Friday, December 1, 2000

Hospices Are For Goodbyes, Not Arrests

(This story was originally published December 17 2021. I've backdated it to appear at the beginning of my blog as I want my current blog to focus on life affirming topics rather than traumas. As this is still an ongoing topic in litigation, expect updates at which point I'll restore it to a current date.)

A semicircle of six bored Lakeland Florida cops are standing around discussing the merits of arresting me. The Black one, obviously the lowest ranking member of the group is fixated on me, his body language telegraphing a strong desire to see my face in the parking lot gravel. I hand my license to him but his eyes only look at me, not my license. As I extend my arm to hand him my identification he pulls his hand back making me reach even further in a subtle show of dominance. He then looks at it dubiously as if holding something unclean.

It's a warm December day and the sun is incongruously pleasant as I stand there in the parking lot of the Lakeland Hospice House where my mother lays dying, wondering how sideways this will go. I can't believe that forty eight hours previously I was hugging dear friends goodbye over pilsners in Germany, having no idea my brother Lewis was hiding my mother's impending death from me.  

The officers exude an air of detached levity, one of them lightheartedly mocking his superior for being so serious when he called for backup against the calm, grieving man. I guess two cruisers and four cops were not enough. My wife Jennifer stands a distance away observing and afraid. The third cruiser had just arrived and a young blonde female officer exited which dominated the attention of the cop who seemed to be the ranking member of this group of Polk County intellectuals. Noting his name tag I offer my explanation regarding what had transpired but he was so focused on the woman that he didn't respond. I try again, but louder: "Officer Pettit!" at which he snaps out of his trance and blurts "Yes ma'am? - uhh I mean sir?". Uncertain as to whether he was trying to insult me or just dumb, I press forward in an attempt to communicate.

"My mother is in that building dying" I explain, not sure they understand what happens in a hospice. "I'm here to tell her goodbye but apparently my brother has told the staff I'm not allowed." 

Just a few minutes prior I'd signed into the facility's guest register (noting that my mother's opportunistic and unsettlingly weird neighbor Miriam's name preceded mine). I asked to speak to a nurse for the latest status on her palliative care. Instead of a nurse I got a shockingly dour woman named Supervisor Sue and a big broad shouldered man she introduced as a "social worker". In case you wonder, this is all verbatim:

"There was a miscommunication, the family is requesting no visitors." says Supervisor Sue.

"I am the family".

"Sir the family is requesting no visitors".

"I'm literally the son".

"I need to ask you to leave".

"Since when is a son not allowed to see his mother?" 

"I'm asking you to leave the building"

"Under whose edict?"

"Sarah call the police!"

"Have you no empathy? Stop and consider this from my perspective ..." 

Her reply was to wait in the parking lot while they attempted to contact my brother - the first I was aware he claimed any jurisdiction over my dying mother. Seeing no path forward and in disbelief that my brother could legally make such a request, we exited and sat in our Fiat by the entrance.  I called my mother's friend Vicky who was also being kept in the dark and didn't know her friend was in hospice. She was thankful to hear from me said she'd come straight over.

I wouldn't have known my mother was dying had I not called my estranged cousin Lee that morning after our ten days in Germany and asked her how my mother was doing. Her guarded answer only raised more questions as it was apparent she was either similarly in the dark or was telling me the minimum her conscience allowed without the specifics. I surmised that between a cancer diagnosis at the age of 89 and a hospital stay from which she hadn't returned that she must be in a hospice. I called a number of hospices in the area using the gambit "I got a garbled voicemail from you and I'm worried about my mother ..." until Lakeland Hospice House answered in the affirmative. 

Now I'm standing in their parking lot trying to reason with six cops itching for a distraction. I explain to Officer Pettit that Supervisor Sue cleared us to remain in the parking lot to await our friend. Officer Pettit says that when they made the call they reported I had "made fists and stepped threateningly towards her" - an utter fabrication. He adds that Supervisor Sue wants me "trespassed" to which I pointed out the glaring contradiction "then why would she grant permission to remain on the property with my car?" This logical Catch-22 confuses Officer Pettit, but he presses on "the power of attorney is the one who said you can't be in there". I'm not a lawyer but find it hard to believe that a power of attorney would grant the right to keep my mother prisoner.

