In The Beginning…

There are some things you assume you need to do alone. And there are indeed situations where yes, it is much better to take them on alone. However, it’s not a given for every situation. Sometimes, you’re pushed to ask for help out of desperation. Or perhaps a time crunch. Or flat out overwhelm, emotional or otherwise. What follows is the story of the first time I was called to help shut down a home. It wasn’t my practice then, it was for family, but it taught me a lot of things.

2002, Upstate New York, living with my boyfriend. The phone rings around 7 in the evening. It’s Mom. She’s not quite in tears, but she’s definitely at the end of her rope. She’s at her mom’s house, Grandma’s place in Southeast Ohio. They just returned from a trip to Mayo Clinic. Grandma’s brain tumor was growing and inoperable. Mom has decided to move her back home with her and Dad in NW Indiana.

Grandma and DaDa moved into that house in 1962. It’s the only place of theirs I’ve known. It was a sprawling 60’s ranch with a sunken living room, a wing of bedrooms, an open kitchen/dining/den mashup on the opposite wing, and an attached garage dominated by a bar and a pool table. DaDa died in 1995, but even before then, he was incapacitated and was living in a care facility; Grandma was in that house by herself for a while.

Growing up, we’d take trips down to visit them. The house was in a subdivision, but the single street subdivision was in the country, so after finishing my books and wandering up and down the street, I’d take to exploring the house. It was full of everything, so much stuff. DaDa ran a hotel/restaurant/roadhouse, so the garage was overflowing with dishes, cooking gear, neon signs, bulk cutlery, and countless other fascinating collections. The bedrooms were full of books and magazines, and the closets were so full of god-knows-what the doors wouldn’t open.

Now Mom was faced with the prospect of getting Grandma out of the house and I knew  exactly what she was up against.

“I’ll be there in the morning. Get some rest.”

My boyfriend and I hopped in the car with backpacks stuffed with fresh underwear and t-shirts and started driving, handing off shifts until neither one of us could keep going. We took a nap in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and I started driving in the dark again as he slept. We rolled up to Grandma’s house at 8 in the morning, Mom standing out front with her hands on her hips and her mouth wide open.

We had no idea where to start, so we started at the front door and turned left. Boxing up books from the hall bookcase, linens from the linen closet. We stripped the beds and packed the sheets and pillows. Opened drawers, pulling everything out onto beds, sorting and boxing. Then, we reached our first closet. I pulled on the door. Nothing. My boyfriend positions himself to help pry the folding doors back, and we’re greeted with a solid wall of stuff. Boxes upon boxes of housewares, circa late 1970s, neatly stacked, mostly still in original packaging. All of it gets piled on the bed and we start sorting and boxing it. Behind that wall of housewares were clothes, circa early 1970s. We make our way through the house like this, pull, sort, box.

We find money. We find arsenic. We find pictures, unearth furniture, discover things thought lost decades ago. Grandma is in bed in her room, surrounded by her sisters, and chattering away. Mom is in the family room, on the couch in shock. She wants to help, but there’s too much. Too much emotionally. Too much physically. Entirely too much of everything. I go into Grandma’s closet and bring out wave after wave of purses. She starts checking them methodically. Pull, sort, box.

I get on the phone during stretching and water breaks (because we are not robots, and taking care of yourself physically is vital during all this), and start tracking down donation sites. Clothing, furniture, housewares (no, really, a lot of housewares…know anybody starting a restaurant or bar?). I figure out what the hazardous waste disposal routine is for the county and let them know what I have. They are grateful for my call.

This sounds overwhelming, doesn’t it? It is, not gonna lie. It is. Lots of people go through this and situations like this alone, trying to figure out what to do. This happened 7 years before I started my practice, but this was pretty much the beginning of it all for me. It planted the seed.

This experience showed me how important it was to face these sorts of transitions together. You can face it. You can deal with it, but it’s easier if you don’t do it alone. It’s physical. It’s emotional. You need to be aware of both. Honor both. Have care plans lined up for both. The thing I want to get across is how common it is for people to face these situations alone, and how unnecessary it is. Not only is it unnecessary, having help, having someone at your side, having someone to step in can make the whole process exponentially easier.

Why do I do what I do? Because I believe you don’t have to face these kinds of changes alone, because you’re not alone.

You are not alone.