One of the first signs of eccentricity we saw Mom display was her hoarding of tissues. She had always kept two or three tissues folded up in her purse “just in case.” Many times in my youth, I had need of them – for nose blowing or when a public bathroom was out of toilet paper. Eventually she started amassing great quantities of tissues or wound up toilet paper in her pants pockets, glove compartment of her car, or any other nook and cranny. I would clean out one pocket only to have it refilled by the next week.
Her compulsive folding and storing of tissues and toilet paper started expanding with napkins from restaurants (clean and dirty) and other small pieces of paper – receipts or cellophane wrappers from candies. Interventions were useless; she didn’t understand why we were taking “her treasure.”
It was a relief to discover one day that she no longer was stockpiling. My sister and I threw away hundreds of wads of paper, some drawers and pockets filled to the brim. We had to proceed surreptitiously and actually burned the evidence of our deception.
I’ve known dozens of dementia patients and they all have a little quirk or two. Mom’s hoarding was mostly harmless although I was concerned that the stains on her dirty napkins might mold and accidentally make her sick.
Once Mom was fully unaware of what belonged to her, Carla and I started cleaning out. We found boxes of brand new clothing once intended for grandchildren, but now too small. We found wedding gifts wrapped at Belks many years previously. We found several boxes of clothing I had left at home after leaving for boarding school in 1983! Boxes and boxes of perfectly good (if slightly out of fashion) clothes made local thrift stores glad to see us.
This week I found a previously unopened piece of luggage, probably from one of our last trips in 2012 or 2013. There were a few pieces of clothing in the bag, but it was filled to the brim with tissues and paper. It reminded me of the helplessness I felt when I knew something was going on with Mom, but she could hide it from the outside world pretty well. Her dementia was quite advanced before we had an official diagnosis.
Looking at those little bundles of paper almost brought me to tears. It seems like so long ago when this terrible disease started impacting our life. This is definitely the “long goodbye.”
For today, I choose to keep celebrating the precious woman who sits beside me as I type. We could have ten more years with Mom or we could have two more months. Her vitals and her spirit are strong, but I’m not taking any day for granted.