The Hoarder

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The news that my grandmother died hit my family like a missile, shredding our already fragmented life into slivers of misery and hopelessness.

Yet her death was not what affected us the most.

Because it turned out that my grandmother was a hoarder.

When my grandmother died, she left us her property 16 hours away: a 12-acre lot with a large ranch-style house, a barn, and two cars. And then the animals: two dogs and a cat.

The house, now belonging to my family, overflowed with things. Trash piled waist-high in the living room, spilling over the mouse-ridden 1930s couch. The trash was accented with hundreds of empty Pepsi bottles and ransacked boxes of Ritz crackers. There were unopened bottles of dish soap and packages of canned food. All of it was bought in bulk from a local grocery store. The word "extra" and the phrase "Here's another one!" defined the existence of that house.

There was no such thing as a floor. It was born of trash and a layer of grime thicker than my finger. The odor of cigarette smoke, animal droppings, and spoiled food permeated the house like a rank poison. It sank into the floor and the walls, so that once we removed the trash there was just another reminder of how impossible our task was.

Hiring help to clean the house was not an option in our financial state. We simply did not have the funds. We also had little time to remain at my grandmother's house. I was a Junior in high school taking post-secondary classes at my community college, and my two older sisters were in college. With my father's full-time job, that left my little sister and mother to work on the house.

This house stole my freedom of thought, my peace, and my sanity. I was a writer who could not find the motivation to write, a student who forced herself to study, and a daughter who felt guilt at her powerlessness.

When forced into such a situation, drowning is a kind word.

It was at this point of despair that hope came for us in the most unexpected of places: Our church.

Five women volunteered to help us clean the house for three days, working morning to night to clear out the living room, haul trash out of the bedrooms, and endure hours of time spent in the putrid odor of that house.

One woman who had ankle and knee problems spent hours scrubbing the kitchen floor until the grime came off the linoleum. Another woman who loved her nails washed the dishes nonstop, making filth-covered plates and cups sparkle.

"Kindness" is an understatement. This was pure self-sacrifice, an act of unanticipated compassion. These women put us above them, our problems above their own. They left their families and their jobs to pull us out of the darkness.

And now? My grandmother's house is almost finished and getting ready to sell. All because of the kindness of five women.

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