By Linda Bailey
I have watched Momma cleaning all my life. My earliest memories were of Momma showing me how to clean something or cooking lessons, even though I was not old enough to participate. She sat me up on the counter as a toddler and showed me how to make a pie crust. It was Momma’s way to communicate with me. She was not a big talker and had grown up during WWII and had to be caregiver to her two siblings because Grandpa was at war and Grandma was at the factory. She held her family together and made sure that the house was always clean and the food they had was always well prepared.
I have literally never seen a person that could outwork Momma. She never stopped; even when we had company and we were all chatting it was almost impossible to keep Momma sitting down. A lot of family members got aggravated at her because of it, especially her momma and her sister because they loved to sit and chat. But when things got out of hand or someone had a problem Momma was the first one to be called to the scene! She could handle anything and not just handle it but handle it with love and kindness. She is also the godliest woman I know and she lives her love for God out through her life and in everything she does.
So, about seven months ago, when they told us that Momma had a blocked carotid artery that had to have surgery, we knew she would be just fine. During their investigation of the artery they also found that she had numerous other blockages that needed surgery: a triple bypass. A couple of days before they told us she needed surgery and was blocked up she was out cutting down a tree at my aunt’s house (who is six years younger than Momma’s 77 years) with a chain saw. Only five feet two inches, and was always as strong as most men.
Within three months, she has had two major surgeries and has been hospitalized for a severe urinary tract infection, which keeps coming back. She has lost thirty-five pounds and has lost her appetite for most foods and is mainly being sustained by a high calorie Boost that we have to special order. She is so very frail and tiny. I know that many of you will understand when I say that there are times I just want to ask “Where did my Momma go?” And all the times I complained that she would never sit down seem to be such a long time ago.
Since Momma was such a worker in the past, the clutter did not seem to be as recognizable. Yes, we knew she kept everything, growing up when she did and living in basements and having nothing made her a keeper of things. But when she was well she was busy cleaning out closets (because of the dust) but not really getting rid of anything. She would just move it all to a different spot. And now that she is unable to clean as she did before, things are noticeable and way out of hand. As a matter of fact, she had been in the process of cleaning out a closet in the upstairs hall and had left half of it in the hall before she went in for her surgeries. After coming home, there was no time to clean it up because of all her care needs.
One morning, I went in to see about Momma and she seemed to not know where she was or what was going on. I got very concerned and when she could not get up and walk, I called 911. When they arrived they had to bring special equipment up the stairs and one of the EMT’s complained about the clutter in the hall and asked me how long it had been there because it looked like a long time! It seemed to me that he was insinuating that Momma was not in a good environment. This is what spurred me into thinking about all the things that Momma was holding on to.
I began talking to my family about getting rid of some of the clutter. I am not the most organized person in the world myself. I am a minimalist myself because I can handle having a place for everything and everything goes back in its place. But when it comes to clutter and overflow I am completely overwhelmed. I have a daughter, however, who has absolutely no problem diving in and throwing out. Of course, we had to make sure it was okay with Momma. We knew what she valued, like pictures, keepsakes, etc., but there were things which we needed to ask her about and that is where it got a little tricky.
Since her surgery, she has trouble making decisions and even questions seem to overwhelm her. We made a decision to get rid of things we absolutely knew were going to be okay first and things we had questions on, we boxed up and put in storage. We made sure Momma knew that we were not getting rid of her precious keepsakes; we were just putting them out of the way so that she would have more room and have fewer items to collect dust. She hates dust so that made her smile.
We are counting on, by God’s great grace, Momma feeling better day by day and coming back to a place where she can thrive again. In the meantime, we saw the need to get a lot of the clutter gone. We did not want to make her feel anxious or threatened by just discarding the things that she loved and cherished, though. We told Momma exactly what we were doing, and after collecting things, we showed her what we were going to give away or throw away and what things we were putting into storage. We did not want to go behind her back and make her feel as if we were not acknowledging her feelings. We wanted to honor her by getting her okay.
Momma still has her thoughts and desires and we do not want to take anything away from her. Sometimes, when people get older and sick, their children mean well but they just take over and act as if their parents are no longer even there. This can really be detrimental to an elderly person, making them feel even less like they have worth and value. And it makes them less likely to recover fully because sometimes it makes them feel like giving up because they are no longer able to make decisions.
I understand there are times when someone’s mind is foggy and they cannot understand or they are fighting you about getting rid of anything. In that case, it might be a good idea to just talk to them about putting it all in storage for them to look through later when they feel better. Letting them know that they are still in charge of their lives to a great degree is key in some people’s recovery. I know not every situation is easy but I do know that respect and honor go a long way on the whole.
Before you think, “How do you know how the elderly feel?” I will tell you that I have spent a great deal of time around my great grandma, grandparents, and my aging parents. I have loved the elderly all my life and have spent a lot of time sitting with them reading, threading needles, talking, or just listening. Your body may change, but your heart stays the same. I was also in a serious automobile accident and lost the use of both of my legs and right arm for quite a while. I was put into a rehab center for the elderly and I spent many an hour sitting and listening to their hearts. Many of them abandoned by their children because they were too slow, could not hear well, or were unable to get around as easily. Yet, they were still who they always were.
I am thankful for these experiences I have had with these precious older people because they have made me more understanding and more compassionate in my work of late with my precious Momma.
This post is contributed by Linda Bailey from housekeeping.org. She is a Texas-based writer who loves to write on the topics of housekeeping, green living, home décor, and more. She welcomes your comments which can be sent to b.lindahousekeeping @ gmail.com.