"One should see any opportunity to serve as a rare and precious gift...never waste such an opportunity.” - Amma
Every once in a while, you get an opportunity to be a blessing; those are the occasions you know you’ve made a significant difference in someone’s life. If we have a kind and compassionate nature, we are positively affecting people every day, and most of the time, we’ll never know it. But once in a while, we are given the opportunity to really bless someone in a profound way, and on those occasions, you walk away from the encounter being so grateful to be alive and thankful that God used you to make a difference.
Of all the good things I have done in my life – and I’ve done a few – helping my uncle make sense of his life after the death of his wife was greater than my lifetime of good deeds combined.
I began working with my aunt and uncle to get their affairs in order a year ago, and this I learned: if you are working with elderly people, sick people, or sick elderly people, you have to be very patient and pad in a lot of time to account for illness, hospitalizations, inclement weather, etc. We spent the better part of a year not really getting anywhere, and not wanting to push my aunt to discuss her death, I backed off and offered to come see her when she was ready to continue the process. And then one day, my aunt called me and said, “We need to get our affairs in order. Can I take you up on your offer to come and help?” So off to Missouri I went over the 4th of July.
We were able to meet with an attorney to get their Will and health care directives drafted. The next day, I visited my aunt to begin writing down all the administrative minutia that I, as their Executor, would need to know. We got 90 minutes into it and my aunt became so ill we had to stop.
After we stopped that day, I made a mental note to ask someone to go to their house once my aunt felt a little better and finish writing down the rest of what I needed to know. What I didn’t know at the time was that I’d never see my aunt again. Two weeks after I returned home, she went into ICU. Three surgeries, three breathing tube intubations and one sepsis later, she died.
Having my aunt die was one trauma. Not knowing where to find her life insurance policy was another. Her death was an unavoidable trauma, but this - THIS was an avoidable trauma. If only we had discussed this first thing when we began this process . . . .
Why was the life insurance such a big deal? She had been paying on a $10,000 life policy for years. If I don’t know who her policy is with, and I can’t find that information through every available means known to me, then I can’t make a claim on the policy for my uncle, and he loses that $10,000, in addition to all the premiums my aunt had paid to date, and the funeral costs that came out of his pocket. That’s a lot of money for a working-class retiree to just throw away.
On the 4th of July I left my aunt and uncle feeling that we had accomplished a lot towards getting their affairs in order, but we were still far from completing the task. And since I would be their Clean Up Person (“CUP”), I had skin in the game, as it were.
My aunt died unexpectedly less than a month later. So five weeks after I had left Missouri, I returned to help my sick, grieving uncle figure out where to go from here. My aunt had handled all the finances during their 60-year marriage; my uncle didn’t even know how to pay a bill. He didn’t know how much money he had in their bank account, nor how to find that information. He didn’t know what bills had been paid and what had not, and he didn’t really know what insurance companies were carrying his life, home, and auto policies. Thankfully, my aunt kept meticulous records, but the current information was mixed in with payment receipts and insurance records from 2014. So while I had some information and knew the general area in which to look for missing documents, I felt like I had been given a big ball of twisted yarn, and it was so knotted that I had no idea what string to pull to unravel the information.
It took 3 days to figure out the bills and the bank account and to get things on track to be withdrawn on auto pay. But that darned life insurance information remained elusive until the very end. I was like a hound dog on a scent, and I was NOT going to stop until I found it. At 1:00 p.m. on my last day there, I picked up my last piece of paper, which was an advertisement for a life insurance company. My aunt had written a check to them once, according to one check register I had seen. I had followed up on all other leads that I felt were hotter, but coming up short, I placed a call to this obscure life insurance company I had never heard of. The customer service rep was very nice (unlike many of them). “Oh yes, we have two policies on your aunt.” I was so excited I stopped breathing for a minute. Halleluia praise the Lord - we found it! I’m so thankful this sad story had a happy ending, at least as far as that goes.
For 3 days, my uncle kept saying, “I just don’t know what I would have done without you. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” He was talking about my daily visits, making sure he ate and when he didn’t (which was most of the time), fixing a meal or bringing him a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was talking about being compassionate and quiet when I brought his wife home to him in ashes. (THAT was a hard one, I must tell you.) He meant listening to him ramble on about absolutely nothing because he just liked to talk and he was lonely. He meant letting him cry on those occasions he broke down crying. He meant coming up with a strategy to comfort his grieving dog who had stopped eating. He meant talking to him honestly and without fear or shame about HIS end of life and how he wanted to deal with that now that his wife was dead. He meant dealing with the Social Security Administration, the bank tellers, the funeral home and the lawyers. He saw that I turned myself inside out to make sure his children have an inheritance, and they would not have if I had not stepped in. And he meant that it gave him a thrill to be seen in public with a woman wearing shorts who was 20 years his junior. It’s a male thing I think.
So yes, every now and then, God gives us an opportunity to be a blessing. And if we are fortunate, we get the chance to be a REALLY BIG blessing. It may be hard, inconvenient, frustrating and terribly sad. But really, this is what makes life worth living, you know?
Rest in peace my beloved Aunt Rie.