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Saturday, September 26, 2009

The life behind the curtains.


Most of the times, we don't know where we are heading.  We might have a map, and a compass, but we don't know much more than what we can read on that map.  The clues around us might send an alert to our brain: notice the shoulders, the visibility, the traffic pattern ahead.  We notice what's around us; but we fail to notice what it is in us and all around us. We fail to notice our own status.

Most of life takes place behind curtains, out of public view, behind lawns and fortifications and significant other tell tale signs, the make of the car, the cut of the cloth. 
We live different lives sometimes, the one that keeps us sane and connected to our family; and the other one, the projected images that we show our neighbors, our friends.  We are really quite adept at maintaining our public self.

Sometimes, our life isn't visible at all until we are dead and our relatives have to sort out our junk. Old people don't even know when life has become a burden and chores are not getting done. They want to maintain the life they had, the life everybody expects them to maintain.

Just recently, an old friend of ours had an accident and his family convinced him to go live with them.  We all thought that it was a bit premature.  Our old friend was not that old; he was sociable and active, attended many events, took his usual walks, was clean and engaging.

Only after he left, and his house was cleaned, and the land cleared of all the debris, the truth was discovered.  He had accumulated stuff for years: bags and bags of soot, bags of fertilizer,boxes of old clothes and old china, garbage not disposed  that had been attacked by rodents. 

If you know old folks, keep an eye on them, notice their routines, offer to help with chores, offer to run errands. 

55 comments:

Eva Gallant said...

Thanks for dropping by my blog. We seem to have much in common..former teachers; age 65; hope you'll come back again and again.

Amy said...

So many truths in this post, Rosaria. I had an experience last year where I was able to peek behind the curtain of my husband's grandfather's life. It needed some tending to and I made sure that I spoke to the right people and got them to take care of business. Gramps never would have told a soul what was needed, but anyone with a keen eye should have picked up on it. We should take care of our older folks. They need us and quite frankly, I think we need them. We have a lot to gain from their wisdom, experience and talents.

Delwyn said...

Hi Rosaria

those habits within the home are very revealing of the inner world of the inhabitant...

I would like to hope that there is less disparity between the public self and the home self as I get older although I see that there are clearly different roles we play in each place....Becoming authentic seem to me to be about dissolving those facades and masks as far as possible..

Happy days

Ribbon said...

Beautifully said Rosaria and a little sad too.

Young and old, everyone needs a helping hand to lessen the gap between public self and home self.

great post
best wishes
Ribbon x

Gran said...

So true, lakeviewer. I'm glad your friend has family.

Cinnamon said...

I echo Gran- your friend is blessed to have a caring family. Your observations are very true. We live our lives behind closed doors. This post is a good wake-up call.

ivan@ reativewriting.ca said...

Well crafted essay!
And it brings a resonance.

Sophia said...

I have read about these types of stories a few times, and it is sad. Some individuals get that way because they have no one to love them and make them feel important...so they "collect" in hopes to fill that void or loneliness. I pray that we all are open and never take those around us for granted.

Wander to the Wayside said...

When my dad was in Texas and I in Georgia, I heard from my step-siblings that his apartment had become quite trashy, and they assumed it was because he had just lost interest or was getting old. Turns out it was the beginnings of alzheimers.

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Good post. My parents' attic after 30 years was an accumulation of so much stuff it took us weeks to clean it out. Peeking behind the curtain: when I first saw the title, I thought of the Wizard of Oz - what the wizard actually was.

Elizabeth Bradley said...

I took care of my dad the last few years of his life, until he had to be put in a home. (He had Alzheimer's.) I had to periodically go through his room. He would hide food in the pockets of his clothes. He brought strange items in from the yard. He started trying to make omelets in the middle of the night, once he concocted one with peaches and garlic and jalepenos. Talk about gross. I can't imagine how it would have been if he'd been on his own.

Monkey Man said...

Archeologists have long known we are what we leave behind. I have helped clean a few of the homes you describe. I think part of it is a depression era mentality that everything should be used and has value or " might be worth something some day".

Monkey Man said...

Archeologists have long known we are what we leave behind. I have helped clean a few of the homes you describe. I think part of it is a depression era mentality that everything should be used and has value or " might be worth something some day".

Unseen Rajasthan said...

This post is fantastic !! Very True what ever you have written.Unseen Rajasthan

Reasons to be Cheerful 1,2,3 said...

