One might think that it is easier to deal with a death that occurs suddenly. No pain or suffering. The person goes quickly into the afterlife. Friends and family of cancer victims often describe the agonizing process of watching a loved perish as a death before a death. When someone you love battles cancer, everyone around them is also there for every victory and defeat. Cancer kills and everyone dies. While there is only one that leaves the earth physically, the others are left behind to mourn. The sick room remains: the carrot juice in the fridge, vitamins, cure books, the wicker waste basket by the bedside lined with plastic.
For a woman that was so time-consuming in life, my mother’s passing assaulted me completely by surprise. She died at the elder-young age of 68 , perhaps in her sleep- no one really knows. But she died without linger. We were afforded no proper send off. My ego craved the moments I lost taking care of her into her deep senior years. I had always imagined her dying in her bed, in my home. I was her daughter and it was my job to take care of her for better or for worse- soiled bed linens and all. Robbed of my daughterly virtue, I felt like a girl scout missing a badge. The elderly parent care-person badge. I never expected to come up twelve boxes short at the mother-daughter cookie sale. This was a woman who called me for money when I was in college. Who stayed in my dorm because she was homeless. Who always needed something and she goes out like this? No warning at all? No trips to check out the lush green grounds of nursing homes. No dribble to wipe from the corners of her mouth after spoon feeding her favorite bread pudding. No having to say “I am Afrocity, your daughter, remember me? I was here just yesterday. “
I was left holding a box of ashes and a refrigerator full of Del Monte fruit cups.
Jealously would besiege me as friends complained of “ol’ dad” and the battle to keep him of his wounded knee. ” Dad fell again,” the friend would complain. “Know I have to take time off from work again…Oh Afrocity, you should be glad that your mom went quickly. I have all of my dad’s medical bills…”
And all of that Gen-X peer complaining made it worse! Friends telling me that I should be thankful that the death of my mother was benign in terms of the potential financial and emotional draining tumors it could have placed upon my young late 30’s life.
Admittedly selfish as it sounds, I needed to be my own primary heroine in the story of mother and I. I also needed someone around me to be old…so I could feel young. Someone to act as a buffer between myself and death. My youthfulness and mortality was so vain that it needed an older sidekick.
So I decided to adopt old people.
That’s right. I steal old people.
Visiting somebody else’s Grandmother on Mother’s Day with my cornbread stuffing. Taking cupcakes to old men in my apartment building. Buying someone microwaveable slippers. Listening to an elderly couple tell endless stories as we suck on Dairy Queen Blizzards. I have no shame about it. Born into a dysfunctional mother daughter relationship, I had become co-dependent and need to prove desperately to God, Betty White, Rachel Rae -basically anyone who will listen -that I could have been the best damn elder care daughter on the planet.
Yesterday marked the beginning of the week that my mom could have died (long story referenced in previous blog posts).
I have been feeling sorry for myself again. I miss our talks and I miss being needed. Every old person is a gift. Those wrinkles are a map- a topography of life and memories. The skin is dry, rough, pull it and it stays in the same shape. Why bounce back when you are so close to the finish line? Everyone loves and appreciates the elderly.
Then I read about Marilyn Fay. Marilyn was a 64 year old retired Chicago Public School teacher who worked part-time at the Brookfield, Illinois Public Libary. Marilyn’s friends describe her as kind and giving- especially after Marilyn befriended a 30 year old homeless man by the name of Steve Kellmann. Kellmann was an “alleged drug addict with a lengthy crime record” that Marilyn met at the library. According to one suburban paper Kelleman possesses:
“…a long criminal history. According to court records provided by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, Kellmann has faced felony charges before. He was convicted in 1999 for felony obstruction of justice, an aggravated robbery charge in 2001 for which he served six years in prison, and a 2007 felony theft charge that landed him in prison for two years.“
But Marilyn did not care about Kellmann’s past, she saw real good in him. Potential that was overlooked by the prison system. Out of the kindness of her heart, Marilyn allowed Kellmann and his girlfriend to stay at her home. He performed odd jobs around her house.
