EPISODE 23 — Until Death…

CJ and I were busy with several bodies to get ready for various services, trips to airports, or visitations. It seems like when it rains, it pours. You never know what is in store when Death is at the helm.


The intercom rang for CJ…Mr. Becker said to get the first-call van loaded and ready for a house call in the boondocks. As soon as Bill arrived, we were off and down the road. Most city folks have a house number that is visible; it could be painted on an eave, the curb, or on a mailbox at the end of a driveway. Not so in the far-out rural areas. We had to track the mileage on the odometer and then count fence posts or phone poles once onto the dirt roads leading from the main highway. We pulled up into the driveway of a doublewide trailer surrounded by sheds and a yard full of animals. There was a small pond in front with a duck and some ducklings, two dogs, a goat, and a sheep. A lazy cat stretched out on a porch step.

An older woman opened the torn screen door. She had a weather beaten, lined face. A cigarette smoldered in an over-full ashtray on the kitchen table. The house was cluttered, if not a bit crowded with bric-a-brac, magazines, and old newspapers. More overflowing ashtrays scattered about the room. CJ took the information from the hospice nurse who was in the bedroom with Mr. Clarke. Bill went back to the van to get the gurney. Cause of death was no surprise: metastatic carcinoma of the lungs.



CJ walked back into the living room and spoke to the woman, “Mrs. Clarke? Will you be coming into the office this afternoon to finish the paperwork and completing the final details of the arrangements for Mr. Clarke?” The woman said she’d have to call Mr. Clarke’s only daughter, Beverly, from a previous marriage. Then, perhaps she’d be able to get a better idea of things.

“Bev is John’s daughter from his first wife. She does not speak to me. Even though John and I have been together for thirty-three years that girl refuses to recognize or respect me,” lamented the woman.

A little later, a woman arrived, said she was here to take care of her father’s details. She had a long, thin face, and sterile blue eyes. Her hair was combed back into a severe pony tail, lending more harshness to her features. The dour expressionless face of this woman only added years to her age.  Her demeanor was devoid of any warmth. She set about tying up the father’s pre-need arrangements without a word more than was required as she tersely answered occasional questions.

Mr. Becker asked Bev about Mrs. Clarke. Would she be coming in to sign a couple of papers? Bev snapped back, “Of course NOT. I am the legal next-of-kin, she is NOT!” Mr. B looked puzzled. “My father took up with that Helen woman some thirty odd years ago; however, they were never married. They merely lived together, that is all. I never could abide by that living arrangement; I found it impossible to talk Dad out of her. Mom was barely cold in her grave when he brought this awful woman home to live with him.”  Bev finished signing the various papers and consent forms. There would be no memorials. Only a simple cremation, with the cremated remains to be given to Bev.  No obituary notice. That was it.

Now it was easy to see what created this vitriol in Bev. Her father found another love soon after the death of her mother and she found this to be unforgiveable.

 A couple of weeks later, a call came from a very distraught “Mrs. Clarke,” who was served with a formal eviction notice ordering her to vacate the only home she’d known for decades. She wanted to know if this was ‘legal’, being she was Clarke’s ‘common-law’ wife. Mr. B tried to calm the poor woman down, while he attempted to explain that in this state there was no such thing as ‘common-law’ marriage and that the law did not recognize such a status. He suggested she find an attorney… regretted he could not be of more help; grimly, he hung the phone up.

 Mr. Clarke’s daughter had the legal right to strip this poor woman of her home and any of the belongings she had accumulated with Mr. Clarke over the years. How unfortunate that Bev harbor such deep resentment that she lose her humanity and heart! She lived 2500 miles away, without any need to keep the home for herself; why was she compelled to oust the poor woman who had nowhere else to go? Surely, Mr. Clarke wouldn’t have wanted this for the lady who stood beside him in sickness and health, who shared many years of mutual affection and happiness. Or would he? One had to wonder why this was allowed to happen in this way.

We never heard from Mr. Clarke’s daughter or Helen again. A lot of years have since passed…

 However sad, it was an example that we shared with others who invoked or assumed a ‘common-law’ marital status in dealing with us. All people need to familiarize themselves with laws and statutes that cover personal rights, protections, and legal responsibilities. Ignorance is not an option. It’s the enemy.

©C.S.Thompson, 2013.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common-law_marriage_in_the_United_StatesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4 Responses to “EPISODE 23 — Until Death…”

  1. A sad story that someone should want to deprive a surviving parent of happiness, especially when they live so far away and that parent is on their own. It’s a timely reminder that everyone should make a will, if possible a living will which is quite easy to do but a normal will is so easy when the basic forms can be bought from ebay and you just need witnesses to the signature. You may want your children to inherit, but you can at least ensure your unmarried partner has somewhere to live as long as they survive you.
    xxx Hugs little mouse and CJ xxx


    • Oh how right you are…but the thing about the topics which imply our own mortality: ssshhhh! don’t say a thing! Let’s not talk about THAT…lest it bring bad luck and something ‘bad’ to happen! People are uncomfortable talking about end-of-life issues and discussing our own eventual demise someday. IF ONLY folks could tackle the topic, put things into writing, and then go on with living their lives as usual afterward there would be a lot more peace of mind given to the many of us who will be affected. It is the responsible way to handle one’s personal affairs, just as one handles other important tasks life presents us with. End-of-life issues are an 800-pound gorilla in the room which everyone is afraid of.


  2. “But I’m the POA!”

    I hear this a lot. It’s mostly the kids who were their parent’s POA when said parent was alive and they dont realize that the legal protection that affords ends (most of time) at death and ohnoes now the evil step parent is making all the calls again!

    This, by the way, is why I’m a HUGE advocate for gay marriage. I’m sure lots of people want this protection, but they aren’t allowed and the situations can get downright heartbreaking. It takes a lot of time and money to make sure someone who isn’t your legal spouse has the right to act as your next of kin.


  3. When I worked in the ER at the hospital I watched time after time when a couple would come in … who had lived many years together… try to make legal decisions to find out… they did not have any rights. I watched the shock, anger, upset… time after time. I wondered ‘when do people learn… living together, not married…doesn’t give you any rights at all’.


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