Avoiding the Inevitable
An essay by James A Graves Jr
Itís natural for most of us to try to avoid the inevitable things in life, hoping they will simply go away. For most of us that would be things like taxes, getting older, going to the dentist, bathing a cat, etc. But the inevitable that Iím referring to is the one we must all face, Death.
On a personal level, Iíve spent most of my life escaping the inevitable rather than avoiding it.† By the Grace of God and the supervision of my Guardian Angels Iíve fumbled and stumbled along, living life as the definition of reckless and stupid - maybe not as reckless as some, but certainly enough to earn me a place in Heaven reserved for stupid people.†
Why I didnít end up wrapping a car around a tree, assumed drowned in the river after the wreckage of my boat was found, or my body found in the plane wreckage is anybodyís guess.
But I would be lying if I said Iíve grown out of it.† I miss opening up a powerful engine on a long, straight road and watching the speedometer bury itself in the triple digits, and flying my Cherokee full throttle just above the creosote bush covered floor of the Arizona desert. (I knowÖ stupid)
Iíll probably never grow up, but Iíve slowed down a bit.† I wear a life jacket now, so, at least, my body will be found floating in the debris.† I do my hotrodding on the dragstrip these days, and I lost my medical due to my heart issues so my wings have been officially clipped.
Still, death is always there, patiently waiting. Last year, just after my heart surgery, we finally came face to face.† If youíve never been that close, let me assure you; the bastard is cold, humorless and scary.† But God must want me around because She allowed me to stay for a while longer.
Such a life-changing event tends to make you review and rethink your values and priorities.† I never†† expected to live this long, so now I consider each day a gift.† It also made me appreciate the people in my life even more and to be thankful that, years ago, I had made certain my wife would not have the added pain of worrying about surviving financially after Iím gone.
And I wondered, yet again, why my father failed to do the same for my mother.† He died in 1985 after a long battle with chronic emphysema, so he didnít have the excuse of a sudden and unexpected death.† In fact, he often spoke of the importance of life insurance, so I assumed that he followed his own advice.† Instead, he went with his do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do philosophy.
Although, it certainly could not be said that he didnít have life insurance.† We discovered that he did, in fact, have two policies.† The combined value came to almost five hundred dollars.†
It was an insult, a slap in the face from the grave.† And, as it turned out, intentional, to make certain that his widow wouldnít have any possibility of enjoying life by spending her inheritance after he was gone.
My father was a whiz at math and did arithmetic in his head, never needing a calculator.† As the†††† proprietor of Morrison Spring he knew the cost of everything as part of day-to-day business.† Yet he apparently ignored the fact that funeral costs easily exceeded $500 - in 1960 it was around $700. By 1985 it was closer to $3000.
If youíre going to be vindictive and leave your fortune to your cat, or spend it all before you die, thatís your business.† But leaving your survivors to pay for your funeral expenses is despicable.
My mother was forced to go to Simms Funeral Home in Bonifay Florida, who had handled the arrangements for many of our relatives over the years, and explain her predicament.† Mr. Simms just said, ďPay me when you can.Ē
We wanted to help, but my wife and I could barely afford the cost of the roundtrip airfare from Arizona. So my mother had to sell my fatherís tractor and his truck to cover the funeral expenses.
After such an experience, I expected that my mother would make certain not to leave me, her only child, to pay for her final expenses.† But the years went by and we never discussed it.
I came home for one of my annual visits and, much to my surprise she showed me a burial policy that she had purchased from a local funeral home in DeFuniak Springs.† I had hoped she would choose Simms, but I think she went with an unsolicited sales pitch. She explained that she didnít want to leave me in the fix that my father left us.† The value of the policy was like a savings account, based on how many payments had been made, and guaranteed that final arrangement choices would be††††††† followed to the letter.
Not long after that mother began having problems keeping track of her bank account, so I helped her make a budget.† I used Quicken, kept track of every dime and gave her a budget printout each month.
It wasnít very complicated; most of her money went toward her new mobile home, a late model Ford Taurus and insurance.† Medication was the next big expense, which left enough for her to live††††††† comfortably and have some limited pocket money.†
But the situation continued to go downhill.† She suddenly decided that I was stealing her money and denied any access to her finances.† It was the limited pocket money thing.† She felt that, if she had money in the bank, she should be able to spend it anyway she wanted.† I had been paying all of her bills, so shortly after she locked me out past due notices began coming in.†
First, her homeowners insurance canceled, then her car insurance.† Her car developed a radiator leak, overheated and blew a head gasket.† She cussed the car that had never given her any problems, said it was a ďpiece of S***Ē and stopped making the payments.† So the bank repossessed it.†
I was powerless to do anything except ask her why she hadnít been paying her bills.† She explained the car issue to me (again) in no uncertain terms, assured me that she was taking care of her bills and added that it was none of my business anyway.†
At least she was paying the mortgage, but complained that it had gone up.† I explained that when the insurance lapsed the mortgage company purchased their own insurance, which was considerably more expensive.† I tried to get her old homeowners policy renewed, they refused and she blamed me.
The months passed, things remained the same and then she died suddenly in February of 2001.† We found that her bank account was completely empty, with most of the check stubs either blank or††† written to ďcashĒ.† She had two life insurance policies with a combined value of eight hundred dollars.† She had also stopped making payments on the burial policy for over a year and the value would not cover her funeral expenses.
It was dťjŗ vu all over again and almost comical. She had nearly succeeded in leaving me in the same predicament that my father had left her.† Thankfully, the burial policy was locked to its purpose and out of her reach. The funeral home understood and worked with us, so the combined value of the life insurance and burial policy covered almost everything.
We had to hire an attorney to handle probate and it was only then I learned that survivors are not††† responsible for the debts of the deceased.† The probate process determined there were no leans on the property, so I only had to deal with the unpaid debt on the mobile home.†
The lawyer reassured me that I could simply let the mortgage company repossess it.† But my mother loved her home and was very proud of the fact that she had purchased it on her own.† I just couldnít stand the thought of throwing away all of the money she had dumped into it, so I continued to pay the mortgage.
On hindsight, I have some regrets about that.† It was yet another financial burden that we certainly didnít need, and due to the harsh depreciation on the value of mobile homes it has never been worth the $28,000 she agreed to pay for it.† And with interest, the total cost was almost double that.† Today, the Holmes County Tax Assessor has it appraised at $16,800, but in reality itís probably worth $12,000 at best.
If, in my old age, it appears that I am about to go down the road my parents followed I can only hope that someone shoots me to put me out of their misery.† We have certain obligations to our family, and one of those is to make certain that Death doesnít wreak additional havoc.† Losing a loved one is hard enough.
The days when the family could gather in the back yard and bury Uncle Bubba in a wooden box under the Oak by the woodshed are gone.† Funeral expenses are high and inevitable, so you need to plan ahead.
And when the sentimental value of something includes a large financial burden, you might want to take a hard look at that, too.
©2011 James A Graves, Jr.