Saturday, April 1, 2017

I am Not an Asshole

I feel like when it comes to my parents, some people might think that I am an asshole. I live in another country from my parents. The last time I visited to see them was in August of 2014. However I do try to what I think is reasonable and call them once a week. My mother has been diagnosed with Lewey Body Dementia and is living in a Seniors Home. My father is continuing to live in a Independent Living apartment.

I was inspired to title this post by the thread on Reddit, Why children of hoarders sometimes come across as assholes,  which captures the feeling I carry. In the post, the Reddit writer tries to responds to the outside voices that seem to show very little understanding, but a lot of judgment. They say things like "You need to show more compassion towards the parent who is suffering too"

The writer responds with "No, as a matter of fact. The child is a victim. Perhaps not as bad as growing up with an alcoholic or violent parent, but this child has lived with shame, isolation, low self-worth and quite probably a distorted world-view in which the hoarding parent is justified in everything. In fact, children are often a captive audience for the parent to air all their little justifications which will make the feeling of guilt go away for a little while."

This is a response that is fitting for Reddit and will not be heard by the concerned family member.

Recent Developments
I have noticed for a long time that my father does not talk to me for very long. He is living alone in a 2 room apartment in a Independent Living facility. I watch the clock as we talk, seeing that at 3 minutes he says, "Ok I got to go." Where do you have to go? What is so urgent? He is always quick to tell me things like "I went shopping, but I didn't get very much. I don't need very much." I didn't ask him what he was buying, he was volunteering this information.

Here is what one of the shortest calls with my father in a long time looked like:
He got on, said he had visited my mom, and then said he had a call.
"Gotta go."
That was it.
Don't know what's going on.

Last year, after my mother was moved to a senior center to get better attention for her condition, he told me that he would downsize, and ask for a smaller apartment in his facility. I thought that would be a good step, made sense, and might help with his growing expenses.

I had said: "Are you planning to downsize?"
"Are you still in the same 2 room apartment?"
"Yes, I am on the wait list for a smaller place. But they are fully booked here."

But who are we fooling?

I didn't believe that the word 'downsize' was in his vocabulary.

Then a week ago, I brought up the issue again.
"What about moving to a smaller apartment?" I asked
"What about moving to a smaller apartment, didn't you put in a request?"
"I have to go now, exercise is starting soon."
"Wait, wait a second. What about moving to the smaller apartment."
"No I never made a request. Maybe later."

I criticized myself for even trying to pursue the issue in a deeper conversation.

Concerned Cousin
Recently an out of state cousin, came to my father's town. She was looking to hook up with him. But didn't get very far.

She wrote me saying:
I have been trying to call your Dad for 10 days and cannot reach him. I am worried.
I told him that we would be in town  for a week. We wanted to see him while we are here but he doesn't answer nor does he return messages on his land and cell phones. What is happening?

I just told her that he was a tough guy to pin down. I felt like she might think like I was an asshole, because she was writing with a sense of urgency, while I responded nonchalantly. I simply told her to try calling very early in the morning, that was when I usually had the most success at reaching him.

She doesn't know about my parents hoarding or what their home looked like. She has only seen our family from afar - seeing me living in another country, my sister not talking to my parents, and perceiving my father as slumping into an occasional depression.

I wasn't going to try to build my case and tell her my life's experience, but simply remind myself that - I am not an asshole.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Hoarder Evasiveness - A Honed Trait

I spoke to my father.
While sharing my conversation with a friend, his take was that my father was losing his mental grasp.
But I dont think he suffers from dementia, despite his memory seeming to mix up events.
He also takes his old approach with me, where he always has an excuse for something, while just using poor memory as his defense.

The Latest Conversation
"Have you heard from your sister in the last two years?" my father asked.
"What? No, why?"
"Just curious."
"Why are you bringing this up now? You just talked to her recently. Remember you called her."
"I know, but I thought she would call us back to ask about how your mother was doing."
"Well I guess she didn't."
"Do you want to talk to her?" I asked
"No, I don't want to have anything to do with her."
"Because she didn't call about Mom?"
"Yes, and she didn't treat us very well."
"What happened?"
"It wasn't comfortable living with her. Her husband never spoke to us."
"Would you like to talk to her children, your grandchildren?"
"Huh? Well yes, of course."
"Maybe you could just ask her for her daughter's phone numbers and then just talk to them."
"The only thing I remember is that she said 'you will never see your grandchildren again.'"
"When did she say that?"
"When we were moving to the independent living that's when she said that."
"Uh, no you weren't," I pointed out, "you were living with her, then in your house. Only after she was kicked out of your house by Adult Protective Services did you suggest to move to an independent living facility."
"Ok, well, I don't know, my memory isn't so good."
"So did you see Mom?"
"Not since last week, there was no bus on Labor Day to go to the Home."
"Did you call her?"
"There is no way to reach her. She has no phone."
"Maybe when you go to the  Home you can ask for how to call."
"Call who?"
"Uh, call Mom."
"Oh, yeah sure her."
"Maybe you can ask Home if they have an address for sending stuff."
"What stuff?"
"You know, pictures and letters."
"To send to who?"
"Uh, um, to Mom."
"Oh, ok, yeah."
"Have you been in touch with other relatives?"
"No, why have you?"
"Yes, after you called those cousins  that sent me emails that they were concerned."
"Well I haven't been in touch with anybody else."

My Perspective on the Conversation
I think from an outside perspective this may be a cause for concern. However from my perspective I see this as part of a long and consistent approach to difficult issues - in other words he becomes frustratingly evasive.
I would highlight two things about this conversation
  • contradictions
  • evasiveness

He seems to readily provide many internal contradictions in his narrative.
  • he implicates my sister for threatening to withhold contact with his grandchildren but doesn't want to make any effort to have contact with his grandchildren (any of them neither her kids nor my kids)
  • he resents how my sister seems to shrug off our mother's state of health yet doesn't want to help me be in closer contact with our mother
  • he asserts that his mental faculties are in a far better state than most people he has come across in the senior centers yet when I ask him some seemingly simple questions about a phone number and address for my mother he puts on the appearance of dementia
This all funnels into observations about evasiveness. As a proven and long time hoarder, ignoring the 'elephant in the room' is a trait that he has perfected to a skill. My mother could lash out in diatribes of fury and he would talk to me about the weather. For other more serious issues, like my sister initially leaving home and getting pregnant - he just never brought those things up - as if my sister didn't exist for 5 years.

Even the most recent relationship and child, even though he had visited her in 2012 (before moving to live with her) he didn't bring up to me, in recounting his visit, that my sister had a new husband and new kid.

My Conclusion: The Hoarding Connection
I see this same evasiveness now in regards to my mother. He would happily talk to me about the weather and politics in our calls and not mention my mother at all. Even when I asked him outright for a phone number, he didn't know what to say but to seemingly play dumb.

My personal feeling is that his answer is instinctual. As I stated, being a hoarder, he has honed this trait of ignoring big issues.

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?