Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Do You Know What's in Your Parents' Safety Deposit Box?

Recently, Chicago Public Radio’s “This American Life” aired an act about a woman whose job it is to dispose of the “estates” of Chicago citizens who die alone with no family to even claim the body. What would it be like to spend your days going through the possession of strangers, people who lived and died alone, and dispose of their things? The program examined what we leave behind for others to deal with. If we are lucky we have loved ones to whom we will things.
Recently I had cause to go through my 86 year old mother’s papers. I didn’t find any million dollar life insurance policies or stocks or bonds, but I did find things that in their own way were amazing. Good thing she was still around to ask questions, but even she was baffled by some of it.

We found letters from insurance companies about policies that had been purchased years ago. Most of them she couldn’t remember; didn’t even know what I was talking about when I asked her. Mutual of Oregon? CNA? Academy Life? Safeco? There was only one actual policy and it was for $700, not $200.

I found an ad for an opthamologist who Mother can't remember and the pin number for Mother's ATM card, just in case she forgot the number.

“Mother,” I said as I was going through the huge stack, “do you do your monthly breast exam at the bank?”

She frowned. “No, why?”

“Well,” I said, beginning to titter. “Care to venture a guess about how this got into the safety deposit box.” I held up my finger from which dangled a card similar to the cards with the keyhole one hangs on a motel door requesting privacy or cleaning only this one contained a diagram for doing a self breast exams. Jo and my mother began to laugh, too, and we laughed until tears ran down our faces.

Nearly the last item I came across was an agreement with the University of Oregon for my mother’s body to go to their medical school. “They will give you ashes when they’re done,” my mother said. “All you have to do is get me to Portland.”

“And how am I supposed to do that?” I asked.

“Just throw me in the back of a van and drive me.”

“If they want you, they can come get you. I’m not driving you around when you're dead.”

“I don’t think you can drive a body around without some sort of special license,” Jo said.

“Oh, pooh,” said Mother. “Just throw me in a van.”

“I don’t have a van. I’d have to rent one. Do you think Hertz would approve? Besides, wouldn’t it involve taking a body across state lines?” I asked laughing again.

My mother still insists that we can just prop her in the backseat. After I had taken my mother home for the night with her honey-do list of phone calls to make regarding insurance policies and Jo & I were getting ready for bed I said, “You’d do it with me, wouldn’t you?” I said.

“Yes, I would,” she smiled.

“Well, it’s nice to know someone who’d help you move a body,” I said and we laughed.

So, when’s the last time you looked in your parents safety deposit box or talked about what’s going to happen when they pass on? I don’t suggest it for a Thanksgiving celebration, but better to get surprised now than wait until it’s too late for clarification.

I had much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. The one that surprised me is that I’m thankful to have a friend who would help me drive a body 120 miles. Everyone should have at least one friend who would do that.


Kim Thompson said...

This is an amazing post, Stephanie. Amazing. For these reasons:

1. This is a good reminder to go through my OWN safety deposit box.

2. To talk to my parents about THEIR safety deposit box.

3. To count my blessings for my good friends who would help me move bodies too.

Your mother and Jo sound just wonderful by the way.


Stephanie Frieze said...

Thanks, Kim. We had to laugh or else I might have cried. My mother called all the insurance commpanies and asked that info be sent so at least we will know what she's got!

Jo said...

I don't think I've laughed that much in quite a while. Even though it was such a sad topic of conversation, I could just picture us, driving to U of Oregon, a body in the back of my CRV, explaining to the office who had pulled us over for some minor infraction (speeding, maybe), why we had a body in the back and what we were planning to do with said body. Time spent with Stephanie is full of unexpected smiles.