I don’t know why I made the deal with my parents. At the time, it was the only thing I could think of that would appease their sense of upheaval, and quell their desire to run away, to head back to the place they’ve known for over 20 years. I had to promise we’d go back to get more of their “stuff.”
“I got to get my stuff,” my father would say, shaking his head on each word for emphasis. His stuff. His fucking stuff. I was sick to death of hearing about his stuff. Then my mother would start in on how I “swooped in” and took them away “without warning.”
They had warning. They had several months of warning. They had a couple of years of warning, because we discussed it and it was agreed upon. I went down to their place to help them begin the massive process of mucking out, not just their 20 years of hoarding like packrats, but the decades of organized hoarding of my grandfather. There is a
of stuff to sift through.
But I set them to the task. I wrote it all down, several times, exactly how they could start. I made it as easy as possible, considering their ages, and called regularly to chat and find out how they were doing. My mother always apologized for not making any progress, and I did my best to assure her that it would be ok. I’d be able to help them during the summer when school was out.
Had the house deal closed when it was supposed to, instead of six weeks later, there would have been time. I wouldn’t have had to “swoop in” and “scoop them up.” But their health was deteriorating so quickly, I had no choice. They, of course, argued that point, insisting they were “fine” and perfectly capable of taking care of themselves.
Except when my father fell and my mother cracked several vertebrae trying to help him back to his feet. Or when he fell again and they were too embarrassed by the condition of their house to call 9-1-1, but my cousin insisted they call anyway.
Then there was the day my mother could not get out of bed because her back hurt so bad, so my other cousin came up and insisted they call 9-1-1…
No, you can’t make it on your own any more, not living 10 miles from the nearest city and no neighbors within shouting distance who were home during the day. Besides, even those who were home didn’t check on them because my parents were too embarrassed by the condition of their house that they wouldn’t invite anyone over.
So they wanted their “stuff” and they only way I could keep them somewhat happy was to drag them back down so they could collect their things. Granted, my mother did not take many clothes with her that first trip. She wandered around, looking dazed and very confused, picking up loose change and stuffing it into socks that she set down all over the house.
I managed to convince Middle Minion to join in the fun, and he had enough paid time off, so he figured, “why not?” I’m sure that is a question that will haunt him for the rest of his days.
We headed south with my father constantly commenting on how long a drive it was. I took those opportunities to remind him that he thought he could make the drive himself and how difficult it would be, considering he couldn’t find his way to the grocery store less than a mile away. He would grunt his assent then my mother would ask if anyone needed any water.
Too late to put out those fires, Ma.
They were confused when we arrived at their old homestead, wondering who lived there. We greeted the cats that my mother couldn’t remember and I silently kicked myself for not making sure she was keeping up with her water intake. She had recently suffered a UTI, which I later found out can exacerbate the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s. It would have been nice to know that sooner.
We arrived on Sunday and would be there until Thursday morning. I had as much planned out as I possibly could and we hit the ground running. We had eaten a very late lunch (my error in the location of the restaurant we planned on visiting) so when we got to the house, no one was very hungry. We had a few snack things left from the trip and they assured me they would be fine until morning. Minion and I were going to stay in a motel, since neither of us felt like sharing the bed in the basement. Because, ew. I love my son, but, ew.
Besides, it was a nice break from everything going on at the house. The next morning we picked up a fast-food breakfast and coffees and took them with us to the house. That’s when I discovered my parents had eaten one of the “frozen” dinners that had been sitting in the FRIDGE for six weeks. Not only did they eat them, they ate them COLD because there is no oven in the house.
FYI, here’s some TMI for you, my mother still has diarrhea from it.
Mom and I went to town to tend to some business and then we went grocery shopping. I picked up enough stuff to get us through the next few days, planning carefully so there would be very few leftovers to haul back. I also had to remind myself that I only have a single electric skillet in which to cook ALL our meals, so they would have to accommodate those limits as well.
I’m kind of over chicken and rice, just so you know.
While I was downstairs digging out mysterious things, wrestling spiders, discovering the skeletal remains of a lizard, and searching for dresser drawers, I heard someone talking. My cousin’s wife had heard we were there and had come out to see us. She helped out, trying to keep my mother comforted and on track, and reminding me that I’m doing the right thing. She kept saying she wasn’t being much of a help, but I can assure you she was a rock for all of us. She’d been through pretty much the same thing with her father, so she knew the path well. I am so thankful for her presence during that time, and even more thankful to have found a friend in the process. One does not meet such loving and caring people every day, and I consider myself very lucky to have someone like that in my family.
She came out every day we were there, and did her best to help. My mother spent a great deal of time just picking at stuff, not gathering her clothes like I kept asking. She would find a box of very old paperwork from a job she held 30 years ago, and look at it, wondering if she needed to keep anything.
Finally my cousin-in-law took it upon herself to go into my mother’s room and begin sorting through clothes. She managed to gather enough garments she thought would fit, and get them into a box. She also picked up several bags of garbage, stacked photographs, collected loose change into a box in a drawer, and managed to clear a decent pathway to the bed. Of course, the bed was stacked with books and strange odds and ends, so my mother couldn’t sleep on it, but at least we could get to it.
I made C-I-L take the bags of garbage out of the house and hide them somewhere, lest my mother open them up and begin picking through it. When she looked like she wasn’t sure I was telling her the truth, I showed her the bags I’d left there several months ago when they were still living there and I’d come out to help them clean. They had taken the bags from the back of my dad’s truck and gone through them, pulling out canned foods with expiration dates going back to the 1990’s.
