Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Morality-Mortality Tale

Something happened a week ago that caused the thin ice I've been skating on to crack beneath me, and crack so deeply that I have been staring down into the deep, dark waters that have been threatening to suck me under. I have been trying to navigate through it and ignore it, or at least push it to the back of my mind until at last the fissure seals over. I have blogged a couple of times, I've watched football, I've mowed the lawn, I've gone to work like always, I've even driven to Houston and back to see U2, but really, nothing has helped. This event has overshadowed everything. Finally, last night as I tried to work on a draft post I had started the night before, I found I could not type a word, and I knew I would have to examine this event to be able to move past it.

So, here goes my tale: it actually begins well over a year ago when the banks began to pull back on loans and the economy began to teeter on the brink of whatever that is that happened to it - recession, depression, call it what you will. A business venture I am involved in began to feel the stress, and this once seemingly solid investment began to look more tenuous. Our managing partner tried to refinance the loan, with no success. Our long standing source of income fell away, and our potential buyer could not get financing. Things now look very dire. Our managing partner has lent the venture a considerable amount to keep it afloat while trying to navigate a way through this difficult period. I have lent it a small amount myself, and all of us have hoped and prayed a miracle would happen to see us through and salvage what we had all hoped would be a major source of income for our eventual retirement. I worry about it, but it has definitely been on the furthest back burner for me. Until last Monday that is when I received an e-mail asking me for a bridge loan. When I saw the amount, I felt that loud crack as the proverbial ice shattered beneath me. I thought I had misunderstood, so I re-read it. No, that really is the amount he was requesting. His reasoning was that I could access it through my mother's account.

Now, let me linger here for a moment. In this regard, I have been highly fortunate. My father left my mother financially secure. Since she became a widow in 1992, she has had been able to live comfortably and do just about what ever she pleased, which includes buying some really ridiculous, useless things that sat around her apartment, often never used. I wonder sometimes how much she actually squandered away on such dust gathering trinkets, but she was self sufficient, so I figured it was her own business. Now, of course, her business is my business, and like everyone else, her interests took a rather shocking hit last year. And, now it costs a lot more for her room and board, given that she requires constant care. While she is still secure for the moment, there is a bottom to the well, and I worry about what will happen when we reach it. I worry because I have to at least consider and plan that she will live another several years. And, I want to make sure she is comfortable and her needs are met to the very end of those years. That may or may not be able to happen. The national average cost for nursing home care is $188.00 per day. The median net wage earned in 2008 was approximately $108.00 per day. If our parents don't have their own retirement funds, then it falls to us to pay for their care, and then how are we to live? Well, hopefully, there are several people pitching in, but what about those of us who have no siblings? I had just finished taking the steps to protect her from herself and make sure she could not access her own funds, worrying that she would do something along the lines of purchasing another El Diablo-type nightmare (recall the possessed van sitting in my drive?). What I was asked to lend would involve me liquidating about 20% of her remaining assets. Granted it was a loan, but despite what my partners might try and say, I judged it to be a risky one, and, if she were of the mind to consult about it, she would not approve. So, I said no, and you might think, after fuming a bit over the moxie it took to ask for something like that, I would be able to let it go. But nothing has been the same since. Because for me it opened up a whole plethora of moral complexities.

I have supported the health care reform debate based on our personal experiences. I have told the story about how I had to look at my daughter and tell her I didn't have the money to help her any longer. I know that maybe all the money in the world wouldn't have helped her. But, maybe just one more time in treatment, and it would've all clicked. Maybe if she could have gone back to the specialist who helped her initially, that would have been enough. A lot of maybes, but I'm pretty sure I know one thing for certain. If I had enough money to send Kelsey off for one last month in residential treatment, she would be alive today. But, I didn't. Mother did. So, should I have taken it? Should I have risked bankrupting my mother to save my daughter? What lengths should I have gone to? My mother-in-law used to encourage me to ask Mother for financial help, but this disease is hard for most people to understand. For Mother's generation, the ones who clawed and scraped their way through Depression and war, it's unfathomable. Seeing through to the underlying factors that cause someone to become eating disordered is not something Mother, even before her dementia deepened, could do. Despite that, Mother did help initially. She lent me the initial payment to Kelsey's first eating disorder clinic. She continued to be very generous to Marissa. But, along the way, she grew to dislike Kelsey. She saw The Beast. She couldn't see the girl underneath anymore. She didn't see the pain. There was too much fog there. Even Kelsey never dared to suggest I dip into Mother's assets. It wasn't talked about, it wasn't thought about. It just wasn't a possibility. Now, thanks to that e-mail, I can think of very little else.

Only just this morning could I step back far enough to realize what it must have taken for my partner to ask, and to ponder why he believes he had to. I know he's afraid. He has a lot more at stake than the rest of us. I can, at last, make the case I think he would make to me about why it is a right and acceptable thing to do (he has tried to call since, but I won't even listen to the voice mail). I still won't do it, but I can at last stop being so angry. At him anyway. But, what about at myself?

I had two competing interests in my hands, both as fragile as though they were hummingbird eggs. Did I crush the one to protect the other? And do you protect a woman who is at the end of her journey at the expense of someone who has yet to begin hers? Is the choice I made tantamount to murder? And how do I live with that? I don't know. I really don't.

1 comment:

  1. Well, first there are some flaws in the box you've build yourself into. You state you know if Kelsey had another month in treatment she would be alive today. You could not know or have known that. Anymore than you know the place and time of anyone else's death. Second, you didn't have control of your mother's money at the time so it wasn't an option for you to take it. And no, the choices you made are not tantamount to murder. You did not seek to take the life of another person, nor did your actions or inaction cause Kelsey's death. Her death was due to the ravages of a horrific illness. You don't get to decide who lives and who dies, or how they live or die.

    You can only do what you did- the best you could with what you had. Should you have stolen from someone else in order to provide more, despite what it might do to that person and what it might or might not have done for another? I think you know the answer to that based on the decision you made, that being, no one has the right to take or destroy another's life or property, or judge it worthy/unworthy, in order to benefit themselves or another person or persons. Where would we stop? Who gets to judge if someone has lived long enough? Who gets to decide who is worthy of more and who is not worthy? Do we simply start taking from others because we can and we have a need?

    I say no. As much as we may think it will help, we don't KNOW that it will. But we do know that it is wrong to steal or to rend from those who trust us or even from those who don't. We do know we have diminished that person and in a way the person we would have benefit from the taking, whether ourselves or someone else. The taking diminishes everything. All relationships, family, friends, community, society are based on one precious thing - trust. If that isn't there, then what is left and why?

    How do we live with this? How do we live with the "what ifs?" By understanding and accepting all we can do is the best we can with what we have and what we know moment to moment to moment. We have to remember this, because even hindsight is not 20/20. It is blurred with want, grief, doubt, and love.