Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hoarder Widows

Time is flying by so fast. It’s almost August and there are so many things I haven’t done, yet, this summer. I haven’t even taken the dog to the dog park or walked him on the nature trail. What kind of a dog mother does that make me? Neglectful might apply, although in my defense there's been some serious swarms of bees attacking dogs at the park and I'm allergic to bees. I did buy him one of those interactive brain stimulating treat dispensers but I took it back. Levi couldn't figure it out. He’s smart enough to remember which window to sit by, at what time of the day to see the rabbits go about their daily routine but flipping a series of switches with his nose to get a treat was like rocket science to him.

This summer I also haven’t gotten my windows washed or sat on the deck drawing. Most of my unscheduled time is spent either debating on my favorite political forum, watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory or getting things sorted to haul off to the Salvation Army or the auction house. I’m doing some serious purging in the garage but it’s mentally hard. Yesterday I went through a box labeled, “Sort Later.” It’s been waiting for ‘later’ for 14 years and it turned out to be paperwork that came out of Don’s desk before we moved. I was tempted to just dump it all sight unseen but I’m glad I didn’t. Some of those papers had social security numbers on them of people who worked for him, not something you want blowing around the landfill. I also found a folder of things I had given to Don---greeting cards, letters and a Mickey Mouse poster with these words written in pencil on the back: “To Don, Fifty years from now this poster will be worth a lot more than I paid for it and since I’ve been listening to Bruce Williams, I’m turning on to investing. So, I’ve decided to buy this instead of a regular Valentine’s Day card. I expect to still be in your life 50 years from now to help reap the profits. Love, Jean” Those words were written 35 years ago and they are a perfect example of why this kind of ‘widow’s work’ is hard on your emotions.

I got a call from the-son-I-wish-I-had last night who wanted to use me as a sounding board. He’d given his business card to an 85 year old lady along with an estimate to tear down her garage that was in bad repair. When he left this stranger with the estimate he said, “Call if I can help.” A few months went by and she called him yesterday. She needed help and could he come right over. It seemed she was having a health issue and wanted a ride to the hospital! Turned out she lived in a hoarder’s style house with pathways everywhere. (Her water was shut off six years ago and she’s been carrying water to flush her toilet, etc.) She didn’t have any family or friends and she didn’t want him to call an ambulance. Long story short, he took her to the hospital and now she wants him to help her get her legal, medical and housing affairs in order. She claims to have money in the bank and seemed, to him, to be talking rational as opposed to having dementia. I know one thing for sure, she’s rational enough to pick out a good, honest and caring stranger to ask to help her. Can you imagine having that problem/moral dilemma dropped in your lap? Can you imagine what a dishonest scammer could do to an elderly woman like that? When my friend left the woman at the hospital he asked her if he could give her a hug. She beamed and said, “Yes, I haven’t had one since my husband died eight years ago.” 

After that conversation I went back out to the garage to work on my purging but with a pit in my stomach. I do not have a hoarder’s house. I could get two cars in my garage, you could put a couple of bowling lanes in my basement and the inside of my house is clutter-free. But that conversation brought it home how important it is to keep on downsizing before I move to a smaller place. I have another childless friend who is dangerously on the edge of ending up like that woman described above. Since his mother died 4-5 years ago and he moved her stuff into his house “to sort” he’s had a hoarder’s house and his health is failing fast.

Being too attached to material things can become a mental sickness that can also turn into a source of physical illness the longer ‘the stuff’ sits in the way of house cleaning and maintenance. I’m not that attached to material things by any stretch of the imagination, though I do struggle to get rid of things with sentimental value like that poster I found. Widows know what that’s like. Things like that are triggers for the memories we fear will be gone if we give up "the stuff." For others who fear more loss in the future, things become like security blankets—value to sell or use if needed---and for still others, hoarding is a way to fill the empty places in their hearts. It’s scary knowing how easy it would be for any one of us to go off the edge and become a hoarder after someone we love dies. I have firsthand knowledge of three post-widowhood, dangerous hoarding situations and I'm so glad I'm not included in that group. Levi can roll his newly exchanged treat dispenser across the floor to his heart and belly's content. ©

Levi watching the action at the bird feeders. I gave that 1940s motel radio on the left to the-son-I-wish-I-had.


25 comments:

  1. We don't have a hoarder house. I've seen them though and it's frightening. Our wills are done and arrangements made. We have very little stuff outside of personal things like clothes and our furniture. Both our cars are in the garage. Why put off till tomorrow those things that need doing now. We do have too many books though, but that's an easy thing to correct. We love our books.

    I hope that lady gets her affairs in order. Bless her heart.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have too many books, too, and they will get downsized in the winter since the library is close by for drop offs. But they will be hard, too, because we both love/loved our books.

