Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making Way for Reality

I have not blogged anything in months for many and various reasons. Number one and foremost is time. There just hasn't been a block of time where I have felt that I could sit down and give myself the pleasure of letting the words pour out of me. There has just been too much going on in and around my life the last several months that has required so much of my attention.

It came to my siblings and my attention in early July that our parents were in need of help. We had no idea of the extent of the help they needed until my sister, Patty, flew up from California and we made our foray into the basement. There, we discovered that my father had not thrown away any mail since 2005. There were boxes full of junk mail, magazines, birthday cards, Father Day cards, requests from every charity known to man, subscriptions to the NRA, every veteran association, hundreds of catalogues and the list would go into infinity. My father has never owned a gun and probably has not shot one since he left the Army when WW II (and I'm not sure how often a clerk in the army shoots guns) was over so why he felt he had to be a card carrying member of the NRA is beyond my comprehension.

And there was a myriad of house repairs to be done from the small to the large. And though my mother had always kept a clean house, at 90, she was no longer able to do it all. My daughter calls her "Pocket Grandma" because Mom has become so tiny and frail. Katy just tells her she's going to put Grandma in her pocket and carry her around. There is also a large contingency of elderly Americans that became huge material consumers, buying everything they desired, because they could. But they also had the memories of living through the depression, so very little is thrown away because you can always find a use for it later. I have done some reading on this and it is very common amongst the elderly. I also discovered that many of my friends have gone through this exact same thing at one time or another. I urge you to cautiously check your parents basement. And check their canned goods for the expiration dates, that in itself makes for one very scary adventure when you wonder if you've been eating this stuff when we came over for dinner!

This meant starting at the ground level and that meant the garage. Patty, Tony and myself spent one whole day in breaking down the cardboard boxes and hauling one packed to the rafters load to the recycling center. This gave us a center of operations. I spent several days bagging over 2500 home made video's. As I was pulling them off the shelves, I stopped to look at one and had to laugh. My father had taped Mary Poppins for his granddaughters. Wasn't that the sweetest thing? But the next movie was Psycho. I shudder to think how old my girls were when Grandpa handed them this tape to watch.

My job was also to go through the towering boxes of mail and pull out anything that was of value and importance and to contact as many as I could to remove my parents from the mailing list. I found letters from psychics, hundreds from charities requesting money, and catalogues selling the most useless junk I have ever seen. Unfortunately, my father was sending a lot of money to charities, ordering this useless junk and I don't even want to know about the psychics. This project alone took weeks and is still not entirely done.

As I was sitting there making my lists, my phone calls and bagging up this mountain of paperwork to be taken to recycling, Patty was going through closets, drawers, cupboards and pulling out the remnants of our childhood and the accumulation since we all left home. I believe the count was 32 flashlights, countless radio's and enough batteries to keep Seattle going through the next windstorm. We also made a pact. If there was any duct tape on it, it went into the garbage. This was the only way my father knew how to "fix" anything, and that was to duct it.

Tony, bless his heart, put on his carpenter belt and went to work tearing down old shelving, building new shelving, replacing parts of the deck and correctly fixing what was broken. Phillip managed to come up for several days and he and Tony went to work on the yard which resulted in a completely filled commercial dumpster. Carol and Delo came up from Arizona and spent at least three weeks on the cleaning, repairing and painting crew.

So, several months later the results were about 25 truckloads to the dump, a three day garage sale and nine loads to Goodwill. The house breathed a sigh of relief, it is clean, repaired, painted and comfortable. I no longer get that claustrophobic feeling because all of the 160 copper jello molds that were on the kitchen wall have found new homes.

Also, just before and during all of this my fathers health deteriorated rapidly and the effect of all this chaos and worry over my father took it's toll on my mother. For instance this was a typical day for us: I went grocery shopping, arrived at my parents house, went to work on the paperwork while around nine in the morning Patty took Daddy to the doctor as we felt he had a bowel obstruction. Mom accompanied them to the doctor. I had hired my nephew, Michael, to come help Tony do heavy loading and dump runs. I went upstairs in the early afternoon to start dinner when the phone rang. It was Patty asking me to come to the doctors office to get Daddy as he was tired and hungry and needed to go home but she had to stay there because during Daddy's checkup, Mom started to have a "heart episode" and was in triage. I ran out of the house, telling the boys I would be back and why.

I get to the doctors office and I was not able to see my mother because she was in having x-rays and would probably be transferred to the hospital. So we load Daddy into my car and drive him home where I feed him and put him to bed. I finished the dinner preparations, and was getting ready to call Joanie to see if she could stay with my Dad while Tony and I run to the hospital to see Mom when the front door opens and in walked my Mother and Patty. I asked Mom why she wasn't at the hospital and she declared with her usual no nonsense Midwestern attitude "If I'm going to die, I'll darn well die in my own bed!" My response to that was "Fine, dinner's on the table, let's eat." What else can you say?!

My point of this blog is that we are a family in transition. Our parents needed us and I hope and think we stepped up for that. We worked together as a unit, we declared Patty as the President of this new corporation and we took her direction. And the one thing I am the proudest of is we did it with love and a huge sense of humor. We could not be angry that Dad had 32 flashlights. We had to laugh and we made it a game of whoever found the most flashlights won.
If somebody got grumpy, we didn't get mad or angry at them, we fed them because that's what Italian familes do. We laughed when we realized that Mom had over 400 tablecloths with matching napkins because that is so my Mother.

So, at this point in our new journey, our 94 year old father has diabetes, cancer, macular degeneration, dementia and assorted other issues. He has times where he doesn't know who we are, or he worries about us because he thinks we are small children and constantly asks Mom where we are if we are not in the room. He does remember that I am the one doing most of the cooking and when I walk in the question is always what am I fixing for dinner. What can I say, food is very important in our family! Patty takes very good care of him with Tony as backup.

So our days of twelve to fourteen hours a day of hard labor are coming to an end and the biggest loss was the lovely bottle of Napolean Brandy I dropped that we were going to drink when it was all done. Patty and I both shed a tear or two over that.

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