My favorite response to that set up has always been from Mortimer in Arsenic and Old Lace, when he says “It practically gallops.”
I am finally getting around to writing about this because I’ve begun to get a little of it behind me. In case anyone has or hasn’t noticed, I haven’t been posting a lot lately, and it looks like my activities will be curtailed somewhat for the very near future.
My father died about a year ago at age seventy-nine from complications of diabetes. About three weeks ago, true to statistical form, my mother at age seventy-nine damn near died from pneumonia. At the time, Terry Schiavo had passed away, the Pope had died, and I’m making four half hour visits per day to see my mom on a ventilator, and wondering absently if she was going to pull a trifecta. She was very fortunate in that she was able to be extubated successfully after about two days. She had had a history of heavy cigarette smoking until she quit cold turkey almost thirty years ago. Still, the damage was enough that over the years she had developed a mild, undiagnosed case of COPD. She remained hospitalized for a total of seven days and is now finishing up a twenty day stint in rehab.
The whole time that she was in ICU, I am kicking myself mentally, because we had talked three weeks before she got sick in regards to a living will and healthcare power of attorney. She had actually come all the way across state (she still drives!) to visit my wife and I. We had broached the subject with her and with my dad when he was living many times and they always agreed that they did not want heroic measures… this time again, she left before I could get around to downloading the appropriate forms and having her fill them out. Needless to say, I scrambled around and all the paperwork is in place and notarized since she started rehab.
Let me digress a little at this point, and tell you of my mom and dad, as, in a way, I’m kind of proud of them…
My dad served in WWII in the Pacific as a radioman on an LST. He was too young at the time and had his mom sign for his enlistment. When he got out of the Navy he went to dental school with his GI bill and eventually opened a practice in our little home town, retiring after thirty years of service. He was active in Scouting in many capacities for over forty years and eventually was honored with the Silver Beaver Award, as well as the Cross and Flame Award.
My mom met dad and married while he was in dental school and she was working on her masters in Psychiatric Social Work. They moved back to dad’s hometown and she began work in public mental health. Her list of accomplishments includes founding and fostering a sheltered workshop for the mentally retarded, which was a blueprint for other organizations to come. She also ran the entire local mental health agency for a number of years when they couldn’t find a Psychiatrist for the position. When I entered my teen years, she decided that she wanted to learn to fly… along the way, she got an air taxi license, and was certified as an instrument instructor. She then decided that she wanted to get her PHD as my sister and I started college. Eventually she washed out just short, and never really talked to anyone about why. Later on she took a fancy to learning how to drive an eighteen wheeler, and… you guessed it went on to teach truck driving for a few years! Nowadays, all she can seem to talk about is quilting with her friends.
In 1968 our family moved into Mom and Dad’s dream home. It was a house that they had designed themselves and scrimped and saved to buy the land and build it. It is modest in size by today’s standards, but was quite innovative at the time with huge, double paned picture windows throughout, and other energy saving considerations. Sounds like the American Dream come true, right?
Well, to paraphrase Arthur, “It didn’t suck…” But, I suppose that my sister and I both noticed subtle things amiss as children, even though we didn’t understand. As adults, now we have grown a lot closer in commiseration.
Fast forward to the present day and time. Now, I have read extensively about hoarding behaviors and various theories about how it arises, but… unless you’ve been there and seen it… well… you can postulate all you want. Imagine what it is like to always come up with excuses why your friends and even family shouldn’t come to your house to visit. This is the way my sister and I grew up…
After we left home, mom and dad continued and even got worse; but it was primarily mom who hoarded with dad enabling her. The fascinating thing is that her mother did the same, and all three of mom’s siblings were just as bad or worse. It pains me to admit this, but mom and dad actually became inveterate dumpster divers. It’s not like sis and I stood idly by and watched this; we offered repeatedly over the years to help clean it all up, but each attempt wound up in frustration, as mom just wanted to sort, classify, and store things. I eventually told her that I would be there for them to help when they decided to throw everything away but not to bother me until they decided to do it.
My sister and I eventually found out that a couple of years ago an adult protective services worker showed up to try to convince them to no avail. The clincher probably occurred a few months ago when an insurance adjuster visited and told mom that things would have to be corrected or she would have no more insurance… the house is not insured now.
So, where’s the silver lining to this decades old squall line? What would a loving son and daughter do in this situation? Well, I’ll tell you what we did… we lied like hell. Once mom was somewhat out of the woods and into rehab we convinced her, with the excellent help of the staff, that the house was infested with black mold(there is a lot of mold and mildew, and it is black), would have to be completely cleaned out and re-done, and that she couldn’t return until it was finished. She’s bought it hook line and sinker for now and seems to be handling it fairly well… We’ve also got mom to tentatively agree to letting us have durable power of attorney.
So, anyway, I’ll likely be driving five hours every Friday that I can to spend the weekend mucking out my parent’s dream house and staying in a motel(I can’t even stay at the house because of severe allergies, I start sneezing within ten minutes without a particle mask). My sister is twenty plus hours away and can’t do as much. We can’t really pay someone else to do it and risk that valuable things and papers get tossed too. Thus far, my sister and I filled one thirty foot dumpster and I filled another one on my own this past weekend. My rough estimate is that we’ve got about ten more to go before we can hire people to work on refinishing the inside.
Our goal is for mom to have a home that she can entertain her quilting friends in some day, and a place that she can remain independent for as long as possible with some assistance. The other alternative is that she may come to like being out from under the burden of the home and we can sell it for her… either is a win-win scenario.
I look at myself and I can recognize in me, the things that I feel probably contributed to mom’s tragedy. I am fortunate in that I am able to avoid succumbing to the anxiety that leads to hoarding; I am perfectly capable of throwing things away, albeit with some difficulty on occasion. About the only messy and cluttered thing that I own is my car and my hard drive…
To bring this all back into the realm of politics, I’d have to say that I’d give my state and my country a B+ for the services in place for my mom as I have experienced them, particularly Social Security and Medicaid/Medicare. I will continue my snarky battles with the evil powers that be who seek to eviscerate these programs, but probably at a lower level. I have to say that the last month has taken a lot of wind out of my sails and probably the coming months ahead will be the same.
I have always enjoyed reading Carnacki’s “Happy Story” diaries, but for the life of me, I never could comment much, or come up with a happy story of my own. I guess that this is about as close as it gets for me…
The Dood Abides