This House Ain’t Home

I had the pleasure of interviewing the renowned musician Lightnin’ Charlie for the second time on The Relatable Voice podcast. In our conversation, we delved into the heartfelt inspiration behind his new song, “This House Ain’t Home.” Dedicated to bringing comfort and encouragement to those caring for individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, this song is a testament to his compassion and generosity. Even more inspiring, Lightnin’ Charlie is donating all proceeds from the song’s sales on his Bandcamp platform during the month of June to Alzheimer’s Tennessee.

In a broad sense, my song “This House Ain’t Home” is about a broken relationship and a good love gone bad. But more specifically, I wrote it about the curse of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, and its disastrous “scorched earth” effect on relationships. It’s more than a little autobiographical, since Beth and I (and our three kids) were caregivers to my Mother, who passed away last year after a long and dreadful struggle with this ghastly disease.

My Mother lived with us for 11 years, and we were dealing with cognitive issues for five or six years, but things really started getting bad by 2018 or 2019. For anyone who has dealt with this nightmare, you know what I’m talking about. I wrote “This House Ain’t Home” about the devastating effect that her Alzheimer’s and dementia was having on our home, turning it into a toxic and unpredictable place, and the toll it was taking on Beth and I and our kids was catastrophic. Our sanctuary, our home—and the only home our children have ever known—became increasingly dark and dangerous until it eventually became a 24-hour geriatric psych ward. Our home was an unsafe place, filled constantly with chaos, confusion, and even violence. “This House Ain’t Home” was written from me to my Mother, and was me lamenting over our lifelong love that was now lost, our relationship that was shattered, and me crying over the fact that my family’s house wasn’t home to us anymore.

But just after recording my demo, while looking at the lyric sheet, I was shocked to realize that “This House Ain’t Home” made as much—or more sense—from the point of view of the Alzheimer’s and dementia patient themselves, rather than from the POV of the caregivers.

What makes one’s house a home? It’s not the brick and mortar. It’s the love, and the memories, and the joy that resides there. That’s what connects you to that house. That’s what differentiates your house from all the other houses in the neighborhood, and what makes your house a home. It’s the experiences you’ve shared with friends and loved ones within those walls, and under that roof, that make that bunch of drywall and lumber a home.

I realized this song was not as much about me and my house—as about my Mom and hers. Alzheimer’s and dementia cruelly robs its victim of all sense of belonging, inside even themselves, stripping away their life experiences, their relationships with everything and everybody, their loves, their memories, and

their joys, leaving them like strangers, trapped inside their own mind, body, and spirit. “This House Ain’t Home” was more about the tragedy of my Mother living inside a “house” that wasn’t “home” to her anymore, because everything that made her house a home was gone. Her true self was gone. She was lost inside herself, and couldn’t find her way home.

I remember reading about victims of Hurricane Andrew that had been evacuated out of South Miami and Homestead, Florida being allowed back into their neighborhoods after the storm had passed, and there was nothing left standing. There was only piles of rubble and devastation. They had no means of identifying their house, or even their street, because every street sign, every tree, every landmark, and every building was leveled and blown away. In many cases, their only means of finding the neighborhood where their house stood was by chance finding and recognizing—in the wreckage—a family picture or a piece of furniture that they knew as theirs. But without that memory, or cognitive connection, they had no way of telling which house was their home.

Alzheimer’s is such a devastating and demonic disease because of how it robs its victims of their identity. And its collateral damage to everyone around it is devastating, with the more you love that person, the more excruciating it becomes. When speaking at my Mother’s funeral, I said that the saddest thing for me wasn’t that the disease would sometimes make her forget who I was, but that it made ME forget who SHE was.

So that’s the story of how I found out my song was really about something completely different than what I thought I had written it about. I miss my Mom so much now that she’s gone, but I’ve been missing her for years, because she left a long time before she died. I love you Mama. My hands are still on the plow, but mine eyes are fixed on heaven, where we will one day have a homecoming to beat all homecomings, where no disease can rob us of anything.

Lightnin’ Charlie is also available for interviews and performances of the song, across the state, upon request. He is eager to spread awareness and support through his music and personal engagement with the community.

Supporters can purchase “This House Ain’t Home” and contribute to the cause by visiting Lightnin’ Charlie’s Bandcamp page (https://lightnincharlie.bandcamp.com).

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