Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Derecho and the Elderly Hoarder

Friday, June 29, 2012
A Derecho hit a large swatch of the northeastern United States.  My home state was hit, and my home town was hit hard.  A Derecho is basically a 'land hurricane' and it left many folks in many states without power, water, and other essentials after 80, 90, 100+ mile an hour winds and rain.  In triple digit heat and oppressive humidity...

So- the deal with my hoarding parent.  Mom lives alone in a level 4 hoarded ranch-style house.  She is estranged from the neighbors, and I live 7 hours away in another state.  Due to the toxicity of the house, and for preservation of my emotional health, I do not visit.  The last time I was there I ended up with a severe systemic infection/endocarditis.

So- the storm happens.  The phones are out, and mom calls on her cell.  She tells me a tree has fallen across her driveway  and is freaking out.  After some discussion, I find that the tree is actually a small pear tree that a branch has fallen.  Not great, but not the end of the world as we know it.  At that point, the estimate on power being restored is 6 days out.  Mom has 7 cats, one with acute kidney and liver failure and one with glaucoma that requires eye drops 4 times a day.  (Thankfully she is down from 20 cats she had earlier).  I offer to Fed Ex her a generator.  She could have it tomorrow.  She refuses stating that she would not know how to hook it up, cannot get out to get gas, will not ask anyone to get gas for her/accept it if they did, and HAS NOT ONE SPACE TO SET IT (because of the hoard).

Next problem... She states her cell phone is only half charged.  I advise her that she can use her car charger to charge the phone.  She argues that she can't, she does not have the strength to get the garage door up (it is a 3 car garage with one big door).  I ask her to ask one of the neighbors.  She then tells me that she has 'barricaded' the walk through door and has put burglar bars on the windows, so there is no way into the garage.  Not good.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

She calls, and she is upset that power is not on.  She has a huge chest freezer (the same that she found chocolate chips in from 1983 and steaks from 1992), an upright freezer, and 2 refrigerator/freezers.  All are stuffed full.  For one mid-seventies woman who eats out of the microwave normally, does not cook and cannot get to her oven or range top. The chest freezer temp is now 40 degrees Fahrenheit and she wants to argue with me the food is okay.  She reported the house is over 90 degrees inside, and she has cooped all the cats up in the house’s ONLY small bathroom.  No window....  She also reported she is almost out of food, only has Slimfast and cookies.  She flatly refuses to eat any canned food or to use her grill.  She is also furious that her clock radio does not work.  She put a battery in it after all!  I explain to her that is a back up, not to run the radio.

Monday, July 2, 2012

She calls, but I am on a work call, and I cannot click over fast enough, and without wasting time to listen to her voice mail message I call right back.  She has turned off her phone that quickly.

That night a neighbor calls me who I am connected to on Facebook.  She is worried about Mom because the house is closed up tight (no windows open, door shut).  I apprise her of the situation thus far, and the neighbor tells me her brother drove 6 hours to find generators, and brought them to her and other neighbors.  Because she could not get in contact with Mom, (Mom will not give her cell phone number out) one was not purchased for her.  She has stopped her huge SUV in front of Mom's house and laid on the horn multiple times and once for a 1/2 hour steady, but no response.  Mom has her gates locked and has a concealed carry permit, so no one will jump the fence and go to the door.  In fact, if Mom knew the neighbor had my cell phone number/called me she would not ever talk to me or her again.  It is truly a no-win situation.  If we sent the State Police or any Human Service Agency that is doing wellness checks it is likely she would consider them trespassing and a danger, and invoke the Castle Doctrine ... or her screwed up interpretation of it to shoot them.  The neighbor wants to offer to bring her food, ice, and to charge her phone.  She knows Mom will refuse all.  In our subsequent conversations, the neighbor shares a level of guano loco that I only suspected (both revelations are blog posts in themselves) and she has <gasp> been lying to me.  She also operates firmly in a state of delusion, and neither of these things are revelations to me, but it still pisses me off.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I am taking a planned day off from my job.  (She knew this.) She calls my office (SHE NEVER CALLS THE OFFICE!) and speaks to one of my staff ...who advises her to call my cell, which she agrees to, but does not.  She does tell my assistant that the food is running down the front of the fridge and the smell is awful.  Now, since she has no sense of smell/has accommodated to the smell of the hoard, the stench must be horrific.  I do not hear from her on Tuesday, Wednesday, ... not until Friday night.

