Life! That's the title on one of many books unearthed during my recent trip to California to ready the home of my aunt for her return. Donna, who came into our family as my grandparents' foster child, battles a lot of demons and always has trouble making good choices. A hoarder with serious financial problems, Donna is now 79 and on medication for Alzheimer's, OCD and bi-polar disorder, among other things. Finding that book, with a bookmark less than a quarter of the way through, told me that Donna still desperately wants things to be different.
In January she fell over clutter in her bedroom at night. When firemen broke in days later to rescue her, one—overcome by the smell and the condition of the inside—said, "That woman will never go back in that house!" But now, with rehab nearly completed on her broken shoulder, she's soon headed home. A willful and wily fighter, Donna tested well psychologically, and she'll be released by the end of this month. When social services comes to her door to see how she's doing I already know she won't let them in (I've sent them before), and it will be a matter of waiting to see what happens next to rock her independent, defiant soul.
My unbelievable friend, Julie Janss, and I just spent five days making her home livable. It wasn't just the book that told us Donna wanted to live differently. We found things such as a plethora of brand new garden needs (trowels and other tools, a foam kneeling pad, bulbs and seeds) scattered around the floor. But sadly, Donna doesn't execute. I'm not sure how the lone colorful geranium growing in her front yard got there, or how it, like Donna, somehow survives.
The Band-Aid boxes numbered in the hundreds, as did the plastic water bottles scattered throughout the house, the endless change discovered among the papers on the floor, the containers and newspapers that never made it into recycling, the Post-It Note pads, tablets, pens, greeting cards, books of postage stamps, unfilled prescriptions, empty prescription bottles and canvas bags. The plastic bags tossed through the house had to number more than 500. Donna embodies the consumer concept that buying things will add something to how she sees herself or how others see her, but it just doesn't add anything (but debt) to her shaky sense of self. So for now, I pay what bills I can from her Social Security and small pension, waiting for her release and knowing that I don't know how to protect her from herself.
My dear friend Julie at work in the living room of my aunt's home in California. Bless her for being my rock and creating moments of laughter and love during our ordeal of discovery and filling over 100 garbage bags with trash (not to mention all the bags for recycling).