“How are the tulips?” I asked.

“They died, dear,” she said.

Why did I even ask? Of course they were dead after two weeks.

“What about the lilacs?” she said.

“They’re not out yet. They come out in May. I’ll bring you some then.”

“Okay. (pause) Where are you? Why aren’t you here?” she said.

“I’m at home. I’m not feeling well and didn’t want to get you sick,” I said.

“Oh.”

“I’ll see you next week, Mom.”

“Oh, okay.”

She sounded deflated. I felt I had let her down. But I can’t be there all the time.

“I’ll see you soon,” I said.

“Okay. See you soon.”

What does house / home mean to you?

16 thoughts on “Are You in the House?

  1. Oh Erica, this is heartbreaking. You do what needs to be done in order to also sustain your own life, wellbeing and health. You are quite amazing. Thinking of you.

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  2. Home. It’s complicated, isn’t it ? I think I understand some of the feeling in your post. 💕 Hoping to get my Mother in law back into her independent living situation. In and out of hospital and rehab for mobility issues, it’s not looking good. That which so many call home….sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, I think that my mom is pretty content where she’s at most of the time. She’s at a beautiful facility in New Jersey — The Actors Home — for people who worked in the performing arts. She can’t live on her own anymore.

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  4. I love this photo Erica! Mom looks so young and care free…and you’re so little!! Yes, home is where we hopefully feel safe and loved, it’s where memories are made, and not a structure. A friend’s loving words can create home…our cats can be home, our creative process can be home. A home is not always safe, it can be a source of pain and suffering too. A house is a structure, it’s a place that has walls but is not always a home. We feel home, we don’t feel house. I see this photo and I feel home…in a good way. Your mom always loved flowers, I remember the first time I saw lilacs were in your home in Jackson Heights. I always think of you, that house, your mom when I see and smell lilacs.

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  5. Thank you, Nancy. Every time I look at this photo I think of our first home at 220 East 27th Street. She did look beautiful in this photo, didn’t she? You are so right about what “home” is. And yes, she still loves lilacs. I always try to bring her some from our backyard on Mother’s Day.

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  6. I looked after my dad through his dementia and he often used to get up and head out the door. When I asked where he was going he said he was going home – he’d lived in that house for over 60 years. Nothing would persuade him he was ‘home’. Sometimes I would get him in the car, drive round for a bit then tell him we were nearly home and he would be content – at least for a while.

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    • Yes,this seems to be a common occurrence for people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.Sometimes I think my mom is talking about the home in Jackson Heights, but other times it may be her old apartment before she got really sick. Not sure.

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