When I turned 60 a few months ago I really began to worry about what will happen to me as I continue to age. I long ago accepted the fact that I need to have a very strategic plan about growing old as gracefully as possible but as someone who helps a lot of, dare I say, "mature" clients transition from one living situation to another, specifically into assisted living and memory care, I can't help but be saddened by the possibility that I, like many older Americans, may be left to navigate the senior moments of life by myself.
I know I have mentioned in several blogs over the past few years that I am perfectly fine being alone if I choose to be and, in fact, fully embrace the opportunities more and more as evidenced by the fact in my last blog that I absolutely loved a recent road trip that a lot of the time I was by myself, time I really needed by myself. My work life can be all-consuming due to how much I deeply care about my clients whether they are struggling with physical or mental issues, loss of a job, a recent death of a loved one that happened rather unexpectedly/tragically or coping with something like a pandemic, something I don't think any of us could have ever been prepared for. Every single one of them, like me, has a story of how they got to where they are when they reach out for help. And even when we achieve the goals we set forth for a significant amount of decluttering and/or transition to a new home, I sometimes have a hard time managing my emotions as well as my boundaries, but at the same time don't really want to apologize for it.
Case and point, I had an 80-year-old woman reach out to me a week before she was scheduled to move at the end of January from assisted living to independent living. Yes, that is considered the opposite direction most people move but she wasn't happy where she was living and without any support from her family, made the decision mostly based on cost. Beyond the fact that she didn't like the facility she had only moved into about 6 months before, she realized she couldn't afford to actually stay in assisted living. Her family had essentially dumped her at that particular assisted living door because they couldn't deal with her "issues" anymore. And by issues I say that in the most compassionate of ways because despite what a friend said to me the other day after I posted this on Facebook...
...I am not an insensitive human. I shared what I shared after experiencing so much raw emotion from so many clients since the beginning of the year, including the 80-year-old client that was weighing very heavily on my mind along with the ones I mentioned in the post.
But her perception is her reality and mine is mine and neither one of us should have to apologize for how we view the world through our own lens on a day-to-day basis.
I've known this person for a very long time and despite the distance between us our entire adult lives we have always managed to stay connected. And I refuse to let her feelings about one Facebook post destroy our 45-year friendship. That said, I have no control over what she will do but I truly hope she can reflect back on what I was trying to convey and not see it as self-serving.
I will admit that there are a lot of times when my personal social media posts do overlap with my professional comings and goings but isn't that the whole point of social media? To help us get more recognition and credibility for how we work and play??? I am very proud of how I show up online and if I didn't get so many people liking and commenting on posts like the one above I would definitely feel the need to re-examine what I routinely put out into cyberspace.
Do I make some errors in judgment sometimes?
Does that mean I require validation for everything I do?
I don't do what I do thinking "Is this going to get me more business?" I do it because I know that as someone who feels like most days I do manage all of the chaos the world likes to throw at me pretty well, I know that the stories I share do resonate with others. If they didn't, I promise I wouldn't continue to do it.
But I digress...a little...
The client mentioned above hired me off of Thumbtack very last minute to get her packed up and then help get her unpacked and settled into her new place. But, as is often the case, she told me A LOT about herself and it was very apparent she was lonely and afraid. My heart immediately went out to her. And as much as I don't ever want to imagine what it would be like in her shoes, there is always the chance that by the time I reach her age, I may not have any family to help me. Stuff/shit happens in life and none of us can truly predict our futures.
With that said, I was telling my brother about this client the other day while I was driving home from a very routine packing job and had just gotten off the phone with her after a lengthy conversation in which she was extremely stressed and was trying to project that stress onto me. But I had kind of hit a wall in terms of how I was feeling about what we had accomplished over the past few weeks because I felt so helpless and, yes, kind of afraid that I really just might end up alone and afraid too. My brother, always the voice of reason, told me I will never be alone and I will, of course, be taken care of by family. We joked a little about what that might really look like should I become a curmudgeon as I age, but I know he'll have my back as I will have his.
On the actual moving day, it all went according to plan in terms of the move out...everything was packed and the movers loaded the truck in less time than anticipated.
When we reached the new facility, though, my client completely lost it when she walked into her unit and realized that it hadn't been properly cleaned and told me there was no way she was going to let me and my other team member that was there begin unpacking.
Nevermind the moving truck had already started to unload the massive amount of stuff, including the contents of a storage unit that never should have transitioned there that day but thanks to her daughter who had signed the original contract at the storage facility and therefore canceled it for whatever reason...she wasn't even paying for it...my client felt the pressure to get everything out instead of signing a new contract. I begged her to wait until she had gotten settled in the new place which I truly could have made happen in a matter of a few days but she refused.
So there we were, standing in the middle of an apartment that wasn't clean and her OCD kicked in big time. I can't say I really blamed her but, again, what to do with a truck full of stuff??? I immediately went into "Action Girl" mode and found the powers that be there to do what should have already been done.
And they did come and cleaned two more times that day...but not to my client's standards.
