It was just an old gilt coloured tray, a bit grubby to be honest and with the black rubber foot missing from one of its corners, but it ambushed me with memories, stopping me in my tracks. Suddenly I was back in my childhood bed, recovering from some illness (probably tonsillitis as I used to get it so often) and here came my mum with a bowl of Heinz tomato soup soaking up squares of white crustless bread on this little gilt tray. I felt hugged by a familiar sense of comfort and love.
I couldn’t move for the recollection of my first home.
Then tonight I visited my dad in his new care home. I brought him a bottle of his favourite Croft’s Original Sherry and a mug given to him my boys a couple of Christmas ago with their photos on it. He downed two large measures with his evening meal.
We’ve filled his room with pictures and photos from his flat alongside some key pieces of furniture – some practical, like his riser recliner chair, and some nostalgic, like the bookcase made by his cousin at school in the 1930s. It’s all been about trying to make him feel at home.
But is it only things that make a place a home?
When we spent Christmas at our son’s student house in Lincoln, we made do with a patio set in place of a dining table and chairs, laying out the food on a coffee table as the only space. We all slept in rooms that didn’t belong to us. We even borrowed a table top cooker to supplement the tiny oven.
And yet we felt completely at home.
It wasn’t the belongings that made the difference but the belonging: the belonging to others who loved us.
And that’s where home is – where we feel loved.
So the objects in my dad’s room don’t make it homely of themselves but by reminding him of all of us who have and do love him. Hopefully, our regular visits and time spent chatting, reminiscing, praying, or holding his hand as he strokes my wrist with his thumb (just as he did when I was a child) will also translate into a feeling of security and familiarity. And the welcome and kindness of the staff in this care home, whether it’s the chef who asked him about his favourite foods and offered to cook him anything he liked off menu, or the nurse who sat and listened to his stories of his time in the RAF, or the maintenance man who put all his pictures up, these are what will lead to him feeling at home there.
The blessing of home is that it doesn’t have to be fixed to a place but is anchored in love.