Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Reunion, Part II

26 hours, New Orleans to DC; pretty much uneventful.

I had been texting my brother, asking if it would be possible to pick us up for a quick shower as we had a 5-hour layover in DC. Raymond and his friend met us at Union Station, took us to his house. On the way, he mentions how it's too bad we don't have more time -- we could catch the baseball game (the Washington Nationals are playing the San Francisco Giants - go Giants!) or we could go on the boat, or we could tour the city. Just not being rushed, getting some rest, taking our time -- well, that's really starting to sound tempting to me. Really!

Before we'd even left NO, I had looked into leaving a day later, but the ticket agent told me there were no seats available on the next day. I told Rachel I'd try again. And now it was really sounding good. Especially since the weather in DC was at least 15-20 degrees cooler! I knew we'd be able to walk around and not "melt onto ourselves" as Rachel likes to say. I called Amtrak again as soon as we got to the house, and the agent said that for an extra $47 each, we could take the 9:55 a.m. train. Sure, it's worth it! Unanimous decision.

Refreshing shower, delicious lunch... I want to take a moment here to thank Cathy for the beautiful lunch spread: seafood salad, potato salad, pasta with white sauce ("from Pizza Hut," Cathy gives them a plug), and couscous; and their friend who BBQ'd some scrumptious kabobs with sausage and steak. It was all wonderful and deeply appreciated.

On the road -- It takes about an hour to get from my brother's house in MD to DC. He fills the entire hour with stories of people, people he's helping. Raymond and Cathy help people in crises. Raymond was at Ground Zero during the 9/11 crisis; he was at the Oklahoma City bombing; he was there after people were shot in Waco, TX; he was in New Orleans after Katrina struck. He has been many other places. He had a ministry whose main purpose was to help people deal with grief. he has written self-help books and has held classes. He has had schooling. He and Cathy have been involved with helping people for years. I always thought he was doing it to gain approval or recognition or money. I couldn't understand why he chose to estrange himself from mom and dad. I still don't get that part. But I do get him a little bit more. I think he has changed over the years. He has become more fun, funny and down to earth. I find that I actually like him.

Their stories: (Please note that the names have been changed in these stories)
Eleanor has been a friend of Cathy's for a long time. Eleanor had no children. Her husband passed years ago. They had made a conscious decision not to have children because of a disease her husband had that he did not want to pass on. Then Eleanor's mother became deathly ill. Raymond went to help support Eleanor. Eleanor's mother told Raymond that she did not want Eleanor in her house. A few days later, she died. Eleanor had no family left. Raymond stayed to help Eleanor take care of her mother's estate. As it turns out, Eleanor's mother was a hoarder. Raymond says he could open the door only enough to fit his person through it. There was a tunnelled route to the refrigerator, the toilet, and to a small chair right in front of the TV. It took four of those huge construction-size dumpsters to clean out the house. Cathy and one of their kids were there also, to help support Eleanor as she chose what to keep, what to give to charity, what to sell, what to throw away. They just sat on the lawn in front of the house. Just think how hard this must have been for Eleanor. She did not know that her mother was a hoarder, though she did suspect something was up as her mother never allowed her in the house. She would visit, and mom would meet her outside the door, always outside the door. Always made excuses about not going inside. (Hoarding is being investigated by mental health professionals. They believe it is a mental illness and are trying to determine the best way to treat it.)

Not long after her mother's death, Eleanor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. Now Eleanor needs full-time care. Cathy provides that care; Eleanor now lives with them.
Stan is a homeless man who lives in his car, just up the road from Raymond and Cathy's house. Stan was diagnosed with a mental illness years ago, and has been living out of his car for the past seven years. Stan is also a hoarder. This past Thanksgiving, Raymond invited Stan to their home for dinner. Many of their other dinner guests knew Stan, or new of Stan, but had never seen him cleaned up. They didn't know who he was. Raymond explained who he was, and explained that he would be helping Stan from now on (as much as Stan would allow), and suggested that they do the same. Stan goes to Raymond's house once a week for a shower and dinner. This has been happening since Thanksgiving. As I said earlier, Stan is also a hoarder, but lives in his car. Just recently, Stan has felt comfortable enough, and trusted Raymond enough, to allow him to help clean out his car. It took 12 hours. Slowly, it got done. In the process of cleaning out his car, Raymond discovered that Stan has money. Enough money in the bank to live comfortably in, perhaps, an apartment. You see, because of his illness, and his hoarding, Stan really doesn't pay much mind to money. He really doesn't need it as people buy him food and coffee; and he has shelter (his car). So he pays no attention to the SSI checks as they come in; he just puts them in the bank. Stan continues to go to Raymond's for a bath and dinner once a week. Raymond lays out clothes for him to wear and tries to help keep the car organized.

Joe has severe, progressive Parkinson's Disease. He was diagnosed years ago, and it has been progressing rapidly ever since. He has been on medication, but the medication made him into somewhat of a zombie. Off the medication, he could not function. He now has a brain implant that stimulates the nerves of the brain and helps control the Parkinson's. Joe's wife left him after 27 years of marriage. And yes, she left him after the diagnosis. She had apparently been having an affair for years. And yes, she had been having the affair during Joe's hardest times. She finally just told him, "I don't love you anymore" or some such nonsense. She conveniently left him after she found out that she had a $2 million inheritance, to which he is entitled NOTHING. (Obviously this is NOT California). Joe is now in a severe depression. He was in a profession which allowed him to purchase good disability insurance, so he is self sufficient. He has no financial worries. But this is a blow that is not easily overcome; Joe is in a state of severe depression along with his Parkinson's. Raymond is by his side day in and day out. In fact, Joe helps with Stan. Joe helps Raymond with many community service projects.

I know this post is different from the rest. The purpose of this post was not to be funny or tell about our adventures. I think the reason for it was to get it out there. To say that we should be grateful for what we have, no matter what that is. To say that the next time you see a homeless person, don't assume that person is an alcoholic, a drug addict, a bad person. To say that the next time you hear of someone who has Alzheimer's disease, don't be afraid. To say that the next time you hear of a person with Parkinson's disease, well, think of my brother, who was diagnosed with that same disease not too long ago. And finally, to say that when you take the time to listen, you learn things you never knew about someone.

I'm so happy I decided to listen.

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