Friday, April 22, 2016

Update on Dorothy

My mother this past Easter, with flowers sent by my sister.

My mother is in her late 80s. A year ago, she suffered a "silent" heart attack that gave all of us an abrupt wake-up call. I haven't posted about her in a very long time, but she's still puttering along, like an Energizer bunny, but with a dwindling battery. (Even Energizers eventually run out of juice.)

My mother lives a six-hour drive away from me, so I'm lucky if I see her a few days a month. I find it frustrating to pop in and out of her life. I see so much that needs doing, but have limited time and, to be honest, limited energy.

Health-wise, my mother is much as she was a year ago: weak, frail, but stable. She's had a minor procedure to correct droopy lower eyelids -- it went well and she's recovered quickly.

One of the biggest issues right now is the slow but steady, inexorable accumulation of paper and clutter.

My mother and her husband, Harry, came of age during what he calls the Dirty Thirties and what I call the Great Depression. It was a period of widespread economic devastation, and many families suffered extreme poverty. Many who grew up during that time have lasting struggles with hoarding. My mom and Harry are among them.

They keep everything. EVERYTHING. Every receipt (we found cash register receipts going back to 2012), every gift, every sock, every promotional flyer or direct mail offer. Every drawer is a junk drawer. The "spare room" is a warehouse, busting at the seams.

My siblings and I have made heroic efforts to battle Harry's and Mom's anxiety about discarding things, but it is a losing cause. On one visit, I tackled the kitchen, but when I came back a month later, there was only room for one person to sit at the table (and it was a small niche carved out). While I tackled the warehouse, the table groaned under the weight of the papers, bottles, and pills. I spent hours in that spare room and it barely looked like I'd opened the door.

A personal-support worker visits my mother twice a day. She helps with bathing, dressing, and two of the four medicine regimes. But it's not enough. Harry, who has been the Rock of Gibraltar in keeping things going, is beginning to fail. He can't reach his own feet. His short-term memory is shot.

I'm incredibly grateful that my sister and her family live on the lower level of the house. I'm also glad of the many delivery services that keep Mom and Harry stocked with food and medicine.

It seems like a stupid thing to be so obsessed with, but it really is a struggle for us. Important things (cheques, bills, medicine, legal documents) get mixed up in the piles of paper detritus, and we can't seem to stem the tide.

And this is not the kind of issue that personal-support workers are expected to deal with, nor do cleaning services.

I know we're not the first family to face this challenge. Any tips?


  1. I see this a little bit in my own aging parents - not quite hoarding status, but still there is a lot of Stuff that seems to enter the house and never leave! Sadly, I don't have any good tips because when I started talking to my mom about the issue - how a cluttered living space leads to cluttered thoughts and stress, she did agree and I thought "well, that was easy."
    And then she showed up at my house with 2 boxes of stuff. Now I have to purge!
    Glad to hear you mom is otherwise doing okay -- I am sure there must be some kind helper/organization that understands the hoarding situation.

    1. Heck, I see those tendencies in myself. There's nothing like cleaning up someone else's mess to motivate me to get a grip!


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