A Passing Observed

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Details

Sorry for not updating quicker, but though the issues in this blog may be closest to my heart they pretty much have to take a back seat for now to everything else I do. I promise I will continue to post here, but it will be slow for a while.

I mentioned in the first post about details and how they can be a mixed blessing of sorts. On one hand they seem like a never-ending stream of trivia at a time when all you want to do is either contemplate deeper philosophical life issues or just throw up your hands and have it all go away. But in an odd way they also keep you going. One of the big, scary questions at a time like this is, "What now?" What do you do now that you can't just pick up the phone and call your mom (or your dad or your spouse/sibling/friend/whoever)? How can your brain and heart swallow and process that information, let alone try to make sense of this new, strange world and its even stranger, yet inescapable, feelings? It's all so darn...BIG. The tiny, annoying details supply daily, sometimes minute-by-minute, answers to those questions. They don't resolve anything, mind you, but each one is like a bridge from one moment to the next...something to focus on and keep you going.

Have you ever photocopied 100 multi-paged documents and then had to put them together and staple them by hand? You know how you get through 20 or 50 or 70 of them but it seems like your stack isn't getting any smaller? All you can do is have faith. You say, "I know I'm doing something and this is bringing me closer to that final point when I can call this project 'completed' and start a new one, even if right now it doesn't look like that point will ever get here." That's what dealing with these details is like.

I should say, though, that I am not alone in doing this, nor have I even had to bear the brunt of it. My sister is actually the executor of mom's estate, which means that she has flown down to Arizona and spent a week there frantically trying to get things in some kind of order. I have been helping by proxy with advice over the phone and trying to deal with what I can in order to make it easier for her. In case you're curious, here are some of the things you have to think about:

--How do you get to where your loved one was?
--Which airline do you fly?
--How long do you need to arrange to be away?
--Who will cover for you in the meantime? (Or if you're at an hourly job like my sister, how are you going to make up the rent?)
--Who has to talk to the coroner?
--How long will the coroner keep your loved one?
--What caused the death anyway?
--Which funeral home do you use? (Especially if you're not familiar with them?)
--How is your loved one going to rest? (Coffin, cremation, what?)
--Where is your loved one going to rest? Is there a plot somewhere already purchased?
--How do you get them there?
--What kind of coffin/urn do you want? Is it that important?
--How about all those extras the funeral home offers?
--Is there going to be a service?
--What kind? Relgious? Not? Public? Private? Hymns? Readings?
--Who will do it?
--Will there be food after?
--What kind?
--Who is going to prepare and serve it?
--Who do you need to call to notify about the death?
--Who calls them?
--Who do you invite to the service?
--Do you want flowers as memorials? What if people want to give money? Where does it go?
--How many death certificates will you need? (To prove to credit card companies, the IRS, etc. that your loved one is gone.)
--How long will it take to get them?
--Just how many creditors/business relationships did your loved one have and who are they?
--Who picks up and responds to the mail?
--Are there any outstanding bills?
--What about assets? Where are the titles, stock certificates, bank accounts, secret safety deposit boxes, and all that?
--Was there any life insurance?
--Did your loved one have last requests? Who knows/has them?
--Was there a will?
--How long is it going to take to pack up all their stuff?
--What goes to whom?
--How do you get it to those people?
--Do you have an estate sale to get rid of the other stuff? If so, who's responsible for that? And what happens if Aunt Zelda is mad that you're selling the knick-knack that she gave to your loved one special (and that you found in the back corner of the attic)?
--Can you even bear to lose one piece of your loved one's estate? If not, where do you keep all that stuff???
--How and with whom do you list the house?
--How long will it take to sell?
--If there are payments to be made in the meantime, who makes them?
--What about taxes? Lawyers?
--How much is all of this going to cost?
--Where does that money come from?
--How many people should be involved in all these decisions? Just the executor? The family? Friends?
--How much friction will it cause to involve people? How about to not involve them? How do you make those decisions?

And that's just the tip of the iceberg one week into the process. I'm sure I could come up with more.

Fortunately there are usually people to aid you with these things. A good funeral home will be able to walk you through some of them without pressure, but then not all funeral homes are ethical or good. Same with clergy, lawyers, family, and friends. Being surrounded by good people can sure help though. You never know what a blessing it is to have someone come in and offer to do something simple, yet so difficult, like folding and sorting a closet full of clothes. Imagine how long it would take you to sort out your own closet if you had to move every piece. Now imagine doing all of that with the weight of grief on your shoulders and every blouse a memory.

