|Jonas visits and easily wins her heart|
Yesterday I became an orphan. My mother, a simple woman with a deep distrust of doctors, succumbed to lung cancer a month or so after discovering what was causing her shortness of breath. I'd like to write that I'm devastated - and I am to a degree - but honestly I feel as if I lost her years ago. There was a time when my mother despised George W, forwarded endless emails about Iraq war crimes and police cruelty, repeatedly warned me (a man with a journalism degree) to not watch FOX News and reliably voted for the more progressive candidates whether or not they were Democrats as she considered herself nonpartisan.
Then came Trump and his MAGA promises and towards the end of his presidency my mother was arguing that the Holocaust never happened, that Obama was gay and his wife Michelle was "Michael with a sex change", that Democrats should be shot or hanged, that Qanon were fighting the Democrat Deep State pedophiles, that a Soros funded Muslim army was stationed in the American desert southwest waiting to wage war and ... you get the gist. And that's just a small example. Generally I tolerate Republican ideology (and embrace some of it) but this blatant insanity was beyond the pale. After a while I stopped reading her emails as I couldn't stomach their unhinged content and phone calls with her were hardly better. Worse still was her flip flop a few years ago from loving my wife Jennifer as the daughter she never had to treating her as an enemy.
It didn't occur to me that this shocking paranoid change in her personality must be dementia until after she'd been scammed out of thousands in a blatantly obvious Publisher's Clearing House phone scam (plus her astonishing, changing stories defending it) then destroyed her home in an easily preventable fire caused by a microwaveable pet bed warmer. Also there were the ceaseless and strident complaints that her home's power 'smartmeter' was making her house radioactive and literally violently shaking her bed every night, then extreme anger at me for not somehow "fixing" that problem + a thousand other insane things like robotic dragon flies spying on her. I could go on ...
I helped her move into a local assisted living facility and conferred with their social worker about the issues I'd been having and she said "get a guardian". She explained that a guardian would, for a fee, take care of a demented parent and handle their finances and health needs, thus firewalling the toxic and emotionally painful behavior that I as her son and caregiver couldn't tolerate any more. My feelings about this were solidified further when she perjured herself in her deposition against the seller of the defective pet bed warmer and destroyed her chances at restitution from them.
An emergency guardianship with Florida's Polk County court was filed in July and granted. An attorney was assigned and went to her house to alert her to this new reality. She was enormously angry - the expected reaction of someone lacking in self awareness. The county court then sent three psychiatric professionals as an Examining Committee to evaluate her over a week with observation and cognitive tests. She failed all cognitive tests, behaved bizarrely and all three recommended full "plenary" or 100% guardianship. It was at this point that I discovered a fourth doctor had also evaluated her upon her move into the assisted living facility and similarly had noted her failure to perform in the cognitive exam and recommended a guardian. A court date was set for early October to finalize the guardianship and I began to breathe easier, knowing that she'd be in good hands.
As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. I have two older brothers who haven't been even remotely a part of her life: one who hasn't made any contact since 1987 and Lewis, my extreme right-wing sibling who stopped visiting or calling her in 2005. Back in 2008 when my mother was still a clear-headed woman she wrote both of them out of her substantial estate and granted me Power of Attorney as I was the one who made a concerted effort at visiting often, taking care of whatever business I could when home, calling and writing regularly. Thus it was a surprise to find my mild mannered attorney and myself in court battling Lewis' two aggressive shark lawyers who spun every misdeed of my mother into paradoxical proof of her cognitive excellence.
They hired a local gerontologist who charged $1700 for four hours of her time to write a lengthy document full of superfluous and unrelated details suggesting my mother was somehow passably okay - despite not successfully giving her any cognitive exams. She made an aborted attempt at the Clock Drawing Test then quit and refused any further testing. This report then pads out multiple pages with comments on how neat her house appeared despite the reality it was freshly rebuilt and she'd just moved back into it and the contents of her refrigerator as if that conveyed a clear mind.
