For those of you who regularly read this blog column there has been an obvious hiatus - and I have heard from many of you asking what is going on.
"Where are your blogs? Aren't you going to write any more?"
I have answered those who contacted me personally, but now it is time to let the rest of you in on what has transpired over the last six months.
If you go into the archives of this website, back to December 24, 2008, you will see that among my last entries were columns on my family - how my Uncle Bob had died at 104 years old and how my (now) 92-year-old mother (Maude Ella Winter, who goes by Ella, or sometimes M. Ella) moved in with us just before Christmas.
Mom had been hospitalized for several days the previous week, suffering from what I have since learned was severe dehydration, and resultant potassium deficiency. That combination can cause disorientation, dizziness, memory loss, confusion, even death if left unattended. In fact, death from dehydration can come swiftly - in a matter of just a few days.
When I learned that Mom was in the hospital - from my brother-in-law - who told me the cause was high fever, dehydration and high white blood cell count, I also was told that my brother and sister were planning on putting Mom into a nursing home.
I responded immediately that there was no need for that. My wife and I had long since discussed the age and health of our surviving parents - both of our fathers have died - and agreed we would provide a home for our mothers should they ever need it. For exactly two days after Mom moved here that seemed like a workable alternative to the nursing home.
From the standpoint of Mom living here, it still is. In fact, Mom's move literally has been seamless as far as accommodating her in our house and integrating her life into ours. Mom's presence here has been a ton of fun in many ways and quite simply has not been a burden at all. In fact, Mom simply refuses to be a burden. She shares the load willingly, and helps out in numerous ways. However.
You knew there was a "however" coming didn't you?
On Christmas Day, after we had opened the presents and eaten brunch, Mom went looking for her checkbook. She had rebounded amazingly in just two days, due to extensive rest and some dietary changes, and the improvement has continued.
But she couldn't find her checkbook anywhere, not in her pocketbook, not in any of the possessions that my sister and brother-in-law brought with them when they dropped her off two days earlier. (Please see my Dec. 24, 2008 blog entry for background on Mom's move.)
I knew where her checkbook was and I told Mom. My sister had it, and had informed me of this point as she was on the way out the door.
"Mom will be looking for her checkbook," she chirped. "I have it. I have Power of Attorney. If she needs anything, let me know and I'll send some money over." Frankly, that commentary was a bit unsettling and I wondered just how long that arrangement could last.
Mom had permanently moved to my house, there were plans in the works to add an addition to accommodate her, there would be plenty of financial issues arising, and having the source of her income more than a hundred miles away didn't seem workable.
But at that moment I was more concerned with Mom's transition to our house and let the comment go. On Christmas Day I repeated the conversation to Mom, and the response was not encouraging.
Mom talked to my sister later that day and told her she wanted her checkbook back. My sister refused. Mom talked to my sister several more times in the coming week and each time told her she wanted her checkbook back. Each time my sister refused.
On December 28, Mom asked me what it would take to revoke Power of Attorney from my sister. I told her I didn't know, but I do have several lawyer friends who would be happy to help her with any such issues.
The point was, Mom said, "I intended that to be only if I am incapacitated. I'm not in the hospital any longer, and I want my checkbook."
Within a day Mom had her answer. Just sign a form revoking the Power of Attorney designation and send it to any financial institution, credit card company or anyone else you do business with and that will be that.
Mom said she would wait a few days because she wanted my sister to give up the checkbook voluntarily. She may as well have decided to wait until the end of days. Several more conversations, several more refusals.
Finally, on New Years Day, it came to a head. Mom had one last conversation with my sister, a long one, and it didn't go well. After she hung up the phone Mom stood by the end of the couch in the living room, looking down and saying nothing for five minutes or so.
Finally, she looked up at me and said, "Let's do that thing."
"What thing?" I asked. "The Power of Attorney thing," Mom responded.
I called my lawyer friend, who offered two alternatives. We could wait until the next week and take a 40-minute drive to his office, or if we wanted, he could prepare the papers at his home office and bring them over that afternoon. I asked Mom and she said she wanted to do it right away.
Mom later said that even though she is not a rich woman, being removed from access to her assets still affected her. "I felt like I was standing out in a big, cold field full of snow, with no trees, no landmarks, no way to get my bearings," is the way she described it.
