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Kadner: Elderly couple get offers of help

Richard Tolleswho has lived his home for 42 years smiles while he talks about his problems his home Crestwood IL

Richard Tolleson, who has lived in his home for 42 years, smiles while he talks about his problems at his home in Crestwood, IL on Tuesday October 16, 2012. The Village of Crestwood has labeled his house as uninhabitable and he has to leave. He's going to live where his wife is, rehabbing from injury (or illness). | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 26, 2012 7:13AM



Rich Tolleson sounds like a happier man than the fellow I wrote about Sunday.

“I can’t believe the people who have contacted me,” Tolleson said Wednesday. “My old partner on the Cook County sheriff’s police department came by with his wife to talk to me.

“Another former Cook County sheriff’s officer, who I trained as a rookie, called to ask what he could do.

“It’s just wonderful to know people care.”

Tolleson, 73, a former county police officer, has been prohibited from living in his Crestwood home by order of the fire department.

He and his wife hoarded so much stuff that their house was deemed “unfit for human habitation.”

Tolleson’s sister, who lives in Tennessee, and other out-of-state relatives have been coming in to help clean out the house when they can.

Crestwood officials claim that once the clutter has been cleared they would likely allow Tolleson to move back in.

In the meantime, Tolleson is staying in a costly rehabilitation treatment facility where his wife, Emily, is recovering from surgery.

Several readers have contacted me offering to personally help the Tollesons or organize groups to assist with the cleanup and even continued maintenance.

Tolleson is reluctant to accept such offers of help right now.

“My sister is coming back in this weekend, and I think we can get the place cleaned up enough where I can get back my keys and move back in,” Tolleson said.

“After that, I might talk to these people offering to help.

“I can’t tell you how much it means, though, to hear that people are concerned about us,” he continued.

“Even the nurses around her have mentioned the column.”

Just last week Tolleson was referring to himself as “dead meat.”

He felt no one cared about him and lamented the decline of his health, his inability to maintain his home and expressed feelings that his life wasn’t worth living any more.

It’s interesting how a few people who say they care can change a person’s outlook on life.

“My old partner said we could move into his home if we have to,” Tolleson said. “I don’t think we’ll have to do that. But it’s such a nice thing to offer someone.”

The Tollesons have no children.

Emily Tolleson, in addition to having her toes amputated, needed kidney dialysis on a regular basis.

Tolleson, a diabetic, is unsteady on his feet and uses a walker to get around.

“We just collected stuff for 40 years and never threw anything out,” Tolleson said about the couple’s hoarding habits.

“Maybe it was because I was raised in the 1940s by people who had lived during the Depression and you just never threw anything out.”

While Tolleson acknowledges he needs help now, I detect a belief that once he’s back in his home he won’t need much help.

I think that may be overly optimistic.

And I think his sister could use a little help this weekend cleaning out the piles of clothes that remain in the Tolleson home.

But Tolleson doesn’t want strangers roaming about his house unsupervised, and while I can understand the concern, there’s a point where you need to weigh what you want against what you need.

Tolleson is fortunate he has a pension and health insurance.

He tells me that a blast email has been sent out advising retired Cook County police officers about his problems. So there might be something of a support network for him.

But elderly people do often have problems not only cleaning their homes but making routine repairs.

And you don’t lose your pride once you get old.

It’s hard to ask for help. Difficult to acknowledge you are dependent on the kindness of strangers.

The Tollesons, I think, will need assistance keeping their home clean.

There is some routine maintenance that needs to be done.

And it would probably be beneficial if they had someone to do shopping for them or take them shopping.

Tolleson has told me he hopes to arrange for a meals-on-wheels program, which I think would be a good idea.

I also think it would be a good idea if organizations such as the American Legion, church groups, trade unions or just groups of neighbors got together to offer to look in on the elderly people in their community and help them out.

I know some of that takes place, but there’s a growing need.

I also realize that it’s not always easy to get the elderly to accept the help they need and folks have their own homes and families.

Sometimes there are no good solutions to be found.

“I was just feeling useless,” Tolleson told me. “I never thought we would end up like this.

“I’m a Vietnam veteran (Air Force) and always thought I could handle things on my own.

“You just start wondering if you’re any use when things come to this.”

What Tolleson showed me is that often just a kind word, a caring shoulder to lean on, can mean a lot to someone who feels lost.

Now Tolleson believes life may be better tomorrow.

And that’s enough to make anyone feel better about today.



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