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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cleaning Services and Secret Fears



One business I wouldn’t like to run is a house cleaning service. Having been on the receiving end of one for two-and-a-half years now I’ve had a parade of different cleaners show up and I get the impression that it’s hard to keep up with the turnover of employees. The first girl the service sent, who I had the longest, spoiled me. She was a college student who was working on her degree to become a drug rehab counselor and we had great conversations while we worked. (I do my own dusting.) After she left, the company sent a different person almost every month for a long while. One girl couldn’t talk and work at the same time so I had to remove myself to another room or it would have cost me twice as much, and another girl revealed too much. I mean if you’re a stranger cleaning someone’s house why would you tell the home owner about getting caught for shoplifting at Target? Is that common small talk in her world? She got fired I found out later. Still, I was glad that from day one I've always put my purse, keys, cell phone and box of better jewelry in my car when a cleaner is coming. And I keep all my medications in an unconventional place. Some pills go for big bucks on the street so I don’t make it easy for anyone---family, friend or stranger---to pilferage mine.

For four-five months I had the same cleaner, a Spanish woman with quite a chip on her shoulders about the service only paying her $10.00 an hour when they charge people like me $27.00 and I can hardly blame her. But I don’t set the wages or the rates so other than sympathize there isn’t much I can do. We had some interesting conversations, though. One time she talked about how most of her clients seem to look down on house cleaners and she said: “What if this is the best I’ll ever be able to do in my life? Is that so bad? I shouldn’t be disrespected for honest work!” Another cleaner, a sweet, black girl---and the best cleaner in the bunch---thanked me for talking to her! Can you believe that? She and my Spanish cleaner both told me most clients don’t say a peep. They just disappear to another part of the house. I may be breaking a code regarding domestic workers, but I don’t care. I look forward to conversations coming with clean floors and bathrooms. To me, it’s the best part of the deal.

This month the service sent someone new again and she would answer my questions but she didn’t seem to want to engage in conversation beyond that. Okay, I wasn’t going to force it but I did pass through rooms she was in from time to time and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Instead of moving the bathroom scales, she mopped around it. Instead of moving the toaster she wiped the counter-top around it! Instead of moving the kitchen chairs, she mopped around them, too! I’ve never seen anyone clean that way before in my life. And when she left I had to scrub the kitchen sink because---well, it still needed it. I was talking to my youngest niece on the phone afterward and I told her I couldn't decide if I should call the service and clue them in on the girl’s less than acceptable cleaning methods. Most of these girls need the work so I wouldn’t want someone to loss their job, but I don’t want to pay for work like that again. “If she shows up again," my niece said, "tell her that you’re really picky and would like her to clean under things as well as around them.” Why didn’t I think of that? 

I have an older sister-in-law who for many years has had a parade of low paid, Medicaid provided aids coming to the house to help care for her wheelchair bound daughter. And, oh, the horror stories she can tell about turnovers, stealing, neglect of duties and outright abuse. With house cleaners it’s not a big deal if they don’t get the sink clean but when a healthcare worker doesn’t use a clean catheter you’ve got problems. She says the services tell her and her daughter not to get personally involved with the aids. Don’t ask about their families, what their hobbies are, etc. etc. Nothing. But my sister-in-law and I agree that it’s hard to have someone in your home for hours at a time and not talk to them. How do you show respect for a domestic worker if you ignore their presence? How do you gauge if they're trustworthy, or not, if you don’t get a sense of what that person is all about?

It’s scary getting older and knowing someday I may need more outside help than I have now. Whatever my future may bring, there are two things I don’t want to happen to me. 1) That I’ll withdraw and not trust anyone, letting my house and life collapse around me, and 2) that I’ll be too trusting and you’ll see my story on the nightly news, the victim of healthcare worker abuse or a fraud where someone emptied out my bank account. When my fears about growing older creep out from their dark hiding place, these are the things that tippy-toe around inside my head. ©

24 comments:

  1. Ah our first world problems. But I know what you mean! I pay for cleaning because I like having the whole house done at the same time. I have tried services but disliked having a new person every time. Each client has their own idiosyncrasies ... which things are most important to be cleaned a certain way. Once someone knows my quirks, my life is so easy! I have had the same cleaning lady here in Maui and she is AMAZING! I have everything picked up so they just have to clean. So they always do something extra! Mostly I am out of their hair when they are here ... just so they don't put me to work!!

