Chat @ Care-giving: Help Along the Way

While I’m on the subject of recommendations, let me make a couple more. Abrams-Skillman Self Storage and The Consignment Embassy.

Remember back in September when I had to hurry up and get my Mom’s stuff stored so we could get the maximum refund on her independent living apartment?  Well, I researched the locations and Mr. Bill compared the financial offers and we ended up at Abrams-Skillman Storage.

At first it was just a storage place, albeit a nice clean one with what Bill thought was the best prices.  We picked out a unit and the next day we put everything from Mom’s apartment into it.  The next time I thought about it was after the funeral.  Unfortunately that was a lot sooner than I anticipated.

Next thing I know, I’m sorting through things and deciding what to do with all of them.  I was there day after day and soon felt sort of like a regular.  The staff and I always greeted each other warmly and if I needed something, either they had something to borrow or to buy that would help me get out of whatever bind I’d sorted myself into.  They were helpful in other ways.  They kept trying to figure out what I needed before I needed it, like pointing out that the loading dock was right across from my unit and stuff like that.

Then we were down to the nitty gritty.  We asked about the auctions and they filled us in.  Then we needed an extra storage place for a day, while the auction guy did his thing, because we were saving the bedroom suite for a family member.  No problemo – they gave me one right next to my original unit and when the auction was over, they let me stay in the one that I’d moved the furniture into.  All that was very helpful and they really didn’t have to do it.  The fact that I only made $150 off the auction items wasn’t their fault.  Obviously the Storage Wars gang didn’t show up for my auction, but somebody made a killing.

Then there was The Consignment Embassy.  We’d actually consigned a mirror there once and the transaction went very smoothly.  I never went in, but Bill said they had gorgeous stuff. Anyway, out of the ten or so consignment places I dealt with, she’s one of the few that responded in a timely manner and she was the only one willing to take a stab at value before I’d hauled it to her store front.  If you’re on either side of a consignment deal, I’d recommend starting there.

If you get stuck in a place where you need some of these services, these are my recommendations.  Hope they can help you out.

 

Chat @ Care-giving: The Place for Mom

Straight from visiting Parson’s House Assisted Living Facility, I went to Caruth Haven Court and remember, at the time, I was thinking that Mom might be in assisted living for years.  She hadn’t had the code episode yet.

Though I grew up in East Dallas and thought I knew the Central/Northwest Highway area by heart (after all that’s where Northpark is and I LOVE Northpark), I didn’t know about Caruth Haven Court.  When I take Bodecker in that direction, I’m always on my way to Old Town, which means I jog to the right. To get to Caruth Haven Court, you stay on Bodecker.

After arriving, I had a chat with the marketing person in what they call the Family Room, which was also an example of one of their apartments.  It was quite nice, but also quite small.  I was interested in other choices.  We took a look around.  Everything outside the small apartments looked perfect, but I knew Mom’s vision of her assisted living space was bigger than what was available.  There was one floor plan that I thought would work, but none were available.  I thought another floor plan seemed adequate, but I doubted Mom would.

What I liked best was the dining room.  They were having lunch as I strolled through and it was easy to imagine my mom in the space.  Dining rooms had been the hardest part of assisted living for me to swallow.  In some of the facilities they were just downright depressing, but this was open, airy and full of people who looked just like Mom.  Sure there were wheel chairs and canes and oxygen tanks, but they seemed less overpowering at Caruth Haven Court than at other dining rooms.

I’m a very transparent shopper, so I told them exactly what I was thinking.  I explained the reason I liked Parson’s House, as well as it’s geographic undesirability.  I also mentioned the other two places I still had to see, but I admitted that all things considered, Caruth Haven Court was in the lead.  They didn’t have my first choice of floor plan available and of the only other possible choice they just had one.  I wasn’t ready to put down a deposit, but I did ask for first right of refusal.

