After a long three days in the Intensive Care Unit, it was good to be home. My cousin Jody and I sprawled out on the multiple sofas in the formal living room of my now late mother’s McMansion. Jody passed me a cranberry Mike’s Hard Lemonade.
“To our other cousin, Mike,” she said, tipping hers to her lips.
“To Mike.” The bubbles felt cool to my throat, a welcome change from hospital coffee. “Always there when you need him, that’s our Mike.”
“Speaking of there when you need him, where did your sister go?”
“Probably trying to find out what time the bank opens so she can raid the safety deposit box.” My sister had already been scoping Mom’s house and I noticed a few pieces of jewelry were already missing.
The phone rang, which startled us a bit. I for one, was not expecting a call after midnight. My mother’s friends, who had been checking up on her all day, were all in bed by 8:30.
“Hello, I am looking for Cara Turnbridge.” The voice on the phone was male and syrupy, like a used car salesmen sensing a sale.
I acknowledged that it was me and he continued. “This is Harold Mercer at Arbor Rest. I just wanted to let you know that your mother has gotten here safely.”
I just about bit my lip. Jody looked at me, concerned.
“Um, yeah, thanks for letting me know. Should I bring by the clothing tomorrow?”
“Yes, and we need to go over the arrangements. Come at your convenience, I know you have had a rough day, and just call about thirty minutes before you come and we can make sure you don’t have to wait.”
I hung up the phone. “That was the funeral home. Mom has arrived safely.” Jody spewed hard lemonade all over herself. I would have done the same if I had been drinking.
“Even in death, she has to let you know she got there.” Jody snorted when she laughed. That was why she was my favorite cousin.
“Me, I am surprised she didn’t need to call for directions.” This made Jody snort more. “I can hear her now, ‘Was it the Arbor Rest or Rest Ever funeral home? Should I have turned left on Airline Drive?”
Jody patted the throw pillows on the sofa she sat on. It was white leather, the leather being the only reason there wasn’t protective plastic on it, and the pillows were various shades of tasteful gray. “I don’t think I have ever sat in this room before.”
“I did once, when she first bought this furniture suite. But that was five minutes. But we are family and therefore we go immediately to the family room.”
“What will you do with all this?”
“There is a will, so there is a way.”
Jody laughed a got up with her empty Mike’s bottle. She reached for mine. “I see what you did there. You should call your brother and let him know she arrived safely.”
I handed Jody my empty and looked at the time on my iPhone. A couple of clicks and I knew it wasn’t quite time for my brother to get up. He was at The Hague where he worked as a human rights attorney, although we teased him mercilessly that he was secretly CIA and the attorney gig was just his cover. “Think I should wake him or wait until he is already in stressed attorney mode?”
“Wake him before we spend so much time with Mike that you are slurring your speech.”
He didn’t seem quite awake when he answered. “Hmfroo?”
I told him it was over. After severe kidney failure, we followed the living will directive and let nature take it’s course.
“Cara, did you lock the valuables at the house? Brittney will clean it out…”
“She got the jewelry already.” I took a swig of the new bottle of Mike’s that Jody handed me. “But everything else should be okay. Brittney is too big to wear mom’s clothes or shoes, and other than purses and china, not sure what else is of worth that Britt can fit in her carryon.” The good think about our little sister being a airline employee was that she always traveled light.
“Are you alone at mom’s?”
I could hear Trent cover the phone and talk to someone else. “He’s not alone!!” I mouthed to Jody. She snickered. “Jody is here, so just like you, I am not alone.”
“Say hello, Sophia,” Trent said to someone in the room with him. “Bonjour!” A sultry voice greeted me.
“She’s French,” I whispered to Jody. “So, I guess the main reason I am calling, besides letting you know that your mother has passed, and that she has made it safely to the funeral home, is when can you get here for the funeral?”
I could hear him take a deep breath. Trent didn’t have the kind of job that was what you could call flexible. Not like my job as a medical transcriptionist and free lance writer and Jody’s job as a yoga studio owner. “Let me see what I can get flight-wise. Can it wait until next Tuesday?”
I counted days on my fingers, as the hard lemonade was starting to make me stupid. “That’s what, a week? Yea, today is Tuesday. I think we can make that work. I will see the funeral people tomorrow morning and then send you an email with the details.”
“She prepaid, didn’t she? You shouldn’t have much to do or decide. I went with her to set it up when dad died.”
“I will look for the papers…”
“I told her to put them in the safe deposit box,” Trent said. Such the lawyer.
