Linking arms and smiling for the camera, sophomore Dachel Sanchez (far right) and her family pose for a photo to send to other family members living in Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Dachel Sanchez.)

homesick

March 30, 2015

Florida used to seem like a yearlong vacation. Now it is an unfortunate reality. For Dachel Sanchez, Louisville, Kentucky has been home for her since she was 7 years old. It still is.
Even though she is physically here, her thoughts and heart are back in the Bluegrass State. The move has led to a different family dynamic and new adjustments to help everyone in her family work together.
Sanchez’s family of five had to move to Florida in the summer of 2014, so her mom Mildrei Castellanos could take care of Sanchez’s grandma Caridad Diaz.
Two years ago, Mildrei tried to move the family to Florida in order to take care of Diaz. “[My] mom couldn’t stand not being able to help,” Sanchez said. However, Sanchez’s father ran his own construction company and had to finish a project before the family could move. Now Sanchez’s family of eight lives in one house. She hasn’t adjusted to Florida yet and doesn’t know if she will. “I don’t feel like I fit in,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez vividly remembers her first day in Tampa. Her family had just driven almost 12 hours total. They got out of the car and were greeted by Sanchez’s grandma, grandpa Andres Castellanos and aunt Mailen Castellanos. Right away, Diaz knew her son-in-law and daughter. Then she approached the grand kids. She knew Daniel, Sanchez’s older brother and Daria, Sanchez’s 13-year-old sister.
Sanchez was the only one who was forgotten.
“She doesn’t remember me. She remembers her daily routine, my grandpa, my mom and my aunt, but not me,” Sanchez said.
Diaz, 60, has been diagnosed with an unclassified case of Alzheimer’s disease. She has been sick for six years and the doctors have yet to come to a conclusion. Her brain was scanned and they showed that Diaz had multiple seizures in different areas of the brain.
Diaz once possessed a great memory, but it has gotten worse over time. She could tell she was becoming forgetful, but couldn’t make it stop. To help her memory, she put pictures up all around the house to try and remember people. Diaz became hostile because she couldn’t comprehend much. She didn’t know if she ate or not, but she unsuccessfully tried to go about her daily routine. Diaz tried to dry clothes in the microwave and kept cooking because she couldn’t recall if she already made food.
Diaz’s family does their best to help her, but not control all of her actions. Diaz remembers cooking for her husband and doing his laundry. She used to clean a lot, so she remembers to clean certain parts of the house at specific times during the day. The family works to find common ground and let Diaz go about her day undisturbed, unless she needs assistance.
However, it has become a challenge when Diaz needs help. A few months ago she could say phrases, but now she can’t talk at all. “Now we just kind of know if she needs something, like when she stands up,” Sanchez said.
Diaz won’t eat dinner without her husband, so if she is hungry, or if dinner is ready, she pulls him to the bathroom. Her husband used to always shower before dinner, so she pulls his shirt until he follows her to the bathroom so he can shower and then they can sit down together.
Diaz also used to try and leave the house by herself. She could say phrases to let people know she wanted to go to the grocery store, or shopping, but now she can’t. For the first four months Sanchez lived in Florida, her grandma would try to leave almost every day. Now, the family has locks on all of the doors and Diaz hasn’t tried to leave at all. “Either the Alzheimer’s is getting worse, and she has less of a drive to do what she wants, or it’s getting better, and she understands she can’t go,” Sanchez said.
Diaz’s Alzheimer’s has impacted the entire family. “It just makes me really sad. She doesn’t deserve to be like this,” Sanchez said. The house is full of tension between other family members who just want to help. They disagree on how to take care of Diaz but are all devoted to finding out what is in her best interest.
The entire family helps take care of Diaz and wish es to see her the way she was before the onset of her disease. “She used to laugh a lot and always wanted to make other people happy,” Sanchez said.
Watching her grandma and remembering how her life used to be only makes living in a new state harder. Sanchez still talks to her grandma like she will be able to reply, as if Diaz will say they should go shopping, or ask to do Sanchez’s hair like when she was little. But she knows Diaz won’t be able to. Sanchez can’t tell how her grandma feels or even have a conversation with her.
There is little she can do and a lot she wishes she could. Sanchez hopes that once her family moves into her own house there will be less tension and she will be more comfortable.
For Sanchez, Florida is not home.
Instead it’s where she has a sick grandma who she cannot truly help, a school that is not really hers and a house she doesn’t call home: “[I miss] my friends, my house, the routine I used to have.”

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