Hoarders" television series first aired, I saw the first few episodes and watched with my jaw agape, wondering how things could get that out of control in anyone's life. It wasn't long before I stopped watching because it doesn't take too many rat/cat/bird carcass discovery scenes before you get bored (more of a pathetic commentary on our media consumption and expectations than anything else, isn't it?) and off you go, never really giving the mental illness that is often associated with hoarding or its impact any further thought.
While I ran into a few hoarders during my missionary service thirty years ago and a couple of others since then, I hadn't given hoarding much thought until yesterday. Along with some friends from church, I spent a chunk of my day yesterday on a community service project (non-court ordered, by the way) that involved hauling nearly 100 bags of leaves, raked by kids from the local high school, from the yards of those that aren't able to do so to a farm for composting purposes. After playing a couple versions of real-life "Frogger" after a few leaf bags flew out of the back of the truck, it was off to our final assignment of the day - hauling refuse (let's be honest and call it what it was - junk, straight up junk) from a woman's home. Before we got there, we'd been told that there was a pile in front of the home, ready to go be scooped up and taken to our town's Transfer Station (aka dump - remember we live under the icy fist of Martha Stewart so apparently you can't use the word 'dump'). When we got there, we found that there were multiple piles and that the home was nearly indistinguishable from the piles. We literally did not know where to begin and there was no asking the homeowner. All we were told of her was that she was widowed and terribly hard of hearing and would not come to the door. So we tore into the largest pile, separating metal from wood from plastic from just garbage in hopes of making a little difference for the homeowner. Looking behind the pile, we found a 1966-ish Cadillac El Dorado convertible marooned in the earth with trees growing all around it. It was amazing and heartbreaking all at once. Staring at the heap of junk in the yard and the rusting hulk of that old car, I wondered aloud, "How does it get this bad for someone?" I wondered where was this woman's family. Where were her friends? Wasn't there someone in her life to say, 'Please let me help you.' There was work to be done and I had to stop asking questions and so I got back to tossing junk into the back of the truck. Although I had stopped asking the questions aloud while at the site, I haven't stopped asking them in my head.
I don't have the answers to those questions. I'm not a mental health professional, nor do I play one on TV, so I won't presume to try and answer the profound mental / medical issues at play here. I know that family dynamics can be a DefCon 5 / lit fuse on a powder keg situation in even the most perfect of families (P.S. there is no such thing), but how can you let a family member descend into such a level of despair? You can't. You just can't. While I have no idea how things can get so bad in someone's life that hoarding is the answer, I hope I can be a person who is there to say, "Please let me help you. Let me be your friend." I hope I can be that guy.
I've also been thinking a lot about my friends over the course of the last few days. I'm grateful for each of my friends and for what you've added to my life. Our lives, beliefs, and who we are, in many cases, could not be more different but I wouldn't want it any other way. I am better for it. I hope I've given back to you in some small way as well and that I'll be able to keep doing that.
Life can be stormy. In some cases, a person may find refuge from those storms in something extreme, like hoarding. Others are able to find comfort with family and friends. I'm happy to be that port in a storm for my family and friends. And I know you'd do the same for me. Thank you.