Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A delicate balancing act

I've written before about the difficulty of a generation trying to care for kids and their own families, right along with aging parents. Lately, though, I've been trying to balance the needs of an elderly aunt with her own desires. Believe me, when dealing with someone who possesses the stubborn Woods genes this isn't easy.

My 96-year-old aunt, who has no kids of her own, hit a rough patch over the winter. From Christmas day until early May she was in and out of hospitals and rehab. Some situations were better than others, but none were to her liking. My cousins and I have always promised we'd do all we could to keep her at home, as long as she cooperated by doing whatever was necessary for her own safety. In theory, she agreed.

Now, however, with reality setting in that she needs a live-in caregiver, she's not half as cooperative as we'd always hoped. I try to time my weekly visits -- she lives two hours away from me -- so I can chat with the visiting nurse or physical therapist to get some idea of what kind of progress she's making. Instead, most of the time I listen to a litany of complaints about how much she's paying for food for two people, instead of what she paid when she was living there alone. She wants to cut back care to a few hours a day...even though she's barely walking and certainly couldn't prepare her own meals. My cousins and I have repeatedly balked. It's created some tension. I suppose one of these days, she could simply fire the help, but we keep praying she won't.

On the one hand, I understand exactly how she feels. It must be incredibly difficult after living that many years independently to suddenly have someone else underfoot. On the other, it's frustrating to have her not see that for now she needs the help. It's been difficult for all of us, maybe more so because we're not dealing with a parent, but an aunt. It's even trickier for my cousins, who've recently dealt with the deaths of both parents after difficult illnesses. Their patience has worn thin.

If any of you out there have dealt with this with a parent or another elderly relative, I'd love to hear how you've dealt with the difficult decisions. Click on comments below or email me directly at


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Monday, June 8, 2009

The queen of clutter unmasked

I just noticed how far behind I am on blogging. Apparently my blog resolutions are no better kept than my new year's resolutions. However, I do have a good excuse...another one. I'm decluttering. Sort of.

As some of you know, I inherited my house in Virginia when my dad died. It had been in the family since I was four. I'm pretty sure nothing had been thrown out in all that time.

After my dad died in 1998, I got started on the accumulation of stuff. Room by room, I made great progress. I've renovated and painted, tossed everything in sight that didn't have a purpose. The problem has been that way too many things might have a purpose...some day.

At any rate, I really was getting ahead of the chaos...until I closed my bookstore. Then every bit of leftover inventory that I hadn't given away or sold moved in with me. Boxes were everywhere. And then, crazy me, I got involved in creating the town's Market Days and kept ordering T-shirts to sell at those events. More and more boxes arrived. You have no idea what my living room looked like. Picture a dry goods store and you'll get a sense of it.

Now I'm gearing up to have one of the "big" birthday parties in July. I've invited friends from all over. Many are coming. Though I sensibly moved the actual event to a restaurant on the river, there's no getting around the fact that some of these people will actually expect to be able to walk through my house without tripping over things. So, I'm in a frenzy to declutter.

Unfortunately, I'm approaching this with very little organization. I pick a spot, grab some stuff and sort and toss. I'm pretty ruthless, in fact. However, I also have to look at every item, think about it, read the old letters, read the old college newspapers. This is not a process that is clipping along.

So, if any of you have tips for reducing clutter in an organized, sensible fashion, please pass it along. Quickly. In the meantime, picture me lost in the great black hole that is my home.


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