“Jesus replied, ‘Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’” John 14:23 NIV
Isn’t it true? I remember watching the movie “The Wizard of Oz” as a child and seeing the main character Dorothy get tossed into a bizarre world by a tornado. She travels through this strange and scary land, making friends along the way who accompany her as she tries to find her way home. And though she loves her new friends and they tug at her heart, the instinct and desire to go home is stronger. And as she clicks her heels and repeats the words “there’s no place like home,” I feel that same desire for her and for me.
I visited family over the past couple of weeks. It was great. My sister Jackie opened her home to me, so I was able to visit with my hilarious niece Olivia and also visit with my Dad who lives in a facility near her home in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It can’t be easy having a visitor for nearly two weeks – especially one like me who operates on a totally different schedule given even the two-hour time difference between Alberta and Michigan. And after a semester of school requiring very late nights…well, let’s just say I felt sorry for my hosts!
When I arrived, Jackie and Olivia both had food poisoning or the stomach flu, so I put off visiting Dad as I did not want to contaminate him in case I picked it up. Olivia was even cute while throwing up; after the sixth time, she shook her head and woefully expressed to her mom: “I just can’t take it anymore.” But after a couple of days, all was well and we carried on with the activities associated with the anticipation of Christmas.
Meanwhile, I visited Dad. When I arrived there, all the staff were wearing masks. The stomach flu bug had hit the facility and most of the residents on the first floor had experienced it. Many of the staff did as well. It had eked its way up onto the second floor, but luckily never found its way to my dad. And so, I visited for lunch. Dad has three table companions – Richard, Harriett and Steve. Richard is a very physically fit probably 75-year old man and I had met him on my previous visit there. Harriett was a new member to the table and I was told that she is Richard’s girlfriend. She is a beautiful, gentle lady with an appreciative sense of humour – we bonded on that. Now, Steve is probably 80 years old, is stooped over and uses a walker in a shuffling sort of way. He is Jewish and has a stereotypical New York Jewish accent and way of expressing himself that I love. He eats the healthiest of all at the table with a plate of fresh veggies always set at his place.
Both my Dad and Steve suffer from dementia, which makes for some interesting conversations and communication issues. As they settled down to eating, Steve asked me who I was related to there, and when I indicated my dad, he said in his wonderful Jewish way, “Well, you are lovely lady. A lovely, lovely lady. Really. Believe me. It is wonderful you’re here.” He went on at some length and internally, I chuckled. Sometimes, dementia is fun. A few minutes later, I inquired of the lunch group if any of them had been sick. Both Richard and Harriett said “No.” Then I asked Steve if he had been sick. And he said, “What, you want me to be sick? Fine, I’ll be sick. Whatever it takes to make you happy! It’s all about you.” And again, he went on at some length. I was mortified! No amount of assurance on my part that I was merely inquiring as to his health was productive. I was meaning to express concern and consideration and instead managed to offend Steve. Sometimes, dementia is more of a communication challenge than anything else!
Luckily, Steve forgets things from day to day, whereas my dad will often hang on to some memories. You’ll hear more about that a little later.
Meanwhile, Olivia and I were coloring buddies in the evening and made plans to play more. On Thursday, I visited Miss Kristen’s house where the Little Lamb’s Daycare that Olivia goes to is run. One of Miss Kristen’s children – Sophie – is a friend of Olivia’s and she and Olivia and another little girl (I forget her name, but she was adorable) and I made Christmas sugar cookies. I have to say, whenever I visit a daycare and attempt an activity, I marvel at the capability of the people in charge. Honestly, Miss Kristen, like my friend Harriett in Edmonton, is amazing! A simple activity like making cookies becomes very complex in the world of children who want to go first, or want to make the biggest cookie, or want the cookie cutter than one of the other kids has, or want the sprinkles that one of the other kids has, or want to eat massive amounts of cookie dough – you get the picture! We had laughter, tears, angst, worry, manipulation, whining, competitiveness, warfare, apologies, yelling, etc., all in this one event of making cookies! Oh my goodness – those kids are a bundle of energy.
Friday night, my sister’s Mom’s group came over for a little Christmas celebration. I had managed to pick up a spiral ham for $11 – that’s right, marked down from $27! And I made a pasta salad as well. And the ladies all brought great dishes, from fabulous cheese dips to a snickers salad; the food fare was great. As was the conversation. I had brought Kristen Fersovitch’s CD – “Songs from Home” – and a tin of Singing Christmas Tree mints for the gift exchange that night, since these ladies have been praying for Kristen and following her story. Many expressed how inspired they are by her faith and that led to sharing testimonies. What a wonderful gift God gives to us with our testimonies that allow us to inspire each other and build up our faith.
Saturday night I babysat Olivia so her parents could go out for a much needed date night. We had a great time! We made Peanut Butter Blossoms (you know, the peanut butter cookie with the Hershey Kiss on top) as I had found a simple recipe online. And when Olivia struggled with rolling the dough into a ball because she kept pressing too hard, we made up a rhyme to help. “Around and around, but don’t press down.” And then we turned it into a silly dance while chanting, “Not down! Not down! Not up, not down! Not up, not down!” You probably had to be there to fully appreciate this. We practiced karate chops while yelling out “Hiya!” and then snuggled on the couch while watching Jim Carrey’s “The Grinch”. Finally, we read a bedtime story and Olivia was off to bed. It was truly a good time.
