What will it be, the person or the stuff?
I’ve had better days.
I spent yesterday morning surreptitiously reorganizing Mom’s closet and throwing out the ripped-up and mended and re-mended sweatpants that are all she will wear now. I’m not exaggerating when I say that to try to get her to wear something besides these has serious catastrophic results. She becomes agitated, freaks out: What if it’s windy? What if it’s cold? What if it rains? The best I could do was to pair pants with shirts that sort of went together. I hung them up so she and the caregivers can grab a matched pair of clothes at any moment.
At the grocery store later, I lost my temper when she insisted on digging through the garbage cans on the sidewalk. She wanted to score some more aluminum cans to add to the massive collection that she’s hoarding to sell to the recyclers, but that she won’t sell back to recyclers until the prices go up again. My frustration wasn’t rooted in control issues as much as it was in the idea of what might be in the trash can that could hurt her. Needles and other drug paraphernalia pop to the top of the list. The employee rolling carts back into the store laughed unabashedly when she saw my mom hunched over the trash can. In the car, I dug through my purse, found my small bottle of hand sanitizer, and dumped most of it in Mom’s hands.
Suffice it to say that I wasn’t in the best of moods when we pulled up to the house and found my dad there. I knew he was coming over — he wanted to see me and had offered to help clean up Mom’s yard — but I hadn’t counted on being in a shitty mood. My parents are divorced, so I guess it’s pretty effin’ dysfunctional to enlist his help, right? Especially since he has remarried and has kids that are young enough for me to be their mother. But hey, there it is. My sister and I even joke about hiring him to help with Mom sometimes, since he needs the money and who knows her better?
Anyway, that’s how my dad ended up clearing weeds and trash out of the back yard and Mom’s storage shed. If only he’d left it at that. Of course he couldn’t know about my day. Otherwise he wouldn’t have said that we should be cleaning out the junk that has piled up in the storage shed, and why haven’t we thrown out this trash that’s been in the yard since last month, and the yard looks like crap, etc., etc. When I pointed out that, you know, I don’t live in this city and I’m just here for a few days, he said that my sister should be taking care of this. Now, there’s a good one: my sister, the social worker who takes care of Mom’s doctors’ appointments, who shuttles our mother back and forth between their two homes on opposite ends of town, who has even taken her to work when a caregiver unexpectedly quits, who has a house and husband and step-kids of her own, yeah, let’s pile more responsibility on her.
The fury rose thick and hot in my throat. How dare he criticize? All I wanted to say was, “Dude, now let’s just back up here for a minute. Because you don’t live here anymore. Remember? She’s not your responsibility anymore, and what happens at her house isn’t hurting you!”
But the truth is that my anger isn’t really at him, not all of it anyway. I’m actually royally fucking pissed off that someone like my mom, who spent half of her life doing for others — for family, for the poor, who always put her meager money where her mouth was whether I liked it or not — gets to finish her life off this way.
I’m also angry that there is so much emphasis placed on the material shit in life — and I fall into that trap, too — on the upkeep of the yard, the house, the furniture. My mother-in-law’s house sat empty for an entire year, collecting dust on furniture and clothing, because my husband could either spend time with her at the residence where she lives, or he could spend time cleaning the house and preparing it for sale. So, besides running his business, which was his priority going to be — the house or the woman whose lucid time was rapidly dwindling? Now that she doesn’t walk, talk or recognize us, I have to say that the time the house sat empty was actually time well spent, since we spent it with her.
The fact is that those who criticize your concept of caregiving frequently are ignorant about how your priorities shift when faced with this sort of upheaval. As I write this, my mother is in the shower. I suppose I could be outside pulling up weeds or trimming the shrubs in the front yard, but what if she falls and I don’t hear it? Or suppose that instead of driving Mom to have dinner with other family members across town we decide to clean out the aforementioned storage shed? Who will that benefit in the long run?
Yes, these things must be done, especially if there are safety hazards involved. Right now, there aren’t, so frankly, they’re not at the top of my list. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to clean the storage shed and the yard once she’s gone, but for now, I think I’ll focus on the person, rather than her material crap.
Even Dad got it when I frostily explained that my time with Mom is exactly that, time with her. He volunteered to come back and help with the other stuff another time.