A falling leaf returns to the roots; everything has its ancestral home
Yesterday I was talking to my mother on the phone and something made her think about Kentucky and she told me that she wished she could go home - that's what she still calls it, home - one more time. I was surprised because ever since my mom's arthritis has gotten bad, she rarely wants to go anywhere. A trip to Kentucky would be a big undertaking for her. I understand her yearning though. I imagine many elderly people yearn to return to their birthplaces and see what's left of their family one last time. My mother has two brothers, a brother-in-law, and numerous nieces and nephews living in Kentucky and the rest of her siblings, her parents, her grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great grandparents are all buried in the family cemetery.
My mother left Kentucky when she was 18 for Michigan, where she met my father, got married, and settled for the rest of her life. But every summer, without fail, we made our way down 500 miles of winding road to Fairplay, Kentucky, the tiny rural community where my mother was born and raised. Even after my grandparents died, Mom continued to head south on a regular basis, either for family reunions or funerals. I don't think she's been back for at least five years now and she missed the funerals of her last three siblings: two sisters this year and her younger brother Clifton about six years ago; she was in the hospital or a rehab center each time. And that must be weighing on her mind because she particularly wants to visit the family graveyard. In fact, after her second sister died in April, she began saying that she wanted to be buried there, even though she's always said that she wanted to be buried in Michigan. Now, with two recently deceased sisters, things look different.
Longing for Home
A longing for one's original home is common near the end of life. When I was looking for anything related to this concept, I came across a bittersweet story about the determination of one elderly man to return to his original home in Massachusetts from Michigan. The twist is that it was in the nineteenth century and the man wanted to return by boat. Here's the rest of the story.
The English language isn't that great at translating this particular longing. The epigram at the head of this posting only takes four words to say in Chinese, but requires 12 words to translate into English. Similarly, Portuguese has a beautiful word saudade that is often translated as nostalgia or homesickness. These two English words seem light-weight compared to the complex and beautiful longing that the word saudade evokes for Portuguese speakers. This longing, whether it is for home or a loved one, is believed to be strong enough to kill a person.
When we visit Michigan in August, my husband and I plan to do all we can to make my mother's dream of going to Kentucky come true. By August, however, she may have forgotten that wish or may be afraid to go on such a long trip. Time will tell. I believe, however, that it is very important to honor the final wishes of parents. Others must agree, because it seems like Grant a Wish groups, whose goal is to help elderly people's final wishes come true, are turning up everywhere. Below are links to several of these groups.
- Groups that grant wishes for seniors
- Wish of a Lifetime Foundation
- Twilight Wish Foundation
- Forever Young Wish Foundation
The movie The Trip to Bountiful evokes this desire to return to the beginning of one's life, when at the end, and the sweet sense of closure that can result.
What better time than summer to take your parents to visit an ancestral home or remaining family members?