LXXXIII. The Fourth Walnut Tree

August 21, 2012 — This is a story difficult to write, because I find the situation humiliating. Nevertheless, I believe it must be told; it is the coda of caregiving for many caregivers, the ones who have sacrificed their lifestyles, their means of producing an income; indeed, everything that has gone before, to care for the one in need. It’s like you’re in a dark cave for the duration of your loved one’s suffering. You don’t get to go out into the world often, to socialize or shop, and you don’t have time to follow world and local news details. Moreover you’re old and getting older, most likely a senior citizen yourself.

Caregiving is a lonely business. When your loved one dies, caregiving does not end; your loved one goes away leaving you to clean up the fallout. Just as in the succeeding states of an illness, there exist succeeding states of caregiving. First there are the details of the funeral to attend to, then the death notifications, then the family feud over the deceased’s estate — in my case the quart bucket of money. Now there is the house, it’s mortgage. Emma left a life insurance policy, which paid her funeral expenses. That is all. Her Social Security and pension have ceased, meaning that I have lost two-thirds of the income required to pay the mortgage and the other household expenses. The house was in both our names, joint tenancy. Right outside my window inky, burping bank vultures hover, their wings arched, their red eyes glowering through the panes at me. The caregiving fallout must be dealt with alone. A solo performance is this coda.

While I was preoccupied working with the bank, I hadn’t noticed that the red berries are starting to appear on the North American dogwood outside my window. As I write this I watch a squirrel feasting on them, bouncing on the thin branches, as if on a seesaw.

The bank refuses to work with me. They blew me off. I tried a federal government Housing and Urban Development recommended nonprofit advocacy through which a very kind young man advocated for me with the bank. My only hope was to get reduced mortgage payments for six months (a forbearance) until my Begins the Night Music book sales plus other endeavors I implement – writing tutoring, writing workshops — produce enough income. Should I still fall short income at the end of the six months, then the plan would be to institute a mortgage modification, meaning a refinancing. No cigar.  My income wasn’t high enough.

I made the mistake of paying every cent I had towards the mortgage, leaving enough for food, heating oil and utilities; that payment equaled half the monthly mortgage installment. In one of a series of letters the bank has sent me, they stated that they cannot credit my account with a partial payment. I really needed that money. Did they return it? Of course not. They’re using it. I suspect it will be deposited into the escrow. Nonetheless, I am now a month behind. Someone suggested I skip one month and pay the next—too late now, then I’d be only one month behind rather than the two months I will be two weeks from now. The bank will begin foreclosure proceedings once two consecutive months of mortgage are not paid. Their stinky breath is smoking down the back of my neck.

I was able to through the state Department of Health and Social Services qualify for food stamps. Less humiliating than in the old days with all those coupons you had to tear out of books, these days you are issued a debit card. This one has a pretty photograph of the Delaware Bay marshes on it; it looks like one of the photos I have taken.

I also qualified to have my $105 Medicare Part B deduction from my monthly Social Security check paid for by Medicaid, as well as the $250 deductible.

But these benefits are not just dropped in your lap. You have to deal with the Social Services petty tyrants who cloud you with confused information and are required to undergo bully training as part of their hiring process. For example, the DHSS supervisor informed me that under no circumstances was I to refer to the two young women behind the reception area window – no doubt bullet proof – as girls. I was to refer to them as ladies. As for this supervisor, I was not to call her by her first name, rather to call her Ms. – Ms. Pretentious: “I am calling you Ms.,” she pointed out. I wanted to tell her that it was OK that she call me by my first name; I was not so lacking in self-esteem. But I stopped short: they’d put me in one of the state institutions and then I wouldn’t have to worry about keeping this house.

It’s a shame. This is a nice old Victorian house. It is a happy, friendly, kind, sheltering house. It has good vibrations, quartering friendly spirits. It has been good to me.

I love sitting out on the front porch in the summer beneath the walnut tree growing in my flowerbed there. This is the fourth walnut tree that has grown in that bed. The squirrels exchange my tulip bulbs for walnuts. I have planted one of those trees in my backyard; it is happy, graceful and beautiful back there. I gave another to our Hospice nurse, Tess, for she owns a large property with a woods. The third tree I donated last year to St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware, the setting of the 1989 movie Dead Poets Society. If they make another movie there, you’ll see my tree. This year’s tree I don’t know what to do with yet, but come November when it goes dormant it is going to have to find another home; and I am not going to destroy it: it is a beautiful tree, about 10 feet tall, reaching above the rain gutter. Hopefully it will leave this house before I do.

—Samantha Mozart