Elderly Parents Girl Talk Romance & Relationships Writing & Books: dealing with clutter dealing with elderly parents decluttering Girl Talk mother/daughter relationships Writing & Books
I’m back. Or at least I hope so. This is by far the longest I’ve gone without posting a blog since I started Bonjour Colorado in 2008. Even throughout the craziness of working as a ski instructor at Telluride Ski Resort during epic snow years, I’ve never let so much time pass without being in touch. But I can’t begin to explain how upended my life has been these past months.
I never imagined that the death of one parent might trigger a whole series of events that would make my brain feel like mush. Honestly. (The six months leading up to this life-changing event were extremely stress inducing, however, the last few months have been mind numbing.)
I’ve barely been able to keep up with emails let alone string two sentences together for a story. I had a deadline for Forbes Travel a few weeks ago that I just kept putting off. I’ve never blown off deadlines like that but I felt like I couldn’t compose a proper sentence. Finally, I forced myself to sit down and commit to the act of writing. What first sounded like an instruction manual ended up reading with more of a flourish after an hour of tweaking, so that experience helped me to regain confidence in myself as someone that has not become totally unhinged.
From that point on, I swore I would write at least a couple of hours every day. It has been a couple of weeks and I’m just sitting down now to jot off a few lines. So much for deadlines and goals.
What have I been doing? Well, I guess the best response is I’ve been juggling a ton of physical, emotional and mental clutter. I’ve been seeking some kind of normalcy, some kind of routine while everything around me has been shifting and transforming like an iceberg in the Arctic during the month of July.
My father passed away in March and since then, there has been an endless series of to-dos, none of which have had much to do with my own work. I spent a sweet period of mourning this spring with my mother in upstate New York, during which time we started to adjust to the idea of Dad no longer being around while writing thank you notes to the many people that sent flowers, goodies, donations and mass cards. I also accompanied Mom to a lot of her doctors’ appointments and attempted to gain better knowledge of what was happening in her world.
Then as if my father was upstairs pulling strings, we learned that there was a serious offer on our house at Lake George in the Adirondacks. After having been on the market for almost five years, it seemed as though it was now time to sell. Well, you know what they say about death and moving.
I will be writing about the Lake George move–or maybe I should say pack up–in an upcoming post. Although stressful, it was also beautiful and full of love and treasured moments. (I have some great pictures, too.) But I certainly underestimated the flip side of those doings–how it would be to deal with all the LG stuff once back in Troy, my parents’ primary residence.
I parachuted into Telluride after the closing of the lake house the latter part of June. It was a brief week filled with doctor’s appointments (for my cats and me), tons of errands, house cleaning, flower planting, radio show tapings and the best catch up with my beau that I could muster. My sinus infection peaked early on, which made the week seem like even more of a blur. Halfway through, my niece came for a visit, one largely prompted by my need for her to help me carry my two cats back to the northeast on the plane. (Only one cat per person is allowed in the cabin, so her assistance was key. More on my travels with my cats later, yet for now I can say that they are superior travelers and are currently having a blast in what appears to be a five-star resort for them.)
So far so good as my brain slowly eased into a more relaxed state, one in which I was not thinking OK, this goes here and this goes there and this goes to one of my brothers and this goes to this niece and this goes to Goodwill and I have to wash this before I put it away and I better not forget to take Mom’s favorite garden tools that she showed me and I wonder where I put my contact lens solution in that pail of toiletries and I better call and check on why the carpet cleaning guys haven’t showed up yet and what the heck happened to that sweet little vase that I had put aside in my pile and where is Mom’s iron–that one works far better than the one she has at home and she told me she wanted it. And on and on and on. We all forget the circuitry that happens in our mind during a move. It’s like putting your brain on steroids and asking it to work like the latest, greatest Apple device on the market. And don’t get me going on the physical pain; no matter how many professionals have been hired to do the heavy lifting, all the packing, moving and cleaning still beat up your body.
Thankfully I had the sense to plan to spend the whole summer in Troy, New York, helping my mother to adjust to her new life living full time in the house she has resided in for over sixty years. But boy did I underestimate the work involved. I thought, OK, I’ll spend the first week helping Mom settle in from the Lake, then I’ll slowly chip away at the rest while I catch up on my work and keep her company over delightful dinners shared al fresco. Of course I envisioned completing a book I began in 2008 and enjoying many fun times with Mom.