A wonderfully written post...and I will.

Shadow said...

this is so very true. a fact i found out too when my mother passed away...

Maggie May said...

As you are getting older and frailer, it is difficult to keep the place how you used to keep it.
I am finding that too, but every now and then have a blitz.
Its the people who never have a blitz that we have to watch out for.

Sharon McPherson: AUTHOR / ARTIST said...

Interesting post. Food for thought. I like Maggie May's advice about the importance of having a blitz.

the walking man said...

The life behind the door can be so well hidden that it takes an accident to open it.

Arkansas Patti said...

Gosh that is depressing for I am considered by most as Old.
I can see slipping on house cleaning and if it weren't for the visitors who keep me pulling out the vacuum cleaner and thorwing away junk at my own house, I would probably fit the picture. Perhaps these people slipped so because they had no visitors.
Think I will increase my own visits to friends my age and older. Thanks for the reminder.

TechnoBabe said...

My mother is 88 and still lives alone. In an apartment. So neighbors are near. My brother and I each live in different states, each about 1500 miles from mom. We finally talked her into a helper every other week who cleans and runs errands. I agree with you say in this post that when some people get older it looks like they are taking adequate care of themselves and their things such as food and hygiene but not all of them have the mental energy anymore to remember to be consistent with that care. That will be me some day and I hope I will have people caring enough to check on me.

Cynthia said...

Yes we have to remember our connection to everyone...and those who are older may need help. I remember an older friend I had in California, Polly; she was 79 when I first met her-and a college student. She was a customer at the Crown City Motel-a diner in Coronado, California where I used to work. She always came in for the weekly special with her 'gentleman friend.' (They were married soon after that!)

I went to her 80th birthday celebration with my husband-and we remained friends for over a decade- until I moved away from California-and she died. She believed I had something special to offer this world. Her faith in me-a stranger to her at first- was so encouraging.

She was an artistic-type person who once had a successful interior decorating business. What a lovely woman.

She gave me so much comfort and a feeling of community in a new place...we would talk about her past life and she yet she remained interested in the world.

Her aesthetic sense impacted me and encouraged me to live an authentic beauty-focus life. I was sorry when she moved into a nursing home at 92.

She could still move around but she didn't want to be a burden on her worrying daughter. I visited her every week...and it was sad to see her life circumscribed when her mind was so active. I wish I could have been more help but I had young children who needed my attention.

Thank you for reminding me of this remarkable and important person. I do think we need to reach out to older people and genuinely share our lives. Impacting post! Thank you.

potsoc said...

We, north of the border, have an extensive social security net, local community centers, low cost home care cooperatives state subsidized, and still some people, old or with psychiatric problems, fall through the proverbial cracks.
No matter how organized or available we may be, we can not help those who do not want to be helped. Extend a hand, yes, but if the other one does not reach for it, we can not do much.

Merisi said...

It's such a fine line between respecting other people's privacy and leaving them too much alone.

Tessie said...

I don't have any elderly friends, and my Grandmother lives with my aunt and uncle- so nothing to worry about there. It was the mention of our projected and personal selves that has me thinking, but in general terms not necessarily related to old age. Even young people slip through the cracks because we aren't paying enough attention. I think of things like teen (and adult) depression and suicide, eating disorders, and wonder why we aren't paying closer attention to the people around us. Maybe it is because it is difficult to know when to invade someone's personal space and when not to. Thanks for giving me something to think about!

Helen said...

Thank you for this message, Rosaria. After my experiences with Mother, memory care and assisted living homes and contact with area social workers ... I am so aware of the need to keep watch over the vulnerable among us.

Brian Miller said...

i remember my aunts house being like a museum...actually more like a warehouse for the museum. many wonderful treasures, but sad in many ways. the things we hold onto...until we are overwelmed with the past, we forget to keep moving forward.

Martin H. said...

I enjoyed reading this thoughtful post.

I've heard some people say that retirement should be a journey, not a destination. This is a good motto but someone should be around to support those travellers when they become weary.

Lori ann said...

I've enjoyed catching up with your posts Rosaria,the favorite season gave me a pang in my heart, I love all the season's but the change always makes me wistful.(yes we do have them, however subtle they may be ☺)
Thank you also for posting on the Health care issue, Lord only know how that will go.
And thank you also for telling us this important information on our older citizens.

willow said...

Good advice. Now I've got to sort through this stack of old magazines or I won't be able to see my computer...

