It’s been a while since I’ve written about dear ole dad, so this seems like an opportunity. After his somewhat debilitating heart attack six months ago, he had managed to gain some of his independence back. Given that he relinquished 70% of his heart pressure to that attack, he was able to walk eventually, very slowly, without the help of a walker. Still, walking was a chore which left him out of breath after several steps.
To make chores a little easier during those six months while working with a 30% functional heart, he built a 4 ft high, by 2.5 ft long by 2 ft wide, multi-shelf cart, with large rubber wheels and handles, so that he could move around 50 pound bags of wood chips for their heater. The cart was meant to traverse steps. As it was with most everything he custom built, it was all wood, complete with finished paint job. It’s a damn sturdy cart. How he made this in his weakened condition baffles me. He also made a wooden spool for his oxygen cord. This allowed him to move around his home without the cord becoming a tangled nuisance.
I had the opportunity of seeing both impressive custom-built items a couple of days ago because DOD is hospitalized and in weak condition. My sister MG and I were in his home because while he was hospitalized, his wife of 22 years died. DOD lies on his back in a dependent bed-ridden state, and his home now needs looking after.
With all of DOD’s virtues and talents, preparing for this occasion was not one of his strong suits. For two retired people approaching end of life, they stockpiled loads of junk. It must have been treasure to them. Stockpiling stuff is rarely a virtue. It may seem cozy living in a crowed mess of your things, but it’s not healthy.
If there is a lesson I’m continuing to take away, it’s to live lightly. The older we get, the more important it is to live in a clean environment. The more space, the more stuff, the more energy it takes to clean and keep clean. If two people are living in a single family home bursting at the seams with “stuff”, then it’s prudent to have either good hired cleaning help or invest time keeping the place clean, especially when three dogs share the space. DOD and his wife did neither. Their home is a overly cluttered, unclean, unhealthy environment. I regretted entering without a filtered mask to breathe through.
It’s so easy to accumulate “stuff.” Things keep coming into our home. We shop for cloths, mail comes, we buy things. Unless we are building a household, when things come in, it’s logical that things should go out. It makes sense that there be a flow, a balance, especially for an elderly couple who have a long established household, with years of accumulated stuff. The saying “less is more” could not be more important. They lived by the reverse of that saying. They kept enough stuff, clothes, food, nicknacks, for a large family that had a hoarding problem. They kept buying stuff until the stuff filled up space that didn’t need to be filled. Maneuvering around the house became more constrictive. Counter tops were invisible under a kaleidoscope of boxes, jars, papers, and loads of stuff. More became less.
The long and short is that they didn’t do themselves any favors, nor any favors for those who now need to deal with all the stuff. But they were allowed to do and live in any way they felt comfortable. It was their home to live in how they desired. No one is denying that. No right or wrong. But, it wasn’t healthy. Living in their home the way I found it this past week would make a healthy person sick. For a sick person, it’s a death sentence.
As it stands, DOD won’t be returning to his home any time soon, if at all. He’s got to be moved out of the hospital within the next day or so, most probably to a rehabilitation facility. He can’t walk on his own. He can barely sit up on his own. If he goes home at some point, someone will need to live with him after at least part of the home is vaporized.
Before I left on my most recent trip to China, I called DOD at his home to check in. During the call, he iterated how much he appreciated his wife and was lucky to have her. In a short week he lost her and his ability to return home. He’s got to be missing both. But as he was and still is, he shows little emotion to significant changes, perhaps accepting fate’s events as logical steps.
The good news is that two of my sisters live (relatively) nearby and have been spending much of their personal time trying to make some sense of the next steps. For DOD and the rest of us, it’s a path into the unknown, evaluating and working with facilities who deal with mostly dependent, end of life patients. For the foreseeable future, it’s going to be an investment in time sorting through lots of stuff, piled on other stuff. But we all love our dear ole dad, in spite of (all) that stuff.