Friday, July 1, 2016

Sibling Estrangement

I called my father this past week. It was a short call, only about 10 minutes. That's how long our chats are. He usually fills up the call with the weather or politics or a current event. Rarely something personal.

So I was surprised when in the middle of the call he asked, "Have you heard from your sister?"
"No," I said.
"Yeah, neither have I."
I haven't heard from my sister since December 2013. She had always held resentment to me, seeing me as The Golden Child. She would vent to me about our parents, but if I validated and subsequently shared my own similar experience she'd lash out at me. The last talk we had was  a Skype chat. I tried to schedule another chat but that was it, she had other plans. I'll go it more detail with what she planned and how she carried it out, but it didn't work out.
"Did you try calling my sister?" I said.
"Oh no," my father said.
"Why do you think she wouldn't call you?" I said.
"Her husband never liked us," my father said, diverting the talk, "he would go in the other room to eat when we entered the room or not talk to us."
"Hmm, do you know why?"
"No I don't know why."
"Do you suspect why my sister doesn't call you now?"
"No, I have no idea."
I grew frustrated with his evasiveness. Maybe I was falling into his trap again.
"Maybe," I said, "just maybe, they are angry at you because your lawyer brought in the Adult Protective Services and they carried out an investigation which resulted in them receiving an ultimatum to leave your house and to have no further part of your care. Maybe she is still angry."
"Well I don't know about that," he said.
"What do you mean," I asked.
"Look," he said, "I don't remember. I was sick so my memory isn't what it was once."
"You don't remember this?"
Then he excused himself saying he had to go to dinner.
His conversations usually end abruptly with a breakfast, or a dinner or an ice cream social, anything to get out of actually talking.
He plays around with his memory problem. He had one seizure in October 2013 and said how he didn't remember what happened that week, gradually after that everything that I brought up that he found uncomfortable, then he brought up his memory as being at fault, unable to recall specific events particularly ones that had the most significance.
I'll like to go back and explore the events that lead up to the current sibling estrangement.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Trained Disappointment

Is dashing your expectations a common trait of hoarding parents, without even referring to the hoard itself?

This was something that I used to discuss in therapy and became acutely aware of how this was a chronic behavior by my parents, almost taking delight in finding ways to disappoint me.

So I have tried to be aware of warning signs when I feel a disappointment building. Sometimes I better at doing this than others.

Complaining in the Home
My parents are now living in a two bedroom apartment in an independent living facility. After being there a year, my father started to complain to me on our weekly phone calls. He would say things like:
"It's boring here."
"They don't give us enough activities."
"They don't listen to my suggestions."
"Hardly anyone attends the lectures they provide, and I'm the only one to ask questions."
I heard this week after week and I tried to keep a thick skin and not get involved. The complaining continued. Finally, I said, "Would you like to get more information about independent living facilities near where I live?"
"Yes I would," said my father.

Getting Involved
I repeated my question a few times to make sure that he really wanted me to round up some information for him. "No pressure," I said, "after I send you the information we can discuss it and see what is missing, if you actually want me to visit any of these facilities for you."
Geographically I live very far from my parents, a long plane-ride away, so if this happened it would be a big move.
My father reassured me that he wanted me to gather up the information. "Don't send it by fax," he said, "try to mail it."
They did not use email and barely used the internet. He was concerned that the people in the facility he was living in would see the fax come in before delivering it to him. I reassured him that I would send the information in a printed letter (snail mail).

I had spoken to a few advisors in my area on good options for independent living arrangements. I put the information into an Excel file and printed it up and sent it off.

At our weekly phone call, my father didn't mention anything about receiving any mail from me. I waited another week. Again no mention. Then another week. I saw he wasn't going to be forthcoming. "So did you get my letter with information about independent living options in my area?"
"Oh yes," he said.
"What this week? Recently?"
"No," he said, "two weeks ago."
"Ok," I said, "do you have any questions, do you want additional information, do you want me to visit any of these places."
"No, no that won't be necessary."
"Uh, ok," I said, "anything else?"
"No, no, we like it here, we had a nice dinner tonight."
He stopped complaining about the place, didn't ask me any more about options in my area, and didn't talk about even considering leaving the independent living facility anymore.

