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Friday, April 18, 2014
The Life of O’Reilly
More than a year after Sandy, the battle for relief funds drags on . . . and on
Chris Connolly/Herald
Thea O’Reilly, 78, and her daughter Jean, 44, in the disordered living room of their home near Silver Lake Park. Thea said she has spent the last year being handed off from one agency to another in her quest to receive disaster aid funds, and that she is on the brink of giving up money she is legally entitled to simply because the process is so convoluted.

An exasperated Theadora O’Reilly sat at a plastic table in her living room. It was the kind of table you would unfold for an ailing grandparent to eat at, but Thea isn’t ailing. The 78-year-old, who moved to Baldwin from Brooklyn 48 years ago with her late husband, Myles, is still mentally and physically fit. The teetering table, piled with newspaper clippings and receipts, was clearly anathema to her — she is a retired interior decorator, and the pile of paper stood out in sharp relief to the otherwise meticulously curated décor.

“I’ve been living like this for a year,” O’Reilly said, waving her hand at a utilitarian plastic box of documents. “I’m tired of it.”

Starting about four feet from the floor, O’Reilly’s West End Avenue house is elegant and tasteful — clearly the result of decades of careful collecting. Along one wall is a display of vintage American pottery (O’Reilly collects pieces in sea green with white and yellow flowers), and anchoring another is an Asian-themed hutch beneath a pair of ceramic cherubs.

From the waist down, however, the O’Reilly home is badly damaged. Half the living room is tile, but the other half is bare subfloor. A jumble of ornate end tables and chairs are piled in the front room near a gilt umbrella stand that has been repurposed to hold a dozen rolls of gift-wrap. The dining room, no longer used for eating, now serves as a space for cleaning and inventorying possessions.

Some of the blame for the disorder in this once-fastidious home lies with Thea’s daughter, Jean, 44, operator of an online auction business. Jean is currently selling 2,800 pieces of costume jewelry, which have overflowed onto the flat surfaces of the home. But the real reason life has become so messy over the past 13 months is Hurricane Sandy.

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