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    1. I pick up all the little stuff, too, plus do the all dusting. I love having my house cleaned but do wish I could get the same person each time. I have quirks, too, like I want my bathroom cleaned last so no bathroom germs can get transferred to the kitchen through cleaning clothes.

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  2. When I lived in Saginaw with my friend Ernie, he had a house keeper come in every two weeks. She was a lovely woman and did the best job ever. We'd talk a bit when she arrived and when she was done with the job. She and I got to be quite good friends while I lived there. When we went on vacation, Ernie paid her to come in every other day and feed and check on the cats. She would stay a half an hour and pet and play with them so they wouldn't get lonely. :-)

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    1. That would be the best of two worlds...a good cleaner/friend and someone to house sit a pet!

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  3. Your niece is correct and if she does return, you will have to tell her, so that she doesn't think you are satisfied with mediocrity. However, if the cleaning service is interested in running a decent business, they should be told as well, because they need to know that their staff might not have the skills to do the job. If the cleaners are trained, that seems like a basic technique...clean the whole surface! And if they are not trained, where is your money going if the cleaners are only getting less than half that you pay?
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. What happened (I'm guessing) is they had a last minute fill-in when someone called in sick or whatever---they called to change the name of who was coming---and they probably sent me someone who is normally a health care aid. They have two businesses under one umbrella so I'm guessing she wasn't crossed trained. She just happened to be available and willing to pick up a few more hours.

      I still don't understand why companies like this don't pay these people more like $12 to $15. Their costs can't be that high for scheduling, bonding, insurance and supplies. But it seems to be the norm in this area.

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  4. Hi, I'm Margie. I've been hopping over here from Judy's blog for quite some time now but I have never commented. But I wanted to shed a little light on the spread between what the company charges and what they pay their personnel. Not only do they have the expenses you mentioned but they probably also have Social Security and Medicare that they have to match, workman's compensation insurance, state and federal unemployment costs, etc. All of the aforementioned expenses, except SS & Medicare, which is 7.65% of earned wages, are all rated on the companies history. For example, if they have had several former employees that qualified for unemployment compensation, the next reporting year, their percentage rating would likely increase as would their workman's comp if there had been any on the job injuries. And if they provide or assist with medical insurance, that is very expensive. And they may give vehicle allowances, etc. Anyway, I wanted to let you know I enjoy reading your blog very much. Sincerely, Margie from AR

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    1. Margie, Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate the compliment on my blog and the input to understanding why the spread between wages and charges. Make sense, now that you mention it all the costs I forgot about.

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  5. It's very difficult to be vulnerable to strangers. You never know what can happen, but most of us will eventually need them. You are smart to hide your possessions and meds. We had a problem with one of Dad's caregivers. She was stealing some of his meds. Percocet and Vicodin are very desired on the street, and I think she was taking his antidepressant for herself. My sister told me that you should always count meds like Percocet and Vicodin - any narcotics - because they are sometimes stolen by employees at the pharmacy. They just take one or two from each prescription and people don't even notice.

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    1. I know two people who had addictions to prescription medications and one would be so attentive in visiting anyone who recently had surgery. Come to find out, she was stealing pain pills out of bottles. Another family had so much trouble with pills disappearing that they bought a small safe with a combination lock to keep their meds in. I don't take drugs that are popular on the street but if I ever do I have good habits in place. Good tip on counting certain drugs.

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    2. (Drat, lost my keyed input when I scrolled up for typos, so won't do that again).
      +1 to the suggestions given above. You already follow sensible precautions to avoid pilfering, and check their standard/ethics. You keep involved with the outside world through the clubs and telephone contact with close family. The combination of the internet, and real time contact with real people is wonderful. When in doubt, check with others. Keep continuing what you're doing so wonderfully. ~ Libby

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    3. Libby, thanks for the vote of confidence. I guess I am doing all the right things, given my childless circumstances.

