Downsizing

ALZHEIMER’S AND THE ART OF DOWNSIZING

DOWNSIZING: TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Holding back full closet

Whether you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s or not, downsizing is easier to do sooner than later.

February 1, 2013 – As we continue with life’s journey along its often bumpy highway there comes a time to think about, if not begin, downsizing; a polite way of saying “get rid of some of that stuff.”  Whether the husband or wife has Alzheimer’s, or any other kind of debilitating or terminal illness, isn’t necessarily part of this decision. Possessions – stuff – have a tendency to reproduce and accumulate; well perhaps not reproduce, it just feels that way.  However, stuff does seem to constantly collect jamming drawers, crowding closets and overwhelming the garage while the inhabitants continue searching for additional storage.

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Originally posted 2013-02-02 19:41:24.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

Savings passbook

My mom even saved our passbooks from our children's savings plan in grade school.

Going through some of Ken’s and my acquisitions I couldn’t help but be reminded of moving my mom and dad from their lovely country home in Sonoma County to the Bay Area.  It was my job to sort through and pack their house filled with years of accumulations.  My father was a collector of tools, but Mama saved everything.  When they arrived in San Francisco during the Great Depression, someone told her she should never throw away a receipt.  She didn’t.  I suppose she was allowed to toss grocery receipts, but for bills she saved every single paper marked or stamped “PAID IN FULL.”

With her Alzheimer’s already noticeable and my dad’s decision for them to move closer to me and Ken, I spent a week at their home packing, sorting and tossing.  My best advice to anyone living anywhere is to keep your files up-to-date and clear of any unnecessary paperwork.  It’s also the best gift you can leave to your children who will be responsible for the disposition of everything which has been left behind after you’re gone.  Mama literally had every receipt given  to her or my dad.  Drawers and boxes of them were filed in an orderly manner going as far back as the mid-1930s.  In addition, she had every bankbook ever delivered to any of us.

As I recall from my youth, we had bank day on Friday at our school.  To participate, we were issued our very own passbook, blue in color in its own pocket envelope. A little bigger than a cell phone the book was given to each student with his/her name placed on the first inside page with the name of one parent.  Into this account we could make a deposit of as little as a few cents every week.  A bank official was at the school to make the entry into the book which was signed and dated in neat, very legible handwriting.  This weekly ritual taught my sisters and me to be thrifty even during those economically stressful years.  Eventually, the total grew to a few dollars, but never more than $4. or $5. and, perhaps, a few odd cents before we advanced to junior high school. I suppose by then the banks had decided the practice was more bother than worth, and the accounts were soon forgotten by most students.

In my mother’s filing system, I found our passbooks stamped closed, the few dollar having been withdrawn by Mom – it was actually her money.  In addition to our canceled books were several closed savings accounts belonging to my parents as they became savvy about more advantageous ways of investing. The books, in addition to other obsolete transactions were, no doubt, saved because Mom considered them to be important records.  Accepting that she believed they were important, but not totally certain of her reasoning left a fragment of doubt causing me to question the obvious.  Consequently, I called each bank for closure verification as I cleaned and tossed.  Countless hours could have been saved if Mom had been “brave” enough to dispose of what was closed, canceled or no longer current.

One of Irene's saved pictures

She was also an artist in her own right, and I found so many pieces of early work.  Okay pieces – showing the structure of learning — not wonderful — but painted by my mother which tainted them with sentiment.  At first I thought I would save them, and then asked myself, “Why?”  They weren’t good enough to hang, so who would want them?  I decided it best not to ask, just do it: discard.   If her mind had been clear I would never have been so presumptuous, but she was in the first stages of a terminal mental illness. It was a fact, yet that same nagging thought kept running through my mind about the possibility of her waking up some morning and the AD would be gone.  I still haven’t figured out if that’s denial or hope.  Whatever it is, it’s somewhat of a nuisance – not only a nuisance – it can paralyze decision making.

So I made the decisions: item after item, file after file, sketch after sketch, painting after painting – I alone decided their fate. Keep it in case she remembers, or discard but don’t tell her?  It sounds so mean – so intrusive — but I knew Alzheimer’s already from caring for Ken’s parents.  Furthermore, no new strides had been made with the disease.  Mama would never even look for her old work. Chances were she may not have remembered even doing the selections I fretted over, much less the receipts, files or ancient bankbooks. Besides, I reassured myself, it was easier to discard, destroy, recycle, or donate while she was still alive.  I could get rid of what was useless, would never be missed or needed which would ultimately relieve me from some of the packing, moving, unpacking and sorting again once they were settled in their new home.  Respectfully, I did what I felt I had to do.

