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My essay blog is now LJ-readable

Hello, lovely LJ friends,

I wrote in my previous post that I have been blogging regularly on my own website. Against any likelihood suggested by my own past history with blogging anywhere other than LJ, this remains true, three months later. I have succeeded in writing at least one essay of some variety per week at blog.jmac.org, even if I don't have an interesting title or layout for the site yet.

What I do have as of this evening, though, is a LiveJournal syndication account for it. I am pleased to inform you that you can add jmac_rss to your friend page, and you should read all my new posts from over yonder as I post them. I've noticed that the entries on that page right now seem to be in a rather scrambled order, even though all their dates are right... but, I expect subsequent posts to stack up in an unsurprising fashion.

(And as my most recent entry there says, I have recently plugged my old LJ friends page back into my own RSS reader, so I hope to start interacting more with y'all again. I miss you!)

Blogging at jmac.org again

Hello friends,

While I feel an inevitability in my continuing to use this LJ for one thing or another -- there certainly does seem to be a theme to my handful of posts over the last couple of years -- I would like to invite y'all to follow me at my blog on my home domain.

I began writing there again a couple of years ago, but only started updating it regularly at the end of last year, when against all rationality I wrote my own blog software. A dozen entries later, I feel so happy that I did. I intend to keep that blog as the home base for all my longer-form public-appropriate writing. (And, despite the topics of both that post and the most recent one, I do write about things other than the blog's own software -- honest!)

I hope you all are well! I think I will check my friends page now...

Jun. 5th, 2014

Peter got his apartment, in part because I co-signed the lease. I may not have realized exactly what I was getting into. I have a better idea now. Even so, I'm not sure I would have made any other decision; it was that or the homeless shelter, for him. We found a perfectly good little place on Craigslist. I liked the landlord.

In the time since he has proven to be completely unmotivated to find any way to look after himself financially. His efforts are desultory, at best. I wrote him a letter on paper with advice about taking his iPad to the library and using their Wi-Fi to browse Craigslist, which has a wealth of Bangor-area jobs he could do. He apparently went to the library once, was told that the lady who could help him wasn't at her desk, so he returned home and didn't try again.

Last week he had, with the help of his social worker, lined up an interview for a roadside flagging job. When I called him the next day to ask how it went: "Well, I have to take medication, you know, and it gives me cottonmouth. So I need to be drinking water all the time, and that means I have to go to the bathroom like every hour or two. And I knew they wouldn't like that." So, he didn't even bother trying.

He can't apply to the Circle-K because it requires math, and he can't do math. He can't apply at the Wal-Mart because the in-store application computer confused him. The security companies he interviewed with two months ago and felt great about haven't called him back, and my efforts to coax him to follow up haven't yielded much. He continues to flat-out refuse to even consider looking for work in either food service or mental-health assistance, the only fields he has any significant experience in. (He claims burnout.)

His wife, who lay in hospice during the move, died just days after I returned home, five weeks ago now. Being able to say "Look, my wife just died" sure is a potent thing to throw onto the table when someone who cares about you if pressing you to do something with yourself. It never fails to get me to back off, and I'm sure it has a similar effect with others in his life, too. I get the feeling he's going to keep reaching for that for some time.

I may have made a mistake with the co-signing. I have implied that I won't be able to pay his rent after two more months -- at least not using some surplus cash from mom's checking account -- but have stopped short of saying that I absolutely won't pay, since have in fact legally bound myself to cover his rent through April of next year, whenever he fails to pay. I'm grimly assuming that I'll need to.

Ricky texts me that I should be sending Peter more money. He says it's the humane thing to do. I begin to think the more humane thing to do would be to cut him off completely, insofar as I'm legally able, and force him to help himself.

I do have another lever. I've been paying for the car Ricky and Peter have been using ever since the festivities began, last year. The car and the Oakland house together hoover around $1,200 per month from my pocket. (This is before adding in Peter's rent.)

I intend to get rid of the house this year, one way or another. I was going to not think about the car until that was settled. But now, gosh. I wonder what motivation Peter might discover were I to announce that I intended to stop paying for the car past October.

A letter to my brother's social worker

Hi Jon,

As Peter (tells me he) told you, I found him an apartment in Bangor yesterday. His brothers expect to help move him into it tomorrow (Wednesday, April 30). I put my own name forward as the guarantor of his rent, in order to help push the application through, given his unemployment.

