|Aunt Olga and Bandi|
She is safe here among family. Safe to live out her final years with the respect and care she deserves. She will be treasured here -- not used as an ATM. Although she longs for the life and home she left behind in New Mexico, they are the fleeting memories of a gentle soul that has been ravaged by Dementia. Physically? She is gifted with strength and good health at an advanced age. Mentally? Her mind has been ravaged by a terrible disease that will eventually undo a lifetime of glittering accomplishment.
A warning? If you should stumble across this post? It has absolutely nothing to do with vegetable gardening. While there is a Sacramento connection, any connection with the title of the blog ends there. Though vegetable gardening remains my true love, there are things, sights and experiences that have so stained my soul, that I feel compelled to write about them. The pictures and story that are to follow are not pretty. But it's a story that must be told and photos that must be shown.
|Meth Abuse is Scary|
Unlike most men and women, I spent my 50th birthday on God's Green Earth tiptoeing through the home of a methamphetamine (meth) abuser. I will never forget the sight nor the God awful smell that greeted the wife that is Venus and I, when we stepped into her Aunt Olga's house for the very first time. Though we had been warned to expect the worst, nothing could prepare us for the wretched odors and refuse that greeted us as we stepped through the front door. The fumes were so overpowering that they would drive us out less than 30 minutes later. Environmental testing would have to be performed before we could step back inside.
We had steeled ourselves for this trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We knew it was coming. We just weren't sure when. We knew it the moment that Venus received that fateful phone call last summer. Olga's guardian wanted no part of the drama that was unfolding. He was in ill health himself. Venus was the next family member in line. Would she be willing to take on the job of watching over Olga's finances?
Olga's mental health had been in decline since she moved from Sacramento in 2003. We begged her not to go. "What's in Albuquerque," we asked? "Your family is here, Olga," we argued. But Olga wouldn't listen. The woman had spent a lifetime doing what she wanted to do in life, working for the United States Foreign Services branch and traveling to outposts around the world. After assignments at embassies in Turkey, France, Columbia and other interesting places around the globe, when the urge to travel struck, Olga hopped on a plane and went. Though Olga had since retired from a lifetime of working around the globe, she never did lose the love of travel.
|Methamphetamine Abuse Rage|
And so Olga left.
As the years passed, we knew that Olga's mental situation continued to deteriorate. There would be repeated phone calls from her from time to time, a clear sign that she was quickly losing her short term memory. We thought it odd to receive a second call from her ten seconds after the first phone call had ended, where she proceeded to relate the exact same story she had related with the earlier phone call. When the third, fourth and fifth phone calls followed just moments later, we knew. Olga was forgetting the simplest of things.
But life is life. Venus was dealing with her own issues right here at home. First, her mother would pass from cancer. Secondly, her father went through a painful battle with rheumatoid arthritis before he lost his battle with lung cancer some years later. Life is just that: life. Olga had a daughter and grandchildren with her in New Mexico. She had adopted Christina from an orphanage in Costa Rica, saved a little girl from a lifetime of grinding third-world poverty and rewarded her with the pampered life of living abroad and an education at the finest of private schools.
|Meth Abusers Remove Knobs for Some Strange Reason|
It was Christina's turn to care for her mother now. Though we doubted her ability to do just that, there was little we could do from California, other than receive the occasional phone call from Olga (followed by another three to four in quick succession).
It wasn't until Venus received that fateful phone call last year, did we first get the inkling that something had gone terribly wrong. Why would Aunt Olga need a caretaker, a financial guardian of sorts, if her daughter Christina was there to take care of her? Why were Olga's finances in such a mess? House payments hadn't been made in months. Insurance payments were spotty. Cable television service had been shut off and on. A bank was threatening to foreclose on the home. This wasn't Olga. She was the most responsible person on the planet. She worked in interesting places, earned a pension and invested extraordinarily well into companies and land.
What was going on?
By this time, Christina was living with her mother. Her marriage to an abusive husband had finally hit rock bottom (we never could understand why Christina kept going back to him after the numerous beatings he inflicted). Christina's children, Olga's grandchildren, were also living in Olga's home. Our niece, Emily, had been a flower girl in our wedding. That sweet four year old was now approaching age 14. Joseph, the youngest, was nearing age 10.
|Plea for Help from 15-Year Old Meth Abuser|
It wasn't until Venus got a first look at her aunt's accounts did she realize the true breadth of the problem. Olga had been forgetting simple things like making house payments, insurance payments and payments on bills for quite some time. Her house was also falling apart around her. Although well-meaning friends would make appointments with service people for repairs, Olga would forget them five minutes later and repairs would never be made.
And where was Christina in all of this? She was living with her mother. She wasn't working. She wasn't providing any sort of financial help to her mother -- if anything -- her mother offered her an escape from an abusive relationship. So why couldn't Christina make these payments? Why couldn't Olga's 41-year old daughter keep up with the bills? Keep those appointments with service personnel?
So many questions. So little in the way of answers. They would eventually reveal themselves, but the answers were slow in coming. In the meantime, the abuse of Olga, which we had been unaware of, intensified.
|Family did this to Family|
To start making payments on various bills as Olga's financial guardian, Venus would first have to gain control of Olga's bank accounts. One simply doesn't wave a wand and gain control over someone else's bank accounts. It takes written orders from a physician and a court order for such things to happen. Venus would need a physician to certify that Olga was no longer capable of handling day-to-day affairs and should not be trusted with financial decisions. A Superior Court judge would then have to agree.
