Oliver: Sometimes 'home' is where the mystery begins

Joan Oliver
Joan Oliver

Say the word “home,” and it conjures up different things for different people.

Maybe it’s the house we grew up in or the house we currently occupy. Maybe it’s another word for “spouse” or “family,” so that home is anywhere our loved ones are.

I’ve been thinking about home a lot lately, mainly because in the world of dementia, that word can mean different things at different times, sometimes even in the same day.

One seminar about Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias offered this insight: The word “home” often is another name for “bedroom.” So, if my mother wants to go “home” when she’s sitting in the living room, that usually means she wants to go into her bedroom, perhaps to sit in her chair or take a nap or hide a few more belongings from the invisible people she’s always seeing.

However, this isn’t always the case. And here’s where it gets a bit tricky.

One day in the recent past, my mother declared that she wanted to go home. Believing that she meant her room, I suggested we go there. 

Oh no, she said, she wanted to go to her own home.

“But Mom, this is your home. You live with me now and have for almost three years,” I countered.

“No. This isn’t my home. I want to go home,” she said more adamantly.

“But Mom, we sold your house in Georgia more than two years ago, remember? You live with me now,” I tried again.

“I know that,” she said, getting more exasperated. “That was a few years ago.”

At this point, I knew I was going to lose the battle. To which “home” was she referring? 

Could it be the home along Draper Road in McHenry, where we lived for about 13 years before my father died and she had to sell it? Could it be the home in Lake Zurich, where she lived before that? Or could it be some childhood home, perhaps the one in Wheeling, where she was raised?

Honestly, I still don’t know. My mother has lost the ability to really describe anything to me, so her “home,” at least on that day, remains a mystery.

However, all this talk of home got me thinking about what my own “home” would be if my mind were left to decide the matter.

In my dreams, I always return to a version of the house in McHenry where I grew up. It’s the one I always see in my mind’s eye, although I haven’t been back since we sold it.

I have a few recollections of the house on Pleasant Road in Lake Zurich, where I lived from birth to age 5. Then again, maybe those memories are spawned from the few photographs I have from that time period.

Of course, the place in which I’ve spent the most time is the house I currently live in with my husband and mother. Tony and I rented it for a couple of years before we bought the place. It’s the place of so many memories, both good and bad, for the past 20-plus years.
Sure, it still needs some work, but it’s home. For me, at least. 

For my mother? Well, that remains to be seen.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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