A few weeks later I was talking to my mother. She complained a little and expressed concern, about the possibility if my father were to pass away before her. "Well I sent a letter with information about options in my area, would you like to discuss it?"
"Yes I would," said my mother.
"Do you have the letter with you?"
"I think it's here somewhere."
"Can you ask Dad?"
"I'm asking him, but he's not here."
"Where is he?"
"He just walked out."
The letter never turned up and nothing was discussed.

Kind of like this:

Do you encounter chronic episodes of disappointment or dashed expectations from your parents?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Splitting Up?

Spoke to my father last night. My parents are living in an independent living facility. They moved back in 2014, and shortly after sold the house that was hoarded. They didn't sell the house themselves, but had help from an estate planning attorney appointed financial planner. I think if it would have been up to them they would have stayed in the hoarding house to the end.

Pulling Teeth
When I call my father, he immediately lets me know that he is the middle of something. This time he was in the middle of a lecture by a children's author talking about stories.
He joked, saying "You know I'm one of only 3 men in this place, and there are another 70 women."

Otherwise, he told me that everything is going great.

"Have you been to the doctor lately?" I asked.
"Yes I have an appointment this afternoon," he said.
He talked about the weather, the upcoming presidential elections, and some activities in their independent living facility.
"So everything is good," I said.
"Well," he sighed, "I did have another episode."
"Sleepwalking?" I asked.
"No, I was in the lobby reading a newspaper and I seemed to pass out."
"You fell asleep while you were reading?"
"No, they think I might have had a minor seizure or something."
"Well did you go to the doctor since then?"
"Yes I'm going today, but I was looked at."
"In the ambulance."
"What ambulance?"
"After I passed out the people in the lobby called an ambulance."
"Were you aware, were you awake then?"
"Yes, of course, um, I think so."

Mom's Update
He reassured me that he was doing good now.
"So how is Mom," I asked again.
"Well," he hesitated, "I guess fine."
"How fine? Does she show resentment towards you?"
"Yes, all the time."
"About anything in particular?"
"No, she is just constantly berating me, and she sees things that aren't there. She says she hears people in our living room, or a cat in the kitchen. But there's nothing."
"She's still going to the other nursing home for activities twice a week?"
"Yes, she goes by herself. I need the break."
"Are you able to relax?"
"Does she have any preferences?"
"She says that she'd like to live near you. But that is completely out of the question, we aren't leaving this city."
"She will probably be moving."
"Moving where?"
"To the nursing home that she visits twice a week."
"To live there permanently?"
"Yes," he answered.
"What is the living conditions like over there?"
"Oh, wonderful, I am having a great time."
"No," I snapped, "I mean in the nursing home where Mom will go. Will she have her own room, or be with a roommate?"
"I don't know," he said.
"When will she go?"
"I don't know."
"What does she think about this?"
"She doesn't know. The financial planner is organizing this."

So my father will soon by one of three men with over 70 senior ladies around him, and will only see his wife once a week.

The financial planner had warned me that my mother was starting to be a handful. Next update.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Watching From Afar

Watching From Afar
Without direct contact, I have only seen a little bit of what is happening on the ground from my niece's Facebook updates. Upon arriving at my parents place, she wrote "Saw my grandparents house, the first house I ever lived it looks like shit."

I knew exactly what her impression was, how heavy and depressing the place felt.

"I feel like I've already been gone for weeks and its only been a day."

