Friday, September 8, 2017

Planning Dad's Funeral

My dad died at the end of July.  Dante didn’t want to have a funeral or memorial service.  He wanted to skip it all like my mother and her siblings did with their parents because it's easy and "no one will come anyway."  I didn't want to do it that way, partly because Dad had told me what he wanted and mostly because I didn't want to be as careless as my mother.  I told him I would come.  I told him about what Dad had said he wanted – just a small memorial service with Wes Montgomery’s jazz guitar rendition of “Willow Weep for Me” playing as a final send-off.  I would buy it off iTunes and have it on my phone.  It seemed easy enough, and when I die, I really don't want everyone washing their hands of me and pretending I never existed like my mom's family does.  

I had already researched crematoriums in my hometown back when Dad and I had discussed how much life insurance to keep, so I already had an idea of who to call and how much it would cost.  I gave the information I had to Dante so he could be point person, since he was still living in our hometown, and in Dad’s house no less.  I told him about Dad’s life insurance policy, how I was the beneficiary, and how the plan had been for us to split whatever remained after the cremation.  I told him I would give him my half in addition to his own if he would handle whatever needed handling and not make me do anything.  It didn't sound like Dante has a job right now, and he will have to find somewhere to live when the bank forecloses on Dad’s house.  I knew he needed the money more than I did, and I wanted the convenience of not being Dad’s next of kin for whatever needs handling more than I wanted anything else.

My best friend put me in touch with her mother, who has been something of a mother figure for me since I was a teenager.  She is kind and good at logistical dilemmas I would otherwise have to handle alone.  She gave me contact information for an estate attorney and an accountant, in case we (read: Dante) should need them.  She told me everything that she had to do when her own dad died and left her his farm in another state and how she divided up assets for her siblings.  I thankfully wouldn’t have to do most of that because my dad left behind significantly more debt than assets.

Dad died in the hospital across the state, a four hour drive away.  I told Dante I would be driving to our hometown with my husband and daughter in two days, when we estimated the body should be back in our hometown and ready for cremation and the memorial service.  My daughter had a surgery scheduled for the following week, so I wanted to get everything done and get back home.  Dante was calling our Dad’s brother, who told his sister and mother.  They were the last of Dad's family.  We hadn't been entirely sure our grandmother was still alive until that point.  

I would tell my mom’s side of the family -- a few cousins and an aunt by marriage -- less because I thought they cared about my dad and more because he was my dad and I wanted to tell them.  I knew they would be kind.  Dante asked me to pass along his cell phone number so that he might be able to get back in touch with them.  He said he’d been cutting himself off and losing contact with people for years.  He had just recently been coming out of a depression, he said.  He didn’t want to relapse.

“Is Mom still at Butterfly Glen?” I asked him.  “Are you still on speaking terms with her?  I don’t think anyone else in the family is.”

“She’s still there,” Dante replied.  “I visited her on Mother’s Day.  I wouldn’t call it ‘speaking terms’ though.  She didn’t really talk while I was there.”  He described how the people at Butterfly Glen keep her heavily sedated.  “I guess we weren’t the only ones who didn’t want to deal with her.”

I asked Dante not to tell Mom yet about Dad dying.  They’d been divorced for ten years and hated each other for at least thirty, so the only reasons I felt she would benefit from knowing were because her spousal support – 100% of her income – would be coming to an end, and because she might be able to use her ex-husband's death to get attention.  “It’s not the end of the world if I have to see her, but if it’s all the same to you, I’d prefer not to, and we’d need a contingency plan for what she might do if she showed up at the service.  I'd rather she not know until I've left town.”

“I already called and left a message, but I haven’t told her yet,” he replied.  “It’s fine with me.  I don’t think anyone wants her there anyway.”  And that was that.

I drove my husband and daughter the seven hours back to my hometown.  I answered calls from Dante each day as he looked for another form or document he needed that seemed to have vanished in the hoard.  He’d found a metal lockbox, but it had gotten wet inside and seemed to permanently smell.  He emailed me the form to collect Dad’s life insurance.  I emailed him an obituary I wrote.  He’d been calling the VA and the crematorium every day, and he finally got the VA to say they would cover the cost of transporting Dad's body back across the state and the crematorium to agree to an early Sunday morning service.  I would have to extend my stay to a sixth day, but it was okay.  There was still a two day buffer before my daughter's surgery.

I spent most of my days in Cincinnati trying to keep my daughter entertained.  Our hotel had a pool, so my husband took her swimming every day, and sometimes I joined them.  Sometimes I stayed behind in the hotel room and watched "Gossip Girl" on my phone until I forgot where I was.  We walked around the local malls and went to lots of restaurants while I fielded logistical calls from Dante.  He asked if I thought Dad had a will and where did I think it might be.  I told him I was 95% sure neither of our parents had ever had wills.  It would have required them to do something.  Since they had more debt than assets, I had always planned to walk away from everything and let it be sold for parts, or whatever happens when you die owing people money.  I think that was Dad’s plan for me too.  I'm not sure what Dante's plan had been since his life had remained tied up with Dad's.  

Dante was freaking out a little bit.  A friend had told him the house would be taken within twelve days of the death of the person on the mortgage since there was no will leaving it to anyone.  The bank would put a lock on the door and he would be homeless.  I told him Mom was still on the mortgage even though she wasn’t on the deed anymore, so maybe they would go after her for the money instead.  I couldn’t find a copy of the deed without Mom on it, but I knew details from the divorce.  I wondered quietly to myself if Mom might try to retake the house. 

Dante asked if I thought he should stop paying the mortgage and the bills.  I told him that’s what I would do.  I told him the bank likely wouldn’t move to foreclose until he’d missed at a least a few months of payments, so I would stop payment on everything but utilities, stay put until the bank at least started sending threatening letters, and save whatever money he could for a new apartment.  He said he’d been cancelling our dad’s magazine subscriptions.  He had so many.   I warned Dante that the VA might not stop Dad's monthly checks right away and that, if they paid him something after his death, they would realize their mistake and demand it back in a few months.  It was the same thing that had happened every time he moved back into the hospital or the nursing home -- his check got reduced retroactively, and he was expected to pay them back thousands of dollars.  If this happened for three or four months like it did before, they would be expecting tens of thousands of dollars back.  I warned Dante not to spend the money from Dad's checking account in case this happened.  He replied, "Well, they better not do that then."


Cincinnati was a long trip.  It was the first time I'd been to my hometown in six years.  I spent as much time with my best friend and her family as possible.  My birthday happened while we were there, so my best friend and her mother and sister and boyfriend all joined us for lunch the day before the memorial service.  It was nice.  There were even presents.  If you have to deal with a parent's death, make sure to do it in the town where your best friend lives.  It makes everything so much better.

The morning of the memorial service, my daughter was supposed to stay with my best friend's mom and sister while my best friend, my husband, and I went to the service.  Then we'd all go out for lunch.  But my daughter started running a fever the night before and wasn't better by that morning.  I asked my husband to stay with her in the hotel room while my best friend and her family and I went to the service together.  We made up half the attendees.  My brother arrived shortly after me, and that's when the man who runs the crematorium welcomed us, showed us around, and said our dad's body should be arriving in two more days.