A Good Son? Part I
DEATH BY STEAM ROLLER
This will be one of the hardest pieces I have ever written, even more difficult than the obituaries and eulogies I have penned for loved ones who have passed away. As many of you know, my mother passed away last month on April 17th. She lead a full life, made it to 97, and died within three days of a fall at her house where she lived with my younger sister Julie for the past 13 years. The fall lead to a broken arm and gash on her leg when she got tangled up in a wheelchair she never used folded up against the wall in her den. What really got her though, was Covid-19. She had just received her second Pfizer shot five days earlier, but had not gotten the chance to build up full immunity apparently. For my Republican friends out there, her “MANNER OF DEATH” was listed as: ACCIDENT , CAUSE OF DEATH-PART I – AND APPROXIMATE INTERVAL:ONSET TO DEATH a. COMPLICATIONS OF COVID-19 VIRUS INFECTION. A dedicated Republican I know recently remarked that you could get run over by a steam roller and they would still list COVID-19 VIRUS as the cause of death. No steam roller, just a fall, and lethal virus. Although my sister Julie, who was out and about also tested positive for Covid, the blame was placed on the Home Health Worker who came in twice a week to help mom with personal care.
For perspective I need to share a little bit of family history. My parents were married after the war and our older sister Susan came along in May 1948. She suffers from serious mental illness and has been “estranged” from the family for over a decade. She is currently committed to a psychiatric hospital for bipolar disorder and early onset dementia. Sue is essentially out of the family loop. I came along 18 months later in 1949, the only male child sandwiched between two females, the “baby” of the family Julie, coming along in 1958 and big sister Sue. So I am a “middle child” and only son.
WE LOSE OUR DAD
Our father took leave in 2003 from a botched heart operation. My mother called me at 6:00 am Southern Florida to my home in Maryland the next day, “I need you,” she said. I was in her living room in Port Charlotte by 2:00 that afternoon. Our Dad was in an irreversible coma, and we followed his Advanced Directive to take what was left of him off life support. He died within hours. When I said, “we” I meant my mother and I. Neither sister, both who lived in Florida made the trip. Sue in Northern Florida, and Julie riding horses in Utah confused on how to retrieve phone messages from her flip phone. I stayed with mom for a few days and then had to return to Maryland and my job.
In 2004, Hurricane Charlie came by for a visit, destroying 350 of the 400+ modular homes in the Port Charlotte Village where my folks owned their double-wide. Once again, I flew down, this time to Vero Beach, where my cousin Tim had a Ford Excursion and large open trailer. I drove three hours across the state to Port Charlotte and walked through the remnants of the home, salvaging what we could. Furniture, which is typically on the walls survived somehow, as did all the contents of the closets. The centers of the rooms did not fare too well, and one had to walk joist to joist because the particle board floors had all turned to oatmeal. Once again though my sister Sue made a short appearance to visit the FEMA tent and claim my mom’s emergency assistance check for her own use (she lived four hours to the north out of Charlie’s path). She also returned with a truck and helped herself to mom’s appliances. Julie was on a dude ranch somewhere, so once again it was Mom and me cleaning up the mess. After loading the trailer mom went to stay with friends in the area, I dropped off things she would need in the short run, and took the bulk of it back across the state to Vero where Tim parked the trailer and belongings in his garage until mom got settled.
Over the next year, mom moved eight times, for a variety of reasons, and ended up back at Port Charlotte Village where she rented a double-wide that survived the storm. The 350 units that were destroyed had been removed and shiny new units pulled in and set on foundations. I told mom I would come down in the summer to help her find one to set on her lot, but no, that would be too much trouble, so she sold it and moved into the older unit. I called every Sunday and had to listen to her complain about how damp and moldy it was and how her asthma was kicking up. Like a good son, I convinced her to move into a new unit. Always frugal, she was not willing to spend any of her hard-earned cash for one, but when I offered to step up and finance the endeavor, she jumped on it. She found one in 2006 that was brand new and first my son, then Coletta and I signed the papers for the mortgage. My son’s investment was short-lived when he married and his wife wanted the money for a home of their own. Rather than throw grandma out on the street, Coletta and I took over the loan. The purchase price was $135,000 of which Mom kicked in $20,000 for down payment.
A NEW HOME FOR MOM AND…
The deal was Mom would live there until she needed help and then an assisted living center would do. In 2007 mom had knee replacement surgery so I made another trip down to help out. Julie made it for the surgery then headed back to her home in Lake Worth, I stayed the week (Easter Week) to serve as her “coach” and left making arrangements for her to go into rehab for 30 days. Sister Sue never made that trip. Julie put her house on the market and when it sold she decided to move in with mom to “help.” I was okay with that for a few months, but when April turned into May turned into June, and July, I spoke with Julie and indicated if she remained there into August I would be charging her rent, enough to cover our expenses. Mom was paying $800, the same as the Moldy Unit, and Coletta and I made up the $400 difference. With Julie paying $600, we could lower mom’s rent to $600 and have the whole $1200 “nut” covered. Julie got mad, and moved out threatening to take mom with her.
DISASTER STRIKES AGAIN
Six months later I got the call. Mom was moving north to Dunnellon to help Julie with her new house payments. What was I supposed to do with her Port Charlotte home? Not her problem. What we bought in 2006 for $135,000, was now worth less. Far less. It was 2008 remember. After two years of trying to rent or sell it and losing money, we sold it for $75,000. We stilled owed $105,000 on it. We had to bring $30,000 in retirement funds to the table to SELL IT. Neither sister agreed to chip in. It was all on my wife and I, and mom made it clear she lost $20,000 already. Needless to say, this put a wedge between me and my mom. When she insisted I talk with my baby sister Julie, that was a bridge too far, and the argument that ensued lead to a break that lasted several years. Then mom was turning 90, so I bit my tongue and reached out to them once again. This was in 2013.