As an only child of a demented parent, I often feel very lonely and anxious. There’s so much I want to do to improve my mom’s quality of life, but I often feel very limited. The resources are there… they just cost a lot of money. A sick, gut-wrenching crime, in my book. As for my mom, I have tried to do the best that I can from afar. Navigating the byzantine health care system and the disease itself (vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease) is not easy from my apartment in Queens. Besides that, the emotional roller coaster has finally taken its toll. I am not happy. I can say that with total conviction. I don’t remember the last time I truly felt happy. I am unable to actively participate in my own relationship with my boyfriend of six-and-a-half years. I can’t take a full-time job in New York City because I won’t be able to travel as frequently to Phoenix as I’d like. I have no savings, no 401(k)—although, I suppose no one else does anymore either. I feel emotionally stunted: I am distant, lost in my head, angry, sad, grief-stricken, frustrated, disappointed, nervous, and the list of adjectives goes on… and on. You get my drift.
So last week, I decided to move back to Phoenix. Although I had thought about this move for a long time, and came very close last summer to moving back, a part of me just couldn’t make the move. I wanted to try and make a life for myself here. And I tried, or rather struggled, like a fish out of water, to make that happen. I also tried to convince myself that moving home would be unhealthy for me. My mind started going back into its dusty archives looking for reasons to find my parents unfit, contemptible, not deserving of my love… I thought, “they didn’t do this or that and they failed in this way as parents, therefore, I am not moving home.” This twisted logic served me for a very brief while.
Eventually sanity took hold.
I am my mom and dad’s daughter. I don’t look like either one of them physically, but I have (and this is my personal opinion, but I think most of my friends would agree) my mother’s heart. I am compassionate, sympathetic (empathetic too) and very forgiving—even when I maybe shouldn’t be. I love to shop, I can’t resist a good sale and I love anything bedazzled, although I try to keep that in check—I attribute our love of anything glittery to our Latinaness, so you see, it’s not our fault that we love shinny stuff. My heart melts for cats… I can’t watch an ASPCA commercial without crying. I inherited my dad’s love of travel and maps. I want to touch each continent and that’s because of him. He took me to see every Star Wars movie and sat outside with me in our backyard in Muscatine, Iowa to scan the heavens for Haley’s Comet when it passed the Earth in 1986.
Yes, there are moments when I want to hate my parents, and I suppose, for brief periods I do. I hate what dementia has done to my family and to me. My parents are not perfect people, nor were they perfect parents. But they loved and still love me so, so much. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to have that much love in your heart, I suspect only a parent could know. And now I am going home, well to a studio, very close to them, to participate more fully in my mom’s care and to help my dad who is alone and needs his daughter now more than ever before. Despite my relief, I am so sad.
I don’t advocate moving closer to a demented parent. I know many adult children who have parents living far away. I think, at the end of the day, you have to follow your gut. My gut said, “go home.” And if my gut had said, “stay,” I would have stayed in my apartment in Queens.