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…