This is part one of Notes from the Problem Child

On my father’s 92nd birthday, my mom, brother and I marked the occasion by getting rid of all his clothes.

He wouldn’t be needing them anymore.  By that time, he’d been dead nearly 5 weeks.

Two thoughts echoing inside my head kept me from crying uncontrollably as we set to this arduous task of hunting, gathering, sorting clothes and assembling bags and boxes of like-items.  The first idea that relieved the sting from this procedure was that we’d be donating all the clothes to a shelter in the inner-city.  When my parents first got involved with the shelter, it was fledgling.  They volunteered to work in the soup kitchen every Thursday and serve food.  By that time in their lives, they were well into their 70’s and they‘d been doing it steady ever since.  The notion of two seniors venturing into a seedy part of Chicago to carry on with this filled me with a lot more respect for them, which was plenty to begin with.  My dad also founded a literacy program through the shelter and routinely visited some rough neighborhoods by himself to tutor children of broken homes.  These were kids without dads, whom he taught how to read.  I like to think that there are a few people walking around in a better place right now because of him.  Now that the shelter was thriving, with the donation of these new (old) clothes, I knew that, even in death, he was still helping bring more people to a better place.  At least they’d have some comfort.  It’d been a cold winter, not unusual for a town on the Great Lakes.

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It was his birthday and he was giving someone else a gift.

The other thought I had wasn’t as pleasant.  It was something that had burned inside me for years.  The collection and removal of clothes represented just a small fraction of the enormous amount of clutter that my parents (but in particular my dad) had amassed over the years.  And I was determined to get rid of it.  Dad was a collector (which is a nicer version of the word “hoarder” but the latter may be more appropriate). Since I’m the youngest of 3 kids, I have this feeling that I’m entitled to more anger about having to deal with this problem than my brother or sister.  Since most of this stuff had accumulated while I was living at the house (with my bother and sister away at college), I had dealt with it more.  I had tripped over, stubbed on, lost amongst and attempted to work and grow up around…junk, for longer than anyone else.  Of course I’m entitled to feel more frustrated by this, right?  And of course, with that, there’s a guilt that goes with carrying a degree of hate toward two people who were (and are) so accomplished, so good and wonderful.

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There was clutter; in more ways than one.

Problems started surfacing when my dad began deteriorating last spring.  He was sick and acting strange, at times nasty (totally unlike his personality).  He was not cooperating with doctors.  Doctors didn’t know exactly what was happening to him, which was another source of frustration.  New words entered our lexicon.  One of the most widely used was Dementia.  One symptom led to another and medication A was followed by medication B, then C.  My mom did her best to handle everything but she isn’t one to push for answers and keeps her feelings inside.  She more or less rolled with the punches.

To make matters worse, neither of my parents had a will, power of attorney or health care proxy, despite the pleadings of their children to be prepared for the inevitable.  We didn’t know what their wishes were or even where all their records were.  There’d been no discussions beyond the kids (very respectfully) asking for steps to be taken, for plans to be laid out.  We had anticipated trouble for years.  We asked for stuff to be thrown out, sold or designated to be handed down (God forbid either one of them should trip and fall).  We’d asked for home repairs to be made (for several years, they’d had no working shower and both bathroom sinks weren’t functioning).  We’d suggested they hire cleaning help and seek an elder law attorney.  No such luck.  We’d offer to help them do all this; “No thanks.”  We tried to convince them that they’d live a more enjoyable life, only to hear our parents retort; “We don’t like to be told what to do!“  Who on Earth was doing that?

These problems surfaced like slime stirred up from a riverbed.  You don’t always see slime but when you have to get out of the boat and swim, you find it clinging to you and you just want it to go away.  But like algae in a river, these family nuisances must have a purpose.  A purpose of which I’m still discovering and from which, I’m struggling to making sense.

Fortunately, a river flows.

Call me the Problem Child.  I’ll be telling my story here.  I hope it helps me.  I hope it helps you.  I welcome your thoughts.

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Written by Arthur Roeser
Arthur retells his story caring for his mother and father, covering many common issues caregivers face through first person narration, such as: hoarding, sibling conflict, parents unwilling to be helped, finances, communication with medical professionals, guilt, anxiety, stress and shame.