We rented the truck, which was a shock to my parents. They expected the cost to be around $50 dollars. They were off by about $350. My father nearly wet himself, and not just because he forgot to go to the bathroom. Again.
Loading began on Tuesday and while I’d hoped we’d get it all done by Wednesday morning, we were still tossing “one more thing” into the back of the truck late that evening. My father packed a HUGE box of underwear. He already had a HUGE box of it at the new place, now he had TWO of them. The man can go two months before he needs to do a load of underwear. My mother, on the other hand, wears threadbare bands of elastic with shredded cotton holding it all together. She couldn’t remember the last time she bought underwear, stating she was “from a time when you used things all the way up.” Achievement unlocked, Mom, you wore those things to shreds.
Bags of stuff: old pens, slips of paper with nothing written on them, receipts so faded they can no longer be read, gum wrappers, broken flashlights, an old stereo speaker that stopped working when I was in high school…were the things they packed. I tried telling them they don’t need all that stuff, but they wouldn’t listen. My mother told C-I-L about being swept up unawares and taken to “a home” with strange people in it and I lost my shit. I yelled at my senile mother, in front of my cousin and my son. I reminded her that we had talked about it for months, she wrote it all down many times.
“I didn’t believe you,” she finally said.
“There are no strangers at the house, Ma. It’s just you two, Tam, and Tam’s son. I’m there when I can be, but no one else lives there.”
“Are you part of an organization that does this?”
“Takes in old people.”
“No, it was just a crazy thing Tam and I decided to do, and you two agreed it was a good plan.”
Wednesday night, Minion and I were toast and heading back to the motel. My mother was wide-eyed and wearing several articles of clothing, none of which matched. My father was wearing the jacket from one of her polyester pantsuits. When questioned, he shrugged and said, “I don’t know. She just came up to me and told me to put it on. So I did.”
“You look very fancy,” Minion said
“It’s too tight,” Pop said, struggling out of the seafoam green garment.
“Not your color, either,” I said, taking it from him and tossing it into the back of the truck. It was about then that I realized they thought we were leaving that night. It took me several minutes to calm them and assure them that we’d be back in the morning to get them and that’s when we’d leave.
Little did I know how much I’d come to regret that decision.
The next morning, I discovered they had taken their golden opportunity of extra time and collected more bags of crap to be loaded into the truck. There was another argument as I was attempting to clean up the cooking mess I’d left so the kitchen area would be ready for the next visit (although jut now, I realize that I forgot to pull the other unfrozen meal from the fridge, so that should be a lovely science experiment by the time I get back down there).
It was time to go. Mom was wandering around, clutching an old purse and a single shoe. “I can’t find the mate to this one,” she said.
“Mom, it’s time to go. I don’t know where the other shoe is, so you’ll need to leave it here.”
Oh, she left it, all right. She THREW that shoe across the room. “Fine!” she said, “There, now we have a pair somewhere in this house.”
I couldn’t decide if I should scold her as she would have scolded me when I was young for throwing a fit like that, or cheer because the shoe landed inside a box on the other side of the room.
She was crying on the way to the car and I kept trying to assure her I knew it was hard, and I was sorry she was feeling so sad, and I understood, but she was having nothing to do with that. She would mumble something and when Pop or I asked her to repeat herself, she would say, “I was just talking to Pop, but it doesn’t matter. It’s nothing important.” After the fifth time she did that, I had to struggle to keep from shouting, “BINGO! Another unimportant utterance from the queen of misery.”
With her mood as it was, she didn’t screech at my father for attempting to roll down the window just a little bit. He can’t quite grasp the buttons on the damn things. A light touch will allow you to control how far down it goes, but if you press too hard, the window goes all the way automatically. It’s the same with rolling it up.
“You want some help with that, Pop?”
“Ok, maybe a little help.”
“You want your window down a little bit, Ma?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s not important.”
The speedometer inched up to 75. I was going to do whatever it took to shorten the trip.
We got to the rest stop at the halfway point and her mood had finally improved enough she could finish a sentence with a period, rather than “it doesn’t matter” or “it wasn’t important.” I found a water cup with a straw that she could use for the rest of the trip, which seemed to delight her. She kept offering water to Pop and I every five minutes or so.
“Does anyone need water? Pop? Do you need water?”
“No, I’m good. I have my own.”
“Karen? Do you need water?”
“No thank, Ma, I have mine. That’s your water. You get it all to yourself.”
“You don’t need any?”
“Pop? Do you need water?”
I couldn’t make out exactly what he said, but I’m pretty sure he was making a suggestion where she could put the water.
It was time for a snack, so I asked my mother to hand me the bag of chips. She passed it forward and my dad put a pile on his lap then offered the bag to me. I took one chip then he passed the bag back to my mother.
“I’m done,” he said.
“Hey! I’m not! Mom, could you hand that back up here when you’ve had some?”
“Ok. Do you need water?”
“No. I need chips.”
“We have chips?”
“They’re in your hand, Ma.”
“I don’t like these,” she said, rolling up the top of the bag.
“I do, and I’d like some more, please.” Pop took the bag from her, grabbed a few more out before offering me any more. He started to take it away but stopped when I growled at him.
“Sorry,” he muttered.
“Anybody need water?”