On that note, I would like to please ask your assistance as his social worker in helping him recognize the severity of his need for immediate employment. I realize that you might need to transfer his case to another social worker soon, given his relocation from Old Town to Bangor, in which case I invite you to share this communication with whomever shall be receiving him.

I find his attitude towards work at once very determined and rather resistant. Much as he didn’t quite understand how desperately he needed housing (and how damaging being functionally homeless, even for a little while, would have been), I found yesterday, as we visited both the Bangor Career Center and the Manpower office downtown, that he doesn’t quite understand that he’s not really in a position to be choosy about work. As of yesterday, he voiced unwillingness to consider any work beyond being a driver or a security guard -- something he has only one year of experience in, and that year happened more than 20 years ago.

He continues to insist, in particular, that he wants nothing to do with caregiving, even though that’s where (outside of a few years working in a hotel kitchen) the entire remainder of his practical work experience lies. (He doesn’t want to work in a kitchen, either.) When the career center counselor we spoke with, having heard his narrow list of preferred jobs, asked if he’d like a job starting immediately that involved pouring concrete, Peter looked horrified — but he still didn’t make the connection that his choices probably come down to (a) doing what he knows how to do, or (b) unskilled labor.

Relatedly, I’ve observed over the last month that he honestly doesn’t seem to understand the difference between a job interview and a job offer. When he had a positive interview experience with the security company, he described it to me as if he had landed the job and would begin work within a few days. I don’t mean to imply that he deceived me, here; I think that he actually believed this to be the case, and that his lack of experience in “the real world” (despite his age) led him astray.

(Here is a short background primer on Peter: even though he’s 16 years older than me, I still feel like we grew up together because he hung around the house doing nothing in particular for the larger part of his young adulthood, with our parents supporting him. I don’t recall him getting a job prior to his late 20s, and he has had only a few jobs since then — albeit one of these, working in the home for autistic adults, lasted many years.)

I lack the resources to support his new $650 rent beyond this month. It is imperative that he lands and commences at a regular job, at the very least a part-time one, in May. I need to go back home soon, and I therefore must ask the assistance of those tasked with helping him professionally to please focus on this need of his.

Between August and April

If I may summarize the last eight months or so, as regards my mother:

Calling around among web resources for senior care in Bangor, I made a contact in late August with someone at EMHS (http://www.emhs.org), who very kindly agreed to act as an advocate for my mother's case. She did some magic, and suddenly my mother had an appointment lined up with a geriatric-psychology specialist at Acadia Hospital.

The next six weeks proved very busy for me, in this regard. All these things occurred, and not necessarily in this order:

• I traveled a lot between Boston and Bangor. I stopped using rental cars, instead riding a Concord bus between the cities, and commandeering the family SUV (the existence of which is a story unto itself, and for another time) while in Bangor.

• It took the psychologist about 20 minutes of conversation with her to conclude that Dorothy had Alzheimer's, stating that he didn't feel a brain-scan was necessary. I agreed. This began a regimen of monthly appointments which she continues through today; while I oversaw her first few, Ricky has been accompanying her since October.

• I did apply for the veterans' pension, and then immediately acted to disregard it. Its total amount is a pittance, especially when held against my mother's monthly cost of care, and beyond that I was told it would take a year to process. The work had been completed, so we sent it along, but then I moved on to seek other help.

• I admitted to my mother's lawyer, John Nale of Waterville, that I had chosen poorly in not seeking MaineCare -- Maine-branded Medicaid, essentially -- sooner, initially thinking it a waste of time and effort; I'd last examined it while my father was still alive, and the stresses were different then. I paid him the flat fee his office requested to take care of all my mother's legal needs for the rest of her life -- an amount that conveniently matched the remainder of her bank account, after dad's life-insurance payout -- and by god the Nale Law office flew into action.

I worked with a paralegal who stuck to my mother's case for months. I set up a shared Dropbox and stuffed it with all the documentation she requested, which took me weeks of full-time work and research, She transformed this into a petition to MaineCare, which she pushed at until it went through -- and then she kept pushing until it retroactively applied itself to cover the whole winter.