Eddie Bluelights said...

Brilliant advise Rosaria. The old folk certainly need looking after - they appreciate a visit as well and are very interesting to converse with. Time is creeping up with me (65 in October) and I have just been diagnosed as requiring an artificial hip - them I'll be 20 again.
Hope I did not shock you too much in BlogOzland. There is a great twist at the end ~ Eddie

Eddie Bluelights said...

Spelling again!!!
Advice - sorry

Sheila said...

Just back from my mom's in another state where I found shocking disarray and deterioration in her home...if I'd had 6 weeks of concentrated effort instead of just 3 of negotiating with my same state as mom siblings I still could not have gotten Mom's house ready for the home evaluation required to send her home from the nursing home where she is now. I feel so inadequate and nonproductive! Don't know when I might be able to make it back either - need to win the lottery SOON. The best I can do now is encourage my sibs there to take up where I started, I guess...but I so apreciate your behind the curtains perspective. As a result, I am sooooo striving to be authentic and transparent in the future and humble enough to be open to help when needed.

Pam said...

As a family, we leave Dad to his own pottering in his sheds (3),but my brother came back from overseas to help he and Mum do the heavy work to shift out into a small unit next month, including hiring rubbish skips. It has been overwhelming, clearing all the rubbish including 25 phones,30 watches,old batteries, rusted tools,old carpet.His drawers and containers inside the house are like this too, and it is so hard for Mum, who tries to keep the house maintained beautifully.He now has dementia, and I can only hope that she can have the beautiful small unit she always wanted, and that he will be satisfied with a small shed.They are in their mid 80's and driving each other mad.

Natalie said...

Good advice as ever, Rosaria. I was with my grandmother at the end, and was ever watchful. Fortunately, she was a keen self observer, and realised herself that it was time to go into care. Good on you for bringing it up.xx♥

Debra said...

I have really enjoyed visiting your blog this morning. I've worked in mental health for the past 15 years as a RN. Sometimes "behind the curtain" is a scary place, but a place that should sometimes be visited.

Blessings

vicki archer said...

We are not nearly as patient and gentle with the elderly as we should be. I have aged parents and so I am very aware of the trials and tribulations that they face. To quote my father, "there is nothing good about being old...." xv.

Gaston Studio said...

Wonderful reminder that we sometimes don't pay close enough attention to the older folks in our lives. Hoarding is surely not a good sign so perhaps it's best that he's now living with someone else.

Renee said...

Yes Rosaria we all need to care.

Love you.

Renee xoxo

Room Service ~ Decorating 101 said...

My best friend had the shock of her life when her grandpa passed, much like you decribed and they visited him weekly and did not know...great advice.

potsoc said...

This afternoon I was riding the no 10 bus. A man looking a few years older than my 78 asked "How's yout wife" and repeated the question. I then realised he was talking to me. I told him my wife was fine...and on the spur of the moment added that we would soon celebrate our 44th anniversary. He said: "When all is fine, that is good. Mine died 14 years ago".
He then proceded with the story of her illness and his own accident and how he had fought to keep on working. The man was obviously a loner, desperate to have an hear.
When I reached my stop we wished each other good luck...and he was smiling.

Rose Marie Raccioppi said...

I have seen that when one feels that the past is greater than any future can possibly be, there is a tendency to hold on to what represents that time of power, of independence, of a time when the days ahead were seen as ever growing opportunities. I most certainly saw the need to hold to the past as my mother aged. It was different for my father. They were of the same calendar age, but one saw the beauty of another day, whereas the other viewed it as a burden, a trial, to endure.

I vowed to follow my father's example. LIFE IS GOOD! I will like he, hold to the promise and rid myself of the clutter.

Thanks for the post. It allowed me to reflect and affirm!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Whoa, now I'm not that bad a housekeeper.

I'll check on my elderly neighbor tomorrow. Thanks for the reminder.

karen said...

This was sad to read, but it is very true, the inner world is sometimes such a mysterious place. I'm glad your old friend has caring family that are looking after him, and this is such a good reminder to just be aware of the older ones amongst us...

Man of Roma said...

Very beautiful post, which spurred an equally interesting discussion.
This whole thing is a bit scary, especially when mind leaves us, like it happened to my mother and her sister. And it is true that sometimes masks and public self cover what is really happening, preventing people to know and help. Old people should live with younger people, as it happened in extended families and clans. Our 68 generation has destroyed clans to attain the individualism and independence of the molecular family.

