My mother took her last breath on Wednesday, May 28th, 2014, just before 9am. Less than seven hours later, my niece went to the bank, accessed my mother’s safe deposit box, and emptied it of its contents, which consisted of nearly $200k in cash, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry and other valuables. Yes, this really happened.
Prior to my mother falling ill, this particular niece and I were not close, but she was certainly one of the few family members I trusted. She came to live with us when we were both in high school. She was a sweet girl, and I loved her. More importantly, she loved my mother, and my mother loved her. Over the past twenty years, our relationship had become marginalized by distance and time, among other things. However, never would I have imagined she’d be capable of such a stunt; never.
Before my Father died, he and my mother had a will constructed naming me the executor, a role that I was never keen on filling, but obliged to nonetheless, as I felt it was my responsibility to them, and the balance of my family. Following my father’s death ten years previously, and leading up to her own death over the next ten years, my mother struggled with what she wanted to do with her money and time. She stayed busy by investing in her church, as well into my niece, and her son, among other family members she’d hoped would find a straighter path.
My mother’s relationship with her three grown daughters, including this niece’s mother, was tumultuous for the most part. Alcohol and drug abuse were primarily the culprit, but it also had to do with childhood trauma, abuse, and a lot of hurt. However, my mother loved all of her daughters equally. All the same, she adopted my half-brother as her own, making five siblings in all. The will my parents had drawn up made each child an equal beneficiary of their estate upon both of their passings. It was definitive and fair.
About 6-8 weeks before my mother died, she contacted me to inform me of the report she’d received from her doctor. I began to travel back and forth to my hometown to help her get her affairs in order. We met with her attorney, who was attempting to help her draft a revision to her will according to her wishes. My niece and I were present in all of those meetings, with exception of when they were discussing how she and I would be treated as beneficiaries.
During those discussions, I, along with my mother’s attorney attempted to assist my mother in deciding to whom, and how her monies and assets would be distributed. As usual, it was very difficult for her, and there were very large swings in who, and how much each person, and/or charitable organization would receive. In one of those meetings, my mother informed me that she was removing me as executor, and replacing me with my niece. I thought nothing of it at the time.
A few days before my mother died, I called her attorney to inform him of her rapidly deteriorating condition. I explained to him that it would likely only be a few days and she’d be gone. A day or two later, he showed up with a revised will and an IRA beneficiary designation, naming me and my niece as sole beneficiaries; something I learned of that morning. Her attorney, his assistant, a bank employee, and another witness entered my mother’s house. My niece and I stayed outside. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, they exited the house, and her attorney informed me she was unable to sign either, and he called it off, based on her condition. At the time she wasn’t speaking, and was taking large doses of pain killers.
Within the hour, I explained to my niece that because my mother had not signed the will, it was as if it never existed. I knew she had a key to the safe deposit box, so I instructed her not to access it for any reason. The assets in the safe deposit box would become property of the estate upon my mother’s passing, and would need to be distributed in accordance with the will. I didn’t want her putting herself or me, as the incoming executor, in a compromising situation.
A couple of days later my mother died. My niece and I, along with our spouses went to the funeral home to make arrangements for the service. My wife and I left, and headed home. My niece and her husband went straight to the bank. Never said a word to me or anyone else about it then, or for the next several weeks. It was only when I confronted her a few weeks later was she forced to fess up, and did so only in part.
Knowing I was to be sworn in as executor, it was my job to ensure that all assets were safe, and under my direct control. I needed to confirm that my niece had not accessed the safe deposit box at anytime following my mother’s death, as it would not allow the family to access it together for the first time to take an inventory and distribute the assets in accordance with the will. When I confronted her, she immediately became defensive and isolated, and from that day on, I have not spoken to her again. I pleaded with her through text messages, emails, and voice mails to talk to me about what had occurred, because following being sworn in as executor, I would have no choice to expose her. She never broke the silence. In fact, she attempted to convince my entire family of things that later proved to be untrue, so the story goes.
I was sworn in as executor, we filed a restraining order, accessed the box to find it empty. Months later in front of a judge, my niece was cold and calculated. She claimed that the contents of the safe deposit box were a gift. Her actions proved anything but. We found out that day in court that she had accessed the safe deposit box, emptied it, moved it to another box in the same bank with only her name on it. Later, she came back to the bank, and removed all of the cash and most of the valuable items and took them to anther bank. She never mentioned a word of any of this until she was confronted. On more than one occasion following my mother’s unsuccessful execution of the revised will, my niece would proclaim, “I don’t even care about the money.” I thought it was quite strange then, but it makes a lot more sense now.
Nearly a year later, my family has settled with my niece. It cost our family nearly $100k in legal fees to get back what belonged to our family to begin with. In the end, my niece traded her entire family for a little money, a few pieces of my mother’s jewelry, a trailer park, and two tons of heartache. All by her own choosing.
