The Kleenex Box…

I’ve never tried to deceive you. Storyteller from a One-Stoplight-Town is my personal view of my life stories. The good, the bad, the ugly and everything in between. I’m into details about my stories. Dates, locations, surroundings, people involved. Feelings. I think I’ve succeeded in being honest. Brutally at times. Always used names of those involved. Except for the 4 dubious bosses I encountered while Parish Visitor. Ministers, all.


Looks innocent enough, right?

This story is different. Can’t really say I’m trying to protect anyone because the folks involved have passed away. They have several children and though I’m not in contact with them since I moved, I don’t want to cause any pain or embarrassment. Or to the couple involved, who really were lovely. So there won’t be any pictures in this story.

To anyone who has read more than a few blog posts know I have loved the elderly since I was a little girl. Starting with my neighbor ladies in Rock Valley, to the residents of Valley Manor where my Mom worked for years. Elderly strangers start conversations with me wherever I am. Hubs has called me ‘The Old People Whisperer’ since Cesar Millan started taming yippee-yappy-snarly-snappy pooches on TV.

It was the most rewarding job (calling) I’ve ever had. The folks on my list actually thought they were getting some benefit from my visit. The majority of the time, it was me who was reaping the rewards of that simple stop to see them. Visiting older folks always made me feel better and blessed. The tough part, moving past their declining health and deaths. Just reconcile myself and start processing a death when I’d have to do it all over again. With an aging congregation, this was a monthly occurrence. That was so hard.

I had a method when I visited. Usually picked a section of town so I’d be in one area for the day. Certain days I might drive south about 20 miles, working my way north towards home. Some sections of the city were large enough there might be several couples in their own homes within a 5 mile radius. Or an assisted living or nursing facility where several members now called home. So I didn’t end up driving around aimlessly, instead of visiting.

This was a normal visiting kind of work day for me. Usually didn’t do much visiting in the morning. Older folks just don’t move at the same speed in the mornings like the rest of the world. Often they don’t sleep very well in general, but usually a bit better towards morning. No alarms waking them up for work anymore, so many sleep until 9 or later. For others, getting their engines going had a lot to do with medication. When they took their morning meds, it might take a couple hours before they kicked in. I can’t tell you how many times one of them would observe, “you know Denise, if church started at 2 pm, we could attend most Sundays.” The exception here was nursing homes. Residents are up pretty early, had breakfast, were cleaned up, and dressed for the day by mid-morning. Normally, they don’t get a lot of visitors in the morning, so it was a great time for me to visit. Since nursing home residents tend to have fewer visits, it was counterproductive to show up if they already had company. If a resident’s daughter showed up at 2 pm every Wednesday, guess what? Their mom or dad would be spit shined and ready. I preferred to visit at the more quirky times to see how they looked at 10 in the morning or 5:30 pm. How could I be an advocate unless I got to observe those who no longer had a voice at various times? Sorry, I digress.

It was a beautiful, hot summer day. Nearing the end of my visits for the day when I stopped at this couple’s house. They had been on my list for years and I had seen them at least 50 times. Both in their 90’s, reed thin and slowing down, him a bit more physically, her more confused. One, a member of our church, the spouse was not. But I very much enjoyed visiting both of them. They might get out some old pictures. Talk about their vacation when they hiked through some National Park 40 years ago.

I thought I had taken enough classes and seminars to deal with just about everything involving visiting the elderly. Courses on caregiving, burnout, dementia, sundowners, side affects of geriatric medications, over medication issues, abuse of the elderly from caregivers, palliative care, hospice care. And on and on. But this day I was thrown for a loop and shaken up more than when I was alone with Bob the day he passed away, (Story called Ann & Bob, May, 2015) or the day I found Mildred dead (post called Mildred & Charlie, October, 2014).