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  6. Children/or not its generally the same, so don't think on those lines. Adult children don't have the time for parents/family. I can see that with my own parents, and in my own case. You and Don were the exception in looking after your family, and trust your family will do the same for you.

    We come alone and leave alone. Such is life!
    ~ Libby

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    1. Kind of sad, isn't it that many adult children don't have time for parents/family. I don't see that happening in my immediate or extended family but I was recently on a caregiver forum for the first time in years and I could not believe the hostility of the younger people who didn't feel any responsibility to help with aging parents. But like you said, such is life!

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  7. You might be interested in a fascinating book called Between Women by Judith Rollins, which is based on a study she did in the late 1980s of how differently housecleaners and the women they worked for saw the job and their relationships with one another. -Jean

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    1. You always have the best resources at the ready. I love that. Amazon is selling this book in paperback for $27.00 so I'll have to check our library.

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  8. Hi Jean. As far as that worker who thinks that cleaning means just clean around things, get rid of her. You'll end up doing most of the work and end up paying her for nothing. Getting old! Yes I never thought about it but since I've been seeing many doctors lately, I'm afraid of getting old. Many of my friends or people of my age have been dying. It worries me. My wife keeps telling me not to worry because worrying only makes life shorter but how can't I worry since I've that many problems lately. She says go see a shrink. What do you think? I think I'm going crazy at times. Oh well.

    Have a wonderful Thursday my friend in Michigan. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. I used to tell my husband and myself the same thing about not worrying about the future after his stroke. I was concentrating on giving him the best quality of life and fun we could get while he could still enjoy it. I'm not sorry I took that approach. We did downsize, though, because he couldn't help physically with anything. I have a friend whose husband has cancer and she is constantly on his butt about wrapping up all his lose ends and selling off his stuff. To me, that's almost cruel because everything she's bitching about could easily be sold in one big auction after he's gone. I guess what I'm saying is it's natural for you to worry after serious medical issues, but my husband would have wasted 12 years dying if we had given into the fears and didn't take the time to live.

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  9. I've never had a housekeeper. I'm guessing at some point we all need the help. I am not ready to have a stranger in my home going through my things. Hubby and I have talked about downsizing at some point. Perhaps we need to revisit that conversation in the near future.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. After Don's stroke we downsized from two houses, a bunch of big equipment and a large pole barn full of stuff. I wish we had downsized even more. I think there will be one more in my life but I need to wait until the dog is older when condo living would be easier on me...I don't want to do those winter walks.

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  10. I've never had a housekeeper myself, but we tried it for Mom -- mostly because I just didn't have the time to do her cleaning, too. Or, maybe I didn't want to. I kept things picked up and cooked her evening meal, but a housekeeper seemed the way to go.

    We were lucky at first, because the gal we found wasn't with a service. She worked on her own, was personable, and liked Mom. It was good for Mom to have someone like that coming once a week -- she'd run little errands, too, or walk over and pick up the mail. It was great.

    Then, she moved away, and we tried some others, but they just didn't work up to Mom's standards, so that was that. I took over, and even though I mostly didn't work up to her standards, either, she couldn't fire me!

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    1. We did the same thing with my dad in the last few years of his life. Our theory was to hire the things we could hire done so we'd have more quality time with him. Some housekeepers are a good match, others aren't.

      Do daughter ever live up to their mother's standards? My mom would come to my house and I'd catch her cleaning cupboards or closets. LOL

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  11. Oh housecleaners. Over the years I've sporadically tried but have mostly been disappointed. The really great ones quit and went on to better things. I've never used a big service (Merry Maids, etc). I just try to get a word of mouth recommendation and see how it goes. What really interested me is your fears...I have the same. Absolutely terrifying to me to think I'd be so vulnerable and dependent on strangers.... hate to even think about that. :(

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    1. All of us want house cleaners to be thorough but they mostly aren't. The house looks good after they leave but the details never get done unless you point them out. Growing up, my mom had her sister cleaning for us (I was 10-12) and she set the bar high.

      Our fears about growing old are everyone's fears, I'll bet. The trick is to not give into them. LOL

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