Well, the New York City Ballet at SPAC came and went without Mom and I in attendance and I can barely write a story. I need a lot more catching up with my life and writing in general before I’m able to put my head in the right space to write a book. Sometimes just doing postings on social media is about all I can handle. And needless-to-say, I haven’t done a single promotion for my travel memoir, A Tour of the Heart: A Seductive Cycling Trip Through France. Quel dommage! But really, I’m just doing what I can handle right now and that includes mostly what’s in front of me, what’s clogging up my physical space inside and outside Mom’s house.
So I’ve been cleaning out closets and cupboards, helping Mom to hoe out some of what has accumulated in her primary residence for over sixty years, I’ve also been sweeping driveways and sidewalks, weeding and pruning, dead-heading flowers, watering seemingly endless hours of the day in an effort to maintain fresh plantings and revive old, tired grass and when time permits, I even pick a few posies for the charming bouquets I like to fashion for the house. Growing up, Mom and I enjoyed some of our best bonding over shopping but these days it’s become far less glamorous as we trudge about for patio accessories, mulch, grass seed, sprinklers, sensible shoes, canes, handrails and large stocks of cat food. (Mom has a cat as well.)
Basically I’ve been attempting to help Mom in a gazillion different ways. I am the only daughter and yes, much to my surprise, I have suddenly arrived at this time in my life where BAM, my brain has been overtaken by a laundry list of things I never imagined assuming in my life. I never thought I’d become the gardener extraordinaire at my parents’ house. (Sure, we’ve hired outside help but it takes them weeks to show up and still, you can’t have others do it all. With all the new trees, shrubs, grass and flowerbeds and the ongoing drought in the northeast, I often spend hours on the watering detail alone.)
And no, I did not imagine cleaning out and organizing the closets and cupboards at home quite at this stage in my life. But when it came to putting away things from the lake house, I realized that every nook and cranny of space was already loaded and it was impossible to shoehorn in another thing. Oh, and not to mention the pantry pests–yikes! These moth-like creatures have become my nemesis. The only way to approach the eradication of these little beasts is by being full-on OCD; so armed with Mr. Clean, white vinegar and bay leaves, I’ve mounted the charge against these pesky annoyances that even professional exterminators have not been able to conquer.
Mom has helped but she doesn’t have the energy for all this craziness. To make matters worse, she often takes offense over how and when I choose to do things. She practically booed me off the property, for example, when she saw me gardening in my bathing suit on a hot summer’s day. It takes a lot of letting go on both our parts. I don’t especially want to be here doing this right now and she doesn’t want it either. But it has become a necessity at this point in our lives, so we must embrace it.
“You’ll be doing this house next,” she said to me when I came home from the move from the lake.” Having left the property a week before the closing, she had saved the bulk of the work to my brother, David, and me, which was actually a smart move on her part. As pictures were being removed from the wall in front of her, it had all become too much, too much work, too much stress, too many emotions. I was grateful that she trusted my brother and I enough to just turn it over for our completion.
Mom has admitted herself that she should be considering senior living at this stage of her life–at the age of 83–or at least in an easy-to-care for apartment or residence with just a few flower boxes to fill. Instead, she’s in the house her father built: a seven-bedroom, five-bathroom home with gardens that have been rather neglected after having spent full summers at Lake George for many years. (Caring for two properties had all become a bit much for everyone.)
So here I am trying to embrace this lifestyle that is so different from the one I most consciously chose in Colorado. I’m not a gardener and I’m not a fan of large living spaces. But I do like things to look nice and we all want our mother to feel happy at home. At least for another handful of years, particularly since I can’t handle “doing” another house. Not yet, in any event. (I counted over thirty pillows from the beds at the lake house and that’s not even including the piles of throw pillows that festooned the house, porch and boat deck. And that’s just pillows, folks!)
My brain needs a vacation. Thankfully I have created a sanctuary in my childhood room here in Troy. That was the first thing I did. I, too, had a closet full of crapola that I hadn’t cleared out in decades. (It doesn’t help that my size hasn’t changed much over the years and most everything comes back into fashion at some point anyway.) I didn’t buy anything except for one five-dollar can of paint to freshen up a book shelf. I just cleaned and organized, rearranged the furnishings and integrated some of my favorite items from the lake and voilà, paradise.
I escape here when I can’t tune out Mom’s Judge Judy, Chopped, The Chew and seemingly endless reruns of Law and Order and CSI–even when just passing through to pour myself (or her) another wine from the kitchen. I love my mother dearly but indeed we have our work cut out for us. She, in turn, has asked me (with a repulsed look on her face) “What are you smoking up there?”