And then, eventually, one day when both Mom and Dad were gone and the remaining chore was to dismantle their home much of the difficult decision making had already been done.  Meanwhile, without so much “stuff” to manage and create clutter I could do what was most important: spend more time with them.  Now I am striving to apply that same philosophy as I continue to downsize the home where Ken and I have lived, loved and shared for more than a half century.  Wish me luck.

Originally posted 2011-08-20 19:06:44.

SIMPLIFYING IS DIFFICULT

home library with books

Cleaning out the study of a loved one with Alzheimer's is just another difficult task for caregivers.

Today I started cleaning the office.  While it has a corner for my computer, it has always been Ken’s room – his den – inherited when the last of our boys left home.  It’s filled (as I have mentioned before) with his things: collections by the score, memorabilia from his youth, school, Navy days and of course his Marathon and fun run awards.  And books; we can’t forget the books: college books, history books, WWII books, a few novels, lots of Navy books, and binders filled to overflowing with what was important to him.  They all seem to look down upon me as I work, perhaps asking, “What now?”

Alzheimer’s is such a perplexing disease.  Our son Kenney dropped by to say hello this afternoon.  Reaching out to shake his father’s hand, Ken didn’t even look at him, but said, “No.” I tried to get his attention so he would at least glance up and smile at his son, but he didn’t.  “He looks good,” said Kenney.  And he does.  Other than that disconnected gaze often found in their eyes AD patients look very good, and normal.  So normal in fact that as I began cleaning the thought raced through my mind, “What if he wakes up tomorrow and the AD is gone.”  What if he came into the office remembering everything and asked what I had done with his engineering books, his drafting and building books, his Architectural Graphic Standards?  What would I say?  I know it’s never happened: a return from the bottomless pit of Alzheimer’s, nor do I believe it will happen, at least not in our lifetime.  Nevertheless, I sometimes find myself wondering “what if?”

Is that the reason I’ve delayed for so long to sort through a lifetime of collections and dispose of what will never be used again – even some personal items — at least not by Ken, and then asking, “What can be used by someone else?” Questions we mull over and over when downsizing. I glanced at some of the publication dates knowing full well the books were obsolete, and even if he were still Ken, most likely they would never be opened much less read.  Even he would have to admit they were outdated.  But they were his and he liked seeing them on the shelf – they were part of him – who he was and what he did.  The drafting books?  Even I know drafting is all done with computers – CADs as they are called – computer-aided drawings.  So it was almost with force that I persevered and sorted out that one section of books – with more to happen at a later date.

My friend, Bob, who had visited the earlier part of the year as he celebrated the life of his deceased wife Julie with all who knew her, called to say that he was home and his journey was complete. We talked about all of these chores that needed our attention, and Bob said that his next goal was to simplify his life.   He planned on sorting his books; technical books from his past, just like Ken, which he had always planned to review or read again, but now he needed to be honest with himself knowing that he never would.  So he planned to take them all to a place where they would be shredded and sent on to be recycled.

In our area of California we have a recycling program, and I knew that if I put the books into the recycling bin, they would be shredded and made into new paper – or whatever.  So into the bin went Ken’s tech books.  A scene from an ancient movie popped into my mind as they clattered to the bottom.  As a youth I watched the screen in a darkened theater as countless books were dumped into a burning bin because Hitler in his madness had ordered obliteration of a good part of the past in his march to world domination, and books held vast treasures of knowledge and history. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always loved books and felt a desire to protect them — treating them with great respect — wanting them to be there for future generations.  Now I was sending some of them away for destruction.  Even though I know it’s really all right and recycling is for a good purpose I felt a little guilty, consoling myself that a modern world has no use for obsolescence.

Ken loved books as well.  I suppose that’s why he had so many, but Bob is right about simplifying. I need to repeat that word over and over as I continue sorting through Ken’s and my lifetime of stuff.  The one thing I have found is that beginning is the hardest part, and once started I know with certainty that Ken isn’t going to wake up in the morning and ask what I had done with his engineering books. Alzheimer’s never pardons their prisoners.

Originally posted 2011-08-14 00:00:33.

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