Books stores are adorable with the lil old people

 are apparentally coming home anytime betweed the 1st and the 20th

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Bad Guy

My sister is cleaning up the hoard house. Kind of strange to be considering this taking place. My sister had made her plan absolutely clear to get the house cleaned up for the past year.  Then when I suggested that my sister was set on cleaning up the house, to move in and take over, my parents dismissed that. So I took a more reserved (aloof?) approach and held back and watched. Talking to my sister wasn't an option. I just could not talk with her anymore, it was too difficult. My comments to her were met with accusations, leaving me to feel like an outsider in the family dynamics.

Checking Out the Hoarder's House
I went to visit my parent's house earlier this year. My sister insisted that I should roll up my sleeves and help clean up the hoard while I was there. I held back, and made her frustrated, focusing more on my parent's well being. I saw the hoard as an enormous project. Not only was it big, my parents made it clear that they didn't want me touching it. With my father's health in question, and my mother barely functioning intellectually, I put before my parents their options, and they confided in me at how shocked that their situation had deteriorated.

Not Much Input from Home
In talking with my parents I don't get much input about their lives.
"How is it going?" I asked.
"Everything is just as it should be, I guess," my mother said.
"Ok, well you're getting ready to move right?"
"OK. That's a big change. Very exciting," I said.
"I don't know how exciting it's going to be. But it is a big change."

They had  decided on the option to move in with my sister. They didn't discuss or explain what that meant on a practical level. The hoard house would take awhile to sort things out and bring up to a proper standard. They didn't divulge what was to happen with the house, and who would take possession.

"Ok," I asked, "so they are flying out to you and then getting a Uhaul and everyone is going back with that?"
"I'm not sure exactly how its going to work," said my mother, "With your sister, how she plans things come out different then how they start."
"That sounds exciting."
"Yes and I know you want to hear all about it,"  my mother said, accusingly.

It's Only Stuff
I visualized what I still had in the hoard house. Years ago, I had packed up 6 boxes and put them in my closet. Half of those boxes were papers from school projects. They could easily be put out to recycle. Another couple boxes were books. They could be taken to the used book store. The last box was my vintage Star Wars toys. I had checked on eBay for what they might be worth. Hardly a fortune. Maybe the box could go for $100, to some earnest collector.

As  peer encouraged, "Just keep repeating to yourself the mantra, 'It's only stuff and I have better things to do than get worked up about stuff!'"

The Scope of the Hoard
I had always believed that tackling the hoard was a big project, and to properly sift through nostalgic items, possible old items of value, and donate stuff could take months. So how could my sister think she would cleaning things up in a couple weeks. I assumed she was looking at the big prize: selling the house. My father, in recent phone calls, had mentioned that property values were rising. So my sister could just bulldoze through all the stuff, get the house emptied and on the market as soon as possible. Again, I am out of the picture. My sister insists that I am too difficult to get in touch with, according to my parents.

"I am right here," I said, "she can contact me by phone, or if she wants by email and I can phone her back, or even Skype."
"Hmm," my father said, "well, I don't know about those technologies."
"Here let me make it easy for you."
Even though I am overseas, I gave him a US based phone number that he could use to call me directly. He called. "Wow, that's even clearer then when you call me," he said.
"There," I said, "and along with everything else, you have a local phone number you can call to talk with me."
I felt relaxed that I had proven that the excuse about not being able to call me was just an excuse.

A Sister's Blog
With my sister taking the lead with our parents, I imagine what my sister would be writing now if she were blogging about dealing with hoarding parents. I presumed it would go something like this.
That dick of a brother didn't come to help. I'm here cleaning out our parent's home with my husband from this hoard and junk, and he couldn't even hall his lazy ass over here. I told him. Yes I did. I told him in December that the situation was bad. The hoarding had grown out of hand. Rotting food was in the fridge. And all he could say was, 'Well Mom and Dad say that they're fine.'
You bet they say that. They have a mental illness. They deny everything! Well at least I'M doing something about it. Looks like I'm the only one that cares. He had a chance to come out here and sort through any nostalgic stuff, cause I'm throwing it now. I don't have time for this. I've gotta baby and my 15 year old is going crazy out here. I told my husband, we'd just be a week or so. Clean up, and put the house on the market. No, if you're reading, you lazy ass, you are not getting a share of this house. I am cleaning up. I am fixing up stuff where necessary. I am selling it. You can go to hell.
Brother's Guilt?
I feel kind of weird around the whole issue. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. Maybe it's not my business. I talk to my parents regularly, but I don't confront them about the hoard. It is the elephant in the room. When I even allude to cleaning up, my father always says, "I'm working on it, I'm working on it, you just have to give me some time," leaving me with the feeling that I am getting in the way of him cleaning up.