• I spent a week in Bangor at the end of September to pursue a number of errands, including winterizing the house (which, yes, did not sell during 2013). Given my change in direction regarding MaineCare, I spent some time rolling around looking at the handful of secure Alzheimer's facilities that accept MaineCare. In a bout of astounding luck, I found a one named Woodlands Senior Living of Brewer that not only was an honestly beautiful space -- they were happy to give me a tour -- but it had a room available. I called or visited other places that were gross and depressing, or full-up, or didn't accept MaineCare. To find a single case that met all three criteria (or avoided all three anti-criteria, I suppose) seemed miraculous. I immediately started to apply for my mother's residence at Woodlands.

The next day, Winterberry busted my mom for running away again. When they called to tell me that they'd checked her into a hospital and needed my advice on what to do next with her, I said "You have called at an interesting time." We arranged to transfer her from the hospital into the Alzheimer's facility, and it all worked. This was hair-whiteningly expensive for a short time -- private-pay rent there is nearly $8,000 per month -- but MaineCare kicked in presently.

And after all that I took the winter off, more or less. I dove back into work, and just swallowed the $1,200 / month in additional costs that maintaining the house and the car cost, figuring that when the snow melted I'd get back to work on getting rid of that stuff.

So that brings us to now. I am moved to update this journal, which has effectively become the journal of the period of my life I sometimes call "The Troubles" and sometimes call "The Festivities", because I am sitting on a bed in the Bangor Howard Johnson's hotel for the first time in six months. We're having an open house this coming weekend, and I feel hopeful about that, but that's not why I'm here.

I'm here because I had to bail out Peter, my middle-brother, who needed a lot of intense help in finding an apartment. He has to move immediately because he lost the qualification that allowed him to live in the low-income housing facility he and his wife have occupied for the last 12 years, because his wife recently moved out, into hospice care. Peter quit working over two years ago to care for his invalid wife full-time, sharing her disability income between them -- but tragically that source will end soon, and his legal ability to continue living in that apartment ends on May 1. Crushed at losing his wife, he vaguely planned on becoming homeless.

So I got back on the bus and found him an apartment yesterday; Ricky's gonna help him move into it tomorrow. And now I have to help him find a job in May so that he can start paying his rent by himself. I will share the letter I wrote to his social worker in my next post.

Latest with mom

Following from the last post in this thread…

Mom still lives at Winterberry. As a stopgap measure I've hired an in-home care service to spend a few hours with her every day. I started this immediately after the previous post, and Winterberry took pains to let me know how this turned her mood around immediately. We started with 12 hours a day, which I quickly turned down to six. Then I lowered this to four, but after a bad episode I rolled it back to six again.

I have to play with this knob because my mother's monthly expenses, with six daily hours of this care, top $9,000. With no in-home visits at all, it drops to around $5,500. Either way, her monthly income is around $2,000. I have a small pool of life-insurance payout money from dad, but that is dwindling very rapidly and will be gone by Halloween at the current rate of expenditure. When I first received that payout money unexpectedly it seemed a miracle, and while I'm still happy it exists, the wool's only recently been pulled from my eyes how horrifically expensive mom's current upkeep is, leaving me quite alarmed. Needless to say, there's no way I can afford to pay several thousand dollars per month out of pocket to support my mother indefinitely; the range matches or exceeds my average gross monthly income as a freelancer.

Selling the house becomes a top-priority project. That will immediately lower monthly expenses by more than $2,000, as well as provide a nice bit of cash for further cushioning (but not anything that will last for more than a year, at her current spending rate). Over the next few days I hope to sell the house's contents to an antiques auctioneer, who -- entirely cognizant of the fact he's doing me a favor -- is likely to offer a very token amount, plus the labor of packing it all up and moving it all away. With that done, we hope that the real estate agent I've hired ail have more success than she's found so far in moving the property along.

I also plan on taking mom to see her doctor in Waterville, so that the doctor can fill out a form from the Veteran's Administration confirming that mom cannot take care of herself. This is the final document from a long list I've been collecting since early June; on Friday I'm meeting with an agent of the VA in Bangor to talk about setting mom up with a pension, something she probably qualifies for based on dad's brief but on-record wartime service (Korea). I'm pinning a lot of hope on this pension, but I don't yet know how much it will cover, or how long it will take to activate. I've been warned that it can take as long as a year in some cases. I hope to have at least some of these unknowns resolved by this time next week.

