Obituary Sunday

Kathy’s obituary was in the paper last Sunday, October 18th. I was wondering if it would make me sad, but it was okay. I thought it was expensive. But, 1. there was nothing I could do about it. 2. Obits keep the newspapers in business. And 3. the one thing I wanted to accomplish was to let people know about Kathy’s life and her art. 

obituaryI went out for breakfast at a Panera Restaurant in East Longmeadow. I got there and realized that this was the last place Kathy and I had gone out to eat together. I remember wheeling her in her transport chair. She could still feed herself then. It is in an old blog post. As I sat drinking my coffee, there were several men my age or older reading their newspapers and sipping their coffees. A few were eating breakfast. They were talking to each other. But they were each at different tables. I wondered if they were widowers like me. Or did they just want to get away from their families? It’s fun to speculate.

When I got home the leaves were falling from one of our big maples like snowflakes. Some trees seem to let go all at once.

Then a few hours later it snowed a little. New England weather.

leaves-martyThen the sun came back out and I raked, mowed and blew the leaves around. Marty worked on his tan for a while. I usually have to do several passes with the mower throughout the fall to mulch the leaves. Then I blow the leaves into compost piles or into Les Jardins (the weeds). When I was done, I came in and folded some laundry and tried to sort through some more of Kathy’s clothes. I had avoided opening one closet because it had some of her nicer clothes and sweaters in there. At first it was fine: Her sweaters and a pair of her cowboy boots. I flashed back to when she wore them about three or four years ago. She loved shopping at thrift stores even when we could afford to go to other places. She liked the fact that you never knew what would be on the racks there.

pursepurse-HDcardFor some reason seeing her purse made me a little sad. It was pretty much the way she had left it several years ago, hanging inside the closet door. Once she stopped driving and using the ATM she stopped needing to carry a purse. It was all she could do to hang on to me or to a handrail. I carried her identification and health insurance cards. Her reading glasses and wallet were still in there. There was a card I had filled out for her that said “I have Huntington’s Disease.” The back of it explained that if she was acting or walking funny, she was sick and not drunk. And there was a yellow Livestrong bracelet that someone must have given her. I guess she got along fine without it.

I pulled out the window air conditioner that had been in her room. I washed off the fans we had used during the summer. Then I cleaned and closed a few storm windows. 

On Monday morning, I tried to figure out my funeral home problem. I just wanted more information to see if I had been:
1. taken
2. fleeced
3. raked over the coals. Or
4. was that a reasonable price for a ride to Cambridge in a van?

I made a number of calls. I called the local newspaper, The Springfield Republican, to see if the $600 obituary price was in line. I found out that the actual price would probably come to about $580. So, the funeral guy had estimated it very close. I put in a call to Harvard Medical School to make sure Kathy actually made it to Harvard. I finally heard back from them the following week. They apologised for not responding sooner. Yes, Kathy arrived at the med school the night she passed away and I will receive some information this week. Next, I called UMass Medical School (our original choice) to see what they thought about the funeral home charges. They explained that, “… If UMass had been able to accept Kathy’s body, it would indeed have been free. We have negotiated with a few funeral homes in the Worcester area to transport the donated body for the $600 stipend.” He added, “I can’t tell you how many times a family is shocked about a funeral bill. It’s always because they called a funeral home on their own.”  I called Mercy Hospice and Sam, the social worker happened to answer. He and Rebekah, the previous chaplain had suggested the body donation almost  a year ago as a way to save money. He said in hindsight we could have hired Casper Cremations in Boston to handle it for half that price and Kathy’s brain still could have gone to the brain bank. MassHealth might have paid for the cremation too.

Then the guy from the funeral home called just “to see how I was holding up.” I said.

“Honestly I am pretty upset about what I paid!”

I told him if I had known how much that was going to be, I might have figured something else out. I said, “You told me over the phone about the $600 stipend. And you said if it goes over that ‘we will work with you on it.’ I guess it is my fault because I did not ask for an estimate. I was vulnerable and wasn’t thinking.” I mentioned Casper Cremations and he got a little testy…“Casper isn’t a real funeral home. They drive around and throw the body in a van with other bodies! (From what I have learned and read, that is not the case. A number of hospices work with Casper.)  We went back and forth on what items he thought he could reduce. I told him I was worried about my mortgage and I get food assistance. I wanted a thousand off, but he did reduce it by $815. 

He said, “$815 should help you. Nobody gets a thousand dollar discount from me.”

Later that afternoon I went over to Fred, my lawyer’s office. He wanted to see the invoice and the other things on the price list. He felt that I was within my rights to question the “Basic services charge of $2400.” In a regular funeral, there are a number of services that the staff provides. They write the obituary, help you select music and set up a church service, decide on flowers, food and a lot of logistical details. The funeral home gets the death certificates and contacts Social Security. But in Kathy’s case, she was picked up and brought straight to Harvard. My brother and I wrote the obituary. So, Fred just wanted an accounting of what they actually did.

Letter to funeral home (10-20-15)On my way home I stopped to mail a deposit to the credit union. We were paying our mortgage and the car loan with Kathy’s Social Security check. I didn’t know if the government was going to take away her October check or just stop the future payments. My contact at the credit union told me that they don’t take it away once it has been deposited. But then she said,”… At least to the best of my knowledge.” No one could guarantee anything about anything. So I figured better safe than bounce-a-roo.   

bedAfter I got home the medical supply company came to pick up the hospital bed and the oxygen equipment. I told the guy that it was good I didn’t sell or donate the bed. “Your office said I owned it.” He double checked. The bed was still theirs, but I own the Hoyer lift. Once the bed was taken out, Kathy’s room felt really empty. I rolled up the carpet, so I could clean the floor and there was a little bit of an echo. That evening I had pizza over at Fred’s house with Ken, a friend of his. We exchanged caregiving stories. Ken had taken care of his dad. And Fred had helped out when his sister had cancer. We didn’t talk law or the funeral home crap.

I did eat too much pizza. The good news was that I still had most of Kathy’s Prilosec.

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