June 22, 2020
At 1:58 this past Tuesday I closed all legal proceedings on my late father’s estate. It was a quietly bitter-sweet victory in a long and emotionally-charged process that I don’t wish on anyone who has lost someone they truly care for.
To quickly recap, my father was diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer in the spring of 2018. He fought it but lost his fight October 18th of that same year. At the time, he lived with a wealthy but (and I say this without any humor) evil woman who refused to share him with his family and who constantly lied to her friends and family about our (lack of) concern for him. She was the widow of a fairly wealthy financial wizard who left her a more-than-tidy sum. She had two daughters whom she had put through school and who, according to my father, she annual presented with approximately $30K – $50K in cash and/or gifts. Her house was about 6000 sq. feet and had a garage large enough to hold her $250K Winnebago, which she was only able to enjoy thanks to my father who did all the driving and maintenance, which was not insubstantial.
The truth is, she was a sick woman. Sicker than she would admit, according to my father who had confessed to me that her memory was increasingly a problem. But she was so dependent on him that she wouldn’t let him out of her sight unless it was to have him do something benefitting her. Her dependence also meant she was extremely selfish. For example, despite being quite wealthy, she refused to pay for garbage pick-up. Instead, she required my father to drive their trash to the local dump. Once when I was visiting about 3 months before he died, she made him “take out the trash,” at which point, I discovered the first of many eccentricities. To say I was incredulous is an understatement. Here he was, a very sick man, and he’s hauling the trash to the dump to save her a few dollars.
For a time, the family tried very hard to include her in things despite our feelings towards her. Both she and my father were invited to family get-togethers, but either she would come and act terribly put-upon, or she would beg off and implore my father not to leave her. I invited them once to my home, only to have her make passive-aggressive comments about our financial situation (which is fine) and how having to climb the stairs in our home made her legs hurt. The latter was the excuse my father gave for neither of them ever coming again. When I invited just him, he said he couldn’t leave her because she got too upset when he left her for any length of time.
Eventually, she aliented the entire family, at which point most of us gave up any pretense of liking her and tried our best to open my father’s eyes to the truth. A point of note here; towards the end, I did manage to have a few moments alone with him at his house and when I begged him to leave and come with us, he looked at me with what appeared to be complete resignation in his eyes and simply said, “No.” I don’t know how much of his refusal was out of loyalty to her for having provided for him for a decade, or how much of it was his not wanting to be a burden on me and my family. Possibly a bit of both. Either way, I knew then I wouldn’t see him again.
Before he died, he signed a Will turning over his meager belongings to me with a gentlemen’s agreement that all of his money would go towards college funds for my three children. But, when he died, a new Will was released. The new Will did that exact same thing, only it forced the issue through Trusts. This was “her” doing. She didn’t trust her own family, so she didn’t think my dad should either. And of course, he went along with it to make her happy.
Little did he know how much this legal framework was going to cost his “estate,” eating deeply into an already meager final financial reckoning. Not to mention how much additional work it put on me, the Administrator, setting up estate accounts, then trusts, selling property and moving assets around, even coming out of my own pocket to pay for things the courts required upfront and which, if I funded it out of the Trust, which is my legal right, would further eat into what was designated as “college money” for my children.
I cursed my father often. I hated him for what he’d done and not just “what” he had done, but that he had done it at all. To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about what he did. I understand the situation he was in, but I also can’t imagine doing the same thing to one of my children.
Completed on 12.31.2021
It’s been more than a year since I wrote the first part of this blog. I have largely moved past anger into acceptance. Acceptance that my father was just a man. A flawed and possibly haunted man. Haunted by a past of choices made, promises kept, and loyalties misplaced. Today, I think I mostly feel betrayed. Though I’m adopted, my father never treated me like an adopted child. At least, not until he died. He wasn’t an emotional, touchy-feely man, but I had always felt that he would do anything for me if I just asked.
