01/22/2013 02:40 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2013

Saying Goodbye to Our Parents: Their Trip Home

Mom was the first to go. She tripped on a rug that had been placed in front of the refrigerator to catch spills. It was about two days later when my sister got up to our folks' house. She found Mom in bed complaining of excruciating leg pain.

"Well, I fell Saturday night, but I had to make that pineapple-upside-down cake yesterday, and that's when it really hurt," she told my sister.

A trip to the ER revealed a fractured femur near the joint. Mom had broken her hip. The attending doctor couldn't believe she had walked on it for a couple of days.

"The kind of pain that was generated from your mother's fall would have been unbearable for most people," he concluded.

Knowing her, she was probably thinking that complaining just made any kind of pain worse, so it was better not to say anything. After surgery she was transferred to a local nursing home for "re-hab." It was at this place where my 88-year-old mother was going to learn how to rise from a sitting position and walk with the assistance of a metal walker. There were other tricks the PT was going to teach her. Unfortunately, this never happened.

On her 10th day in re-hab, Mom had a stroke. Dad noticed her having trouble holding on to a fork while dining. She was sent back to the hospital where an MRI was done. Apparently, there had been other strokes, several small ones. Her talk of going home so that she could fix simple meals for Dad and herself then shifted to going to a different kind of home, one whose location has always been a mystery to me.

There were more strokes, and within a month Mom was gone. My dad had just walked in the door as she was taking her last breath. I'll never forget what he said to her; "I've died a thousand deaths today. See you soon, my little sweetie."

Now, three years later, my dad is preparing for his trip home. As with older people, his world had gradually been getting smaller. The large home he had shared with Mom was sold and replaced with a 600-sq-ft. one-bedroom apartment in a senior community. Then this fall, he too started having some small strokes, leaving him unable to drive and take care of his basic needs like showering, grooming and preparing even the simplest meal. Lately, he has started to wander into the other residents' rooms at night, enticing the ladies with rides on his walker, and asking if he could get into bed with them. He spends a lot of time in the past talking about his deceased sisters as if they were still alive. Familiar people and places in his world now present a challenge to him. When we had walked him into the lobby of his assisted living facility, he stared at the Broncos game being shown on the large flat screen TV, and then asked us, "Why are all those people walking on the wall?" He talks about wanting to go home, too.

The diagnosis is vascular dementia. The prognosis is not good. In fact, my sister was advised to call Hospice and set up an evaluation.

I know our situation is not at all unique. All Boomers either have gone through similar experiences with their parents, or will someday soon, and as Dad sits in his over-sized recliner waiting for his sisters "to come pick him up," I'm wondering about this place called home.

Where is home? What happens to us when we die? Will we ever see our loved ones again?

If home is a place where my loved ones will be surrounded with love, safe from harm, then count me in. I've been searching for home since I was born. My parents believe home to be Heaven, which is somewhere on the other side of the rainbow. I find this a bit far-fetched. Maybe where this place called home is located is not what's so important. Instead, it's what we believe home to be, which is someplace very familiar to us, the place where we all came from. We may never know where this place is, but I'm sure we'll recognize it when we get there. My hope is that we will be somewhere in the essence of love.