I’ve experienced divorce, and I’ve experienced death, and both have brought the worst out in the people I trusted the most. I can’t imagine ever being able to forgive my niece, but time is a gracious soul. Of all the time she spent with my mother, she obviously missed out on the things she stood for without fail; honesty, character, and integrity.
Here’s what you’ve been waiting for…
I’m embarrassed by all the things I’ve thought and wanted to say to my niece. I’m hurt that someone I trusted so much betrayed me, and what I feel like is my mother for some silver, so to speak. Reminds me of a story I once read. What’s most disturbing is that my niece is heavily involved in her church, has taught classes for women, and worked with another church member who received $100k from my mother six weeks before she died, and also claimed it a gift. How convenient. Many of these church members showed up at court to “support” my niece, clearly not knowing all the facts of the case, which don’t marry well with their doctrine.
I’m angry, but a small voice in my head reminds me that this too shall pass, and it’s not my responsibility to right other people’s wrongs; that every person will one day answer for their actions, and that in forgiveness there is healing. That small voice is my mother, reminding me that love is the answer. Maybe she’s right…just maybe.
On May 28th, 2014 at around 8:30am, my mom took her last breath. I put my hand on her chest and left it there until I could no longer feel her faint heartbeat. She went out of this world with all but one of those she brought into the world by her side. A week prior was the first diagnosis she’d received; colon cancer, stage four. It wasn’t my mother who received the news first, it was me. Six days later, she was gone. She didn’t drink, smoke, and ate rather healthily, but cancer couldn’t care less.
During the last week of my mother’s life on earth, there was sadness, forgiveness, togetherness, and lots of remembering. I listened as each family member reflected on their own unique relationship with the matriarch of our family.
Last fall was when my mother began to experience pain in her side and lower back. For ten years, she left her diabetes diagnosis go untreated, and when she finally went to the doctor for her pain, she argued with them about further testing. If you knew her, this certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to hear, as she was a stubborn woman. Knowing what we know now, it’s very possible that my mother would still be alive today had she gone in for extensive testing and treatment. However, that’s not what my mom wanted. Her lack of action to seek the medical attention her body was requesting may in fact be the only selfish act my mother carried out; maybe.
A month before she died, she had a liver scan that indicated she had dozens of lesions, which immediately concerned her doctor that not only did she have cancer, but that it hadn’t originated in the liver. When she called to tell me, I asked her how she felt, and she said without hesitation, “excited.” When I asked why she was excited, I already knew the answer; “because I’m ready to see Jesus.”
Over the course of the next four weeks or so, I spent as much time with her as possible, and watched as she hurried to do things for family and strangers alike that demonstrated her selflessness and concern for others. She struggled to do right by her children with what she was leaving behind, as she wrestled to manage the pain in her ailing body. She said many times that she knew she was going to die, but I’m not sure if she believed it, or wanted it so. I know I didn’t.
Not only was I her youngest child, I was her only biological son. As a boy, she instilled in me the values I still hold true today. Be honest, fair, just; forgive those who wrong you, turn your other cheek, help those who can’t help themselves, etc. When I became a man, and began to evolve spiritually and mature mentally and emotionally, our relationship changed, but never did the mutual love and respect we had for each other. My father’s death, my divorce, and the death of my faith were the three things that greatly challenged our relationship, however, we made it through all of it by communicating how these life events shaped what we needed from one another. In all my years as my Mother’s son, I’m grateful that I never allowed our differences to compromise the relationship that begun when I was just a boy.
Here is what I wrote and recited for my Mom’s Eulogy:
If I only had One word to describe my mom it would be…Selfless
Never did she live a day without serving others. Even in her passing,
she served those closest to her and remained concerned with those who
depended on her stability most.
She lived a life of purpose. A lighthouse to her family, friends,
church and community.
Her faith was immovable. Even for those who didn’t believe as she, her
genuinity and conviction was irrefutable and undeniable. She was in
love with the one who loved her most, and who have her purpose.
She served family and strangers without prejudice. She was a giver.
She was strong. Not only could she outwork most men in the room, she’d
do so without one complaint.
She was rich. She would always remind us that her father owned the
cattle of ten thousand hills.
She was wise. Life experience, street smarts, and some attitude made
her a person of interest. Never have I met a person that knew her that
didn’t love her, respect her, and was touched by her testimony or act
To the family:
She is gone but not forgotten, for she lives on in us. I can see her
in each of you, in me, and those who will only know her through the
stories we tell of how they remind us of her. My challenge is that we
become half the woman she was. For us, for our children, and for her.