Then we had the code episode.  Hospice loomed on the horizon.  On the recommendation of Mom’s doctor we moved to Walnut Place.  He suggested keeping her there, even if we were able to get her well enough to go into assisted living, but Mom decided pretty quickly that Walnut Place was not what she wanted to call home.  Don’t get me wrong, for rehab, Walnut Place was extraordinary and they were a true blessing when Mom moved to the nursing floor, but Mom had visions of a different kind of life for herself.

I became a virtual basket case.  I was caught between the reality of Mom’s true condition and offering her the hope she needed to carry on.  Her only chance was to believe that if she worked really, really hard at her rehab, I’d find her a lovely place to live out her life.  I needed to return to Caruth Haven Court and think about what her life would be like if she were on hospice there. If you are already on hospice, then you can’t move there, but you can go on hospice after you get there.  This time I took Bill with me.  My judgement was clouded and erratic.

Bill could see Mom living there also and he loved their cookies.  When you take a tour, they give you a big stack of remarkable chocolate chip cookies.  I liked them, but Bill loved them.  I’d donated the stack I got from my first visit to him and he was ecstatic when they gave us another stack for the tour we took together.  But we couldn’t commit right then.  There was one other facility within the geographic boundaries that might work and I wanted Bill to see them.  Unfortunately, there was only one apartment available that fit our criteria.  Even though he thought I was right, Caruth Haven Court was probably the right place, he didn’t want to put down a deposit.  We just arranged to have the first right of refusal on that apartment.

The next morning I received a bouquet of flowers from Caruth Haven Court.  Not some big arm-twisting arrangement, just a small thoughtful vase with a sweet card.  It didn’t twist my arm, but it did touch my heart.  I was having some difficult days.

Our visit to the other property was two days later and we’d barely begun when I got the call that someone else was considering “Mom’s” apartment at Caruth Haven Court.  We finished our tour, but at the end we raced back to Caruth Haven Court and put down a deposit.  I was euphoric when I returned to Walnut Place to share the news with Mom.

But she wasn’t feeling well.  The nausea she’d been fighting all week was worse.  We were on our way to hospice.  By the beginning of the next week, I had to call Caruth Haven Court and tell them Mom wouldn’t be coming.  Even if she made it through the crisis that made me call hospice, she’d never be well enough to enjoy Caruth Haven Court’s dining room the way I imagined she would.

One would think that this would be the end of my story, but it wasn’t, because when you choose Caruth Haven Court you become family.  Even though Mom never made it there, they’d gotten to know me and through me, they were looking forward to having Ruth (and her extensive wardrobe) at their facility.  The saleslady continued to call me and check on me in the coming days.  She even dropped by one day to see me at Mom’s bedside.  The deposit was returned to me with no fuss and no ado.  That’s why I had to take time to tell you about Caruth Haven Court.  If you have a loved one in the Dallas area that needs assisted living, you need to visit Caruth Haven Court.  That’s where Ruth would have gone if things had gone the way she wanted it and that’s where you’ll be treated like family.

Chat @ Care-giving: The Post I didn’t Get to Write

Can it be just weeks ago that I told you about A Place for Mom and had hopes of moving my mom into an assisted living facility? Yes, it can.

When I started the process, hospice wasn’t even in the picture.  Mom sent me on my assisted living search with very strict guidelines concerning geography and high standards concerning lifestyle.  That made the list very, very short.

In fact, there were only two facilities that made the cut and one of those was just outside Mom’s geographical boundaries.  First I have to tell you about the geographically undesirable one, because geography isn’t so important to me and it’s where I’d want to go if I had to be in assisted living.

The first thing I liked about Parson’s House was that it didn’t look like an assisted living facility.  I had the address in my GPS, but when I arrived I didn’t realize I was there.  It looked like a large private home with extra parking out front.  When you walked inside the illusion continued.  Yes there was an office off to one side, but it was easy to ignore.  The feeling of home overpowered everything else.  Maybe it was because I could smell the evidence of lunch being cooked, but whatever it was, I liked it.

The dining room wasn’t the largest or the grandest or the most beautifully furnished, but something about it, maybe the style of furniture said this was a good place to be.  Over to the side was a grouping of sofas and chairs.  They looked comfortable and showed signs that they were actually used.  That was something unique.