My outlook has always been in looking at separate the two issues: My parents personal welfare and the condition of the house. I have been all for addressing my parent's personal welfare and got them to see doctors, and started them on tours of assisted living facilities. The conversations just ended up going in circles. They turned down the assisted living option, saying "Your sister has insisted on us coming to live with her. She is arranging health insurance for us."

Don't Worry So Much
As one confidante explained, "You have now been cast as a 'victim' child while your sister is a 'golden' child, at least for the moment." That's what I explained to my wife.

I had told her that things were going to turn out that my parents had made up their mind to go and live with my sister, and that the house would probably fall into her hands. My wife told me not to worry too much, that I had been a good son but wasn't really considered in all this, just looked at how you could balance out some of the work. "If your sister is truly determined to take care of them, and take on this responsibility, and finally take on the house then let her have it, and save yourself the headache."

So what do you think, am I the bad guy now?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

10 Key Points from The Hidden Lives of Children of Hoarders

  1. As one children of hoarders said, “How can you feel worthy when your own parent chooses garbage over you?”
  2. As children get older they become more conscious of their own vulnerability, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, disgust, embarrassment, and social isolation, connected to feeling less valued than the stuff being hoarded.
  3. Children of hoarders leave, sometimes moving far away to get the psychological distance they need. 
  4. Children of hoarders usually find themselves rejected by their parents. 
  5. Sometimes parents pit siblings against one another and the one that does not interfere with the hoarding behavior is usually preferred. 
  6. By living far away, Children of hoarders miss out on family experiences and celebrations. The whole family is unable to share the family’s evolution over generations. 
  7. Grandchildren cannot visit their grandparents’ homes, and family traditions are lost or never established. Reunions with parents are in hotel restaurants, and holidays are in other people’s homes. 
  8. Some adult Children of hoarders simply walk away from their entire family knowing that separation is the only hope for a better life. 
  9. Even from afar, Children of hoarders wonder:  Will my children ever know my father?  Will my parents need assisted living because they cannot safely navigate the clutter? Will I find my aging parent dead in a pile of trash? Will we have to clean up the mess after they die?
  10. Parents rarely prepare for being disabled or too old to hoard. The children of hoarders' ultimate inheritance is salvaging the remains of a hoarded house.

From The Hidden Lives of Children of Hoarders By Suzanne A. Chabaud, PhD

Monday, July 8, 2013


I was sitting with a friend and he brought up a political issue. He told me how he liked this issue and gave a simple example of how he would enjoy it. I expressed my position, saying how I didn't like  this law and how it would make my life difficult without seeing much benefit to the whole, and I suggested a compromise.

"Well can't you just take it and get through the month of difficulty to benefit the rest of us," he said.

My head started to swell, and I felt the muscles around my eyes contract and tighten up. I said to myself, 'He isn't addressing my issues, he is just trying to silence me, asking me to be nice and quiet for awhile.'

The Nodes
When I was in therapy, I would sometimes bring into the session my experiences. Often this would be around how somebody said something, pretty innocent, but that it affected me. This could happen at work, and I would fade a away for a little while, withdraw from others, and be distracted from tasks. My head pounded. I felt angry. I wanted to go back and stop that particular conversation from ever having happened, and for having unleashed this massive pressure on me.

