The Stranger in my recliner:
Written by
Doreen McGettigan
August 2010
I have been getting a lot of questions lately on how the homeless woman living in my house; happened to end up there: The wedding was now nothing more than a blur in my mind. The day went by so quickly. Perhaps it was because I really did nothing to plan the event. John took care of just about every detail. Maybe it was because part of me just believed it would never happen. It was nothing I would have ever planned other than the fact it happened on the beach. Of course the most important, the most meaningful part was the fact that I was marrying my best friend and my soul mate and there was no doubt in my mind, the two of us did not just happen to be together. Anyway, the wedding behind us I moved into John’s house with his big, fluffy white, German Sheppard dog and his mother. I was in cultural shock. I left my daughter and son-in-laws house where I spent my days caring for seven grand children and my nights working to save the world as a victim’s advocate. John’s house was full of the memories of an 83 year old woman and a 50 year old man. Bachelor pad meets Grandmother’s house to put it lightly. I considered myself blessed because John’s mother was a wonderful woman. I adored her and loved listening to her endless stories of raising her eight children. As compulsive as I was I was determined not to change anything in her home, other than the dust, of course. We had only been married a few months when John’s mother took a turn for the worst. I became her caretaker. His six sisters even found a way for me to be paid. There were sleepless nights where I honestly did not know how much more I could take. This one particular night she was having nightmares so I sat in her room with her until she drifted off into a peaceful sleep. There was a religious channel on and I was annoyed. I would rather be watching news if I had to be up at this awful hour. I sat there wondering what I had done to deserve this. A show came on and a priest was talking about caring for the elderly. “How dare you complain about taking care of an elderly person”, I got such a creepy feeling like he was actually talking to me. He went on to say that never in one’s life would you ever be so close to someone so close to heaven. I took that comment to heart and I never did complain again. I truly was blessed because I know that woman arrived in heaven. Kathleen passed away on April 4, 2008 surrounded by her children. I missed her terribly and felt guilty that I was grieving her loss. After all I had known her such a short time. My husband tried to be the strong amazing man he is for his sister’s and younger brother but he was hurting. Faith, the dog had passed a month before. My husband and I were alone. There were no more endless visits from sisters, grand children, nieces and nephews. I now had no job so when my husband went off to work his twelve hour days I spent my days writing and looking for a job. I was not used to quiet. I wanted to clean and paint and change everything in the house but decided to wait. I wanted to give John some time. I found a job and now I was working twelve hour days also. The pleasure of arriving home at night together was amazing. We would have a little something to eat, talk about our days and just enjoyed spending time together. John had been active in an organization for years and on Wednesday nights he would attend a meeting. I used the time to phone my family and do girly things like color my hair. On this one particularly rainy, cold Wednesday night I got a call from John. He asked if I would mind if he brought someone home with him. He said he was leaving the meeting and saw an elderly woman walking on the sidewalk. She was soaking wet and appeared distressed. He offered to give her a ride and she accepted. It was then he thought he recognized her. It had been maybe thirteen years before he had seen her in one the meetings. He remembered the year because it was the year John’s seventeen year old son had died and this woman had been very kind to him. It became apparent to John this poor woman was homeless and had no where to go. Of course I told him to bring her home. She was freezing so I made her a hot bath, gave her my favorite silk pajama’s and fed her. We made her comfortable on the sofa and went to bed. When I woke the next morning, there she was curled up on the sofa, clutching her plastic grocery bag full of whatever and a small very well stuffed pocketbook. I had tears in my eyes. How does this happen to some one her age, she had to be in her seventies? She had John drop her off at McDonald's and he promised her he would stop by the McDonald's after work and if she was there she could come home with him again. She was there and came back to our house. Before long Sophie had been moved into John’s mother’s bedroom. John really felt he was doing a good thing and who could argue. I never thought she would be with us long. She had to have family somewhere. I am all for saving the world but I worked twelve hour days taking care of an elderly woman. