(I apologize for not editing this post to make it more readable. I've needed to write about this drama, which has totally consumed my life for the last few months, but now that I've done it, I've got to move on. I have a meeting on campus and need to make sure some projects are set to happen this fall before I head out in two weeks to check on my mom).
If you remember this post, you know that over the holidays my sabbatical hit some serious speed bumps involving my mother. They started around Thanksgiving and by mid-February I was just exhausted with trying to navigate them, so I decided to get my own work back on track and stop worrying about someone who didn't appreciate my concern (not to mention the time and expense I was spending to figure out what was going on with her). So in early April, I headed back down to sabbatical house and got myself re-oriented to my research and prepped to write. Exactly one week to the day, I got a text message from my brother (who lives in Chicago) asking "are you free to talk?"
I knew then, that my mom was in trouble. I had given my brother's name and phone number to my mom's neighbor in January. By her own choice, my mom knows none of her neighbors--but in January, this particular neighbor had taken notice of the fact that TH and I were returning day after day trying to get my mom to answer her door. That same trip I had finally called the constables about my concern and four cars (must have been a slow crime day) showed up at her house, forcing her to open the door. She was livid--to say the least. But TH and I knew she was alive, although clearly off-kilter in a way that was more than simply the result of being really angry that someone had invaded her space. The constables correctly suspected that she didn't have her heater on in below-freezing weather, and as best they could tell by peering around the entry way, her house was a disorganized mess. (Here I have to explain that my mom hasn't let me or my brother in her house since 1996--and that was a rare occasion.When we visit, she moves into the same hotel; you might imagine how expensive this gets for a family of four already traveling across the country by plane and eating every meal out. My father died in 2000 and I have worked so hard--while also respecting her autonomy as an adult, and her status as my mom--to get her to plan for her future, to move out here, or to my brother's city or to simply let us help her with household chores when we are in town. All to no avail. The constables told me that day in January that I should call the mental health services department of home city and have her removed for an evaluation. I could not do that to my mom, at least not right then (I had simply been trying to take her to the store to get a new cell phone so I could call her and know she was alive--her old one was supposedly broken--an excuse she apparently made up to explain why she wasn't answering my calls. This in itself was just really weird and inexplicable as we typically talked every other day or so). I was so freaked out by her anger at me and the constables that I couldn't imagine doing anything else that would exacerbate the situation; so I told the police I'd think about it. Meanwhile, I had conversations with my brother who stepped into the role I had played for the last 10 years in terms of checking on her, and for a while, she would answer his calls. So when this text message came, I suspected that my spring sabbatical was pretty much over. And I was right. To make a long story shorter--my mom was hospitalized. She had been forcibly removed from her house after a taxi driver she uses on a regular basis called the police to come and check on her. He had become concerned that she wasn't answering her phone and drove by the house where he noticed she had left groceries and her purse outside her back door. All in exactly the spot she had asked him to leave them when he dropped her home from a local hotel several days before. The police broke in and found her disoriented and dehydrated. She was sleeping on a pallet on the floor (there are five beds and four bedrooms in her house). When they woke her, she told them she was waiting for her husband to come and take her for groceries. She was belligerent and rude (these may well have been the same constables who showed up on her front porch with me and TH and were treated to threats of restraining orders that would ban us all from her front lawn). When my brother told me this information, I had been down at my sabbatical house for one week to the day. I booked airline tickets and hopped in my car, driving the six hours back home to hop on a plane with TH. My brother and his wife flew in from up north. He had spoken to my mother in the hospital and she accused the both of us of engineering her removal from the house (never mind that her favorite taxi driver had been the cause of her removal and perhaps her life having been saved). God only knows how long it would have been--or where she would be in the state's adult protective services system--had her next door neighbor (with whom I had shared my brother's phone number and been regularly exchanging email correspondence tracking my mom's coming and goings by virtue of taxi activity) not been home when the police and ambulance showed up.