See, most of the other places I visited were pristine.  They had the very latest in furnishings and the best word I can think of to describe them is opulent.  But I’m not opulent.  The chic furniture groupings looked like they belonged in a furniture showroom, not someone’s home – and that’s what assisted living is, someone’s home.

Don’t get me wrong.  Parson’s House is very clean and their furnishing are top quality. Things just didn’t seem so opulent.  I didn’t feel as if I would be upsetting the balance of the world if I actually sat down on the sofa and read the paper.  There was evidence that someone had done just that not too long before.  I liked that.

But what I liked best was that residents were outside on a large patio, having a resident meeting.  They were planning their activities for the next month.  What a concept!  All the other facilities gave me a list of the activities an activities director had planned for the residents.  At Parson’s House, the residents got together and decided what they wanted to do and it looked like they were having fun doing it.  A variety of dogs were helping with the meeting and one of them was a Shih Tzu named Precious, just like my Shih Tzu.

And get this, instead of a professionally maintained landscape masterpiece, they had a vegetable garden maintained by the residents.  The patio was decorated with hanging baskets, each the proud responsibility of an individual who lived there.  I don’t even like gardening, but it gave everything a much stronger feel of home than any other facility.  I was hooked, but the tour wasn’t over.

They had a little of everything needed at Parson’s House, exercise, crafts and like, but a feeling of participation, rather than mere availability, pervaded.  The hoops used for one class were leaning against a wall.  Nothing was messy or cluttered, it just looked natural and normal, instead of pristine.  Pristine can be very cold.

On the other end of the facility from the exercise and crafts was the media room, but it looked more like my den.  They may have actually had the latest in technology, but what was more important to me was that someone was actually sitting there reading a book.  People lived here.  They weren’t locked away in their apartment waiting for the next meal.

As they showed me an apartment, I couldn’t help but be dismayed.  I just couldn’t imagine Mom living happily in one room.  Where would she put all her clothes?  That’s when “we can do that” showed up.  Everywhere else I’d been, they told me how my mom would live. At Parson’s House, as I explained what I thought would best suit Mom, I was told, “we can do that.”  Sure, they could put a door between two units and they offered other possibilities.  I liked that.  Would the alterations cost me money?  Sure they would, but how do you put a value on happiness and comfort for someone you love.

OK, I was sold.  I knew it was outside Mom’s geographical zone.  I doubted that I could convince her to move there, but I’m telling you, it’s where I’d want to be.   In a couple of days, I’ll tell you what I picked out for Mom.

Chat @ Care-giving: Treasures or Trash?

Still smarting from the Salvation Army’s caviler attitude towards my Mom’s gorgeous clothes, I found myself staring at the furniture which filled the rear of our storage unit.  What was I going to do with all of that?

We’d already been down this road a few times.  I’d sorted through my aunt’s belongings three years before, finding homes for most of her furnishings and a lion’s share of her clothes.  A few months later, I downsized Mom and Dad to an independent living apartment out of their home of four decades.  Just over a month ago, I sifted through Mom’s stuff again.  She was never going to return to her apartment, so we were storing her things until we knew which assisted living facility she would be moving to.  In the process we donated a bedroom suite and desk to one charity and gave a recliner to one of my bestie’s sons.

Since there was a long waiting list for my mom’s apartment, we rushed the move to maximize our refund and took everything to the storage facility.  I planned on sorting through it when we moved her into assisted living, but we never made it that far.  So, after the funeral, my first job was to sort through everything in storage and figure out what was there.

Some of it was easy.  The half full box of cereal – trash.  A shoe box full of used insoles – trash.  A gallon Ziplock bag of dental floss told me Mom didn’t floss as she should, but there was no reason we should ever have to buy any more – ever!  We also have a lifetime supply of Q-tips, cotton balls and Kleenex.

