My dad suffered from Alzheimer’s the last several years of his life. When it became too much for my mom to handle, we moved my parents to a home across the street from us to help with his care. My dad, Bob, was a kind man. He loved his family, golf, photography, travel, and had a great sense of humor. Even as his dementia progressed, he never failed to show appreciation to all who helped him. His doctor said that Alzheimer’s strips away our façade, the face we choose to project to the world, and allows the true soul to appear. It made me love him more.
One early morning several months before my dad died, my mom called panicked. She’d awakened at 5 AM startled that my dad wasn’t in bed and searched the house. We jumped out of bed, dressed and headed across the street. We met my mom at the door in her hysteria and concern. In a rush to get her words out she related that in the last few days he’d been waking up not recognizing her or where he was. After assessing what we knew, we headed out the back door noticing that the back gate was open. We stepped through the gate and saw him a few hundred feet away lying motionless on the grass. We ran to him worried that he may be injured or worse, dead. I knelt down, and he recognized me. I sighed in relief. He tried to sit up but couldn’t. I asked him where he was going. He said, “I’m going home.” Once we returned to the house, I asked again where he was going. In just those few minutes, he had no recollection of his outing or his fall.
That was 12 years ago this month. What does it mean to go home? Where is home? Is it a place? Is it a childhood home? Or is it something unseen that we can only access when we are preparing for our transition? Is home a return to spirit? The idea of going home or what that means has meandered in and out of my thoughts ever since.
I’ll never know his answer to my question. My answer, after 12 years of contemplation is simple. Home is internal. Home is the sense of comfort and security that comes from love, self-love. I love my physical home in Northern California, and I’ve loved the homes I’ve inhabited in my lifetime. My attachment to them is determined by my internal compass rather than my physical space. Travel affords me the opportunity to test my theory. Presence filled me during a week in the hills above Florence, Italy, relaxed, writing and sharing with friends. I was home, present with myself.
When I ask myself, ‘Where is home?’ I point to my heart. If my dad were here today, his answer might be, “Home is where the heart is, home is love.” Maybe when we die, or hopefully before, we’ll connect with our heart and enjoy that inner comfort and security of self-love.
After we got my dad back in the house and in bed, I sat on the edge of the bed and asked how he was. For an instant the Alzheimer’s veil lifted and he said, “You know what the irony of all of this is?” surprised by his lucidity, I asked, “What?” And, the veil descended. Could the irony be that home is always within us? I hope so.