DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Distraught Husband" struck a chord with me, a daughter who finally took action to clean up the clutter that had overtaken my mother's life. Until last Christmas, my mother had never experienced having her many grandchildren gather around her table for a meal because she wouldn't allow anyone into her home.
Two years ago, I moved in with my daughters and we began the seemingly endless task of cleaning her house -- repainting, repairing, reupholstering and relandscaping. In the process, I found a fortune underneath piles of trash in a room she had forbidden me to enter. She experienced panic attacks and very real terror as I peeled away three decades worth of clutter.
Now, two years later, Mother has a regular cleaning lady, a gardener, a lawyer, an accountant and a stockbroker to manage the estate left by her parents. She has a beautiful home and enough money to travel around the world. We've had family gatherings, brunches for friends and neighborhood parties. Don't you just love happy endings?
Well, think again. There's no happy ending here. The truth is, Mother doesn't know how to function without the security blanket her clutter provided. She's angry with me for "ruining her life" and complains about me in outrageous terms to anyone who will listen. At the same time, she's overly dependent upon me and wants me involved in every aspect of her life. I know Mother needs help and suffers from age-related physical and mental problems, but I just can't take it anymore.
The best advice I can offer "Distraught Husband" is to get psychological counseling as a couple, BEFORE you begin tackling the cleanup. This is important, not only for her welfare, but to protect you from any false accusations that may come from her confused state of mind. Remember: The REAL clutter is in her head, and will still be there long after you clean up the house. -- TIME TO MOVE ON
DEAR TIME: Before you move on, please consider taking a short vacation instead. It will do wonders for your state of mind.
As our population is aging, more attention is being devoted to the growing need for services for seniors. There is help for your mother's physical and emotional problems, and respite care for you. A consultation with a geriatric specialist could benefit you greatly. You could also benefit by joining a support group for adult children of aging parents. Please consider all the options available before you throw in the towel.
Read on for another view of the same letter:
DEAR ABBY: I am 11 years old and I'm doing a project on the skeletal system. Part of my project is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is called the "silent disease" because there are cases when you don't know you have it until you break a bone. One of the ways to prevent a fall that could result in a break is to keep rooms free of clutter and mess.
I am concerned about "Distraught Husband." Does his wife realize how dangerous it is for rooms to be cluttered? I suggest "Distraught" start by saying to his wife, "I'm concerned about your health." -- SKELETAL SMARTY IN JERSEY
DEAR SMARTY: Not only do you have a caring heart, you are intelligent. Slip-and-fall injuries can be life-threatening (and certainly life-altering) to frail seniors, and they should install grab bars in bathrooms, make sure there is adequate lighting on stairways, and remove scatter rugs that might cause serious accidents. A stitch in time saves nine.