The Days Following my Father’s Death; Taking Care of My Mom

Outside of family and old friends from Gilmer, Texas, my Mother had only a few good friends. The few dear friends that she had were all active church members (of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). Chief, among her friends, was a dear woman by the name of Faye Gadd. Faye is close to my Mom in age, but is a few years younger. Faye was a good Mormon girl from the country in Utah. My Mom was a good Mormon girl from the country in Texas.

Faye Gadd knew my Mother for over thirty years.  She was, I think, my Mom’s best friend (other than my aunts).  They were “young mothers” together in the old Oakland (California) Ward (in the Mosswood Chapel, on MacArthur Boulevard across from Mosswood Park…the corner of MacArthur and Shafter).  Greg Gadd and my brother, John, were born within days of each other.  My Mom and Faye even had the same pair of brothers, as their family doctors…Drs. Chester and Riley Green (twins).  Primary, Cub Scouts, Junior Sunday School…they served together, year after year, child after child…which children seemed to be born in “pairs”:  Greg and my brother, John; Patty Gadd and my sister, Marilyn; Larry and my brother, Harry; Carolynn and my brother, Jeffrey.

I was, as you may know, in the last month of my work on native American reserves in Western Canada, teaching school, when my parents were in the car crash that killed my Dad (and also caused the death of the four teen-aged boys…all friends, that were in the other car that crossed over the middle of the highway to hit my Dad’s side of the car.

The weeks after my return and my very rushed, head-spinning readjustment to my family’s life in California, found me undertaking the business necessary to settle and arrange my parents affairs, and oversee all that was necessary for my younger siblings.  Jeffrey was only nine.  Harry had just turned 15.  Marilyn was a “hippie, wild child”, 18 years old.  John was at Washington State on a football scholarship, 19-1/2 years old.  I had JUST turned 21…so was the only child of an age of majority (at that time, in California).

Michael, my older (and adopted) brother, had been the “prodigal son” that NEVER came back home…breaking my parents’ heart, and mine, too.  He had been my “hero” during ALL of my childhood.  I used to admire him sitting, as a Priest, at the Sacrament table in the new ward house we had up on the Temple grounds…and when he was a Deacon passing the Sacrament in the old Mosswood Chapel.  I would have been four when he was ordained a Deacon.

I had not even felt like I was “finished” with my work in Canada, when just a couple of days later, I’m arranging for a mortician and mortuary, funeral coordination (in Oakland AND my father’s Texas home towns and wards, burial, destroyed automobile, doctors’ and hospital bills (for Mom, Harry and Jeffrey), life insurance claims, notifying family, notifying and closing out my father’s employment position and job areas, schools, home medical care for my Mother and my brother’s visits to an orthopedic doctor in ensuing months, the house payment and all of the bills, arranging for a lawyer to handle the “wrongful death” and injury claims against the other insurance company (that wanted to offer a settlement of only $15,000), applying for my dad’s “union death benefits” and his U.S. Civil Service pension and so much more.  Thankfully, Faye Gadd and so many other loving sisters in the Relief Society were paying attention to basic housekeeping, laundry and feeding of a family of (now) six at home.

One of the MANY things I had to do, during that grievous and crazy time, was to apply (as a proxy, as my Mom was in critical condition for months…you may remember she attended my Dad’s funeral on a gurney, with an IV in place) for my Mother’s and siblings “survivor benefits” with the Social Security Administration.  That office was out on East 14th Street, at that time.  A visit there entailed sitting and waiting for several hours, sometimes filling out paperwork.  I remember feeling harried, at the time, as a professional nurse was sitting with my Mother and Harry and Jeffrey were to go to doctor appointments later that day.  The funeral was to occur the next day or two.  I completed all of the paperwork for the “death claim” and my Mother’s and siblings survivor claims.  I was using Mary’s (my high school girlfriend and future wife) 1967 Chevy Malibu, as our only family car was completely destroyed… and literally in pieces.  I had to pick her up from work, too, later (at R.C. Fischer Insurance Agency).  I completed the paperwork and awaited my call up to the window.