NitWit1 said...

Oh my! In my composite of the elderly using our TeleCare service,I could not bring myself to write of some of the worst situations we've encountered.

One woman did not like the Senior Meals but insisted they be delivered because she "deserved them." Then she dumped them in garbage bags which rotted in her apartment. They never were disposed of.

The agencies determining her eligibility finally discontinued their services because of her harassment. She routinely "fired" aides to help her with daily chores,claiming they were nosy about her "private" affairs.

lakeviewer said...

Hi folks, thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences. The problem is not isolated, as we learned from each other. We can become those people sometimes down the path of life. Social agencies are overburdened, and may not get to the issues when needed. We have lost our 'clan', as some of you pointed out, we have opted for 'freedom and independence' especially in the United States, and this is the price of independence, a lonely place where we can't take care of ourselves any more and can't ask for help.

Relegating the incontinent and the sick to a "residence" is probably the only solution most of us come up with. I have not seen happy 'residences', just as I've not seen happy orphanages. It is the last resort for most people, the place that will take you if you can afford it.

The problem is real and will be getting more acute. Time to rethink how to deal with it.

Reya Mellicker said...

This is a great post, Rosaria. You are so right that people need contact with other people. That includes young as well as old, though older people have had more time to collect stuff and get set in their ways.

Tessa said...

Ah, Rosaria, I think there is probably very little difference between the public persona and the home you. You strike me, always, as a woman of strength, wisedom, candour and warm humour.

Yes, it is vitally important that we don't forget the elderly. Thank you very much for reminding us - we all need this kind of gentle prod from time to time! While at school, our daughters and their schoolmates were encouraged by their headmistress to visit an old age home quite close by in order to read and/or talk to the elderly people who lived there. The girls grew to look forward to their weekly visits as they got to know their particular 'adopted' granny or grandpa. (This was a boarding school and many of the girls were very far from home so seeing these wonderful older folk regularly was great for these youngsters as well!) In an extraordinary twist, the lady whom our younger daughter had befriended turned out to be a longtime friend of my husband's aunt - they had met over half a century ago while both were stationed with their husbands in Ethiopia!

Once again, you have initiated another very interesting exchange of thoughts and ideas, lakeviewer - thank you so much for that.

I'm off now to catch up on all those posts of yours that I've missed recently. I expect I'm in for some great reading...it is always such a pleasure to visit here!

Renee said...

Dear Rosaria, thank you for reminding me of what I knew. Sometimes it is easy to forget.

Love Renee xoxo

Lianne said...

My mother, who is 81 and grew up in an era where appearances were very important (what the neighbours would think therefore became a constant theme for me growing up) has hidden behind the curtain her entire life. After dad died,I helped her move from their house to a condo and had the opportunity to sort through many years worth of things. Things that she had saved that spoke to who she really was. It was a great chance to see a glimpse of the real woman my mother is.

Man of Roma said...

We have lost our 'clan', ...we have opted for 'freedom and independence' especially in the United States, and this is the price of independence, a lonely place where we can't take care of ourselves any more and can't ask for help.

The destruction of the extended family in favour of the nuclear family, where parents uncles aunts grandparents and kids, ALL live together, has occurred everywhere also in Europe - except for some parts of South Europe.

It is well known that the vast majority of the world population - Latin America, Asia and Africa - still has big clans (with all it implies, like arranged marriages etc.).

I have visited many poor parts of Asia: never seen so many people smiling!

Man of Roma said...

We have lost our 'clan', ...we have opted for 'freedom and independence' especially in the United States, and this is the price of independence, a lonely place where we can't take care of ourselves any more and can't ask for help.

The destruction of the extended family in favour of the nuclear family, where parents uncles aunts grandparents and kids, ALL live together, has occurred everywhere also in Europe - except for some parts of South Europe.

It is well known that the vast majority of the world population - Latin America, Asia and Africa - still has big clans (with all it implies, like arranged marriages etc.).

I have visited many poor parts of Asia: never seen so many people smiling!

Man of Roma said...

PS

Ooopss. Pls Rosaria delete one of the two comments: they are identical.

Woman in a Window said...

Rosaria, we never do know how others live. Not really. It is difficult enough to manage our own lives and our own families, sometimes it's difficult to see what others live. No excuse though to not lend a hand, to not invite a friend in.
xo
erin