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home was to take care of another. I contacted our congressman, Joe Sestak and his office quickly e-mailed me a list of contacts for such a situation. I called Catholic Social Services and a sister made an appointment to come out the next day. She asked Sophie a lot of questions and said she would be in contact with me. I never heard from her again. I called COSA, our local Delaware County association for the aging. They quickly mailed me a packet of useless information. I called our local public assistance office and left a message. Three weeks later after no reply I called again. It was my day off and I was determined to get a reply so I called every ½ hour. At 3:30 pm, Sophie’s case worker finally returned my call. He said she was entitled to $15.00 a month in food stamps and was on some kind of housing list but I would have to call them directly. He also informed me he would be sending out a packet and Sophie would be entitled to more benefits, now that she had an address. I filled out the pages in the packet and sent them back. A few phone calls later Sophie still receives $15 a month in food stamps and nothing more. I decided to take her to her doctor. Maybe I could get some information there on her family or at least her health. That was a big NO because I am not a relative. They did charge me $60 for the appointment. I asked shouldn’t she be on medicare or something. Yes, the nurse informed me but I would have to go through her caseworker. I was so frustrated I basically gave up and just resigned myself to the fact that Sophie lived with us. I continued to prepare food for her before I left for work in the morning. She could not even operate the microwave without a disaster ensuing. Getting her to shower or bathe was a nightmare and a full time job on my day off. When I was home she expected to be waited on hand and foot. Yes, as my husband says this was my fault because I felt sorry for her at first. The poor woman had been walking the streets and sleeping in the woods. I asked her to do little chores for me such as loading the dishwasher with disastrous results. She had three children and sisters and brothers. We could not find them. How did this happen to her? When I was involved in a car accident and out of work for awhile, my feeling sorry for her was quickly turning to annoyance. She sat in the recliner in our living room all day. When she asked me for a drink I told her to help herself. She never did. However when we went to bed at night she would raid the kitchen. That wasn’t so terrible but the raiding of the trash can just made my skin crawl. While cleaning my living room one day I found 3 rotten banana’s, five cups of yogurt and six cans of Pepsi stuffed into the magazine pocket of the recliner. I had a talk with her. She promised it would not happen again but it still does. I also told her she had to change her clothes daily and at least wash herself. I have to remind her every day for most of the day. During the day when I come up to my office to write she calls me every five minutes. I feed her and five minutes later she is hungry again. She complains that she cannot walk because she was attacked on the streets and everything hurts her. I tried to explain to her she has to get up and move around or before long she really will not be able to move. She tells me I do not understand what it is like to be beaten up. I decided while I had the time while recovering from my concussion I was going to remove a drop ceiling and paint. She complained the whole time and when she had to move out of the recliner to another side of the room you might have thought I put her out in the yard. John and I are forced to be in our bedroom just to have a conversation. We also watch television in our room because if we put something on in the living room other than the soap channel or the game show network she whines. We recently found out her brother is in a facility for the aged very close to our home. I investigated and it seems like a nice place. I thought we would take her to visit her brother, who she swears she loves, but she refuses to go. I called the facilities social worker and explained the story to her and she referred me to admissions. Two phone calls, two messages left and I have not heard from them. Please do not get the wrong idea. I am a kind person and so is Sophie. She does receive social security and does help us financially on occasion. The help is deeply appreciated especially with me out of work. My deepest frustration is this woman has a family. Where are they? How dare they just leave her alone to walk the streets? Yes she is a lot of work but she is not a member of my family. The words of that priest come back to haunt me daily. How dare I complain about taking care of an elderly woman who has no one else in this world to care for her? I feel so guilty for wanting to live a life alone with my husband and our children and grandchildren. Every time I leave my house I see another Sophie out there on the street. Why was my husband there that particular night to find her? My only explanation is that it was God’s plan and not for me to question. So for the immediate future the strange woman will remain in the recliner in our living room and I will continue to care for her to the best of my ability. That does not stop my frustration with the depth of the homeless problem everywhere. I learned awhile back that I cannot save the entire world but I can give up my recliner to one poor soul who has no one else in the world.

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