Kellmann painted and made Marilyn’s awnings look bright and new again but he also caused her a fair share of trouble.
On May 27th, 2010, Marilyn bailed Kellmann out of jail. He had been arrested for driving with a suspended license. Marilyn only living on her modest school teacher’s pension and part-time library job, used her credit card to post 10% of Kellmann’s $25,000 bond.
On the bond forms, Marilyn listed herself as Kellman’s “friend”.
On June 14th Marilyn was found in her home, dead.
From this article in the Chicago Tribune:
Woman paid bail of man now charged in her slaying
June 18, 2010
Weeks before a retired school teacher was found dead inside her Brookfield home, she posted bond that freed the man now charged with her murder, the Tribune has learned.
Marilyn Fay, 65, used her credit card on May 27 to put up the $2,500 bond for Steven Kellmann, according to court documents. Fay was found dead in her home on the 3300 block of Arthur Avenue on June 14.
Kellmann had been arrested in May on a felony charge of driving with a suspended license.
Fay posted 10 percent of the $25,000 bail set in the case and is listed on the bond document as a “friend” of Kellmann.
Fay had repeatedly tried to help Kellmann — an alleged drug addict with a lengthy criminal record — and had even let him stay in her home when he was homeless.
Kellmann first met Fay at the Brookfield Public Library, where she worked part time, and for a time she allowed him to live at her home, according to authorities and Fay’s friends.
She had tried to help him repeatedly because she saw the good in him, and even after she asked him to move out because he had anger management problems, she allowed him to do handyman work at her house, friends said.
Several times in the past, Kellmann had posted bond but violated the terms for his release and forfeited the money.
In the May arrest, a Chicago police officer spotted Kellman driving on the Eisenhower Expressway without a seat belt and pulled him over about 10:30 p.m. May 16, according to prosecutors. He was arrested on a charge of driving with a suspended license that stemmed from a prior DUI arrest, prosecutors said.
This morning, Judge James Gavin set a $2 million bail for Kellman, citing his arrest record and bond forfeitures.
Assistant State’s Attorney Andres Almendarez said Fay was last seen alive with Kellmann about 7 p.m. Sunday. Her body was found by police the next day in the bedroom of her Brookfield home. She had been stabbed, beaten and suffocated.
In the hours after her death, Kellmann tried to use her credit cards three times. He also called family members telling them he had messed up, was suicidal, was going back to jail and that he had killed somebody, Almendarez told the judge.
Using a locating signal from a cell phone, Kellmann was arrested about 5 p.m. in a hotel room on the Southwest Side of Chicago with a 23-year-old Arlington Heights woman.
Fay’s SUV was parked a block and a half away. In the hotel room police found bloody clothing and more than 40 bags of heroin. Kellmann also had Fay’s cell phone, credit cards and keys, Almendarez said.
The woman was later released without charges.
Kellmann’s criminal background includes an aggravated robbery for which he was sentenced to six years in prison for forcing someone to withdraw money from their account at gunpoint. Other convictions include battery and theft. The ongoing suspended license case stems from a previous DUI, Almendarez said.
Do you think that Steven Kellmann knew that June 15th was World Elder Abuse Awareness Day?
Did Marilyn Fay know? Probably not because she was dead.
My mother passed away sometime between June 9th and 16th in 2007. Now 2010, three years to the week, is another senior, dead in her apartment. She was likely a liberal, voted for Obama. Hoped to help and rehabilitate someone who was beyond repair. Taken advantage of by someone who did not appreciate her wisdom or kindness. Marilyn had dogs and I noticed that her obituary requested that donations are to be made in her name to her favorite animal shelter.
I will do that in the name of Marilyn and my mother.
Today will be sunny and warm. How perfect it would be if I could sit in Grant Park, watch the children play, bicycles going by, bumble bees on the tulips. How perfect it could be if I could do all of those things while sharing a fruit cup with my mother and Marilyn.
How perfect indeed.
Autographed Letter Signed,