I should also say that my mom did us all a HUGE favor by having herself together when it came to these things. She talked to us all about what she wanted when her time came. We knew to cremate her. We knew she didn't care where she was kept as long as it wasn't underground. She made out a pre-determined living trust for her financial matters and at least marginal plans for her possessions. (Though, alas, not complete with the latter. The work that's left in that vein is going to be a major headache to try and get right. I'll post more about that another time.) She kept everything in a single location and told us all where she could find it. If you haven't attended to these things, PLEASE...what are you waiting for? I know nobody likes to think about their last days, but it's such a gift to your children (or whoever) to have these things done. It's the only thing that makes an impossible task at least semi-possible. The crushing weight of having to make these decisions having no clue what your loved one intended or wished is too much to bear. It's like putting on someone else's life, but you can't get information from them, you can't answer to them, and you're grieving that at the same time you're bumping up against it. You doing a little work now, even if it's uncomfortable, will save others a world of trial later.

So far I think we're doing pretty well with all this. We've divided it into stages. Stage one was getting her physical remains taken care of. Stage two is the memorial service. Stage three will be arranging the house and possessions. Stage four will be selling the former and distributing the latter. That last part may not happen until next spring, to give you an idea of how long things can take.

We've had a couple frustrations. One is that the medical examiner took his own sweet time getting through with my mom's body. She died somewhere before 11:59 p.m. on the 27th of September. We know that because she was found at 12:30 a.m. on the 28th and she wasn't just half an hour dead. The coroner came an pronounced her dead, but then insisted that there had to be an autopsy. This took a week, during which time all I could think of was my mom, whose only real insistance was not to lay her in the ground somewhere, lying in cold storage with a tag around her toe. I know it didn't make a bit of difference to her, but for the rest of us that's kind of hard...especially for that length of time. Then apparently, from what I can figure out, the examiner simply declared the time of death at 12:30 on the 28th, which was when the coroner pronounced her dead. Obviously that's incorrect, so all that time and waiting was for nothing. And of course nobody could progress to Stage Two until the body was taken care of, so a lot of things were on hold. (Hint: Think friends and family clamoring, "When's the service? We need to have a service!" when we can't even get the body yet.) Plus apparently death certificates are written by hand in that county, and they say it's going to take weeks before we can get them. Those are weeks where we won't be able to stop bills or arrange other financial matters. Plus since none of us live near Arizona, this means another trip down and/or trying to do a ton of stuff long-distance.

This, by the way, brings up a second caution: choose your executors very intentionally, for the right reasons, and with consideration for everyone involved. If my mom sort of messed up in one area, this was it. She had two marriages...three kids from the first, two from the second. (I'm in the latter group.) When she chose her executors she chose my older half brother (her firstborn) and my younger sister (her last). Part of it I think was because those two had stayed closest in touch, which is a fine and valid reason. But she also stated to all of us that she wanted to balance it...one child from each marriage, one male and one female, so nobody would have cause to fuss or think she played favorites between older and younger, boys and girls. (This had been an issue at times with one of my older sisters.) This too was fine as far as it went. But for various reasons my brother was the only possible candidate from the older generation, which left my sister as the default choice from the younger. My sister is doing, and will continue to do, a good job...she is very capable. But my sister also goes to school, which she is paying for herself from loans and a shoestring budget which she maintains by working an hourly-rate job. Between the initial arrangements and the memorial services (we've decided to have one in Arizona for friends down there and one in Oregon for friends and family in the Northwest), my sister will have missed two weeks of her semester which she'll have to make up and two plus weeks of her job and paycheck which she cannot make up. (In fact people who take time off at her job usually see their subsequent schedule slashed as there are plenty of people begging to fill the gaps.) And there's more on the horizon because she has to be there to sign everything. Meanwhile I work at a salaried job with paid vacation and people who are very understanding and will let me do whatever I need to. I do not want to be the executor. I do not claim to have better skills at being an executor. (Mom herself said there was no real difference between us other than her desire for balance with my older brother and that's basically true...we're both very capable people and nobody would have complaints about either of our work.) But mom should have really thought the consequences through a little better. It would have been somewhat of an inconvenience for me to fulfill that role. It very well might submarine my sister, her school, and especially her rent. I'm sure mom didn't expect to go so soon. She probably thought my sister would be well out of school when the time came. But we don't always get to make that choice. I will try to help out all I can financially, but it's still going to be much harder than it needed to be.

OK...enough details for now. There's tons more stuff to write about another day.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)


  • At 9:12 PM, Blogger Scott R said…

    just wanted to post so you know someone is reading what you take the time to write...

    you do such a great job of assesing situations. I thought it was a knack you had just for writing on the Blazers, but i guess it follows you in all aspects of life...

    Hope you are doing well!

  • At 10:01 PM, Blogger Dave said…

    Doing pretty well Scott, thanks. Mom's memorial services are next week so I'm kind of gearing up for that.



Post a Comment

<< Home