      My friend is seriously considered helping her and I hope he takes my advice and makes sure she sees to a lawyer first. I also told him to talk to the hospital's social worker or patient advocate because in our state taking her back to her house could actually be a criminal offense (elder neglect and/or abuse) on his part. They both need professional advice before he gets involved, in my opinion.

      Delete
  2. I could never have a Hoarder's lifestyle because I cannot bear clutter. I want everything I have to be in it's place, in an orderly state. OCD sure comes in handy! Yes--he needs to speak to an attorney too, to protect himself. He is a brave young man to take this on. I know what she means about needing a hug!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I got really concerned when he said he's strongly leaning towards helping her.That could turn out so badly, if not handled right/legally. I'd prefer he got social services to do it, but he's got such a soft heart.....

      I like things in it's place too. I won't even let my house cleaning service dust for me because they never put things exactly like I have them arranged. I do it while they are here doing the floors, carpeting, bath and kitchen..

      Delete
  3. WOW! It's amazing how that lady could be living like that for such a long time. I agree, she's very lucky to have found the-son-you-wish-you-had. A scammer would have taken her for a loop.
    Yes, it's tough when you are looking threw old things from the past. After my mom passed, it was difficult but had to be done and now everything has been taken care of it.
    Enjoy your day Jean and a beautiful life will continue for you my friend. See ya

    Cruisin Paul

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if you get the TV show Hoarders up there in Canada, but if you do watch it sometime. Sadly, there are a lot of people who live in such horrible conditions. Before I got a house cleaning service I used to watch an episode the day before I cleaned house. Best motivation you can get. LOL

      Delete
  4. What an awesome almost son! Once he is squared away legally, what a kind and thoughtful man to help a strange old lady. This helps me continue to work on the Village idea for helping people BEFORE they are desperate.

    I like my things in their place and am loving my downsized life. Living with the kidults reaffirms this! Much more serene with less.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. He is an awesome person and a great friend to me and Don while he was alive. You are right that people need help before they get desperate. Isolation is not good for seniors! I hope I like my downsized life as much as you do. It's hard but I think I will. When my basement got flooded and a suitcase full of Valentine's from the 1700 &1800s that ha been in my husband's family for generations got ruined, I felt sadness at first but relieved that I no longer had the responsibility to hold on to them.

      Delete
  5. I can relate to summer passing by and not getting anything done...where do my days?? I don't know either. Love your blog. That woman is SO lucky that you almost son is honest and will help her. My mom was a hoarder and she was forced several times to downsize, a blessing for my sister. I look forward to reading more from you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for the comment and welcome! I'll check out your blog later.

      Hoarders really effect family members, don't they. Very sad.

      Delete
  6. I have a friend I've been trying to help with her hoarding for years. It's not as bad as the woman, I don't think, but it was bad. I say "was" because she was one who was flooded out during the Houston floods in May. Her house had to go down to the studs and the slab, and in the process, the a good bit got tossed. Now, she has everything in storage, and another woman who's overseeing her house restoration is going to help her go through things as they bring them back in. For her, the flood really as a blessing, especially since she has the financial means to deal with it. Her house is small, and in a good location, so this has been a chance for her to redo somethings, like the bath, to make it a better house for her remaining years. (She's 81.)

    I began decluttering about five years ago. I'm still at it, but I'm getting down to bare bones. What surprises me is that I haven't yet missed anything I've gotten rid of. Out of sight, out of mind, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll bet some of that stuff in storage will be moldy. It doesn't have to get soaked to get enough damp to make it grow. I'm so glad there are people like you, my friend and your other friend who are willing to help senior citizens deal with this sort of things.

      I threw something away yesterday and missed it enough to fish it back out of the trash. LOL

      I love your blog!

      Delete
  7. It sounds as though you've gotten a lot done this summer -- just not everything you imagined you might get done. I don't know about you, but my plans for what I can accomplish are almost always too ambitious. As long as I'm making progress on something every week, I'm satisfied.
    I can see that finding the Mickey Mouse poster would be heart-wrenching, but the inscription also made me smile. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me, too. I rarely get everything done on my 'to-do' list. I just don't work as fast as I used to be able to do. And I get side-tracked easily as well. Your gardening is far harder work than I do, though!