Ever the optimist, I offer "you guys gotta know what it's like to be a son ... all I'm asking is that you show some empathy" to which I swear to the gods above and the devils below that Officer Pettit looked me blankly and said "wut?" and I again said "empathy" at his blank expression of incomprehension. 

"It's one of them situations where you gotta make an arrest, where you think the person being arrested really shouldn't be arrested but you don't got a choice" to which I again said I'd been permitted to remain with my car. He said they'd been told that too then added "it don't make no sense" to which I agreed. They bantered for a bit, then the Black officer with the attitude hands my ID back to me in an odd slow motion and says "we come back here for another 'issue' there's gonna be problems". 

That all went down December 15th, a bit over a day ago. Vicky did show up, they let her sign in and she walked to my mother's room and noted weird Miriam sitting in the corner like a guard. Miriam who is not a family member told Vicky that my mother was unconscious and Vicky had to go as she wasn't a family member then called Lewis. Vicky ignored her and managed to get a couple uninterrupted last minutes in the room with her friend.  She offered the lighthearted quip that she needed some Tennessee Ernie Ford music (a favorite of my mother's) to put some life into her - and my mother who they claimed to be unconscious and unresponsive raised her hand, which Vicky perceived as an affirmative. Then the staff tossed Vicky out too.

The next day I contacted Gerald Hemness, a local attorney I knew to have a reputation as a fighter and who had been a cop in a former life before realizing how low he'd aimed at vocations. Our consultation revealed my gut instinct that a Power of Attorney didn't convey the right to imprison a person was true.  Gerald used the metaphor that while a person could be evicted from a place of business, a hospice was a different case altogether and was like an apartment complex: each room represents a different family "living" there and if the apartment complex owner doesn't like someone, they don't have the right to deny anyone entry who was behaving lawfully. Furthermore, a PoA similarly doesn't convey the right to deny visitation from immediate family, so on both counts I was correct. Attorney Hemness (who was at that point out of state and not able to make an in-person visit) called Lewis' attorney to request he stand down. Obviously while I am legally permitted to visit, without a lawyer physically present I risked cops unfamiliar with the law arresting me - and as we know, when a cop screws up absolutely nothing happens to them 99% of the time.

This was my text exchange with him that afternoon:

LEWIS: You and spouse are cleared to enter while strictly observing rules Supervisor Sue has explained to you. The visit will be 60 minutes maximum and should occur ASAP. You will notify me of your ETA

ME: To be concise: we were never NOT clear to visit. I'll coordinate with the staff as you're not part of the equation. -- Stay clear of me.

I called Supervisor Sue once I was sure she'd gotten word of her error so I could get a mea culpa. None was forthcoming. I then asked her who told the police I'd made fists and stepped towards her to which she became angry and refused to offer any explanations. I made it clear I was on my way and would prefer a visit without drama.

We drove back to Lakeland again, an hour's drive. We signed in and I noted Lewis had signed in just a few minutes earlier, obviously intent on not letting me visit my mother without him hovering outside her door, which he did. Weird Miriam was there and vacated upon our arrival in a manner reminiscent of Gollum. We stayed for two hours and I held my mother's hand and talked to her with no signs of consciousness at all. 

My window to speak final words to her had closed. 

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 superlatives and 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. 

The full backstory will eventually appear on my blog. As for now I must await notification of her death, then funeral, then the obvious aftermath of that. This story is far from over. 

Saturday, January 1, 2000

Dementia & Losing a Parent to Far-Right Ideology

Jonas visits and easily wins her heart

(This story was originally published December 22 2021. I've backdated it to appear at the beginning of my blog as I want my current blog to focus on life affirming topics rather than traumas. As this is still an ongoing topic in litigation, expect updates at which point I'll restore it to a current date.)

