Buried in Clutter, Lost in Denial

Our elderly neighbors seldom come outside despite the park-like setting of their suburban yard.  We watch the exterior of their home deteriorate from lack of paint, boards coming loose and holes from animals welcoming decay.

Three walls of the home’s foundation need repair; however, only one is fixed.  Even after recommendations from workmen, landscapers and painters, their indecision stalls any project.  Lack of funds is not the issue.

Lorraine has fallen outside in the snow bank while retrieving the mail, another neighbor finding her and helping her to stand.  Lorraine’s husband Harvey is five-years older and suffers with chronic asthma and short-term memory loss.

You may think that they are isolated, that they don’t have family perhaps?  But they do, two grown daughters – one living within fifteen minutes the other an hour away.  They have friends and siblings, yet they need help.

Being neighbors for over twenty years, we have never been invited into their home.  Well, we have stepped into the front door to hand them a Christmas gift, borrow an egg or ask if they are willing to collect our mail while we vacation.

That changes Tuesday night when red lights streak through the night sky and alert us to trouble next door.

Their daughter’s car is not there and within a minute, I am knocking on their door and announcing myself as I walk in.  Three paramedics are busy assessing Lorraine, as Harvey wanders bewildered through the congested rooms.

After seeing they are both alive, my next thought is “I am standing on the set of the television show HOARDERS!”

Every surface of every counter, tabletop and window ledge is cluttered with papers, food, dishes and boxes that I assume contain “stuff.”  Piles of belongings are stacked everywhere and I wonder how they are living within this mess.      

I see a new reality that our neighbors have more than physical illness creating problems.  As the paramedics leave with Lorraine on the gurney, I wait with Harvey for their daughter to arrive, and I pray for a Christmas miracle.

This scene plays out in the home of millions of American households.  Ageing parents believe they are “okay” and “doing just fine.”  Over-extended children want to believe that is true, so they play the game, hoping that they can keep their heads buried within the fantasy.

Then a crisis occurs:  a parent is hospitalized, mom falls, a bone breaks, or a neighbor learns the truth after seeing their living conditions.

And the curtain they have hidden behind gets ripped in two.

And the hard work called REALITY begins…

This entry was posted in Aging, behavior, Hardships, Life's Losses, parents, Relationships, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Buried in Clutter, Lost in Denial

  1. Thank you for this powerful piece. Not sure how these situations can be prevented though as the couple at the end of the day are entitled to their privacy and many an elderly parent has driven a caring daughter or son to distraction. It is very sad.

  2. Becca says:

    I LOVE your blog, and have shared it several times on my Facebook page. But tonight, I have to take issue with your post. Silver Voice has a point. My parents are 92 and 94, and both are in very bag shape, but they will have nothing to do with having us, their adult kids, helping them. We got them each the Lifelinks (I’ve fallen and can’t get up buttons). They sent them back to the company. I could write and write on this topic, but at the end of the day, I have no control over how they choose to live. And it is heartbreaking. Maybe you know more about the couple and their adult kids than your post discusses. If not, then I ask you to reserve judgement. Their kids may not be lost in denial. They may be lost in sadness.

    • Greet Grief says:

      You are absolutely right Becca and I am being judgmental. I do know that in this case the kids thought they could put their heads in the sand – saw signs, etc. without discussing their concerns and asking their parents the tough questions and now they are playing catch up.
      I think the caregiver daughter in me wants to wake people up – say the hard things that others can’t say in hopes that parents will be proactive for their children’s sake.
      But yes, there are others who will never “get-it” or be willing to do anything but leave it to their kids to clean up after they are gone – those kids hands are tied (like yours) and I have a lot of empathy for that situation! Thank you Becca for expressing your thoughts as I value apposing viewpoints which lead to rich discussion! I do hope however you continue to share my blog 🙂

  3. Becca says:

    I will, no worries.

  4. suzjones says:

    I agree that it is difficult when the aging parents refuse to admit that there is an issue. I am watching this play out with the GG’s parents right now. Luckily his sister lives with them but she is limited in what she can do. The day is going to come when they lose their independence (FIL still drives but we wish that he didn’t) and then it is going to go south in a very big way. Children often do what they can to assist and help out but sometimes they get pushed away and told to mind their own business.

    • Greet Grief says:

      I am sorry that this is playing out in your family as well as it is difficult to maneuver and is very emotionally charged. Yes, we often get pushed away but I think we have to continue to try different tactics and continue to offer solutions as we never know when one will be ready to surrender (if they ever do!) In my experience the earlier conversations start regarding the “hard things” in life the better – like aging, death, dying, loss of control. Good Luck Suz as you journey forward!

  5. socialbridge says:

    You sum up so much about our world.

    • Greet Grief says:

      Unfortunately, this type of situation plays out in so many families. I am just an advocate of dealing with tough decisions before they become crisis situations and having open, honest conversations even when the subjects are difficult! Thanks for your comment 🙂

      • socialbridge says:

        GG, I’m with you all the way on this and I think it is largely up to us to discuss end of life matters well in advance with those who are likely to be affected by our possible frailty and inevitable deaths.
        The case you highlighted seems like one in which the discussion has been left too late.
        I don’t have huge faith in mediation etc within families when the crisis has already arisen.

      • Greet Grief says:

        Agreed! The question is why do so many wait? Fear, denial, lack of education throughout the aging process, faith communities that can’t even talk about death/dying? That is why I am so passionate about what I do – primarily talk about all these subjects and get people to think!

      • socialbridge says:

        GG, I sometimes wonder if people DO wait to the extent we are lead to believe. I know some do and I think a lot of that is because of a superstition that death will somehow come BECAUSE it is talked about ~ almost that talking = an invitation.

      • Greet Grief says:

        Exactly! Just like they didn’t want to talk to me when I was a widow because it might happen to them.
        Like death and end-of-life planning won’t come – with or without planning!

      • socialbridge says:

        Interesting about the widowhood aspect. I think that fears of contagion have a lot to answer for in so many spheres.

  6. This is the right website for everyone who hopes to find out about this topic.
    You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I really will need to…HaHa).
    You certainly put a fresh spin on a subject that’s been written about for ages.
    Great stuff, just excellent!

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