“It’s my incense, Mom. Remember, I told you I light that up when I do my yoga.”
She guffaws and I don’t have any apologies to offer.
I can no sooner give up my powerful Nag Champa Agarbatti Satya Sai Baba incense than she could stop buying excessive quantities of food. I’ve found myself, in fact, lighting up at random times, even when I’m not in yoga mode. Funnily enough, I’ve also noticed that our three freezers are now more loaded than ever before.
There’s no doubt we both have our quirks and compulsions yet together, we have tons in common and I’m praying we will get through this.
We both have to adjust to this new normal. Slowly but surely. She had lunch with some friends the other day, which was wonderful not only because most of her friends are no longer alive, but also because it gave us time apart. (We have been practically inseparable these past weeks, something that puts even the best relationships to the test.) “Esther says that she has hired someone to come in and organize her house once a week, to hoe through her belongings and weed things out,” Mom mentioned in sort of a sheepish manner. “She can only tolerate it two hours at a time, once a week because it’s too much for her.”
“Hmph,” I replied. “Did you tell her that that’s what I’m doing for you now?”
Mom feigned an affirmative response, which I nonetheless took as an acknowledgement of my efforts.
Mom’s not big on praise but fortunately I have Dad with me on this journey. I heard his voice the other day as I was walking to the mailbox. I bent down to pick up a twig–one of many I’ve gathered up off the lawn–and heard his voice. “You’re doing a good job, Hun.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said out loud with a full heart and a smile.
Then I heard him chuckle.
As long as we keep laughing, we will be alright. And a good cry from time to time helps, too.
I wrote the above early August but stopped short in posting it. Honestly, I couldn’t find a moment and was less and less in writer’s mode. Our stress piqued around this time due to the fact that a pile of legal wranglings was added to our already full plate. Between shopping for even more bags of soil, mulch and sprinklers, Mom and I entered the world of affidavits and legalese. In the company of my brother, David, the three of us even had our own Judge Judy experience in court. We tried to steal a few laughs where we could but in truth, there was not much to laugh about.
Before all this added insanity set in, I had given my mother a card for her birthday mid-July that said go forth and be fabulous. I declared that that was to be our mantra. We were able to repeat it to each other many mornings with our heads held high yet there were also many days when we felt plowed over by what we were going through.
Not surprisingly, Mom was stricken by the debilitating pain of shingles, a most unfortunate happening since her health had already been greatly compromised these past months. By Labor Day, I came down with gastritis, which came about on the heels of a couple of other “itises” that were wearing me down. It actually came as a relief to be confined to my bed for many days. The recovery has been slow for both of us and I’m still not at the point where I can tolerate the heady smell of my incense. Like so much else these days, it feels nauseating to me. But as with so much else, I’m praying this too shall pass and Mom and I will soon regain our strength.
Fortunately Mom and I stand united; we have forged forward and we’ve even sometimes been quite fabulous in so doing. I extended my stay home an additional month to buckle up our projects inside and out. The property surrounding the family home has been restored to its original glory, something that Mom and I admired up close as we perused the grounds together before I left for a short respite in Colorado. It was a tour that brought us both to tears. But still, we both choked them back because we wouldn’t dare unleash the flood of emotions behind them.
Most everything from the lake has been put away and all that remains is a bit of picture hanging and a few cupboards to organize. There’s a bit more hoeing out to do with Dad’s closet as well. All this should be finished within the upcoming weeks.
I believe I can declare victory over the pantry pest situation, since Mom and I haven’t spotted one in over a month. Still, though, I’m not going to get cocky and all wheat products will forever remain in plastic containers and Ziplock bags. (Or at least until I’m back in Colorado for the winter and Mom decides she’ll do whatever the hell she wants to do until my return next spring.)
Best news of all: Mom gave me a little day planner before I left for Colorado, one plastered with the slogan “be awesome.” Yay, Mom. That’s the attitude. Together we are doubly awesome and even with our various maladies and upsets, we are strong women.
With the help of family and friends–especially those that have shown their unending support of us these past months–we will get through whatever is tossed our way.
In so doing, we will become more fabulous than ever before.
And not surprisingly, whether you have troubles or not, I hope that you will find strength and joy in adopting the mantra go forth and be fabulous.
Be awesome works well, too.
For tips on decluttering, see what professional organizer Donna Smallin has to say at Unclutter.com. Donna and I share a Troy connection. She’s a smart, super-together lady that knows how to employ systems to help you sort out all the stuff in your life and find greater serenity as a result.