      Delete
  8. I am not widowed but we are trying to downsize and like you said, it is those things that you think might be forgotten if you get rid of the trigger...those are the hard things. So many people have said to me "I could never move...we have too much stuff" and it is interesting to think that there are some people who are staying in place because the idea of parting with all their stuff is too difficult. I understand it but I don't want to be there!
    Regards,
    Leze

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't want to leave a difficult problem for my nieces and nephew which is one of the reasons I'm on a roll right now. I've got too many collectibles yet that they wouldn't know how to sell. And if a condo comes along that I wanted to buy I want to be more mobile. I'm guessing there are a lot of people who stay in one place because the job of downsizing is overwhelming. The true test of my ability to purge will be when I get to all the art I created back in college. I'm trying to talk myself into photographing it all, frame one or two of the best drawings and paintings and trash the rest. I'm not there yet.

      Delete
  9. I admire your tenacity for the de-clutter/downsize projects you've undertaken. I always get frustrated when I don't feel I've completed my jobs, but I rarely look at the fact that I generally far over-estimate what can realistically be accomplished! You are on track!

    My husband buys me artist-made cards for my BD, our anniversary, and sometimes Christmas and Valentine's day. They are so beautifully created and his hand-written words so precious -- I am collecting them a big box and I doubt I'd ever be able to part with them...

    I also understand about feeling a sense of relief when you no longer feel responsible for family heirlooms/mementos. I have the "old dishes" my mom passed on to me from her mother and my dad's mother. They sit beautifully in my china cabinet, but sometimes I look at them with a mixture of appreciation...and obligation. I don't know if any of my nieces or current (and hopefully future) daughters-in-law will want them. Maybe the grand-girls will! (Not to be sexist about this, but I have seen no indication that my sons care much about them at all. LOL)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know if I'd call it tenacity but I am glad I'm in downsizing mode.

      We are used to women saving cards but I was surprise to find the ones I sent Don, that he saved them. Sweet! I hope you save yours in a special box.

      Dishes are so hard to know what to do with them, aren't they. You can't put them in dishwashers which is one reason young people don't want them and let's face it, most of the old dishes are so "girlie" and kids like the plainer styles now. I think the only way to get young people to want them when you're gone is to use them for holidays and special meals so they have memories attached to them. Even tea parties with your young grand kids using the good stuff and talking about their history and the ancestors who owned them when you do.

      Delete
    2. Brilliant idea! Now they just sit in the china cabinet like museum pieces and are ignored as "background noise".

      Delete
  10. What an amazing story about your friend and that poor lady!

    I answered your question on my blog about my camera but came over here as well. It's a Nikon...I splurged six years ago when my first grandson was born. I splurged on a Nikon and a good rocking chair! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks. Your photos are amazing! A good camera and a rocking chair are great tools that all grandmothers should have.

      Delete
  11. I like your thought, that if one passes something along, or chucks it, sadness happens first, then relief that one is no longer be responsible for the stuff. I'll tuck that thought away. You're inspirational. I know some people who buy stocks and hold on to them too long, watching them tank (finger pointing at me). A financial manager saved the day on that one. She got hired to do the 'firing' for me, but as for my house - I'm not ready to let someone in to torpedo the things of sentimental value. People might say I have a clutter problem. But ....I don't have a chaos problem. It's organized and I can find things! I would say I simply have a lot of terrific projects underway right in front of me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like houses that have "stuff" as long as it doesn't get in the way of healthy living. They are more interesting and have personality. I'm a project person, too, but fortunately I can keep all my projects in the garage or spare room. I won't be able to do that in a smaller place thus the purging, while it's warm enough to purge.

      Interesting you should bring up stocks. I just saw my banker and will probably blog about that encounter soon.

      Delete
  12. You definitely have a bead on hoarding and what it can become. Dad was a bit of a hoarder. Not the worst but it was a mess. I ended that when I moved in, but it was not easy for him. He was angry at first. "My house doesn't feel right anymore." But he got used to it and adjusted. H and I cleaned the entire house out, painted every room, and I refinished the kitchen cabinets. My nephew put down new flooring in the kitchen. It's a nice but small 1960's rancher, and was comfortable once it was cleaned up.

    It must be hard to give up things after one loses a spouse. I've said this before, but you are very smart to purge as much as possible before you move. We got rid of so much, but our house feels right. It would be so cluttered if we kept everything, and I don't want too much to go to the attic. My son will just have to get rid of all of it some day.

    I understand what happened to your friend when he moved his mother's stuff into his house. When H's parents died, our basement in MD became stuffed with stuff, and H's garage was overloaded, too.I cannot stand clutter, so we tossed a lot of it when we moved back to VA, but when we got ready to move here to this house, we still had too much. We are finally almost cleansed, but H has some things in the garage that can probably go to the dump or Goodwill. I'm babbling. I'll stop now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I love it when you "babble". It's called like experiences. Besides, your purging experiences keep me going. Through you, I know a person can purge and come out the other side happy. LOL

      Delete