It helps to remember that my mother also is a child of the Great Depression. She remembers what happened to people who had no assets back in the 30s. She lived on a farm and her family worked hard and stayed solvent. They even had enough surplus to help others along the way.
But that time in our nation's history left an indelible impression on my mother, and even all these years later, it should not be lightly dismissed. Unfortunately, my siblings dismissed it out of hand.
The lawyer came to our house late on New Year's Day, and talked with Mom for nearly two hours straight. Another friend also came, to witness Mom's signature on the legal documents. He was a soon-to-retire federal law enforcement agent, who has worked for many years as an investigator. He too conversed with Ella.
In addition to revoking my sister's Power of Attorney, Mom had ordered new medical Power of Attorney forms. But she found several issues with the way the medical documents were worded - she wanted it spelled out in no uncertain terms that if she is ever in a coma or similar medical situation she does not want to be kept alive artificially. Mom told the lawyer she wanted the forms revised to her satisfaction before she would sign them.
He said he understood and we agreed he would come back on another day to execute the new medical documents. The only challenge Mom had to the new Power of Attorney form was that she was listed by her full formal name - Maude Ella Winter. It was written that way because I was asked what her full name was a few days earlier, not realizing that it would go on the legal documents that way.
Mom noted that she usually signed her name as Ella Winter or M. Ella Winter, not using her full name. Her attorney explained that since it was still her legal name she could sign the document as it was, and he would make a note to have all future documents list her as M. Ella Winter.
Mom was satisfied with that arrangement and signed the forms revoking Power of Attorney status for my sister. Mom also insisted that she still needed someone to act on her behalf should be ever be hospitalized again, and asked me to accept that designation.
I did, but made the point that to me, the operative word in Power of Attorney is not "Power" but rather "Attorney." I would be there to help her, I assured Mom, but would not be using that designation to attempt to control her life. That arrangement has been working out just fine ever since.
However, it did not go over well when my sister learned of it in New York. In fact, I think Mom's description of my sister's reaction put it best. "Hysterical," Mom said. Mom got yelled at, I got yelled at, I got called a bunch of names, and our home suddenly became a lightning rod for long-distance, electronic abuse, the nature of which is still stunning.
A few months later in court - I'll get to that in the next column - I was asked by my sister's lawyer about my relationship with my siblings.
I told him and the judge flat out that if they had ever had the cajones to try in person what they did over the phone, I could have and would have had them arrested for home invasion. It got that bad. Because what happened next was the most reprehensible, despicable action within a family structure that I have ever witnessed.
My brother and sister teamed up to have my mother declared incompetent, to take all of her assets away from her and put them in a bank account in my sister's name, and have her committed to an Alzheimer's facility against her will!
I kid you not. That is what has been going on since January, and it has taken literally all our time to fight off the scurrilous allegations, the falsehoods, the legal maneuvering, and the ever escalating legal bills.
My so-called family, a designation that will never again be part of my vocabulary when speaking of these people, teamed up against Ella and did everything in their power to store her away in a place that surely would have been the end of her, had they succeeded. It turned her fearful, resentful, and yet, best of all, feisty, combative and anxious to take them all on.
In the worst of times, we all need someone to stand by us. In the case of Nancy Patrick vs. M. Ella Winter filed January, 20, 2009 in New York Supreme Court in Albany, there would eventually be plenty of people standing by Ella Winter.
But in the weeks after she stood up for herself, and declared that even at 92 years old she was not about to let someone else, including her daughter, take control of her life and dictate when and if she could write a check, it seemed that the support landscape was fairly barren. There was just Ella, and the three inhabitants of her new home - my wife, my daughter and me.
In the end we were more than enough to fight off the New Yorkers, including the courts and the lawyers. But Mom was feeling a bit besieged at first. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the lawsuit, the false allegations, the insulting phone calls, the abuse and the neglect.
Tomorrow's post: Presumption of Competency!
In the meantime, take a few minutes to listen to what is swiftly becoming my all time favorite video of one of may all time favorite songs. It sure fits the situation we have been living in for the past several months.
Saturday, June 06, 2009