Is America Burning - a Forum To Discuss Issues

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Family Units Forged By Love, Not By Law nor Blood Relations

What constitutes a family unit? Blood ties? Legal ties? Or bonds of love? I have known families with absolutely horrid relationships. Neither blood nor law guarantees caring, consideration nor responsibility for a loved one.

This is a long post. First is ThomasLB's story, then my story of one of my daughters' experience. It does not involve spousal benefits but does involve death rights.
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Thomas LB's comment to Granny's post below:

ThomasLB said...

I knew two guys who shared an apartment. One was mentally handicapped, one was physically handicapped. They looked after each other and cared for each other. They weren't gay, they were close like brothers.

One of them died. His body was stored for a year at the county morgue, then buried in a pauper's grave. Because they were not related, his friend was not allowed to claim the body and give him a funeral and a headstone.

I wish there was a way for anybody that wanted to call themselves a family to legally accept responsibility for each other.

When going "by the book" hurts people, that damn book needs to be thrown out!

Before I boycott UPS, I'm going to write a polite letter asking them to revisit their policy. (That's really just a formality, like playing the national anthem before a baseball game.)

Monday, July 09, 2007 6:50:00 AM

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I have mentioned here my eldest daughter, the Wild Child, who reached young adulthood during the waning hippie days but embraced the free life style associated with that group. She was a Wild Child indeed and nearly drove me crazy, even more so than her brothers who were inclined to mischief. Wild she was and surfacely tough as nails but with a heart like a marshmallow.

During one of her sweetie relationships she grew to love as a "father-in-law" the sweetie of her "mother-in-law" and maintained the father-daughter relationship with Papa Bear long after both her mother-in-law's and her own sweetie affairs had ended. In time, Papa Bear was afflicted with Lou Gehrig's disease and became more and more dependent on hired outsiders for his physical care. Wild Child would visit him, throw a fit at his condition, clean and trim his long, filthy nails, wash and cut his dirty hair and give him a good soak and scrubbing in the bath tub.

When she discovered that his live-in so called caregivers were robbing the old man and not feeding him properly, she threw one of her famous Wild Child temper tantrums (fearsome events!), packed up Papa Bear bag and baggage and moved him in with her. She was a single mom with 2 elementary aged children living in a two flights up apartment that presented a problem handling a helpless, wheelchair bound patient.

Until 2 days before his death she took devoted care of the old man, bathing and dressing him every morning, spoon feeding him and coping with the increasingly frequent choking episodes, making sure he was adequately hydrated (more choking as his swallowing reflexes failed), taking care of his catheter and diaper situations, hauling him up and down the two flights of stairs - bumpety-thump, bumpety-thump - straining with the effort, taking him to his VA appointments, taking him to places he enjoyed and she cared not a fig at the public's pitying or repulsed reactions, and brought him to my home to visit and watch old WWII documentaries and movies that he loved.

As the disease took its toll and his physical condition deteriorated further and further, his quality of life diminished but she made certain that he derived as much pleasure as possible during his waning days. Yes, it would have been much easier to have him hospitalized at VA but he pleaded so pitiously not to be hospitalized that she yielded to his wishes and gave him home care herself- and a home. He had a family, Wild Child and her children and by extension, our entire family. She even hauled him to our family reunions where he was accepted as one of our elders.

Papa Bear asked her to marry him so she and the children could collect his Social Security benefits, which would otherwise revert to the government. She declined, she told him she didn't want his money. He offered to leave his business to her and she declined that also, as she had no idea how to handle the business. The man handling his business for him absconded and his clients descended like a pack of hyenas and stripped it of everything that they could, especially the machines and inventories.

It was a pity but the Wild Child had no interest in his money nor in being paid for her care of him. She cared for him because she loved him like a father. She was utterly ferocious in defense of him. If he choked in public and she had to attend to the messy business of ramming her fingers down his throat to fish out the offending bit of food or wad of phlegm (no suction machine away from home), woe to anyone who dared gawk in disgust or especially make critical comments. If a Wild Child glare didn't send them on their way, a few well chosen remarks a la Wild Child did (and she had a vocabulary that stood your hair on end!).

She almost caused a riot at VA once when she parked in front to unload Papa Bear and get him into air conditioned comfort in the lobby while she parked in the heat of the parking lot. An officious VA Security Guard hassled her to move the car, even as she was struggling to get Papa Bear out of the car and into the wheel chair. Hot, tired, sweaty, and straining with effort, she eventually exploded into a Wild Child temper tantrum, loudly -and she can be LOUD - informing the guard that Papa Bear has served his country in three wars; the tail end of WWII, Korea, and the beginning of the Vietnam War and she was NOT going to subject him to the heat of the blistering parking lot, etc. etc. A crowd of other vets and families had collected and they took up the war cry. In the face of an imminent riot, the Security Guard hastily disappeared, Wild Child finished unloading Papa Bear and into the lobby, then drove away to properly park on the far side of the crowded parking lot.

Eventually Papa Bear's respiratory abilities began to fail and hospitalization was imperative. He wept and she wept but there was no other option. He survived only 2 more days and she faced the same situation as did Thomas LB's friend. As Wild Child had no legal relationship with Papa Bear and he had no relatives, she was denied any rights to his death care. The VA made arrangements with a funeral home to handle the burial. After she threw a few hissy fits, someone at VA finally gave her the name of the funeral home.

When she contacted the funeral home she found that they had prepared the body and would bury him but there would be no viewing nor funeral service. This occasioned another hissy fit but a weeping, wailing one. "You're just going to take him out and bury him like an old dead stray dog!" she sobbed. The funeral home hastened to contact the American Legion, get a military chaplain and the honor guard for a graveside service. Papa Bear received a very nice euolgy, a 21 gun salute, a flag was presented to the Wild Child, and he had mourners present . Wild Child, her children, her friends, and some of my family attended.

Love and close family bonds do not depend on legal status nor blood relationships. People who love and have close ties should not be denied rights during final hospitalization, death and burials. People who have formed loving committments should have benefits. I have heard an old saying all my life: "there oughta be a law!" There ought to be a law giving rights to loved ones, regardless of "legal" status. GIVE them legal status!

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