A Move Home

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.


  1. Hi Kathy,

    Was just bored waiting for my husband to get back home and was going through some blogs when I came across yours. I live in Bangalore in India and was extremely touched to read your blog on your move home. I think your decision to move home to help your parents when they most need your help especially when it means sacrificing so much (albeit voluntarily) including the man you hoped you would marry is truly truly commendable. I wish you the very best and the strength to carry out your decision in a way that would not make your parents realise the sacrifice you have made for them.

    I myself was feeling a bit down the whole of last month due to some temporary blip in my otherwise perfect marriage and life (I have been blessed with wonderful parents who are still healthy, 2 angel girls aged 5 and 7) and a husband who I love and loves me after almost 15 years. I was feeling sorry for myself when I saw your blog and realised the real issues and problems you where facing and the spirit and grace with which you were handling your life. My problems seem miniscule in comparision.

    God Bless!! An invitation to you to come to India and visit in Bangalore and Goa (where I am moving shortly) if you feel the need of a break at any time. Take care!! Bennita Ganesh (bennitaganesh@yahoo.com)

  2. I am the same age as you, having just turned 31 this past Saturday. I went to visit my mom, who is 71, and in a full-time care facility because of her advanced fronto-temporal lobe dementia. It has been a difficult weekend; what you said about being angry with your parents because of what dementia has done to your family is resounding with me so strongly. This weekend, I was so pissed off at life, at the fact that I will never know “normal” again. All this familial cheer around the holidays depresses me something awful at times!

    Having looked after my mom almost full-time a year ago, I will never be the same person I was – bubbly, lighthearted. I’m kind of mourning the progressive loss of her and the person I used to be too. It’s the kind of thing that no one will understand unless they’ve been through it themselves, which makes me feel awfully alone at times.

    I could go on for hours about this, about how I have no memories of my mother, of the sound of her voice and laughter, or what advice she would give me, or how unfair it is that she will probably never know my children (when I have them) But I’ll spare you the “all-about-me” bit for now-I just want you to know that you truly aren’t alone in this; that there are people like me who are going through this too, and that we can all be here for each other, as lame as that sounds! Sorry for the lameness! But I’m glad I found your blog, because I needed something, I don’t know what, some understanding of what I’m going through that I can’t talk about with anyone really (I don’t want to further upset my dad and sister)
    I’m trying to say too much at once. So I’ll stop now, and just say thank you for your brilliant honesty.

    Feel free to write me anytime.

  3. This was a moving post for me to read. I am the only one of three siblings living in the same town as my mom, who has Alzheimer’s. This was not my choice – it’s just how things turned out. While I am full of anger, frustration, resentment, etc., and while I think my mom was flawed in many ways as a parent, I also find that this time I am spending with her is and will always be a meaningful part of my life. She is in assisted living, a huge help. But she needs me for lots of things. We laugh a lot. My goal is to make sure she is safe and as happy as possible and free of fear or anxiety. Something about doing this just feels important. I wish you the best in your move.

  4. Thank you all for your support. I appreciate you reading the blog and I hope that it’s helpful! The move is fast approaching and I’m scared… but also believe that it was the right choice for me. Kat

  5. […] I said in an earlier post that if my gut had said stay in New York City, I would have stayed, but my insides screamed at me to move back to Phoenix. I am relieved that I finally listened up and I no longer doubt my decision. Despite the hurt I’ve felt these past few weeks and the pain I have caused another individual close to me, I know this move was the right choice. Posted by Kathy Ritchie Filed in Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Family, Me, Our Stories, Real Life Tags: Alzheimer’s Disease, change, Dementia, Family, kathy ritchie, life, love, parents […]

  6. I am facing a similar situation with my father. I am contemplating a move back home, right now I live in California, a place that I have always dreamed of living. I have been here a year, and love the lifestyle, however my father’s health started to noticeably decline into some form of dementia when I got here. I am incredibly saddened by being far away (they live in the midwest). But I also cannot help but feel angry because I have wanted to be in california my whole life. Now that my dream is true, I feel like I’m not fully happy because I am so sad and guilty about leaving my parents during this very difficult time. I’m an only child, so all the burden of their care is falling on my shoulders. Reading your blog makes me cry and wonder what is my gut decision. what is the right thing to do? If i only have a few more years left with my father, shouldn’t I try to spend them with him, and not be off exploring in California?

  7. I totally feel you…. no one can make this choice but you. that’s the crap part. took me a long time and i’m sure i hurt one person in particular… and myself. but life is short… and as a friend once told me, life is also very long… do what is going to make you happy and sit well with you. if its well with your soul then do what you need to do… or you will regret it. either way. my mantra to date: it is well with my soul.

    good luck and i understand… totally empathize, but this will pass and you’ll make the right choice… and remember, balance is so key.

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