Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
My mother-in- law is a hoarder. Not a collector, but the kind of person they do TV
specials about. I just spent four days there with my husband. Four days, count
them; 3,500 miles; and $4K I could have used for my own home. We cleaned
halfway through her small bungalow. To give you a sense of how disgusting this
was, the first thing we did was to dedicate a “rat bag” for desiccated carcasses. It
went downhill from there. We wore gloves, masks, and looked like the HAZMAT
crew from a bad sci fi movie. We pay the taxes for her each year. The house also
needs about $2K of electrical and plumbing work immediately. I suspect she’ll
start relying on us every time something goes wrong. I am also afraid to give her
money lest she hit the garage sales again, buying “valuable antiques”. I know I’m
never spending another four days tossing and scrubbing again, but I feel fatalistic
about the likelihood she’ll recreate the chaos. How responsible are we to rescue
her from herself?
Dutiful But Disgusted
You have two different issues: How much do you want to invest in this
clearly declining situation for how long? Also what, if any, guarantees
can you require in exchange for your financial support that minimize or
slow, if not prevent, the slide into future chaos.
A lot depends on how your husband feels about being responsible for her, and also what lines of communication are open between you and her (after the
cleansing). My first recommendation might be social services to see
what help’s around, but in these budgetary days I am not optimistic.
You didn’t mention a synagogue or friends, but getting local help
should be an important priority. Keep asking questions till you locate
helpful allies, even if you have to rent them.
In an ideal world you and your husband would identify an annual
mother-care budget. That can include tax money, repair money,
whatever you are willing and able to pay for. Giving that money to the
taxman or the technicians (directly with invoices, btw, not to the
acquisitive mother) has to be contingent on a walkthrough the place to
be sure it at a reasonable level of cleanliness. This can be done on Skype, by someone with a laptop, preferably someone you hire, with
no vested interest in the outcome. Not clean, no contribution. Clean,
you help. Not easy but the best you can do from across the country.
Your husband will have to return, even if you do not.