Some of it would be a treasure to anyone.  Mom collected porcelain and crystal whatnots.  I didn’t hesitate a moment in claiming the Lladro, Royal Doulton and such to display in my house – but I did share with my sister, my cousins and a few friends, albeit reluctantly.  Same with her jewelry.  The fine jewelry I split with my sister and the costume I spread between us, my cousins and those good friends.  My sister placed dubs on the Frankoma Ware, the lamps and Mom’s art.  I wanted a Queen Anne desk with display case and an etergere to show off my new treasures.

Still there was a five piece bedroom suite, a dining set with hutch and various living room furniture.  Acutely aware of how hard my parents worked to amass these belongings and cognizant of the fact that this was the good stuff – not that cheap stuff they pass off as furniture some places, I assumed that consigning it was a good idea.

I took lots of pictures and emailed them off to some of the better consignment stores I knew of.  From time to time Bill and I will redecorate and drop off a mirror or a chair.  We’ve had good luck.  We’ve also shopped at consignment stores and found some real winners.  Well, when you own your own moving company, I guess consignment is a good idea, but it wasn’t working out so well in this case.

The calls came in.  Yes, they’d like to sell my mom’s stuff.  All I needed to do was deliver it to them.  I knew that was the case for the odd piece I’d consigned before, but this was virtually an apartment-ful of furniture and I’d already moved it once.  No, they wouldn’t give any estimates on value of things they hadn’t seen in person.  No, they wouldn’t come to the storage unit to look it over.  The gamble was all mine – and when I delivered it, I not only had to agree to whatever price they wanted to put on it, but I had to agree to their markdown schedule.  Either that or pay to take it back to the storage unit and continue to pay for storing it.

It sounded like I did all the work and took all the risks, only to net out less than half of whatever price the consignment store eventually got.  This wasn’t sounding so good after all.

So maybe letting it go in one of the storage auctions was a better answer.  The lady at the storage place came down and guesstimated that I might net out $150-375 for the lot of it.  Was she kidding?  We’d paid more than $375 for the small dining set from IKEA and it still looked brand new.  I understood that the furniture wasn’t as valuable to them as it was to me, but I’d prefer to use it for kindling at those prices.

I posted the furniture on facebook and one of my friends was dying for it, but she’s in Wales and moving on to Canada from there.  She wasn’t sure when or if she’d actually manage to get to Dallas to pick it up.  The way things were going, I wouldn’t have minded giving it to her, but I couldn’t afford to store it until some time in perpetuity, so that was a no go, too.

If no one in the immediate family or my cousins could use these treasures, maybe someone in the wider family could.  I’ve made that call and sent the pictures.  I’m waiting to hear back.

Anyone need any kindling?

Chat @ Care-giving: The Challenges of Giving

So, after delivering the medical equipment to DME Exchange, it was time to give away Mom’s clothing. Clothing is tough, especially when it came to her.  If the expression “clothes make the man” ever applied to anyone, it was my mom, even if she was a woman.  She labored over the purchase of each item, labored to pay for each item and labored over the care of each item.

I looked into consigning it, because Mom only bought the best, but consignment shops want you to have each item freshly cleaned.  I can understand why, but it would take a small fortune to dry clean eight wardrobe boxes, two suitcases and numerous boxes full of clothes.  There were a few pieces that were still in the dry cleaning bag and several more that still had the tags on them, but if I was donating, I planned to donate it all.

I must say that I was impressed with the business end of this transaction. I found the Salvation Army on the internet, called the 1-800 number and soon had an appointment for a pick up. Since they were meeting me at the storage facility, they even offered to call an hour ahead, to give me a chance to get there. I was also given a number to call on the morning of the appointment to get an estimated window for the pick up.

Pick up day seemed to be going well. I called that morning and got the 1-3 time slot. They called me an hour before they came, which was within the window and showed up in the time frame they promised. The truck was very nice and the gentlemen were very polite.