My therapist called this 'The Nodes.' These were pockets of memories in our psyche that were raw and unprocessed, the actual memories. Unknowingly in our daily life, a comment, a gesture, or even a particular reaction could tap into these memories. They could be good or bad.

In my case, I felt like these memories, these nodes, were bad. Tapping into them meant unleashing a sleeping monster from its cave. Then I would have to spend the rest of the day, into the night putting this monster into its cave.

We explored these memories in therapy, but since the psyche is so fast, we couldn't go in and address every single memory, reprocessing them and, taking out their sting, instead we developed tools for how I could confront this situation on my own.

Being Silenced
In my meeting with my friend, I felt like he wan't interested in going very far in discussing this political issue and hearing my side. He closed his virtual door on this matter. Without looking into what motivated him to be on his guard, the feeling of being silenced had deeper repercussions. This feeling tapped into a node, a strong memory, or just the feelings around that memory, and I felt myself start to withdraw.

I couldn't really see the actual events present in the node memory, rather I just felt the sensations associated with that period. Allowing myself to explore this further, I realized that this brought me back when I was younger and growing up in my parent's house. There was a minefield of topics that had to be avoided for fear of setting off my mother on a tirade. The most evident of these topics was the hoarded state of the house. I did not perceive our house as  a hoard. It was very cluttered. We didn't bring in friends, guests, or strangers. However I was lead to believe that this was not a permanent state, but a work in progress. Somehow when my parents got enough time together, they fully intended to sort through stuff and get everything in order. Of course that never happened..

I was young, and I did have time on my hands - summer vacation, weekends, coming home early from school. So I could do something. Sometimes I would ask, "Can I organize the stuff in the basement?" or "Can I bring the stuff lining the hall and the stairs downstairs?" or worst of all "Do we need all this stuff, there is a lot of old magazines and newspapers?"

These questions would set my mother off in a tirade. There was no discussing. She would throw every epithet at me, laying the blame fully upon me for that state of the house. Things were like this because I did not let them do things, or that I got in the way or disturbed them. I was chased an yelled at. I could either go outside until things calmed down, or board myself up in my room.

Other consequences of this explosion would be things like "Nobody will have dinner tonight! I hope you're happy with yourself! You've upset me, so I don't feel like cooking!"
(This of course was the regular situation, since she had resigned from cooking years earlier).

The scars from these events became the packets of memories buried in my psyche, trapped in these nodes. The lessons from these experiences were that I should be careful how I express myself, and how I ask questions, not knowing what dark creature this can bring out in others.

To this day, I tend to be perceived as shy and on the quiet side. I am careful with my interactions, trying not to step on toes, I present my opinions not as challenges or attacks but as a perspective or point of view.

Tools for Node Encounters
I don't enjoy these ambushes and surprise attacks. Where I simply got together for a bit to eat and I come out feeling wounded, licking my wounds. However I don't withdraw.

On the one hand, I can try to understand my friend, his history and personal issues that drive him and his reaction to put up a wall is about him, not me.

Yet more importantly, it is the tools that I have in my arsenal for handling the impact of nodes that gets me through this and makes me stronger.

One of the most valuable techniques I encountered in therapy was EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). I don't know how it works, but it helps to extract me from the affects of these memories, reprocess them, and filter out the sting of these memories.

I practiced this in therapy, and subsequently learned to implement this on my own, using the same technique I did with the therapist. It put the brakes on my mind ruminating about the past, and allowed me to come out of the withdrawn state, putting the memories and the trigger into proper perspective.

Life Challenges
I know that these encounters will continue throughout my life. I do not avoid them or worry, nor do I lament my predicament. I know that even though I spent a lot of time in therapy and worked through my issues, my upbringing and experiences will continue to creep into my current life. The issue is not about 'why did this happen to me' but rather about 'how can I put this into perspective, and not let this impact progress in my life'