Sunday, October 14, 2012

A corner, turned

This blog is a little like "Seinfeld"; it's not really "about" anything. Yeah, it has the paleo/primal/CrossFit angle going for it, or maybe I'll tell you about a gig or an album that blew my mind. Other times it's just about the weird twists and turns of life. File this one under that last category.

A long time ago, I told you about my dad's descent into dementia. At that time -- August 2011 -- when he went into nursing care, things were pretty chaotic, for him and me. He was, literally, physically attacking staff at the hospital, and was put on an anti-psychotic drug so strong that I could find *one* facility in the area -- short of a full-on psychiatric hospital (and for the love of Jebus, we don't need him in one of those places in constant physical danger) -- that would take him in upon his discharge from the regular hospital. So I had him sent to that one place, a locked-down, not-terribly-nice-but-better-than-a psych-hospital home for (mostly, but not all) elderly folks with mental issues of one sort or another. It wasn't great, not entirely safe, but it was the only option at the time.

Within a couple of months, he had calmed down and stopped physically acting out, and they were able to decrease/change his meds to the extent that I was able to get him transferred to a wonderful, safe little place where he has been since. Mind you, he doesn't think it is wonderful, but it is, relatively speaking, and he is safe, which is the important part. He has been in the new facility for a year now, and he is in increasingly declining shape, as you would expect for an 87-year-old. He has been placed on technical "hospice" care because at one point he stopped eating, and, apparently, if you aren't a hospice patient (who can basically do what they want), the facility would have to tube-feed you if you stop eating. The lawyer in me understands fully the legalities at work here; the human being wonders what the fuck we have gotten ourselves into when we are sticking tubes down the throats of 87-year-old mentally-ill people unless all the right forms have been signed to avoid a lawsuit. We wouldn't do that to a dog, but I digress....

So he muddles through the day -- endlessly listening to the radio, choosing never to leave his bed and screaming bloody murder if anyone tries to take him anywhere. And he has invented quite a tale. Someday, if I am organized enough, I will -- mostly for my sake, just to remember it, but you will be, no doubt, fascinated, perhaps even pretty amused, by it -- set forth for you the multilayered chapters of this fantasy. The core of it is that my dad thinks that he died back in March, was cremated and his ashes are interred next to my mom's. The guy in the bed, according to the story, is a victim of amnesia who was brought in the day my dad died, and who looks just like him, suffers from many of the same ailments -- but with little variations -- and is visited by many people, including some woman he apparently had a crush on years ago, a Delaware state trooper who was there to fix the washing machine and dryer in the facility but ended up pulling strings to an extent that the FBI fingerprinted the amnesia victim and determined his "real" identity (the same name as my father's but for one initial), and not one, but two, talking monkeys -- from Gabon. (The level of detail is amazing). But he still wants me to visit him even though he begins every visit with: "Now, you remember, of course, that, even though you call me 'Dad,' I'm not your father," after which the tale re-ignites with new layers, twists and turns, and the pronouns he uses become increasingly confusing. ("Dad, when you say 'I,' which 'I' are you talking about? My father, or this new guy?") It is a hell of a story, and I really need to write it all down before it goes away entirely -- which I suspect it is going to do soon because the doc just had to increase his meds, a step which, in the past, has always produced rather dramatic changes in the direction of the catatonic.

But this isn't about all *that*. This is about his house.

That fucking house.

Up until the time that he was carried out of his home by paramedics in August 2011, my father lived in the same three-story/five-bedroom house where I grew up. It was ludicrous that he stayed there that long, but there was no budging him. But once he was moved, it wasn't a simple matter of selling the place. First, the vagaries of tax/estate law being what they are, it makes significantly more financial sense to wait until he dies, have the place transfer to my brother and me, and *then* sell the house. But that isn't the *real* issue.

Haven't I told you before? My dad didn't throw very much away.

Yeah, he threw away *real* trash -- you know, garbage, the stuff that otherwise would attract rodents. But anything else you might expect someone to get rid of, like, oh, toys from when my brother and I were, respectively two and six years old? Half-full cans of paint from 100 different touch-up painting jobs over the years? 300 jars of various nails and screws? No, that shit -- and believe me, I have listed only a few of tens of thousands of things -- never got tossed out. It was put in the attic, the basement, various of the five bedrooms. Everywhere.

And clearing this out mostly falls on me. Yeah, my wife and my kids have helped when they could, but my brother lives 450 miles away. And we all have lives and responsibilities that have nothing to do with cleaning out the house of a crazy man who happens to be my dad. Plus I pay all the old man's bills (with his money, not mine), organize his taxes and other finances and generally keep the ship of his wrecked life as afloat as I can, interrupted by handling fantastic little digressions like dealing with the bank when, a couple weeks ago, someone *somehow* charged something to one of his credit cards that hasn't been used in over three years. (But now *I* am wandering again....)

So I have been chipping away at The Big Dig Out from his house. Since last December, when I finally got down to beginning this project, I have filled *six* dumpsters with trash. Not those little tiny square/cube ones you see behind a local restaurant, mind you. Six full-on giant rectangular dumpsters. When I haven't been filling dumpsters, or otherwise attending to things in my own life, I have been sorting papers.

Think about it: if a man has six dumpsters of trash in his house, guess how much *paper* there is to sort through? And I have to sort it, because there is, amidst a whole lot of nonsense, some important stuff in there.

Which brings us, finally, after a gazillion paragraphs of prelude, to the point of this post: yesterday, I sorted what was, I believe, finally (FINALLY!) , the last scrap of paper. Everything that remains in his house is now sorted into two categories -- trash for the seventh (and final) dumpster, or a donation to charity. The dumpster will be ordered soon, the house finally (FINALLY!) emptied and a bunch of cosmetic work done inside to purge the place of its current stylistic rut that we will call "1972."

This may not strike you as a big deal, but, trust me, if you were in the middle of the multi-month/mostly-solo spectacular that this has been you would have joined me in the butt-shaking touchdown dance that I did yesterday. Exile on Main Street was on the boom box that I always bring over there to stave off boredom and panic, and I joined Mick and Keef in the muted, but intense, celebration that is my very favorite Stones song. Dig.

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  1. So sorry to hear what you and your Dad are going through. My father suffered with dementia, too. It's a heartbreaking disease to witness.

  2. My mother had dementia for the last seven years of her life until she finally bowed out on Millennium Eve, her body having been kept alive long after she had effectively left it. I get what you say about the questionable morality of grimly enforcing such appalling life quality on elderly humans, when you would consider it cruelty to keep an animal in such a state.

    Trawling through your Dad's fifty-year hoard must have been enough to bring you to screaming point at times. I hope you were at least spared the experience a friend of mine had recently, where while completing a similar task for her father she stumbled across an attaché case packed with a selection of quite imaginative sex toys, and a pack of condoms which was still 'in date' and had some missing (her Dad was 80 at the time....). No amount of Mick Jagger could erase the unbidden mental images which that little case evoked.

  3. To the screaming point? Yes, but always because of the sheer volume of the uselessness of what he failed to get rid of himself. It was dullsville all the way.

  4. Yes, I get you. That's a completely different kind of stress. My mother's lifetime haul actually DID yield a few surprises (though nothing to rival my poor friend's.), which kept me on my toes while sorting through it all. Fifty years of paint cans and washers is irredeemable.

    Makes the astonishing dimension your Dad seems to have reached within his own mind all the more remarkable, I suppose. I've never heard of anything quite like THAT before.