A very nice lady helped me, obviously empathetic.  She checked the forms, rubber-stamped most of them, and asked a number of questions in review of the application.  One of the questions asked:  Is your Mother disabled?  “NO”, I said…right away and matter-of-factly.  As so many had not done…I, too, never thought of my Mom as disabled, even though I always knew she DID EVERYTHING WITH ONLY ONE HAND.  Cooking dishes, ironing, dressing all of us kids, sewing (with a machine or a needle and thread), changed cloth diapers (which meant diaper pins), every housework chore, teaching children their many tasks and chores…as well as play, art, crafts, etc., and EVERY other thing that any “normal” and “able” person would do during the days of their lives.  The clerk signed off the paperwork, told me we’d get a check for a $250 “death benefit” within a few days (STILL the same amount today, over 40 years later) and reviewed the amounts that would come monthly for my Mom and siblings.

Finished, I literally ran out to the car, started it up and began to pull away, realizing I had a tight schedule to keep.

Then it had dawned on me what had just happened.  I had just applied for my MOTHER’s Social Security benefits and claimed that she was NOT disabled.  I was horrified at my stupidity…or, at the time, it felt like “stupidity” to me.  I re-parked the car, stopped the engine, fed the parking meter and ran back in…HOPING I would not have to start all over in a line again.  Within moments, the very nice lady that had helped me initially saw that I was waiting and called me over to her window, asking another applicant to step aside for a moment.

“Excuse me, ma’am.  Does it matter if my Mom is disabled?  I mean, does it matter in how much money she’ll get?  Because, if it does…well, she IS disabled.”

You can see how THAT sounds.  I stepped all over myself trying to explain that…and then told the basic story of my Mom losing her hand when she was a teen-aged girl in East Texas. I guess I convinced her.  I think she also MUST have picked up on the fact that I was still operating in a state of shock…and that my sustained elevation of adrenalin over a number of days was beginning to ebb.  In any event, my Mom began receiving the correct amounts…her own “disability benefit” and “survivor’s benefit” in the following months.

After all of my errands, “running around” and dropping Mary off at her apartment (over on Park Boulevard), I dropped by the Gadd home in the evening, as Faye had told me that she had prepared a casserole dish for our family supper.

Arriving at the their home, I sat in the living room talking with Bob and Faye, while the baked dish sat for the last several, required minutes in their kitchen oven.  During our visit, I told this same story to Faye and Bob that I just relayed to you.

They both look surprised…actually “shocked” is the better choice of words.  Faye jumped up and ran to the kitchen.  I heard the oven door slam shut and the baking dish clatter on their kitchen counter.  Suddenly, Faye appeared in the kitchen door and, while wagging at her finger at me…just like a stern and reprimanding parent, told me (in no uncertain terms) that SHE was going to drive me back to the Social Security office, the very next morning, and see to it (in no UNCERTAIN TERMS) that I corrected that fabricated tale I had told and see that the false report I had filed was brought into line with the actual truth.  Had I NOT learned ANYTHING about character while on my mission?

I could feel a little ire arise, when I suddenly realized that my Mother had been SO GOOD at masking her disability through her entire life that these two people…my parents’ closest “church friends” did NOT have a clue, either, about her disability.  I had to take Faye to my Mother’s bedside, that very evening, to convince her that I had only been telling the truth, while revealing my own “awkwardness” about learning to negotiate (suddenly and swiftly) the “grown up world”.

Of course, I NEVER thought about other’s perceptions, because my Mother was SO OFTEN in the company of immediate and extended family.  She never concealed her amputation from any family member.  Her sisters, brothers, in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins, mother, children…we all KNEW.  Yet, she hid it from the world outside of our family.

I know my Mom was as deeply “disabled” by the psychological effects of that loss…especially in a “modern, western world” that was mesmerized by the likes of Jayne Mansfield, Marilyn Monroe, Harriet Nelson, Raquel Welch, Betty White (even still), and so many more…marching by her television window on the world that she seldom ventured out into anymore, since that accident, always staying at home or visiting in other family homes…except to take her children to church.  I think to her death bed she was still “frozen in time” somehow, in the time of her life where she was “whole”.  Much of her faith in the Gospel was rooted in her high hopes and fervent expectations taught us, in church, about the glories of the morning of the First Resurrection…coming forth from the grave, RESTORED, complete, with a PERFECT body.  She was only 52 when she was widowed.  Daily she yearned to be with my Father again.  I think, just as much as anything else, she also yearned to have “her body” back again.

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