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.


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    1. Here's an email cc'ed to me from Vera, one of dozens like it sent over more than a decade. If you ask nice I can post the others, some much more acidic and all demonstrating her frame of mind towards you. Kudos for manipulating your demented 89 year old mother in her last months of life to believe I alone was responsible for the building contractor's glacially slow rebuilding of her house - during a pandemic with building code and insurance issues complicating matters. Further kudos to you for making literally no effort to help. I know you'll proactively argue that she "saw the light at the end" or some other nonsense, a dumb argument considering four different medical professionals and doctors diagnosed her with dementia in the last year of her life - a logical hill I wouldn't want to die on.

      Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 8:28 PM
      It makes me thoroughly disgusted to know that I have One Son ( Sandy ) that is just Greedy and knowingly lying to anyone he thinks will Believe him. Some people will believe anything that is Gossipy Enough ... matters not the Truth is Lacking !

      At least “ I” can Try to make it up to David by ensuring he will Not be embroiled in a Battle for My Assets... (or what May remain of them ) with his Greedy and Uncaring Brothers. David deserves so much better. (In fact, I have made Ironclad arrangements to that affect already.) I am a firm believer that Bad Behavior should Never be Rewarded.
      It was bad enough the way Sandy has Treated Me , and his Brother, David. Now, He will have to live with his actions. I make no excuses for him at all. He knows he is WRONG, but he is too pig-headed to admit it. He made his bed and he can now lie in it. His Problem.
      He has Never ...not Once...ever offered any assistance to me ( his Mother ) or to his Young Brother.
      Never. So I owe him Nothing . He was well taken care of under my roof for over 25 years...and that is more than Most ‘Children’ ever get, Right ? I did it all for Love of my Son. I still love him. But that will have to Suffice. Can He say the same Toward Me and His Brother, David ? I think not.

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    1. I encourage you to not delete your comments. Your sentiments are awkwardly contrived, generally validating what I've written.

      Regarding our father's estate: the estate lawyer counseled me that the checking account I was cosigner on was legally, inarguably mine upon our father's death and that I didn't have to share a penny of it with you. And yet I wrote you a check for half of it, nearly $160,000 - but you were so blinded by your childish malice towards me that you still tell people that I'd stolen from you.

      Why would I steal from you when I could've legally kept the almost $160,000? That's monumental cognitive dissonance on your part.

      It's said that we blame others for what we do to them. To that end, I'd like to point out my 30 minute video dialog with our father after you'd taken literally everything he owns from his storage unit in 2010 and spirited it away. In that interview he specifically states "I don't know why he took it (everything)" leaving me to move him into his new facility for Parkinson's care with literally nothing: no furniture, no clothes beyond a couple shirts and pants, no art for his walls, zilch. It was months before you returned even a small amount of his possessions. Then just after he died your new Filipino bride 30 years your junior boasted on her blog about gold coins you "found" in the furniture you took - then deleted that post when the attorney asked about it. No, I'm not surprised you accuse me - the guy who wrote you a check for nearly $160,000 I could've legally kept - of theft.

      Re. her will drawn up two weeks before her death: it's a travesty but props to you for your obvious contribution to it, bequeathing a small percent to me- but only upon my death. Words so mean-spirited they must be yours.

      Our mother told me an anecdote a few years ago that answered the question as to why you'd never been remotely like a brother to me. She said when she was a week or two from term and about to give birth to me that our father told you and Brian "when your mother has her baby, she's going to stop loving you" and that both of you were traumatized and crying when he dropped you off. How is it that you grew up, internalized that and never stopped to think "man that was some *fucked up shit* my father said to me when I was twelve"? Or stopped to think about how manipulation like that shaped you?

      The truth is, you've been that same damaged child inhabiting an adult's body ever since. And for that I honestly feel some sympathy for you.

      PS: You have four children. Four. Two more than the two mentioned in her eulogy. You've somehow forgotten the wife who left you apparently afraid for her life and that of her two infants and fled to Spain. 2+2=4.

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  5. David – the kindness you’ve shown your very difficult mother and the forbearance of this truly effed-up situation are a testament to the person that you are. You have more integrity in your little finger than Lewis does in his whole body. It is sad that he has spent nearly his whole life stewing in anger and hatred – toward you and I’m sure many others. I think it’s possibly pickled his brain somewhat. It has most certainly corrupted his soul. But he made his choice, and I hope that your mother’s money brings him no joy. I doubt he’s even capable of a such a good and pure emotion. I do know that YOU will be alright and that you have many, many people who like, love, and respect both you and Jennifer and who want only the best for your both.

  6. David, I agree with Marilyn's sentiments, wholeheartedly! You have been kind and and have shown great character in your relationship with both your parents. Even going so far as to give Lewis $160k, when you didnt have to. His actions are that of a hurt and bitter child. He will most likely always be a bitter person, who blames others for everything. Who is it that has a relationship with cousins who love and support each other? Not Lewis! I also hope that the money does not being him any kind of happiness. I think it will only give him inner gloating. You have so many that love you and Jennifer and as Marilyn said, who only want the best for you! Keep being the person you are!

  7. Hey David, Thank you for sharing what is clearly a painful story. The fact that you stuck by your mom until literally the very end- despite the tragic and difficult circumstances speaks to your humanity. Your experience with your siblings is more common than is often heard and your writing helps others who have gone through similar tragedy.

  8. David - your family and friends know what a loving, caring, generous, and compassionate son you have been to *both* your parents. Morgan frequently expressed his sadness to me over the indifference shown by your older brothers, and his confusion on why they had no interest in being a part of his life. If not for your concern about your father's health and wellbeing, he would have been much worse off. The continual care you took of your mother (and your brother's total indifference) shows how much integrity and generosity you possess - and how little L. has. The fact that L. had no contact with his mother until he heard about her will makes his priorities quite clear.
    Ironically, you are richer than your brothers will ever be. You have family who genuinely loves you, cares about you, and values you (and Jennifer) as a part of our lives. Your brothers are total strangers to their father's family - and they clearly want it that way. They are all the poorer for it.

    1. Many sincere thanks as your sentiments bring peace. Hopefully deep in his psyche there's a shred of self-awareness at how appalling it is to have benefitted from his father's estate equivalent to me but then to gloat over the inequity in his mother's far larger estate. Presumably he'd like to erase the reality of his 15 years absence from her life while Jennifer and I cleaned her house, brought food and presents, did household and auto maintenance, kept her computer operating and a thousand other tasks.

      I will correct you on one point: I found out after his deposition to our lawyer that he'd resumed talking to her in the months prior to the guardianship, a fact that my mother never disclosed. He bragged that he purposely stood by silently while I fought with the contractor rebuilding her burned house, the subtext being that he convinced his mother to blame the contractor's slow reconstruction (during a pandemic with county code and insurance problems) on me. It makes no difference whether he appeared at the very end or some months prior, but I thought I’d specify that for clarity.


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