“Since YOU told her to, she probably did.” Mom was old school regarding men and always assumed that men knew more than women. Especially since her only son was an attorney.
It didn’t matter to her at all that I won an award as a science writer. To her, I didn’t have a real career. That was my brother the international attorney and my sister, the Human Resources manager for Northeast Airlines.
Jody and I made our way to the funeral home (funeral parlor? That is what mom always called it. Since it was for her funeral, I decided to call it the parlor, in her honor. The least I could do. Mr. Mercer was there when we arrived, in a black suit, white shirt and gray striped tie. Very understated. He was a short man, probably wider than he was tall, with hair that had spent too many minutes with Just For Men Auburn. He twisted his wedding ring as he spoke to us.
“Well, as you are already aware, your mother had come to us shortly after your father’s funeral to make her own selections.”
I nodded. At the time, I thought it was rather morbid to plan your own funeral. My own take is, I’m not there, I really don’t care what those left behind do. Truth be told, I think they should rent out the local Irish Pub and drink all night.
Mr. Mercer pulled out a thick folder. He started laying out the contents, brightly colored pamphlets with high resolution photos of coffins of various wood construction. Another advertised the cement vaults that the coffin would be lowered into. I knew my mother would pick the heaviest vault available; she had quite the aversion to bugs. Mercer picked up the coffin page. “I can show you the one she picked out, we have a demo here.” He stood up. I looked at Jody and nodded. I was glad she had come with me. My sister, who planned to come, said that she was just too upset to deal with decisions. My take was that she was hungover. We followed Mercer into a cool room with plush taupe carpeting. The entire decor of the building seemed to preclude sound of any kind. Mercer and even the receptionist, seemed to talk in a throaty whisper.
Mercer patted the top of a glossy walnut colored coffin. Mom’s favorite sundae topping was wet walnuts, which had to be the reason she chose it. “One of our most popular, the Regency in a polished walnut, with,” he paused to open the top, “gold satin interior.”
“I’m not sure the outfit we brought with blend with the gold,” Jody whispered in my ear. Now she was being a bad influence.
Mercer closed the lid carefully. “We don’t, unfortunately have a sample of the vault, but it is one of our best.”
Of course, I thought.
We went back to the small conference room, where the folder still sat on the round table. Mercer began to explain all of the decisions my mother had made, memory books, prayer cards, extended obituary to six different papers, vehicles, etc. I listened as politely as I could, nodding when appropriate.
Mercer then looked a bit uncomfortable. “I know that this is hard to speak about right now, but if there is a life insurance policy, we can work with them…”
“Mom said that she prepaid. Prearranged and prepaid.”
Mercer pulled out a bright white handkerchief. The room was cool, but there were small beads of sweat at the edge of his hairline. “Your mother did prearrange, and we set up the payment plan. Unfortunately, she neglected to make payments after the first one. “
Jody was biting her lip. She knew my mother as well as I did.
“Ok, well, there isn’t a life insurance policy, but she should have enough in her CD’s to pay for everything. How much do we need to get out?”
“18, 789.” Mercer looked a little relived.
“Eighteen thousand?” I took a deep breath. “I am going to have to go to the bank and get it together. When do you need it by?”
“The day of the service would be fine.” Mercer put his hanky away, looking relieved.
I was still shaking when I got home from the bank and called Trent. I didn’t even check the time difference or the weather, the two things I always do before calling him.
“$18,479. For her funeral.” I started speaking before Trent had finished yawning his hello.
“Uh, what, oh, wait, I thought she prepaid?” There was a reason Trent was a good attorney, he caught on to things fairly quickly.
“She made one payment, and then stopped. The good news is that she locked in the price. If she hadn’t, it would be over twenty three thousand.” I tried to take deep breaths, but it wasn’t helping.
“But isn’t there money in her bank accounts? You should have access to…”
“I did, but then Brittney,” I paused. But then Brittney was the refrain of our growing up years. Somehow, our youngest sister was always up to no good.
“What shenanigans is Brittney pulling now?” Trent sounded a bit exasperated, but maybe it was more because I probably woke him up, or interrupted his time with Sophia.
“When I went to the bank to get a cashier’s check, I was informed that I was no longer on the signature card. I said that couldn’t be right, and an hour later, the Vice President was explaining to me that Brittney and mom came in and were concerned that I was spending mom’s money.”
“Were you?” Trent asked. I chalked that up to his lawyer-ness and didn’t take it personally.