While we still couldn't quite understand why Christina wasn't helping in the slightest, Olga was fortunate enough to still have friends from her days in the U.S. Foreign Service. Quite a number of them had also retired to Albuquerque. A few of them were still close to Olga. Venus would set up the doctor's appointments and her friends would help Olga get to where she needed to be.
As Venus began to gain control over Olga's accounts, the first signs of elder abuse emerged. The whispers of abuse from many of Olga's trusted friends also grew louder. Nobody likes a rat. But to sit idly by and allow the unabated abuse of another while doing nothing about it is just as wrong.
|Bathroom of a Meth Abuser|
Money was missing. Vast sums of money was missing. Entire accounts that held tens of thousands of dollars had been completely drained. Where had the money gone? Olga had forgotten the existence of these accounts so very long ago that it was useless to ask her that question, but what about Olga's daughter? What did Christina know?
I can't remember at which point that Venus learned that Christina had somehow obtained an ATM card to her mother's accounts. But by following the financial trail that the card left behind, it wasn't hard to find out what happened to most of Olga's life savings. Christina made no attempt to hide it. She had siphoned off tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of months. When Venus took action to cut off the card, that's when the real drama started.
And you thought it was filled with enough drama already? This could be a book called: DRAMA.
|Nice Artwork: NOT|
"HOW DARE YOU TAKE MY MONEY," the first indignant email message exclaimed. "MY MOTHER PROMISED ME THIS MONEY WHEN SHE DIED," another indignant email message exclaimed. "THIS IS MY MONEY," said yet another.
It was useless to explain simple financial things to Christina. Things such as, one, it wasn't her money, it was her mother's, simply flew over her head. Gently reminding her that her mother hadn't died yet also failed to register. Reminding her again, that she needed to work and make her own money, also missed the mark. She just wouldn't get it, or refused to get it. The free-wheeling and free-spending days of draining her mother's accounts had come to an abrupt end.
Venus had to operate very carefully in this matter. She was under a court order from a Superior Court judge in Albuquerque, NM that any money from her aunt's accounts had to be used for the care of her aunt and nothing else. Bean counters were watching her every move. Venus would need to retain the services of not only an attorney to advise her in these matters, she would also need the assistance of a home-care guardian.
|Meth Abuse isn't Pretty|
Home life with Olga was falling apart quickly. Christina was now forced to justify every expense, something a meth abuser often has to lie about. Meth abusers are very adept liars. They're good at it. Meth abusers will sell their soul, your soul and the souls of their children before they give up the addiction to that white powder. A teacher who has witnessed the children of meth abusers recently told us: "I would tell you that the children of meth abusers look like they've been raised by wolves, but that would be a disservice to wolves."
The full horror of what had taken place over a matter of years was starting to unfold before our eyes. It wouldn't become completely clear until arrest reports arrived in our mailbox. They were arrest reports from Albuquerque, NM at the home of Venus' aunt. They detailed noise complaints, arrests for drug sales, arrests for drug abuse, citations for failed drug tests. The flower girl at our wedding, that sweet four year old girl, was now 15 and going on 50. She had just flunked her entire first year of high school. Worse yet, she'd failed a drug test.
By this time? The home-care guardian that Venus had retained for Olga's care had taken steps to remove Olga from her home and into an assisted care facility. Christina couldn't even care for her mother. While she had gone out night after night, procuring drugs for herself and her daughter, Olga wandered off. The old lady walked a mile to the nearest grocery store, where she proceeded to trip, fall and break her elbow. The helpful store attendants who came to her aide were stupified. They found a woman who could not remember her name nor where she lived.
That was the final straw. Olga would be moved into an assisted living facility where she could get the care that she needed, and, at the same time, offered her the protection she needed from an abusive daughter who had stolen most of her life savings for one methamphetamine fueled party after another.
The final step would be removing Christina and her children from her mother's home. Olga could never be allowed to go back home, and could never again be allowed in the presence of her abusive and addicted daughter without court supervision. Christina did not go easily, but go she did. Eviction laws in New Mexico aren't quite as complex as eviction laws in California, children or no children.
It was only after Christina had been forced to leave the home, did Venus and I make the flight out. We would spend nearly ten days living out of a suitcase. Much of the time was wasted because we feared methamphetamine contamination inside the home. You can't just "fix up" and sell a home that has been contaminated by meth abuse. The chemicals are toxic and sink into walls and surfaces. No amount of regular cleaning or painting will remove them. Environmental cleansing is often prescribed and is now the law in New Mexico. It isn't cheap either.
As for Olga? We received court permission to move Olga from a residential facility in Albuquerque to a special facility here in California. Here she can be safely hidden from her abusive daughter. She can be challenged mentally with a series of activities and events that serve her much better than just sitting around in front of some TV, forgetting every mundane moment after another.
I've often joked to Venus, that if this is the reward for living a long and healthy life? I'm going to keep right on drinking. But let this be a warning. Abuse happens. It happens in all families. From the wealthiest of families to the poorest, we share a common tale of woe. This is a warning.
POSTSCRIPT: Olga's daughter, Christina, and her daughter (our niece) live in a run down apartment complex and continue to place blame on every family member for their woes. Like most drug abusers, they approach family members from time to time with a plea for money. There is not much we can do for them. They must help themselves first before the family can step in an help, and yes, that includes the 15-year old going on 50. As for the son, he was recently removed from his mother's care and has been placed with his father. As for law enforcement? Police and prosecutors in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County have bigger fish to fry. Though there are laws on the books against elder abuse, they are rarely enforced. And, as bad as our case was, those who deal with this tragedy on a day to day basis say it's not the worst case they've seen before. I shudder to think how it could have been any worse.