After I parked my car in their driveway, I used the side door of the garage. The door to the house was unlocked. I knocked, turned the knob, yelled pretty loud, “hey, it’s Denise, Parish Visitor!” Walking through the kitchen, I could see (let’s just call them Jake and Iris) Jake vigorously and furiously fanning something. What was he doing, swatting bugs or killing a mouse? He was not yet aware I was speaking to him and I was getting concerned for his health and safety. Jake was standing by the edge of the kitchen table, and the countertop and stove were blocking my view. I kept talking and walking. Stopped dead in my tracks when I saw what was underneath the table. Sucked in my breath and sprinted to the other side of the table. With his two hands clasped together, Jake was holding a box full of Kleenex. Swinging it over his head, swooping it downward with all the force of a 6’4″ 140 pound, 95 year old could muster. Repeatedly. Smack dab on the top of Iris’s head. Who was on all fours on the floor. She didn’t cower, or try to protect herself. And said not a word. I tried to shield her, and got smacked a couple of times before he realized he was now swearing and hitting the wrong person. I wouldn’t put my hand on the bible but I’m pretty sure I started with, “stop it. Stop it. Jake, what the hell are you doing?” (Not exactly the right phrasing for a Christian Parish Visitor. Sorry God.) Jake wasn’t really aware of anything yet besides swinging that dang Kleenex box on the top of Iris’s head. Who now sported several red welts I could see through her thin hair. “Stop hitting her,” I screamed! “She won’t listen to a G-damn thing I say,” he screamed, just as loud. I grabbed the box out of his hands and was surprised by his visible rage. “Jake, if you don’t stop hitting her, I’m going to call the police! Sit down. Sit down right now!”

His anger finally subsided and he plopped down in a chair, deflated. I slid back a chair from the table, helped Iris up, got a cold compress for the top of her head, who had still said nothing. At less than 5 feet, maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, I suddenly feared for Iris’s safety in her home for the last 50 plus years. What should I do? Logical thing was to call someone. Cops, family, my boss (ugh)? Nope, boss was out of town. Hmm, that’s 2 out of 3 serious incidents as Parish Visitor where boss was on vacation. What are the odds? Pretty good since all 4 got several weeks a year. Guess I’m still a little bitter. I really need to move past these unhealthy feelings for that group. Maybe next year. Probably should have called the police, but I was reluctant. Then I remembered one of Jake and Iris’s kids came over daily to cook supper, which was about an hour away. I calmly (really, I was anything but calm) talked to both of them. Both of them acted like nothing had happened. Dementia, denial, unaware?

I went home for a few minutes. Sobbed telling John the details. Drove back to their house and was relieved when I saw another car in the driveway. Went in through the garage, knocked on the door and walked in. One of their daughter’s, whom I had met several times was standing by the stove cooking. Jake and Iris were watching a small portable TV by the kitchen table, and seemed not to notice me. I asked the daughter if I could speak to her for a minute in the garage? As gently as I could, explained what I had walked in on a couple of hours prior. She seemed genuinely surprised but it was kind of hard to believe she’d never witnessed anything like that from her dad before. I showed her the crumpled Kleenex box and the red welts on top of mom’s head. Told her I feared for her safety. Daughter was most cooperative and said she would call her sibs, and hold a family meeting very soon. Promised mom and dad would not be left alone until a solution was found. Took my email address to keep me updated. I was still very shaken up. Though I never mentioned calling the authorities, she knew I would follow this through until the situation was remedied.

I’ve second guessed myself on issues dealing with our kids, neighbors, Hubs, my parents, and being a stay at home mom. Before I walked in their house for that routine visit, I had never second guessed myself on anything about my job of Parish Visiting. While it was happening, I was unsure of anything besides stopping it. Made me feel weird because I didn’t know exactly what was the right thing to do. I hate to say I was suspicious of Jake and Iris’s family, but it felt immediately odd that between 4 children, spouses, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren in and out of their house, the person who stops once a month for an hour was the first and only witness to Jake’s dangerous behavior. Was the family in denial too?

I got an email within 48 hours that the search was on to find a place for mom. Within a week, Iris was living in a assisted living facility. Jake was still at home, receiving care from family members. But Jake was not my main concern. Iris got acclimated in her new surroundings, with lots of family visiting and her room chucked full of items from home. Jake moved to the same facility months later. But a couple of hallways away. Jake or Iris were wheeled to the each other’s room for frequent visits. And the facility was made aware of his mental issues so they were never alone. Jake and Iris lived contentedly for many months. Iris occasionally mentioned she was homesick for Jake. Which flooded me with feelings of guilt for separating them at the end of their long married lives. Though I don’t believe Iris realized it was my visit which put in motion their life changing locations. But her safety, and my job as an outside advocate maintained I did the right thing. Maybe not enough. None of the family seemed bitter towards me if we happened to be visiting at the same time. I think they appreciated I didn’t immediately call the police and could spare their family. Pretty sure if an incident came up again though, my first instinct, call the police would be the one I would choose.

Jake and Iris passed away within days of each other. United once again. This time, with their Lord and Savior for eternity…




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