They introduced into evidence some cherry-picked snapshots of her home after the fire that suggested the damage was minimal: a close up of an expanse of bright blue carpet without noting that it was the carpet protected under the removed bed in the most distant room from the fire, a detail shot of a white wall and more carpet with the brightness boosted to the extent that the grey smoke damage wasn't evident, a shelf in the same room with books that had been behind a tchotchke which protected them but was now gone and so on. This fraudulent portrayal of the destroyed home whose debris my wife and I had spent weeks sifting through was an insult - but our attorney hadn't thought to introduce our photos into evidence. (additional photos taken by Jennifer). The official photographic record as far as the court is concerned is that her home - written off by her insurance company as a complete loss - was okay.
His lawyers also contended that she was doing a great job at managing her own healthcare - contradicting my claim that I'd never been able to get her to go for any physical exams. Obviously now only eleven weeks later she's dead from an enormous malignant lung tumor I noticed every time I hugged her that would've been caught had she actually been seeing doctors for proactive care...
I surmise my brother inserted himself into this situation and leveraged an opportunity for personal gain with a very substantial carrot in the form of a revised will if he'd contest her guardianship - and he succeeded. His attorneys found minor issues with the examining committee's three reports and they somehow got the fourth doctor's assessment tossed out because it was a letter and not a proper "medical document". After eight hours in court the judge sent us home and rendered the heartbreaking edict the next morning that based on the examining committee's reports minor issues and one report's suggestion that she was borderline, yet still recommended a 100% guardianship, the whole guardianship was tossed in the trash. And just like that I saw my $24,000 in legal representation and perhaps another $10,000 in fees relating to other legal expenses evaporate. I also knew at that point she'd retaliate, likely at my brother's behest and either write me out of her will or give some insignificant portion that would be an affront after my decades of help and love.
You may have read my post a few days ago about nearly being arrested at her hospice and wondered how it was possible for brothers to possess that level of animosity. I'll spare the details now, but it didn't help that we had a manipulative father who pitted his sons against each other, nor did it help that my mother failed to either notice or make an effort to raise her children like a cohesive unit. Honestly I could write a book about my parent's and sibling's toxicity.
So you made it this far. I loved her - she was my mother. Now she's gone and every step along the way has been pointlessly traumatic. The only moral I can leave you with is the same one I ended my almost arrested at the hospice story with, so here it is again:
Why am I sharing this private disaster with you? I can't say exactly. Perhaps as a cautionary tale for siblings you don't trust. Maybe also as a warning to raise your sons and daughters in a manner that lends to them solidarity with their siblings. Teach them love and inclusiveness. Be a good parent. Be the parents I didn't get. And when you write lengthy odes to how fantastic your parents were and how they always bent over backwards for you and inspired you to achieve greatness, remember that there's other adults out there who view your words as emblematic of the pile of cinders they'd been handed.
An addendum: I've omitted numerous illuminating details in the hope that I could keep this brief enough to make my point without taxing the average attention span. If or when I flesh this out you'll see what I mean. Some details will never stop bothering me, like my brother unapologetically asserting in his deposition that his mother's plunge into appalling far-right ideology proved she was clear-minded and that "it's never too late", blissfully ignoring that it took dementia to put her in his ideological corner.
To be fair (& balanced) FOX News was the gateway drug that lead her to YouTube where the algorithm only fed her a straight diet of extreme right wing bigotry and Russian disinfo. When I tried to explain to her it wasn't representative of the actual world she wouldn't listen. It was the perfect brain candy for a mind teetering on madness, a diet of constant anger and outrage. Those suffering from dementia see their love and happiness fade as their capacity for wonder and inspiration departs leaving only fight or flight as the fundamental primitive emotions that outlive the others. To her the algorithm she'd fallen into WAS objective reality, as real as Walter Cronkite had been to her in the 1970s. In the end, I found myself paradoxically hoping that she watch FOX News as at least they occasionally reported on the news rather than the frightening content she consumed on Youtube.
We've got to fix this problem before our society goes up in flames. We also need to protect our oldest generation from those who'd prey on them.
Meanwhile, here's the kitten we attempted to gift her while she was at her independent care facility last year. She'd lost her cat in her house fire and we were willing to handle the responsibility of my mother outliving her new pet - but she wasn't swayed by the monumental cuteness of Miette. I think having a pet in her life would've made an enormous difference in her disposition but it wasn't in the cards.
Post Funeral & Burial:
|Interment attended only by me, Jennifer, Danny and the gravediggers|
- I get 30%
- But only after I die
- My wife is specifically denied any stake in it