For as long as I can remember, my Mother kept a neat and tidy home. Even when my brothers and I were youngsters, terrorizing the place by sliding down waxed floors in socked feet, our home was neat as a pin.
My Mom was a gentle woman raised in the era shortly after the depression. End tables hid beneath hand-crocheted doilies and flowery table toppers. Trinkets, pottery and carnival-glass bowls sat on every flat surface or shelf. Dusting was an endless task but Mom didn’t care. That was her chore on Saturdays.
Before ugly symptoms of Alzheimer’s occurred, I began to notice that Mom wasn’t quite as fastidious as she use to be. Her home was clean enough, that was not the issue.
But stacks of mail, in various stages of being opened, had begun to clutter every flat surface from kitchen to bedroom— stacks and stacks of letters and envelopes, opened and unopened mail.
As a rule, I did not snoop into my mother’s business so I wasn’t certain if the mail was bills, business correspondence or just junk. She didn’t appear concerned so I avoided the subject too, though I felt seriously compelled to learn more about this every growing waste of trees.
Several weeks passed as I mulled the dilemma of whether to mention the clutter of mail-overload before I finally got the phone call that forced me to ask.
She was hysterical and even after I calmed her, she struggled through breathless gulps to tell me, “They’re coming to arrest me! You need to get over here.”
“What?” I held the phone closer and tried to make sense of the gibberish mumbled between crying sobs. “Mom, calm down. Who’s coming to arrest you? and Why?”
My little, white-haired mother had never done anything in her entire lifetime to garnish an arrest and certainly not now, at age 82, where her longest excursion always ends around the corner at Safeway.
“Mom, calm down. Calm down and tell me what you’re talking about. I’m sure you’ve misunderstood something. What makes you think you’ll be arrested.”
“This letter!” she was wailing again. “It says they are coming to arrest me.”
“What letter?” I could only imagine Mom panting and waving an envelope in the air.
“This letter In my hand. It says they are coming to arrest me.”
“Mom, it’s probably junk mail. Who sent such a letter? Read the return address. Who sent it to you?”
“Yes Mom…’Return Address ‘ Who sent it? Where did the letter come from?”
“How would I know where it came from?” At least she had stopped crying.
“The return address, Mom,” I felt frustration building. Mom was not dumb so I didn’t know why she was pretending now.
“Return address? What does that mean? Where would that be?”
Oh my goodness, I was flabbergasted. Mom continued reading aloud, clearly “arrest” was mentioned, but I didn’t have a clue who had sent the letter and couldn’t swear that it was actually intended for Mom. She seemed mystified by the simple term “return address,” which had me near pulling my hair out.
“Okay Mom,” I mustered an authoritarian voice. “I’ll be there in an hour. Everything will be fine. No one is going to arrest you.” Since we lived more than an half-hour apart, I raced to change clothes and make the drive to Mom’s place.
I didn’t like the thought, but I began to wonder about Mom’s state of mind. I had had more than one foolish call from her in the previous two weeks; calls to ask about the number of her grandchildren, the day of the week, and the age of Bob Barker.
Not to mention the call from her neighbor because Mom had accidentally locked herself out of her home near 9:00 o’clock at night, dressed only in her nightgown and robe. I never got an explanation for that incident, but Mom wore a house key on a chain around her neck– permanently now.
Now Mom was being Arrested, she said. And all that mail! I vowed silently as I drove, that mail would be sorted, trashed and filed before I left Mom’s house today!
Mom met me at the door, less hysterical but still crying and sniffing. “I don’t know why they would want to arrest me,” she cried.
I took the letter, which was actually an over-sized post card, and forced Mom into a chair at the kitchen table where I joined her. A quick scan over the post-card had me laughing despite my vain attempt at a straight-face for Mom’s benefit.
“Mom…” I took her hand. “It’s a summons…for jury duty. In all this mess–” I glanced at the pile of unopened envelopes tossed on the kitchen table, “there is probably a letter for jury duty here somewhere. When you ignored that, they sent a summons. It only states that they may issue a warrant for your arrest if you don’t show up for jury duty.”
Mom clutched her throat. “See, I told you they are going to arrest me!” she sniffed. “When?”
It took much longer than I thought it should have to explain the jury-duty process and what happens if you don’t appear. I don’t think Mom truly understood by the time I had finished. I stuck the notice in my purse and made a note to write the city a long letter of explanation.
Then we found a large plastic trash bin and one large shoe box and tackled the avalanche of paper flooding Mom’s house. I was shocked to find post marks dating back 3 years. She had done a good job separating bills from junk-mail for quite awhile as we only found 1 gas bill that was several months past due.
Once I gave myself permission to clean my Mom’s house, or discuss problems such as the mounting mail, or heaping laundry, or many other little things that occur for the elderly it became easier and easier to discuss more serious issues that came up before she was finally diagnosed and her increasingly odd behavior had a name–Alzheimer’s.