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 some Republican ideology 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 and invented astonishing, evolving stories defending it then destroyed her home in an easily preventable fire caused by a microwaveable pet bed warmer. Worse were the ceaseless, strident complaints that her home's power 'smartmeter' was making her house radioactive and literally violently shaking her bed every night with angry outbursts at me for not somehow "fixing" that problem to the extent that she'd abruptly slam her phone down on calls with me if I didn't cheerlead her insane theories about smartmeters. There were hundreds of other manifestations of her derangement like robotic dragon flies spying on her and hidden underground rivers only she could hear ... I could go on, but I'll spare you.

I helped her move into a local assisted living facility and conferred with their social worker about the issues 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 crystalized when she intentionally perjured herself in her deposition against the seller of the defective pet bed warmer and destroyed her chances at restitution from them - which is in and of itself worthy of its own story.

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 frequent visits, 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. This gerontologist literally skipped giving her a mental capacity evaluation, the one task she was sent to do.

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 a 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 a sizable malignant tumor in her lungs 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". That doctor incidentally had volunteered to give testimony in court that day via Zoom, which the judge disallowed. 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. 


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:

Jennifer and I attended her funeral in Colquitt Georgia December 23rd. Also attending was my brother and four people I've never met who appeared only as a result of me telling them about it as far as I could tell. The officiant was a pastor of some small local church who operated in a complete vacuum as to who Vera was and then got the number of her grandchildren wrong, omitting Lewis' first two children Paloma and Sofia from a failed previous marriage of his. Obviously he'd been given bad data. In lieu of knowing anything about my mother he'd been told "pretend Vera was your grandmother ..." and so he rambled for 20 minutes about his grandmother and somehow also about America's "freeloading society looking for handouts rather than a hard day's work" because if you can't get a misleading political jab in at a funeral, when can you?

The next day she was interred at the cemetery with Danny the funeral home director soon departing leaving only myself, Jennifer and two gravediggers as the sole remaining witnesses to my mother's 89 years on this planet. Lewis' absence was thematically on-point regarding how much he'd been in her life since 2005. I was asked if I had any final words. At first I said "no" but then I changed my mind and asked the two gravediggers to do me a favor - always make damn sure that they vote. Both were emphatic that they always did and the older one told me about an argument he'd had with his wife back in 2018 when she said she wasn't going to vote because she didn't think that it mattered. 

"Do you think Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X died so that you could not vote?" was his reply. 

We then shared our thoughts on what an inspirational and sincere person Stacey Abrams is and our hopes that she'd become governor of Georgia.

Those were the last words spoken over her grave that day. I'm sure that my pre-dementia mother would've approved.

Interment attended only by me, Jennifer, Danny and the gravediggers


There's some irony that probate sounds like prostate, two topics generally not given much consideration until things go sideways. Vera drafted a new will December 3rd then passed away two weeks later on December 20th. If you don't know where to look for a will and if your brother doesn't want you to find it it's on you to figure that out. In this case it was posted in Polk County Florida's court probate system

It's a most instructive example of spiteful will-writing apparently drafted with the assistance of my sibling. As legalese is hard to stomach, I'll provide a summation as to what happened to my inheritance - a sum I'm omitting but which was quite substantial, enough to buy a home in Germany for example:
  • I get 30%
  • But only after I die
  • My wife is specifically denied any stake in it
And Bob's your uncle. My brother is naturally quite pleased and posted some gloating comments here - which he deleted though their text is archived, then several expletive-laden comments I chose to not pollute my blog with as they only postured without meaningful rebuttal. All read like a deeply insecure fourteen year old authored them and motivated me to add him to my spam filter. I won't bother quoting but it does engender within me a deep sadness that a man significantly older than me could never let go of his lifelong antipathy for his youngest brother.

Our mother told me a startling anecdote a few years ago that answered the question as to why he'd never been remotely a brother to me. She said when she was a week or two from term and about to give birth to me that our estranged father who was seeking a divorce told him and his younger brother (12 and 10 at that time):

"When your mother has her baby, she's going to stop loving you".

Both boys were traumatized and crying when he dropped them off. 

How is it that he could grow up, internalize that and never stop to think "man that was some fucked up shit my father said to me when I was twelve"? Or consider how manipulation like that might've shaped him. He's been that same damaged child inhabiting an adult's body ever since. 

And for that I honestly feel some sympathy for him.


So you made it this far. Despite her faults 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.