Then things didn’t go so well. I told the original person I spoke to I had eight wardrobe boxes of clothes. In case you didn’t know, wardrobe boxes cost between $15 and $25 according to where you get them and what size they are. If someone is making you a donation of eight wardrobe boxes, chances are the clothes inside weren’t on the clearance rack at Target or Walmart. My mom was a clothes horse with a discount at Dillard’s. She’d retired from there. The boxes I got held between twenty and thirty outfits and I’d say the average cost of the good stuff was about $250 on sale with Mom’s discount. Of course, not all the boxes had that much value, but even the casual clothes robes were nice.

The truck driver opened the back of his truck and it was readily apparent he hadn’t been given any packing lessons. Things were tossed in there willy nilly. I’ll admit, some of the stuff looked as if it should have been taken to the dumpster rather than picked up for donation, but that was none of my business. I hesitantly asked him if he thought he had enough room for my stuff, using an outflung arm to encompass half of a large storage unit. “Sure,” he said, as he tossed the first wardrobe box on top of the other donations.

I nearly had a heart attack. I’ll admit. I’m a clothes horse, too. My mother was half my size and much more conservative in her taste, but I appreciated what she had. As the abused box sailed in the air, I envisioned the hangers coming off the bar inside, snagging button holes and tearing them. Everything we were donating was in pristine condition.  I hated to think of lace getting ripped, sweaters snagged and everything wrinkled.

I swallowed down my fury and said, “I’m sure people donate a lot of junk, but…”  I gave him my estimate of the value.  As he tossed another box in, he said, “They have to come out of the box at the processing center anyway.”  I wanted to punch out his lights, but he didn’t know me and he didn’t know Mom.  He obviously didn’t know how to pack a truck or appreciate the value of what he was handling either.  I gritted my teeth and hoped something in the boxes would be worth salvaging when they got to the center.

After treating my donations like two cents worth of dog excrement, they turned politely to me and said, “We appreciate your donation.”  Oh yeah, which one?  The one I had before you got here or the one you’re going to take to the center. People always hear what you do, not what you say.

I suppose the driver and his sidekick were part of the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation program.  Well, I suggest they rehabilitate their attitude towards the donations.  For one thing, the items they pick up will be of greater value if they aren’t damaged during the pick up and transportation.  For another, maybe the rehabilitatees might have more appreciation of their own possessions if they’re taught to respect the donations that come in.  And finally, it will take a very long time for for me to think about donating to the Salvation Army  – if ever.

If you know of a place that really appreciates donations of good clothing, I’d like to know about them!

 

Chat @ Care-giving: Executrix of the Will

I know I’m lucky. My sister doesn’t give me any lip about anything I’m doing concerning Mom’s estate. In fact, she actually appreciates it all. It’s the rest of the world that’s giving me fits.

Let’s start with notifying all the interested parties that Mom’s passed away.  This is not a jolly task by anyone’s stretch of the imagination.  Making calls and navigating phone trees is just about one of my least favorite things in the world, even if what I’m doing bears no relation to a loved one’s death.  Doing so to tell the world my mom died puts it in the column of tortuous.

I’ll begin with the kudos.  Once I actually got through to a human, the government OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and Blue Cross Blue Shield were actually quite wonderful to deal with.  Fidelity Investments has a whole department set aside to handle these calls.  Sympathy was extended and I could hear care in the voices of those I spoke with.  Same with Farmer’s Insurance.

That wasn’t so with some places I called.  For instance, canceling my mom’s store cards.  You know JCPenney’s, Dillard’s etc.  In this age of identity theft, cancelling these accounts is as important as notifying Social Security (the funeral home handles that for you).  Here’s the problem, store credit cards are handled by GE Credit and they’re not very nice.  You know who handles the cancellation of an account when someone dies?  The collection department!  Need I say more?

And you can’t cancel all the accounts with one call.  First you have to go through the individual store’s customer service department and then they transfer you to the mean GE people, where yet another rude collection agent shakes you down.  Perhaps if my Mom’s accounts were in arrears, this might have been necessary, but Mom and Dad always paid off their accounts, in full, as soon as they got the bill.  And to boot, she’s been on the medical merry-go-round for so long that it had been months since she’d used any of the cards.  In essence, I was doing them a favor by notifying them, but they thought the shoe was on the other foot.

