Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hidden Family Photos

I just got off the phone with my mother and I'm so mad I just want to scream, throw things, go to her house and throw everything in it out into the yard and then set it on fire. She is being mean and selfish and I am sick of it... and before I say anything that might send me off to jail I should probably shut up and go do something physical like cleaning to release my anger. Before I do though, I need to "talk" about this a bit.

My parents took tons of photos when my sister and I were growing up. When we were teenagers my mother got mad at my dad and to punish him she hid all of the photos. (This was in retaliation for his getting into them & taking out his favorites, ruining the "perfect order" that they had been in.) It may be hard to believe as you read the rest of this, but my mom is actually very much a perfectionist at heart.

Anyway, those pictures were stashed away in 1975 and nobody has been allowed to see them since. We (my sister and I) have asked repeatedly to see them or at to borrow a few so we could make copies to show our children & to scrapbook so later generations could enjoy them. We even offered to let her go with us to make the copies so that she could see we weren't trying to steal them or harm them in any way. She flatly refused.

She and my dad will both be 78 this year. Tonight I asked her (on the phone) if she could just tell me where the photos are so that if something were to happen to her we'd know where to look. She said no. Long story short, she totally refused to tell me even if I promised not to try to get them out. She said that after she's gone we can find them ourselves.

To understand the enormity of meanness in that statement you have to understand that my mother is a hoarder. We're talking to the extreme - as in something you'd see on television on a show about mental illness. There is no way you could go through everything in that house, even if you had several people working non-stop for months. It would take years. This is not an exaggeration.

I didn't realize it but hoarding is a problem many normal-seeming people have, and with which their children must deal. To look at my parents you'd never guess that their house is full of stuff. They are both well groomed, intelligent, successful people.

There are a number of resources available if you're interested in learning more about hoarders. Many are listed here: and some short videos are posted there as well.

When I watched this one & got to the part about there being a hair taped to the door I just burst into tears - that very situation is/was in our house but I had no idea that anybody else had ever experienced it. If you want to take a few minutes to "hear" the voices of those living with a hoarder, it's here:

The part about her choosing "Things" over family is one of the most painful parts of the whole thing. I just feel drained right now so I can't even begin to go into how it has (and still does) affect the lives of my family. Just suffice to say that we can't visit her because there isn't room for people to sit down (besides her & dad) and the stacks are so high that my daughter is afraid to take her children there because something could (seriously) fall over & kill them. Magazines, etc. are piled up to within inches of the ceiling.

The air quality is so bad that my husband avoids even going inside since he has lung problems, and I have to take major doses of allergy med to be in the house at all. We're afraid to let our dogs' feet touch the floor because of the risk that they'll find something poisonous, and several family members have actually become ill from eating food that's outdated... in fact my husband has flat refused to eat a bit of anything there for years. When my sister & I insisted on clearing out the outdated food mom got absolutely hysterical when she discovered what we were doing. That's a long, long story for another time.

Anyway, I feel a little better now that I've "talked" about it a bit. Actually a lot better. Usually I can't say a thing about it because I am so ashamed that they live that way, but I can't do anything about it because they flat refuse to let me. Did you know that when you open what used to be the silverware drawer, it is completely filled to the brim with twist-ties (from bread wrappers)? We're talking a normal sized kitchen drawer here folks, can you imagine how many ties that is?

When I suggested getting rid of some of them she went ballastic. Same thing with the literally hundreds of empty plastic containers from butter, etc. She said she NEEDS them. Expand this kind of thinking to fill the whole (5-bedroom, 2 story) house... how many construction dumpsters will it take to clear this out when she is gone? She has proudly stated that we'll need to go through every little thing because she has some good things hidden. For instance, her good diamonds are hidden in empty cold cream jars with cotton balls packed inside so they won't rattle. News flash: I don't think it's worth it.

As you can see, the family photos are just a tiny part of the whole insane situation. From the reading I've done it seems that there's not really a solution to the problem. It's a type of OCD but OCD meds aren't all that effective.

When I first discovered that it's an illness it made me feel a little less angry about it, but tonight, trying to have a rational discussion with her about the photos, the anger came flooding back. Of course I stayed calm & "nice" while on the phone because that's what I was taught to do - keep any "bad" feelings stuffed down inside & let it destroy your soul... because your soul doesn't matter nearly as much as the importance of keeping others (especially your mother) from feeling uncomfortable.


Brenda is SO Blessed said...

I just want to tell you that I am here for you. Don't let your feelings kill you....I am trying to make the same decision. I had a aunt that had OCD (hers was germs) and know it was hard with her. I guess, I just wanted to give you a cyber {{{{{{HUG]]]]] and let you know i care

Fuzzy White Dogs said...

Thanks Brenda. Usually I'm able to shrug it off but tonight it really got to me. Your cyber hugs definitely help!

:::b r a n d i::: said...

My stepdad's mother is the exact same way. She keeps many of the same things you mentioned. Only in her situation, she owns 2 houses - they lived in one for years and years and when it became so unbearable and the house next door came up for sale, they bought it and moved over to the new house but left EVERYTHING in the old house exactly as it was. Now it looks the exact same. She she's basically got 2 three bedroom houses filled to the brim with trash. It's astonishing to see. I hate going over there.

She actually has a baby grand piano in the living room of one of the houses - and YOU CAN'T EVEN SEE IT. For the longest time I didn't even know if was there because it's covered completely by stuff.

I'm sorry you have to go through this, but know that you are not alone. I'm sure when his mother passes I will have to help clean that stuff out. All of his childhood things are there, somewhere, and it's not stuff he wants to lose.

Our families could both be on Dr Phil.