The four of us (TH, my brother, and my sister-in-law) stopped by the house first to see if it was even locked after the police left. No. But that wasn't the shock that awaited us. No, what we found when we entered the house from which we had been barred for nearly two decades, by a mother who once had standards of cleanliness that would meet surgical standards, was the nest of a hoarder. Not just clutter, but garbage. The four of us were truly as dumbstruck by this as we could be. Dumb. Struck. My mom and dad collected antiques; and later in life my dad ran a business that involved decorating restaurants. Clutter we expected. Filth, not in a million years. Clothes with tags still on them hung in literally every doorway. Mail my children had written to her was piled knee-deep with other business, unopened all over the floor of every room. Dirty clothes and collectibles, along with uneaten takeout, heaped in mounds in every room. I am still shocked by this--even as I write it. I cannot imagine that my mother created this environment that is so much the antithesis of all her worldly pretensions. Every single room is just a nightmare. The house smells of mold. Buckets catch the water that drips from the leaky roof. The ceiling has collapsed in some stage in every single room in this upper middle-class neighborhood (wouldn't S. O*tner love to interrogate my use of that last descriptor). Family photos and treasures we kids were never "settled enough" to be trusted with were covered in silverfish, foxing and dust. What. The. Hell? I just couldn't fathom any of it.
From there, we drove to the hospital (the staff had prepared my mom for our arrival, even though she told them not to call us). After a tentatively warm greeting in which she initially confused my SIL with my daughter, she variously courted and maligned us all (the doctors were also getting this treatment). The hospital would not release her into the care of anyone but a family member. She refused to go with either of us. She also refused to go to a nursing home (her only other option). Meds eventually leveled her out. Diagnosis: senile dementia (may or may not be Alzheimer's) with underlying chronic paranoid schizophrenia. My brother and I were vastly relieved to hear this latter diagnosis from her doctors. We had lived our whole lives knowing she was mentally ill. Everyone in the nuclear and extended family knew this. We had all let her shape our lives in ways that were unreasonable in the extreme, but that allowed her to function. Her normal became our lived reality. Things got worse by the time we were young adults, but of course, we left for college or any other location that would allow us some measure of freedom from her. When my dad died--at least as the doctors explain it--she was free to inhabit the world as she knew it. And what a sad world that is. I've just returned from my fourth "emergency" trip home in a matter of weeks. Our trip to the hospital ended with her refusing to be released into the custody of either me or my brother. The hospital then moved her to a psychiatric wing for a few days, followed by a nursing home (for a couple weeks of rehab), where she told me when I went to see her there (just a week after coming home from the hospital), that she could hear them hammering coffins across the hall 24/7--these for the crematorium they were supposedly running downstairs. TH and I toured six assisted living facilities (easy to rule out the bad ones) and finally settled on the nicest one. We got her moved in there, with my brother's help, this past weekend. She sometimes confuses us with her parents, but she always introduces my brother (the youngest in the family) as her youngest brother. This, despite the fact that much of the time she can follow these confused identities with questions about our spouses and children. Her dementia is easier to deal with than her hoarding and paranoia--which continues in the new place. Thank goodness it is a small, studio apartment that comes with housecleaning whether she wants it or not. The staff checks on her at least four times a day. I am so happy that she is safe from herself now (at least till her money runs out--in which case we'll have to regroup). But in the meanwhile, I'm still trying to cope with the stress of the house and the fact that she won't give us POA. Filing for guardianship is an option, but would flip her out completely on a good day. And I don't want to cause her anymore pain. On the other hand, the stress for our families of trying to make sure her house gets cleaned up and her finances not depleted is exhausting. (Case in point: we took her to the bank for cash in between the nursing home and the assisted living facility and she withdrew $500.00--all of which she then proceeded to give to this taxi driver two days later, while we were at the house getting some furniture for her apartment. "He's an heir in my heart," she says. And in his mind, too, I'm sure). I do worry about her life expectancy being shortened by the drugs: she's on BP meds, an anti-depressant, plus razadyne and risperidone. She's almost herself again--which means she also wants to go back to her house (neither we, nor the police and adult protective services will let that happen, though). She seems to appreciate the fact that we know about her hoarding and still love her anyway. She claims a burglar did it: broke in and messed up her home; she seems to forget that there is a stratigraphy to her hoarding that a 10-year-old could figure out. She is still nicer to her taxi driver (who cannot taker her out, but can visit and bring her things), than she is to her family. This apparently fits with the boundaries that paranoid schizophrenics construct.
I'm still in shock over all of it. All of it. But this is my life. And at least it isn't my mother's life. Meanwhile, my brother and I are trying to sort out the uncomfortable mixture of anger and compassion we feel toward her, and even toward all the well-meaning professionals who tell us: "that's not your mother--that's her disease," because people--that is the only mother we've ever known.