There was one store that handled things differently and that was Macy’s.  I was able to cancel the card with no hassle what so ever and got a confirmation letter in the mail.  I’ve never been a big fan of Macy’s.  I’ve sort of been mad ever since they took over Foley’s, but I see them in a whole new light.  I may just have to start buying things there.

Handling other financial institutions, like banks and that sort of thing has been fairly painless.  (Accolades go to Capital One, Comerica and Fidelity.)  They all seemed to understand that this was an unpleasant task and did their best to make it easier.

Then came the donations.  First, I want to let you know about a great resource.  I had a wide variety of medical equipment, from a wheelchair and wheeled walker to other tools to assist the aged and handicapped.  I wanted to be sure these things would go to someone who actually needed it, so I hit the internet.  I discovered DME Exchange of Dallas.  They accepted donations on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on the appointed day I loaded bath chairs, potty chairs and all the other stuff into the car -banging myself in the head pretty good along the way.  (Can you get a concussion from a walker to the face?)

I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of this as I drove across town with a throbbing forehead.  I found the place in a nondescript office complex and went in to figure out the drill.  I suddenly became very important.  The workers in the office were thrilled that I’d brought them some equipment.  One lady was so grateful she cried and the other one was in ecstasy.  Every item I donated was something they desperately needed.  Boy, did that little chore feel good.

The next day I met that charity that does “the most good” at the storage facility.  Things didn’t go as well with that.  I’ll tell you about that another day.

Chat @ Caregiving: Doesn’t she look good?

There’s not much you can do to sugarcoat it.  Funerals are weird and I’m glad this one is behind me.  If nothing else, the cost was outrageous.

Mom is gone and nothing is going to change that.  She’d led an exemplary life, but the last few months had taken their toll on all of us.  Her and me – especially.  I’m carrying around pounds I don’t need and the mortician got her mouth all wrong.  We were about to be seen by most of the people we knew and neither one of us was looking our best.

Perhaps that shouldn’t matter so much, but it mattered a lot to Mom.  She was my biggest fan and my worst critic.  If she didn’t like the latest version of my hair, she didn’t mince any words.  When I put on a few pounds, she called me on it.  Of course she expected me to behave appropriately, but she also expected me to look good doing it.

She expected the same thing from herself.  Deciding what she was going to wear to any given event (be it a social occasion or just a meal in the dining room of her living facilities) was an important hurdle.  She did laundry every day.  Most days she ironed. I’m a little more laid back.  One day of laundry a week is usually enough and ironing is a rarity.

For years, she’s kept me aware of what she wanted to wear for her funeral.  We usually shopped together and with the almost daily commentary she gave me concerning her wardrobe, I could have easily guessed what the outfit would be. Still, I think it made her feel good to have it pinned down exactly.  Over the last few months, she asked frequently about her most recent selection, wanting assurance that it was the right one.

It must have been.  The one thing I heard most constantly during the two day affair was how good Mom looked.  I bit my tongue frequently, to keep from pointing out how weird her mouth looked.  Mom wanted them to think she looked good and if they thought so, then I’d done my job well.

My theme over the last few years has been, “No regrets!”  I didn’t want woulda, coulda or shoulda to have any toehold on me.  There could be no if-onlys to haunt me.  God had arranged my life so that I was able to put my darling senior citizens first and He’d given me a husband who believed, with me, that it was the right thing to do.  So that’s exactly what I did.

Now, that darling husband moves to the front of the line.    I want to love him up until he thinks he must be the cat’s meow.  For him and for myself, I’m going to drop those pounds I’ve put on lately.  I’m going to get to the gym and tone up everything I’ve got.  I’m planning to do some work on myself that starts at the top of my head, goes through my heart and mind and ends up with the soles of my feet.  I might not have looked my best at Mom’s funeral, but watch this space.  It won’t be too long until you’ll have to say, “Doesn’t she look good!”