Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Family Emergencies

I brought these orange dahlias home from the Pike Place Market to cheer us up. They're in my upstairs living room, the first thing we see every time we come home from our errands.

In late July, a relative died suddenly, leaving her teenage daughter orphaned.

I was away with friends at a remote mountain cabin with no cell or Internet access when it happened. The moment we returned and I found out, I knew the teenager's life had changed forever, and I knew mine would too.

Without a doubt, I wanted her. Her sister had lived here with me for several years, and her brother has spent a lot of time here in my home. Her mother had in the past expressed a wish that if anything ever happened to her, the girl would live with a female relative. But nothing had ever been put on paper, and no plan spelled out expressly. With the girl's adult siblings all busy in college and working to support themselves, my home was the best choice, we decided, after a series of stressful family meetings.

In the space of a few days I went from a single lady who could go out and drink cocktails with my girl friends, stay up late and sleep in, go out to dinner every night, throw dinner parties at home, travel and have a long distance relationship - to a stay at home working single foster mother of a grieving teenager starting a new school.

And she went from living with her sick mother in a very small town, leaving behind her pets, friends, school and boyfriend, to come here and live in unfamiliar surroundings with a relative who is mostly a stranger to her, my roommate she'd never met before, my boisterous dogs, extremely unfamiliar foods, and a brand new high school. What a difficult change to go through so immediately after one's mother dying.

I hope you never go through a family emergency like this. But I have some questions for you.

  • If you have children, do you have a plan in writing, preferably filed with your attorney, for what should happen to them if you die?

  • It's hard to plan ahead, but if you know for certain you would become the guardian of your niece, nephew, grandchildren, or other family members, have you thought about what that would mean?

  • How much time can you take off work during a family crisis? The process of getting ready for the funeral, attending the funeral, caring for the teenager, bonding with her, moving her in, school shopping, getting her enrolled in school, etc. consumed three weeks where I absolutely could not get my work done.

  • How much money do you have in your emergency savings account? There are so many expenses related to funerals, even for a family member not paying for the funeral. Unexpected air fares, hotel rooms, dinners out (you won't feel like cooking), funeral clothing and shoes for your kids, retail therapy sprees at bookstores, visits to Starbucks for comfort beverages while you're waiting in between appointments, surprise expenses, flowers, potluck meals, and all that time off of work. I can only begin to describe how much my savings account took a hit during this last month.

  • Do you even know how to get ahold of family members during a crisis? I have local family's home and cell phones, but we had trouble locating some more distantly related people to invite them to the funeral.

To protect her privacy I won't blog very much about her anymore after this post, but I know the posts I make to Lovely Living will be slightly different than before, as my life has changed quite a bit for now. So many things I hadn't had to worry about or be responsible for until now - someone else's doctor and dentist visits, school Open Houses, schoolbus schedules, after school programs, tutoring, etc.

And although you can't plan, predict or ever be ready for something like this, I thought I'd share a little of what it's been like, just asking you to think about what you'd do if it were you.


Ruby said...

Oh wow, I'm so sorry. My condolences to you and your whole family, especially your new charge. I can't imagine how tough this must be for her and for you too, and I wish you all the best.

Thanks, too, for the reminder of how important planning is. I worry about these scenarios more often than I should, and yet I feel too paralyzed by fear to actually act and put anything in writing. I need to get over that.

Heto said...

I want to thank you for the bottom of my heart for helping this young woman. My mom passed away when I was 16 and I went to live with my aunt, her husband, and their young family. Not a day goes by when I don't think of the sacrifices they made for me.

It won't be easy for her, or for you, for that matter, but everything you do will be appreciated.

Carrie said...

Hi Heto, My mom died when I was 16 as well. I managed to stay in my home with my dad but he wasn't around much; in retrospect I should have gone to live with an aunt like my younger brother did.