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7 Comments

  1. I am going through this as well. I live in the house I grew up in with my mom. Her health is actually not too bad, but she has severe arthritis which seriously limits her mobility – sitting, standing, walking, stairs.

    My mom is a 2nd generation ‘collector’ – my grandmother saved a LOT of stuff that “might come in handy later” – and she can attach meaning and emotional links to almost anything. (I’m hopeful that I can end that cycle, but not terribly optimistic)

    Anyway – our cellar is literally packed full of boxes of STUFF. Things that, at this point, neither of us could locate or remember we even have. Solid walls of packed boxes of unidentified everything!

    This past winter, a water pipe froze and burst in the very back of the cellar. It took hours to get enough wet, heavy, loaded boxes moved enough to even find the leak.

    Although mom has known for a while that we need to get rid of stuff, she is – of course – hesitant. But now it’s become imperative — mainly because those few hours I spent moving saturated boxes gave me an awful sinus infection and she worries when I’m sick. It lasted quite a long time too, from the moldy paper.

    My point in explaining all this is: I found a solution!!! There is a company called 1-800 GOT JUNK. They have franchises throughout the US and Canada, Australia and soon to be in the UK.

    You tell them what needs gone and they take it – whether it’s construction cleanup or post-estate sale and pretty much everything in between. Even appliances!

    The best part, I think, is that after they take your stuff (and only what you WANT them to take) they take it a warehouse and sort it! Items that are useful get donated, many things get recycled – I think the website said an average of around 75% gets redistributed.

    I was also pleasantly surprised to find out the cost for all this was about 1/3 what I had expected! A typical removal appointment lasts about 2 hours, but that can vary by need.

    It might not solve the WHOLE issue, but it can take a serious load off your shoulders! They were kind, polite and respectful – I wish I’d known about them sooner!!!

    Reply
  2. I certainly can relate to your issue as I have a husband who is a hoarder. He started years ago picking up stuff along the road that he figured he would use someday like wooden pallets, old metal cabinets, etc. etc. to set things on or maybe it might be needed for something else. His thing was I might need this for something someday and I won’t have to go buy it. I let him collect Hot Wheels and we have boxes and boxes of them scattered in the house, in the closet, out in the garage. Then I noticed he was saving articles clipped from newspapers, newspapers themselves, magazine, bread bags, labels off food and this now has become a real fire hazard in our house. I have already cleaned a good majority of this once before when he was in the hospital for an extended length of time, and I have done it again, in the past three weeks. One room done, another to go. It’s hard enough to be the caregiver and having to do everything inside the house and outside the house depending on the weather, whether it’s winter or summer. I have a daughter who is living on her own and has a wonderful job, but she thinks I am “melodramatic” about everything. I didn’t bring her up to be a slob and she turned out to be her dad. So, I certainly can relate to what a caregiver of a hoarder has to go through.

    Reply
  3. My daughter and I just spent 2 weeks cleaning out my mom & dad’s old house. My grandson is living there now, so he needed most of the furniture except the dining room set and some other stuff (thank god). Just going through 60 years of accumulated “stuff” in the house was daunting, and emotionally draining. We still have an huge barn filled with stuff left from my dad (deceased), and HIS dad (never cleared out), loads of antique farm equipment, and several outbuildings to go. My plate runneth over, for sure. I knew this was coming……but – oh my god. After the last two weeks, it drains me just to think about it. I’m an only child. So is my daughter. I am SOOOO lucky to have her helping me with this gargantuan mess.

    Reply
  4. My Dad is a ‘collector’ too. Everything is saved because he may it or a part of it for something else later. If nothing else, it goes into the piles of ‘recyclables’ – scrap metal (aluminum, copper, iron and mixed), styrofoam (for insulating under the house ‘someday’, wheels of all kinds and sizes, plastics, all wood is chopped up for the fireplace, on & on & on. He insists that what he/we can’t use should go into a garage sale so there are boxes and boxes of ‘good stuff’. He has been making efforts to clear out some of the junk. But I can foresee the day when we survivors order a dumpster (or six) to throw it all out.

    Reply
  5. I so understand. I am the horrible daughter in law who throws everything away. 🙁

    Reply
    • You’re in good company here.

      Reply
  6. I hear you loud and clear as I have been dealing with this myself for the past 5 years with limited help from one sibling and absolutely no help from the youngest

    Reply

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