A Good Son? Part II
A GOOD SON?
For the next eight years I maintained a working relationship with Julie if only to enjoy a relationship with my aging mother. I called her every Sunday morning at 9:30, and made the trip to Vero Beach where my cousin lived and then across the State to visit mom twice a year from Maryland, at Christmas and Easter. As an author I write lots of things, and made sure I sent her ones of interest to her including two short stories I wrote recently about her father, my grandfather and namesake, Frank Louis. I was kind to her and when I visited I always brought my laptop loaded with the 1200 Kodachrome slides, photographs she took over the years with 30 mm film. She would sit there to look at bright, crisp photos dating back fifty years reminiscing. I was a respectful, caring, loving son, a good son. That is why I was completely floored when I flew to Dunnellon to help my sister sort through her belongings and the financials.
LOVE OR TRUST?
Now to be perfectly honest, though my relationship with my mother grew closer over those years, the relationship with my little sister continued to be strained. On one level, I was glad my mom was in a safe place, but anticipated the day when things would be difficult, but this is what Julie signed up for. She had mom to help with expenses and watch her dog when she was on trips and someone to watch her soap operas with. There were occasions when I had to bite my lip to hold it in for my mom’s sake. When Julie once challenged me to tell her the, “Word that defines a successful relationship” I thought for a minute and said “Trust.” I had been married for more than three decades to my wife at that point, Julie’s one marriage ended in divorce in short thrift. I was sitting in a chair I had pulled up to be closer to my mom. I hadn’t been there fifteen minutes. Julie stood up towering over us, arms folded, “WRONG!!” she literally shouted. “RESPECT! If you don’t respect someone your relationship is doomed.” I thought that went without saying. My mom quietly whispered in my ear, “I was going to say Love.”
Over the years there were other incidents when she clearly demonstrated she lacked that word in my sake for being her older brother by nine years she certainly did not respect me. For mom’s sake I put up with a great deal. Where that line began to blur was the care or lack thereof for mom. Mom spent a great deal of time alone and when Julie was around she often was treated like a child rather than the head of our family. Mom’s food intake was limited and every time I saw her she seemed thinner and more frail. Granted appetites shrink over time, but when Julie helped herself to a whole sandwich and chips and fruit, mom got a half sandwich, much that ended up in the begging dog’s mouth. Julie recently told another in my presence, bragging even, “When Mom graduated from high school she weighed 118 pounds, then she had the three of us, plump! And went up to 165. Now I have her back to 118. Mom was nothing but skin and bones when I last visited in November 2020.
THE EXECUTIVE WASHROOM
I worried about her taking care of personal needs, expecially bathing at 97. How did she get in the standard bathtub, lifting her foot over the side when she shuffled with a walked over the thresholds? I suggested Julie switch bathrooms, “You have the bathroom connected to your bedroom and walk-in shower, why don’t you switch with mom?” Her reply: “THAT’S NOT GONNA HAPPEN. THAT’S MY BATHROOM!” End of discussion. When I left I considered reporting her for elder abuse, but was talked out of it as my sister would prevent me seeing mom if I took that step.
They say the Lord works in strange ways, two days later mom fell and was hospitalized. Before they sent her home, a home health nurse would pay a home visit to make sure she was safe. My conversation with mom’s nurse may have facilitated this. Two days week an aide came in to see to her needs especially in the shower. This carried us from December 2020 to April when the last fall and Covid took her from us.
Julie seemed almost relieved that mom had passed, no longer the burden she had carried for, in her words, “THIRTEEN YEARS!” To be honest though mom moved in in 2008, she took care of herself for the vast majority of those 13 years. She fed herself, she bathed herself, and got around just fine. She was still driving her Mercury Marquis in 2017 at 93. At 95 she was still washing her own clothes, and stripping her bed to wash her sheets and blankets. Mom was sharp, well-read, and creative making a host of crafts including cutting out pictures of dogs and cats she glued onto boxes and cards. Of course Julie took her car keys when she fell in Walgreens after forgetting to eat breakfast, but when I suggested she let the doctors make that call as it might lead to her spiraling down, I got the all-too-frequent, “YOU DON’T LIVE HERE, YOU AREN’T TAKNG CARE OF MOM, I AM, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND….” YADA YADA YADA.
So why am I so upset? Should I not be happy for mom to be at peace, at rest after a long and productive life? I am…but when I flew down to Dunnellon to help my sister sort through mom’s belongings, Julie finally told me we needed to talk about mom’s investments. Remember, mom had three children. And though Sue was not in any condition to receive a large influx of cash, arrangements had been made to have Sue’s daughter manage a trust for her mom. So that left Julie and yours truly to receive the bulk of mom’s estate. So when the will was given, I read all the language about joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, one designed for partners, husbands and wives and other partnerships. When one mate dies the real estate, automobiles, bank accounts, insurance policies, bonds, stocks, etc. automatically revert to the partner. Makes sense.
A CAREFULLY CRAFTED PLAN
However, although it made sense to have Julies name on mom’s checking account to enable her pay mom’s bills and make purchases for her, why did she put mom’s name on HER house? Then I thought back, mom had helped Julie fix the pool tile when it fell off, and mom helped pay for the house to be painted and new windows installed and oh… the new roof. With mom “owning” half the house, she would be responsible for paying the lawn crew and the pool guy and homeowner’s insurance and anything else for the house. Improvements that would maintain or even increase the value of the home a home she would never enjoy the proceeds from. But why put your name, Julie on mom’s IRA, and an insurance policy, and her bond fund all that would revert to her upon mom’s passing? And the Family Trust? Oh she got a 1/3 share of that as well. The ONLY product that was divided equally amongst mom’s three (3) children.
Julie effectively would be on the receiving end of 68% of the estate while the other two siblings, the oldest sister and only son would each receive 10%. Another 10% going to mom’s cousin. I was shocked, confused, hurt, to say the least. I didn’t really need the money, didn’t expect much, but when I saw how much mom had, four times my highest estimate, those percentages took on a whole new significance. It really wasn’t the money, it was the principle. Julie insisted that this is what mom wanted, but was it. Did my mom really intend to disinherit her only son, one who was devoted to her, respected her, protected her? Was this her wish, or was this a diabolical move on one sister’s part to convince mom to sign over 68% of her estate to one child to the virtual exclusion of her first born child and her son, her only son?
YOU LOSE AGAIN
So in addition to losing my mom, I had to deal with this unanswered question and the cruelty of a younger sister who insisted she deserved it, earned it, and that was it! “That’s what mom wanted and you have a wife (a relationship I have nurtured and sustained for 37 years) and a pension (one I worked for 38 years to earn). It is what it is, but that thin thread that held my sister fast to my side, her big brother…snapped. Grief mixed with betrayal and questions that can never be answered. Mom is gone. I write this, I share this because all of you out there with parents and siblings need to ask these questions now…before you end up in this dark tunnel I have found myself in. But I will say this: That dark tunnel is like a slide to the light. I will never have to deal with her again. Ever.