Here’s another fun fact. Mom didn’t have a will.

The woman was a financial planner, a fucking CEO, this was the kind of shit she did for a living, yet she didn’t have a will. Everyone was astounded, in shock and total disbelief, yet I understood perfectly. You see, I had inherited the same adeptness at rationalizing situations and packaging them into perfectly constructed cubes of twisted logic then believing, wholeheartedly, that they would deliver the desired outcome.

In her mind, if she had a will, it meant that dying was part of her plan. She had won her first battle with breast cancer, and she fully expected a repeat performance, therefore, a will was unnecessary. A will represented acceptance of defeat as even a remote possibility. That’s twisted logic, fundamentally at it’s core, she believed that she would die if she had a will. I got it, but let me tell you, as her next of kin, it turned my life into a debilitating scavenger hunt.

The next few days after her death were consumed with meetings with bosses and secretaries, banks, attorneys, and scouring through her house for documents, trying to piece together her estate. This was not a woman with a simple checking and savings account and credit card.

I had been paying her bills for her so I had her checkbook and saving account, and that my friends, was it. I had to find her mortgage and find out what she owed on her house, on credit cards, I had to find out what and where all of her many investments were, I had to find out if she even had life insurance. I had to find out the amounts and terms of all of the commissions she was due. All of this from a girl who could barely balance her own checkbook.

As I began to slowly accumulate more information, I still could not access any of it, because again, she didn’t have a will. As her next of kin, I was entitled to her estate, but this was after going through what is known as orphan’s court and petitioning to become her personal representative. This involved countless attorney meetings and incredible amounts of paperwork.

In addition to all of that, I had to sell her house. I was in there every day, sorting and packing, and that was another of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure. She held on to everything, and there were ticking emotional time bombs hiding on every shelf, in every drawer, shoved in every folder. Our old report cards, drawings from elementary school, every Mother’s Day card or craft my brother or I had ever made for her. Apology notes, photographs, a bag of old love letters that my father wrote to her when they were in college. Her closet, her suits and shoes, her smell, her very essence could paralyze me and I would just sit on the floor overwhelmed and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Over the next few weeks after her death, in addition to the scavenger hunt, I went into neurotic, obsessive compulsive planning mode. I was going to have a huge memorial for mom. Not a stuffy service, a party, a celebration of her life, as she had wanted. I began organizing hundreds of photos and making a video tribute, I planned the catering, the bar, the tents, the tables, the flowers, and the music. I printed out her favorite quotes and had them tied to ribbons around the stems of white roses on every table. I hired a bagpiper. I acquired long-lost addresses, made the invitations and sent them out. Befittingly, it was to be on September 3rd, Labor Day, for a woman who had worked so hard.

The memorial was absolutely perfect. It was a beautiful day outside, as friends and family took turns sharing stories, laughs, and memories over the microphone. Cousins played guitar to songs they had written, everybody drank and ate and truly celebrated her life.

The next day, I was tapped out on every level. I hadn’t stopped since the hospital and I knew I was heading for a breakdown if I didn’t get away, grieve, process, and recharge. I needed time to myself. I had never been to a Spa before and that sounded like just what I needed, so I booked a flight to The Ventanya Canyon Resort & Spa in Tucson Arizona for three days of solitude, and I flew out the following Monday.

I flew into Phoenix and rented a car for the two-hour drive to Tucson. It was a thoughtful drive through the dry desert heat, the music was loud, and the wind blew through my hair as the orange sky blanketed the purple mountains. The smell of sage was thick in the air, and for the first time in a month, I felt my shoulders begin to soften.

When I arrived at the hotel, I checked in and was escorted up to my room. It was absolutely beautiful. Spacious, with an oversized bed topped with the whitest, puffiest down comforter I had ever seen. I walked out on the private balcony overlooking the cactus-speckled mountains.

I flopped on the bed and perused the extensive gourmet room service menu, and then I threw on my bathing suit and headed down to the pool for a cocktail and a swim. It was lovely; something about submerging yourself in a cool pool after a long, hot day of travel is like being reborn. I swam for a while, and then lounged on a chaise beside the pool, drinking a few cold bottles of beer while escaping into a delicious book. After I dried off, I returned to my room for a quick change then headed down to the restaurant for dinner.

I sat alone and dined al fresco on the beautiful terra-cotta terrace. I ordered a margarita, and told him to keep them coming. A basket of fresh, warm tortilla chips was placed in front of me as my waiter made tableside guacamole. It was heavenly, I sat there drinking margaritas and eating guacamole until I was spent.

The sun had said goodnight about an hour ago, and I looked up at the inked blanket of indigo, patterned with pinpricks allowing the bright white world behind it to gleam through. I signed for my check and strolled back to my room, and I felt myself smile.

I crawled under the two-story thick puffy white down comforter into the softest sheets my body had ever had the pleasure of sleeping on, and within seconds of turning off the light, I was asleep.

The early morning sunshine crept across the side of my face as I opened my eyes and gazed upon the beautiful mountains. I lay there quietly for a while, taking in their color and shape, before propping myself to a seated position. I grabbed the room service menu, needing coffee and a leisurely breakfast before my scheduled massage, but before I called in my order, I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.

The instant I turned it on, I watched the plane crash into the second tower.

17 replies

  1. Such powerful writing. As someone in Ireland who writes about ‘Losing Elderly Parents, ‘ I can sort of identify but every single, single, single death of a parent is so unique, isn’t it?

  2. I understand the frustration of having a parent not leave a will. I also understand your mother’s and your logic in not making one. My mother is the same way. She knows she should make a will, but she won’t. She has never said why she won’t. But I know it’s because she sees that as giving up on life. In her mind if she makes a will she will die soon after. So eventually she WILL die, without a will. When that happens my 3 siblings will take whatever they want and I will get nothing because I live 1500 miles away and may not find out about her death till way later. Love your writing btw.

  3. Wow – unbelievable timing. My Pop did have a trust but never told any of us what roles we were to play. My youngest brother didn’t know, for example, that he was to make medical decisions. We found everything afterward. It was fortunate because he had remarried a year or so earlier and his new wife was an addict and as tricky as it was working with her through the process, at least we had a legal document to work with. It was so unlike my father to make any preparations – it was one thing he got mostly right.

  4. My mother still had HER school report cards. How do you throw that stuff away? But you can’t hold on to everything forever. I’m struggling with this now and Mum died 4 years ago.

  5. What can I possibly say about this?
    “When it rains it pours” sounds incredibly insensitive, but oddly accurate.
    I’m going to go with that.
    And your mother is very proud of you, by the way, I know these things.

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