While my last visit with my mother in June was perfectly pleasant, I'm not at all looking forward to this one. Over the last few days her mood has deteriorated quite a bit. Lately she becomes unhappy as soon as her "friend" from the in-home place leaves in the early afternoon, and spends the rest of the day resuming her campaign from Sunbury Village of calling phone numbers she finds among her things. Lately this is me or my brothers, but in the past this has included more distant family, or her doctor, or random professionals that dad did business with in the past. She'll tell them that she awoke to find herself alone in an unknown location full of strangers, some sort of hotel, but she doesn't have any money. Everyone's been very nice to her so far, but she doesn't have any way to pay for anything, and she fears she surely will be kicked out soon. She pleads with whoever she's called to contact her family and tell them she's in trouble.

I briefly had her phone disconnected, in part to stop bullying calls from her late husband's many creditors, which would always upset and confuse her. But this just made things worse, with her harassing the house staff or her neighbors to use their phone so that she could make her calls. So I've changed her number and her her phone reconnected.

When she does get me on the phone, she always begins "Oh, thank god," because as far as she's concerned this is the first time she's spoken to anyone she knows since her time in the strange place began (which she perceives as three or four days ago, invariably). When I say that I can't pick her up to bring her back to her real home, she heaps abuse on me, somewhat in the mode of a petulant teenager. I have done nothing for her; I am treating her like an animal. She knows she has memory problems, but why am I not treating them myself at her own home, instead of dropping her off in a strange place? She doesn't need me, she says, and if I won't help her then she'll just run away and hitchhike to Florida and start over by herself. She wishes sincerely that I am ignored and neglected just as badly when I get to be her age.

Then she tries to hang up, by pressing buttons randomly on whichever phone she found, so I end up being the the one to actually break the connection.

Mom's been on the waiting list to receive a geriatric psychological examination from Bangor's Acadia hospital for nearly two months. The receptionist of the doctor there has advised me to go ahead and check mom in to either of two local hospital's emergency rooms for an emergency geri-psych screening, which might have the same outcome as a scheduled one. I've told Winterberry that they can go ahead and do this at their own judgment, should things ever get out of hand again.

Either way, I want the outcome of the screening to be prescriptions for lots of psychoactive meds so that she'll be numb and happy-ish for the rest of her life. I have been more frank about this, in recent communication with them.

And that's awful.

Jun. 26th, 2013

I got the official call from Winterberry Heights that they can no longer handle mom this morning. Unlike Sunbury, they're being very professional in their language choice about recent incidents, but her "elopement" attempts -- scooting out the door and down the street at every opportunity -- are unceasing, even with new medication, and she's now started to smash windows (both hers and her neighbors') in an attempt to escape and go "home", wherever that might be.

She's fine so long as someone is with her. But the staff now feels that they literally cannot turn their back on her, and they have expressed their unhappiness about this to me. I can understand that.

Winterberry is being much more helpful than Sunbury was, assisting me with finding interim solutions and possible next facilities. I am also making some calls myself. This will be the third facility she'll have lived in in a single month. I will ask them "Is there any situation at all where you might call me to say that she can't stay?" I will avoid the temptation to say "If it were socially and legally acceptable for me to gently set her adrift on an ice floe…"

This is not a good day to have job phone interviews, but I have two anyway, and a long on-site one Friday. I might just shut off my phone for that one.

Jun. 8th, 2013

I got the official call from Sunbury Village that they could no longer handle mom on Tuesday morning; the word "ridiculous" was deployed on their end to describe her shenanigans, which had gotten to the point of other dementia-afflicted residents calling the office to say that the lady from 335 was in their kitchen again. I remote-directed Ricky and Peter to move her to Winterberry on Thursday. Winterberry is Sunbury's neighbor, and provides more active assisted-living and memory-care services for more far-gone oldsters. (They used to be the same facility, and I have to imagine that the respective naming is intentional.) Apparently she gave them a grand send-off by shuffling around the building pulling emergency alarms before being escorted into the new place.

I have done my best to build on past experience and provide complete transparency to Winterberry about mother, her backstory, her behavioral problems, and Ricky's involvement. I described how mom's dementia and Ricky's disorders were a volatile mix, which resulted in bizarre scenes that would surprise and alarm Sunbury's staff. The Winterberry staff I've been speaking with have all been bullish about working with mom, even given all this information. So was Sunbury, though, until literally days before they said it wasn't working out.