No words will take away the pain, or the loss, and time has met its
match. So we grieve. Our hope is that what she believed so deeply is
Since her death, my heart is filled with sadness. That she will never meet my soon to be born son August. Never will she sleep in the room we built just for her. Our Tuesday afternoon calls have ceased, and there is now a hole in my heart that I will attempt to fill by sharing stories about her with those who will listen. Whether I see her again is something I am unsure about, but then again, all I have to do is close my eyes, look in the mirror, or in the faces and actions of my children to see her legacy live on. In honor of my Mother, we’re naming our son August.
My Dad died September 21, 2005. He was 66 years old; I was 27. His passing devestated my Mom, and ultimately led to our family becoming even more estranged. I never knew my Dad was the glue that held our family together; I never knew he was my hero. Today would have been his 75th birthday. I think of him often, possibly even daily. I miss him. I miss having a Father, especially now that I am a Father. So I reflect.
Growing up, my Dad wasn’t a big part of my life. We seldom played catch, or spent quality time together. He took me hunting a few times, and occasionally we’d go fishing. We didn’t watch sports together, and although he did attend many of my games, he never took a genuine interest in me, or the things I was interested in. You see, my Dad was an addict, and his addiction robbed him, and his family of many things, however, somehow, he managed to function in society, build a business, provide for a family, and most of all, he loved us. I vividly remember watching him so desperately try to get back all he’d lost in his dying hours. I swore I’d never let anything come between me and my family, but I did. I am the son of an addict who for the past 15 years have too battled with addictive tendencies and selfish behavior. I am my Father.
I remember feeling angry at him for many years, and even at times today because of the life he chose. He wasn’t there for the birth of my kids, he wasn’t there through my divorce. But I got over the anger, and now I just feel sad. Sad, he’ll never meet my wife Ashley, who would have been his trusted ally. Sad that our children will have to learn of him through pictures on the wall and memories we share of him. Even now, I weep.
I’ve made many mistakes since my Dad’s death. With the business, my family, and myself. However, in the past few years, I’ve grown in as many or more ways. For the first time in a long time, I feel happy…I feel fulfilled. I’m learning how to live life to the fullest, to speak my mind with love on my tongue, and be comfortable in my own skin. I’m beginning to see the good that came from the bad, and people let me tell you…there are good things to come. At my Dad’s funeral, I read a poem I wrote. It reads as follows…
I can only imagine… what life will be without him. Shoes too big to fill; an act too hard to follow; a life never to be outlived. A great man; a captor of the hearts of people. Filling every room he entered with an energy only described by experience. A mystery to many, a legend to all. As he epitomized the American dream, generosity never escaped him. Simplicity was his suit, hard work his trump. A leader’s leader, a deal-maker, a lover of life. Hard-nosed, but loving. Opinionated, but kind. Confident, but not arrogant. Proud but not boastful. A patriarch. Never will he be replaced, and life on earth for those who knew and loved him, will never be the same. However, pushing through our grieving, we must celebrate. Because in death, there is life, for all those who believe. He believed in the one who came that we may have life; that is Jesus Christ. He accepted the free gift that is available to all of us. But like you, I still wonder, what is he doing now?
I can only imagine.
Although some things have changed, all of the things I wrote about my Dad nearly nine years ago remain true. He was an incredible man. He touched the lives of so many through his huge personality and generous heart. Although he wasn’t the type of Father that coached my little league baseball team, I learned a lot about life, and although he and I were very different in some ways, we are similar in many more.
He was funny, generous, and very affectionate. He’d cut my fingernails in church, and take me for grape juice when I was suppose to be in trouble, and of course, he’d smoke on the way to and from. He taught me how to sell, and always said…”if you learn how to sell, you’ll never be out of a job.” He was right. He taught me how to make it on my own by telling me no, however, I always knew he would be there if I really needed him. I could go on and on about my Dad, and probably will for the rest of the day with family and friends. When you lose someone, all the things that drove you crazy are exactly the things you miss most.
So Dad, if you can here me. I love you. Dad, I miss you so much. I still pick up the phone to call you before realizing I can’t. I miss your laugh, your heart, and sitting on the porch with you. I miss picking you up for breakfast. I wish you could meet Ashley, Kyson, and Sariah. Oh and Dad…Ashley’s pregnant! Ashley told me not to tell anyone, but I can’t stop. I’m trying very hard to be the man I want to be; a loving Father and Husband, but I often fail. I took over the business you built, and did some cool things before having to sell the company. It was a very difficult decision, but I didn’t have much choice. I’ve tried to look after Mom, but she seems to be handling herself fairly well. I know how much you loved her, and she talks about you all the time. Dad, I’m not sure if Heaven is real, but I sure hope it is, so I can see you again. Life on earth isn’t the same without you. I love you Dad.