“Of course not, but that apparently didn’t matter. They couldn’t even tell me how the signature card looked now, except I am sure that Brittney’s name is now there. I can’t find out anything about the accounts until the will is probated and I am the executor, unless they changed that as well. “
“I am sure mom would have talked to me about changing her will.” Trent sounded fully awake now. “Call Joe Fournier, right now. I will text him and tell him you’re calling. He can handle the probate and get things going there.”
“Okay, but it won’t be done before the funeral. They need the money by the day of.”
“Christ. I can cover it until the probate. But if there is any way to do it cheaper…Eighteen thousand? Does she have a fucking gold crypt?”
“Premium vault, the cement box that the coffin sits in. We could cremate her and you can bring her home with you.” I try to be helpful.
“That works for me. See if you can change the plans. They will give you a guilt trip, but oh well. Or you can call Brittney and see if she can write a check for that much.” Trent coughed.
“I am just so mad at Brittney, I don’t know what I will do when I see her.”
“Hide the sharp objects. I arranged my flight and I will be there late Monday afternoon.”
“Is Sophia coming?” Now I was curious.
“No, not now.”
Got it. She was there with him again. Now I did the math. It was midnight at The Hague. And I was sure the weather was, well, hot.
I dragged Jody with me back to the funeral home. She said she would, but only if I went to her noon hot yoga class. She thought I was stressed. Gee, go figure.
So Jody and I , in sweaty yoga pants and hoodies, showed up at the ultra dressy funeral parlor one more time. Luckily, Mr. Mercer was there.
“Well, we have some issues with the payment amount,” I said to him once we were in the tasteful and discreet small conference room. “It seems my mother made some changes to her bank account set up and I won’t have access to the funds until we probate the will.”
Mercer did not look phased at all. He probably dealt with this all the time. “I am not sure we will be able to serve your family then.”
“Well, we were wondering,” I looked at Jody for support, “if we could make some cost cutting to the plans, and then my brother will be able to wire me the money.”
Mercer’s right eyebrow arched slightly, “What changes would you propose?”
“Cremation,” Jody said. She knew I would hem and haw a few moments.
The funeral director sat up a bit. “Your mother had some definite desires about how she wanted her service to be conducted. She definitely did not want cremation.”
Then she should have made her payments and not put my greedy little sister on her joint account, I thought to myself.
“The family has discussed this and we think that this would be best. As Cara said, we can have the cash for a cremation for you by the end of the week.”
In the end, money talks. I texted Trent the amount to wire and that was that.
But I still needed to tell Brittney. And I still was too furious to speak to her. Luckily, I didn’t have to. Joe Fournier, Esquire, was there to do that for me. He let me sit in the room and listen on speaker phone though.
“Ms. Conner? Joe Fournier here, I will be doing the probate of your mother’s will.”
“Oh, really? Who hired you? I thought her friend’s son Rick Parsons was going to do this.” Brittany sounded fairly annoyed but that was her usual state.
“I went to school with your brother Trent. So Cara and Trent had called me yesterday. And reading the will over, Cara is the exectutrice, so, she does get to pick the attorney.
“But Rick was her regular attorney, so he would know what she wanted.”
“I see, I can contact Rick. He is a criminal attorney, and doesn’t have much experience with wills, so he may be glad to pass this off. Plus he is running for judge and campaigns take time. “
“Well, I will call Cara and tell her that she really should be using Mom’s attorney,” Brittney said.
“Was this attorney the one who suggested she change the signature cards at the bank?”
There was silence on the other end.
“That was what mom wanted to do. She didn’t want Cara in her business. Cara was a nag and wouldn’t let mom give me any financial help.”
Joe put a finger to his lips. I held my tongue. “Ms. Conner, do you happen to know if there is another account signer? There is a bill at the funeral home that needs to be paid.”
“She made me the co-signer.” Brittney said. “But she prepaid the funeral, so there shouldn’t need to be anything else to pay there.”
“Your mother only made one payment, so if you are the co-signer, we need you to write a check on her account for eighteen thousand, four hundred and seventy nine dollars, payable to the funeral home.”
There was more silence on the phone. “She didn’t have that kind of money. She won’t until the house is sold.”
“I see. Well, since there isn’t money to pay for the service your mother planned, there will be a few cost saving measures…”
“Yeah, whatever. I don’t care about the funeral. Trent and Cara can do what they want.”
There were no other pleasantries before Brittney hung up. Joe looked at me. “Do you have the last statement?”
“Her checking account had 5 or six thousand , but there was a savings account with forty five thousand that fed into it.”
Joe whistled softly.
To be continued….