Mom's current pattern is to be of sunny and happy disposition to everyone who speaks with her, but she will quickly insist that it's been a nice visit but she's got to get back to work now. Or back home, or to the bank, or some other urgent errand. She's very nervous by the fact that she doesn't have any cash or identification, because she doesn't know how she's going to eat, or pay for gas, or get cat food. She waves away my explanations by telephone that she has three big meals a day there, and that Ricky can run all the cat-food-related errands she needs filled. It makes no sense to her at all that she actually *lives* there; she figures she's in some ill-defined in-between place (which to her credit I suppose in true on some levels), and gets exasperated with everyone's stubborn refusal to just take her back home, already.

Winterberry told me yesterday that they've had to redirect her back into the building several times, which she cheerfully complies with until she gets nervous again. They're much more patient and willing to help with this than Sunbury was (for lo they charge double the rent as Sunbury), and the Ambien at least prevents her from trying to do this in the middle of the night. But this can't last; if she doesn't acclimate (through time, medication, or other route) over June, then this solution too will fail, and we'll have to place her into a "memory unit", which is essentially a lockdown facility. (Winterberry has one, and it has a waiting list attached. I would expect this to therefore be the case with any others.)

Meanwhile, Sunbury management, who had been goodcop-badcopping me about mom's behavior since we moved in, currently claims that Aha! She failed to give 30 days written notice before moving out, and therefore owes rent in full through July! I don't intend to pay them past June, because for fuck's sake, but I have not had the wherewithal to begin this conversation with them yet. Part of me rather feels like I've had a cash-firehose tuned on mom for the past six weeks, so what's another $2,000? Yesterday Amy pointed out a $17 discrepancy on our hotel bill and I wanted to laugh but we fixed it anyway. Living like a rich man.

Picked up many nice job leads. Have not applied to any because time.

Returning to Maine next week for at least one day; taking mom to doctor, and hoping that my personal presence will increase the likelihood of immediate prescriptions for Winterberry's recommended anti-anxiety medications for her. Then setting up a new PCP in Bangor, an act that apparently can only be done in person.

I hope this all works.

Jun. 3rd, 2013

Mom's taken her Ambien two nights in a row, so that's two quiet nights. Well, we can't have that, can we! So she's switched tactics to decide that I'm stealing all her money and spending it on myself (how else could I have afforded a trip to Austin?) and is now bothering the Sunbury staff with demands that they cancel her lease so that she can move "back home".

The conference started two hours ago, I am led to understand.

Jun. 1st, 2013

There's no other way to put it: Mother is actively sabotaging all my attempts to help her. After two days of effort I got her checked back into Sunbury with an Ambien prescription that would get her through her nighttime confusion, glued to my phone as I coordinated nurse, doctor, brother, caretaker and building manager to set everything up. Total victory, right? End of story?

No! Because she refuses to take the pill! And of course she scared another resident at 3 AM last night by pounding on his apartment door while sundowning and out of her mind, the sort of thing she will keep doing every night until they finally toss her out.

I call her up to tell her I hear that she's been having trouble at night lately. Those people are trying to set me up! she says. I tell that her some guy said she wandered into his room. No, she insists, it was he who wandered into her room, and he turned the story around and got the whole building to believe him, and I guess I believe him too and not my own mother. Don't I know that she just lost her husband? How dare I. Forget it, she says, she's done with this place. She's going back home.

Enough. I am not pursuing this path any further. Barring a miracle, mom's not going to live an Sunbury past this month. That's four large down the crapper but whatever; call it money spent on learning just how messed up she is. (Plus the hospital bills, which are of an as-yet unrevealed amount.)

I need to move her into a more secure assisted-living center. There's one next door, and for five thousand more bucks we can gamble with that for a month. That is looking like the most attractive option right now, even though it means accepting a loan (and one that has already been offered) to accomplish.

I'm going to have to get a full-time job to help pay for this; this is beyond what freelancing can pay for, at least until I get other financial helpers set up. I will, for example, sell their house, but that isn't going to happen overnight. But nothing can get done while mom's still in flux, and that includes me working on anything. I could not even start a job so long as I'm still getting woken up daily by we-had-another-incident-with-your-mother calls, each one requiring a full day on the phone dealing with fallout.

I'm in Austin now for a Perl conference, allegedly. Christ.

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