Sunday, I went to church with Jackie and Olivia. They attend a Catholic Church in Ann Arbor. The musicians did a fabulous job – the voices of the singers were beautiful. The priest gave a five-minute sermon, which left me wanting more. He spoke about reading the results of a survey that concluded that people would be happier with an extra hour of sleep each night than they would with a raise, or promotion or something like that. He said it depressed him because he realized he would be getting neither the extra sleep nor the raise! And then he went on to talk about the happiness that Jesus brings into our lives. As we left the church, I realized the first service at my church in Edmonton would just be starting, and I found myself wishing I was there.
On Christmas Eve, I braved the shopping scene at Barnes & Noble and picked up a CD of Rachmaninoff for Dad for Christmas and shopped for ingredients to make a pea soup with the ham bone. I thought about the last time I made that pea soup, at Bob & Joce’s home in Edmonton one Easter. I longed to experience Christmas Eve at church in Edmonton. It is always a wonderful evening of Christmas Carols and an “afterglow” at Bob & Joce’s.
Christmas Day found me picking up Dad to take him up to my sister Judy’s home near Lansing, Michigan, about an hour and a quarter from Ann Arbor. Judy, her husband Scott and her two daughters, Stephanie (along with hubby Ryan and son Emmet) were all in attendance as were my sister Karen and her husband Kurt from Tennessee and Scott’s mother Paula. It was good to see everybody. We had a great ham dinner with sides of potatoes and a corn bread casserole. Then we played Apples to Apples, which was loads of fun. I was supposed to have Dad back at University Living between 6 and 7 pm, but I could not resist keeping him out longer since he was having a great time.
As it is, I got him back at about 9:15 pm. He was not happy to be dropped off. I had arranged for help to get him out of the car. Unfortunately, Dad has a dislike for the ladies who came to help him. Probably because they are the ladies that typically have to put him to bed. He is fairly immobile, so needs a lot of assistance to get to bed. That being the case, he is subject to the schedules of the facility. They managed to get him out of the car and into his wheelchair. I grabbed his gifts from the car and we proceeded to enter the elevator. He cleverly grabbed onto the rail and would not let go in the elevator in protest – one of the helpers reached to prevent him from grabbing it, but was too late. I was a little surprised at the helper’s lack of creativity to get him to release the rail. I simply held out one of his gifts to him and he released the rail to hold the gift. Honestly, this is not rocket science – I could have held out a grape or a Cheezit and been as successful. Even those with dementia respond more to kindness than force.
We got to his room and they decided to let him settle down for a while and get reoriented before putting him to bed. He was livid with me and was expressing it openly. “Why are you dropping me off here? I want to go home.” I said, “But Dad, this is where you live.” He replied, “You don’t understand, I want to go home! Where your mother lives!” Ah. Yes, I could relate to that. My mind reflected quickly on the home my mother made for us for the Christmas season – cinnamon boiling gently on the stove, walnuts and almonds to crack, eggnog, needle-pointed stockings hung by the chimney with care, card games or scrabble games at night. Mom passed away five years ago.
“If you leave me here, I’ll never speak to you again.” Perhaps the time working in a nursing home while in high school helps me to not be hurt by these types of incidents. I realize it is not “Dad” speaking, but rather Dad’s dementia. I will say that there is a certain sadness that descends on me when this happens, but it is more a sadness that I can’t do something to make things better. And I have to admit that it crossed my selfish mind that it was just my luck to be the one dropping him off and being hated for it! But I ended up reasoning that I was the best person to do that given that I live so far away anyways. Others living closer need to not be hated as they offer more care for him.
I finally left and returned to Jackie’s home and told her about the day. She assured me he would forget about it, but I wasn’t so sure of that. The next day, Jackie, Olivia and I went to see Dad, and my fears were confirmed. He was still livid with me. With Steve, Richard and Harriett all in attendance, Dad explained to Jackie in a very gossipy tone, “You won’t believe what she did. Listen to this. Last night, she dropped me off at some University place on the corner of…what corner was it, Kath?” I replied, “Dad it was this corner!” Finally, the director of University Living came in – she is a very pretty blonde that Dad loves to flirt with – and she managed to convince him that I had dropped him off at “that other place” because she was supposed to be there waiting to help him. Problem solved.
As I climbed onto the plane yesterday to return to Edmonton, I thought about the time spent in Michigan and was very grateful that God had given me the opportunity to go there and experience Christmas with family. I began to think about what January in Edmonton would look like for me. There are so many unknowns for me right now. I have to admit to being a bit concerned as I look to straightening out my life.
My friend Madlen picked me up from the airport and we caught up while we did some shoe shopping, and grabbed a coffee on the way back to my place. She dropped me off at about 3:30 pm, and as we climbed out of her car, the peace of being home came over me. There are lots of problems to solve. But in that moment, with the sun shining directly on me and the peace in the area surrounding me, I realized “there is no place like home.”
Thank you, Lord, for gracing my life with your peace. Thank you for making your home with me, even though I may forget about it from time to time as I struggle through life’s challenges. I thank you for drawing me back to you, providing an earthly home, a church home and family, and filling me with the anticipation of a home like no other to come.