He was in bed when I got there. I made me sad that my brother was too weak from chemotherapy to make it down the stairs so I went up and sat on a rickety chair next to his bed. Tim wanted to turn over power of attorney for our mother to me. He told me that mother had been calling him 10-14 times a day. "I'm too sick to deal with her and this cancer too." He wanted me to manage mother's finances and living details.
Mother had been moved out of the acute hospital to this convalescent facility a few days after she fell. I think it was the tenth time this year she had pushed the magic "I've fallen and I can't get up" button.
She was confused and wanted to go home. I had to tell her that she was not going home. She couldn't get up the stairs and she needed help around the clock.
"Maria and Lisa can do it and Tim and that other boy can help. (She was talking about Todd her grandson.) You can help me too. I want to go home."
I had to explain, "Mom, I don't live here anymore and Tim is weak from his cancer treatments. He can't get you up the stairs anymore. You don't have enough money for someone to be with you day and night. I'm looking for an assisted living place. One where the food is good and the helpers are nice and kind."
"Is Tim getting better?"
"No, I don't think so...Mom we can sell your house like your friend did and get you plenty of money for your care."
"Okay, but don't sell everything."
The case worker said we had a month to find a place for her to live. I began to search for a home for her to live while I cleared out Helen's home. I cleared out her life too.
First I worked on the refrigerator which didn't work very well. It was packed full of expired things and frozen bits of food. It took me a full day to lug everything down to the dumper. After that day I asked Tim's two boys to take turns helping me carry bags of trash down the stairs. Each day they arrived and took the trash to the bin.
Then I discovered my mom was a pack-rat and lived in a clown house. Like the tiny car where the clowns keep coming out..in her house, as soon as you discarded one thing; something else popped up, like one of the clowns coming out of the trick car.
I needed to look through boxes of cancelled checks and old bills (back to 1980). I discovered she cut out adds and recipes constantly, and saved them all. Many of the yellowed scraps of paper dated back to 1950's. She had paperback books in boxes under every piece of furniture, if it didn't have some newfangled cooking item hidden there. I threw away most of the scraps of paper and discarded at least 12 large garbage bags each day for ten days before my husband arrived to rescue me.
She had a loft with a sewing machine and lots of sewing items and fabric. It was piled so high you couldn't walk through to where the closet was full of old photos and about 15 suit cases. On each stair to the loft was a new cooking item in a box which had never been opened. A Cuisinart, a toaster, a blooming onion maker, a foot bath and many more. I saved most for a garage sale, but kept the Cuisinart for myself. (I had always wanted one.)
I got the call the day after I arrived that she was being released on Thursday, or Friday if necessary. "What," I thought, "This is weeks before they told me I needed to find another place for her to live." I got a list of care homes and discovered the cost was much more than her social security would cover. We would need to quickly sell her home and have an estate sale of her possessions to get the money she needed. In the bank she had only enough money to pay the fees and charges at assisted living for two months. I needed to hurry up.
I was lucky to find a place not far from where Tim lived and I continued sorting and cleaning in earnest. I discovered she had clothes in every room so I did my best to organize them. I gathered together 82 pairs of pants in one closet. She had 10 pairs of white ones. There were over 100 tops and blouses in another closet. There must have been 60 purses and just as many pairs of shoes. She had 5 pairs of the same brand new tennis shoes; none of which had been worn.
After her friend drove through the front of the doctor's office mom did not have a ride to the mall anymore so she switched her shopping to the internet. I think she forgot what things she had in her closet and double and triple ordered many of the items she wanted. About ten months ago when she could not get to her little computer...the binge shopping stopped.
She had food piled up in one of the tubs along with stacks of toilet paper and paper towels. There were canned goods and instant dinners behind each door, (most expired.) And I know Ketchup should not be black!
And so it went for 12 days with a surprise every day as I sifted through her most precious treasures. Sometimes I felt like I was eavesdropping, or spying as I sorted pictures, and bits of paper. I discovered she was a decent writer as I read a few of her recollections. I wish she had done more of that instead of making lists of everything she bought with the dates and prices recorded.
There were very few pictures of me or my family. Boxes and boxes were filled with trips she had gone on with my Brother and his boys. It hurt as I organized the memories, but I did not expect anything different, as that is how it had always been; as if I was an afterthought, and my family also. But I sorted and gathered together all that looked important into several boxes and gave them to Tim. The memories of me fit into an envelope.
That Friday we moved Helen to her new home. We took familiar furniture, and I packed as if I was sending a daughter to college. I am the mom and she is the child.