The movers, though, had to keep, well, moving. And suddenly we were surrounded by close to 100 boxes not to mention furniture that truly was too big for the place, something I had also expressed concern about before the move, but she had dug her heels in and insisted on keeping it all.
As the afternoon went by and we approached nightfall, my client began talking about how she was so angry with the situation and wasn't going to actually move in at all. Unpacking was never going to happen in her mind and as soon as she could find another facility she'd be out of there.
I was still there at 8 pm, 12 hours after the moving day begin and as I sat on the phone doing a virtual consult that had been previously scheduled and I truly couldn't cancel, I was watching the movers from the 3rd floor of the independent living facility trying to finish the unloading that should have been done hours before but got waylaid because of the cleaning issue.
For someone who normally has a ridiculous amount of energy, I was exhausted. I never want to walk away from a client without completing the tasks at hand but I simply had no control and felt defeated by 10 pm when I finally did leave.
And yet, I still couldn't give up.
I knew the reality was she had a contract with the facility and needed to give 60 days notice if she was going to move out or stand to lose thousands of dollars. So in that moment, I decided to call a senior care manager that I have had the pleasure of collaborating with before as she has done her magic with previous clients...or at least has always tried. She arrived the next day to do a little crisis management and explained the hard facts to my client that she really was stuck there for 2 months.
But, seriously, where did she think she was going to go?
We went through the financial implications as well as her actual options regarding other facilities and ultimately she agreed she would give the place a try.
That should have been the end of the crisis at hand but, sadly, that has not been the case. I have been trying for two weeks to do "my thing" along with the help of a member of #TeamIJS who has tried her very best, but due to how severe the client's OCD is she just cannot cope with all of the chaos that is swirling around her, chaos that could have been eliminated had she simply allowed us to unpack and then deal with getting the place cleaned. Trust me, and I say this with all of the love in my heart, she is probably never going to be happy no matter what anymore. But as I am trying to continue to operate in a "big picture" mindset, I am so incredibly sad for her and millions of other seniors facing the reality of their so-called golden years.
Sorry, but I am calling bullshit on how in this country we work our asses off our entire adult lives and most of us won't end up with financial security at a time when we really need it. And don't even get me started about the current conversation in DC about "sunsetting" Social Security and Medicare.
In addition, I look at this client and think, no matter what she may have done in the past, there is simply no excuse for her family to abandon her. So what if they think she is a pain in their asses? She is still a human being, one that actually gave birth to two other human beings, and to just walk away and basically raise their middle fingers to her?
My father is 86 and regardless of the times when we did and, yes, continue to disagree about things because...well..family, I hope he knows that I along with my sister and brother would never abandon him. We all live in different states so logistically it will be challenging should he ever need to move to assisted living or memory care or should he be able to age in place find the proper home healthcare, but we will manage as much as we can from afar. And should we need to go to Michigan to be there in person for whatever reason, we will. We love him for giving us life and all of the opportunities he afforded us to become responsible and successful adults and we will honor that even after he dies.
My client's kids?
Yeah, I'm sorry but they suck!
And maybe it isn't fair of me to say that because I don't know all of the family dynamics from the past but come on...they could still manage certain things from a distance without having to interact if they believe it is that hard to engage with her directly. She deserves that much respect for giving them life. She doesn't deserve to be treated like something that can just be discarded and forgotten about.
Our country does a horrible job at helping the less fortunate, disabled, and mentally ill as we are all way too familiar with these days. But for seniors who were productive members of society to have to face so many challenges after working so incredibly hard whether at jobs or raising families???
By the way, in case you aren't aware, independent living facilities are not required to do any type of assessment or evaluation before accepting a resident. And yet, when the
you- know-what hits the fan (like it did with my client who was not treated properly upon moving in by the staff that became argumentative with her), they will kick seniors out the door and not necessarily with any guidance as to where they should go next. It is just another "racket" as one senior case manager explained to me where they will take anyone's money without considering whether the facility is truly a good fit for the potential resident.
Please...I beg of all of you...if you have a parent or parents that you are going to need help as they age but have a contentious relationship, establish whatever boundaries you must but don't abandon them completely. At the very least, hire a case manager or reach out to your local agency on aging and let them take over from there. It will never be ideal but it is better than throwing up your hands and walking away. And if they do need services like what It's Just Stuff provides, hire us/them.
I do what I do without expecting very much in return and sometimes, that does mean I have deeply discounted my rates or offered my services pro bono if I can, but other times I am just looking for a sign...any sign...that will help remind me why I do what I do. And if it comes in the form of a few Tootsie Rolls (albeit very stale ones) on the floor of the particular client I have been speaking about in this blog as I was removing the last items from a closet on moving day, I knew my mother and grandmother were out there in the universe watching over me as they always do. Tootsie Rolls were their thing and has continued to be a very important memory for my family in case you don't know me personally or see the many posts I make about them showing up right when I need them to guide me and help me stay the course until whatever job I'm doing is finished.
For this particular client, the job is not over yet but when it is I hope that I will leave her in a much better emotional place and she will begin to live out her remaining days feeling that at least one person cared enough to get her from chaos to calm.
As always, be safe and be kind,
Chief of Chaos to Calm @ It's Just Stuff