Thursday, July 5, 2012
On Thursday the neighbor notices that her paper is disappearing, so we assume she is alright.  

Friday, July 6, 2012 
The land lines briefly came up and I caught it at the right time, and I called her.  She put all the cats into a large carrier and took them to the basement where they (and she) spent 16 hours a day sitting on the cluttered stairs in the dark with piles up to the ceiling.  Her flashlight batteries ran out on Tuesday, and she is living on powdered milk and Slimfast.  All the food is still in the freezers, etc.  

She also:

  • Refused to believe that the neighbor had on multiple occasions sat in front of her house and blew the horn repeatedly, calling her a liar
  • Refused to let her charge her cell phone- "I don't want her to look through it or to get my number- it is none of her business"
  • Stated if anyone wanted to get in contact with her, they could have left a note on the fence with a time like UPS or some other ground freight delivery....
  • Made snide and rude comments about several other neighbors who were all dealing with power loss and the heat
  • Was FURIOUS that no one ‘set a generator over the fence’ for her
  • Was INCENSED that nobody set a relief kit over the fence for her
  • Made RUDE and nasty comments about the linemen/linewomen that came from all over the country to help
Thank you for your patience if you have read this far.  I was furious when I could not get a hold of her for several days.  She has a laptop that she bought in 2006 that has never been out of the box.  The neighbor was letting everyone use her hotspot on her iPhone to power their laptops so folks could get information or communicate.  She could have walked across the street and asked a neighbor for help, and to call me.  

She made a truly horrific experience so much more terrible by her past choices, her current choices, her inability to interact with people in a normal fashion, and her inability to let go of petty grudges.  I was torn between letting her (and sadly, the cats) suffer the consequences of her decisions.  I had decided if I could not get any sighting of her by Friday, I was going to drive 7 hours to make contact, charge her damn phone, take her ice... and drive straight back.  At the beginning I started to FedEx her a small generator... but I realized she would either not accept it, or would not set it up/have the room to put it/ask someone for gas.

I learned early as a preteen that I cannot do anything meaningful for her.  She simply will not allow it, but then the criticism begins that I am selfish and thoughtless.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012
The power was restored.  She still has not cleaned out the rotting food, and has continued her diatribe against the neighbors who tried to help her.

She was in a hell purely of her own making... But it does not make that realization easy for me.  I had visions of her dead or overcome by heat... and visions of the response of a small town in Appalachia... where I would have the public judging me for letting this happen.  I cannot win.  That sums up hoarding so perfectly in my mind.  No one wins.

And I predict I will still have a full house and multiple freezers of rotten food to deal with some day.

I continue to think about what I tell my staff... "You cannot want something more than the client does."  I do not know what I want insofar as my relationship with her.  I am just so emotionally numb to this whole mess.

Update, Saturday, September 22, 2012

She still has not cleaned out her freezers.  The chest freezer remains full of rotted meat.  She occasionally asks things like, "How long would it take for  pick-the-item-and-insert-it-here to go over?

No one wins.


  1. Wow! You are incredibly strong to have not lost your own marbles.


  2. Thank you Evillisa! My greatest fear is not being able to see things outside my own perspective. Humor keeps me sane... or what passes for it.

  3. I am so sorry. Remember, you don't actually have to be the one to handle things when she dies - you can leave it to the state, if it's too much for you. It means not inheriting anything, but sometimes that's the better choice.

    She doesn't know it, but your mom is lucky you even answer your phone.

  4. Thank you rosalux! I know I can walk away, and I know that honestly, there is a very high likelihood that at some point she may terminate the relationship (or I may have to out of self preservation).

    You gave me a smile today, when I answered her call:-)