Which is what made his passing so devastating for me, and the rest of the family frankly. A lifetime of loyalty–ours to him and vice versa–tossed away and handed to some “Johnny come lately” in his life. Betrayal and disappointment. Those are my feelings. I doubt they will ever go away.
My father didn’t “die” of lung cancer. Though he did have terminal Stage 3 cancer, he died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The irony is that I had taken his old rifles and shotgun home with me a couple of months before. The one he used was one of his newer ones that, I’m assuming, his partner bought him, which he didn’t feel obligated to give me.
So far as I know, and I admittedly don’t know much, there was no note left. I spoke with the ME and he believes it was self-inflicted; something I did question. When he died, his partner didn’t call any of the family. Most of my family in NC has a long history of volunteer work at the Fire Department and even those that are retired from it now still keep a police scanner running in their homes, day and night.
My cousin who is retired from the Dept. heard the call come over the radio. She called me as soon as she knew what had happened. Two of my other cousins (still active) were dispatched to the home. I’m told his partner was very blase’ and told them, “If you want to see him, he’s in there,” referring to his body, lying in a pool of blood in the bathroom. She showed no remorse; no pity; no emotion, according to them.
Living in Atlanta, it took me three hours to get there. By the time I arrived, his body was gone and the police were pulling away. Since she was his wife, all of the rights and decisions were hers to make. His partner refused me entry into her home, as I had discussed with my father that she probably would. Obviously upset, I yelled at the closed door about what a horrible person she was. As I did, a neighbor came over and made a derogatory comment, asking if I was the son, “Who never came to see him in ten years.” I laugh-cried, partly at the absurdity of the statement, and partly at the audacity his partner showed lying to everyone about what had really been going on. But she had them all fooled.
When I drove away from her house that day, it was the last time I would see her. The “second Will” named me the Executor of his estate, and blessedly, he had also already made arrangements for his body to be cremated. I was thankful that, at least, his wife/partner would not be allowed to dictate the terms of his final wishes.
Why did he do it? I’ll never know for sure. What I suspect is that he reached a conclusion. After months of irreversible lung cancer eating at him, and I believe, facing the cruel reality of his family (myself included) finally having given up after years of calls and two-hour visits, which always resulted in his partner even further alienating him from us, he reached a decision. That decision being that he was not going to get better. He was only going to get worse and without admitting himself into Hospice–something he would rather die than do–he made the decision to unburden this world and those around him of his existence. He once confided to me that his partner had told him she wished he’d just go into Hospice care. He didn’t want to ever be that helpless.
A couple of weeks after his passing, I got a call from my lawyer. My father’s widow had suffered a mild heart attack and while at the hospital, called her lawyer and said that I had caused her illness. My lawyer called to find out if, in fact, I had spoken to his widow and if so, what had transpired.
I told my lawyer the truth; I hated the woman but I had not seen or spoken to her since I pulled away from her house the day my father died. My lawyer laughed, told me to keep doing the same, and that was the last I heard from his widow, or her lawyer.
Never in a million years could I have imagined an ending like this. Even today, knowing my father’s religious beliefs about suicide, I have trouble believing he took his own life. But I understand. I believe he felt that it was the last decision he could make that was truly his. If he had stayed and gotten sicker, which he would have, he knew his partner would send him to Hospice as soon as it was apparent he was no longer capable of self-care. And he knew that, being his wife, there was absolutely nothing the rest of us could do about it.
And since he had made it clear he would accept no help from the family unless it was us coming to him and having to deal with his partner, something we had all tried at one point or another only to have our help thrown back in our faces later, he knew he was on his own. By marrying “her,” he had sealed his own fate. She was now and forever, his lifeblood and legal decision maker.
There’s more to my father’s story, post-death, and maybe I’ll include it in later blogs. But, I felt this one needed an ending, a little closure. If for no one else, but me. I only wish I felt a satisfactory closure to my father’s life, but I’ll have to accept that some things will forever remain uncertain and unsatisfactorily resolved.