Thus Spake Zuska

Becoming My Mother…

I’ve been taking care of my mother’s finances for well over two years now, since she moved from the house she lived in all her life to an assisted living home. It still astonishes me, sometimes, that managing her paperwork requires more time and effort than managing my own.

I wrote here about the sense of sadness and loss involved with something seemingly as straightforward as establishing a new bank account to make it easier for me to manage mom’s finances.

Loss accumulates and accelerates in one’s lifetime. Last January [2008], we moved Mom to assisted living…today I wrote to the little local bank where Mom has done her banking, also since forever, to close out the account. They have no branches here in the Philly area, of course. And, if you will believe this, the bureaucrats who send my mom the black lung checks (my dad was a coal miner) will not do direct deposit, so I have to physically take the checks to a bank. So, getting rid of the P. O. box and the local bank account are just two more steps on the long road that is the end of “home” for me.

The bank mom always used was a branch of this bank, but called by us “The Corner Bank”. If you go to Google Maps and input “Pennsylvania 88 & Stoney Hill Rd, Greensboro, Greene, Pennsylvania 15338″, and then use Street View, and scan around till you locate the tiny structure on one corner of the crossroads, you will see how it got its name. Oh, for big things, mom and dad would drive to the main branch in Carmichaels, but, the corner bank was where most of our family’s banking was done.

After dad died, mom eventually won the right to black lung benefits, and began to receive two checks a month. These were duly taken to the corner bank and deposited. In later years this became something of a chore when driving was difficult or impossible for her, and she had to find someone to take her there or go deposit the checks for her. When I took over her finances, I determined I’d get them set up as direct deposit and end all that bank trip business.

But no. When I looked into it, I was assured that it Simply. Could. Not. Be. Done. Why? I do not know. There were many other battles I’ve had to fight in the last two years, and this was not one I felt like taking on. And so, twice a month, since January of 2008, I’ve been visiting with the tellers at my local PNC branch.

The branch I go to is located in one of those beautiful old stone bank buildings, the kind that lets you know you are really in a bank. The tellers are warm and personable, and I have chatted with them about the changing weather and the chances of the Phillies for the past two years. They have commiserated with me about the company that will not do direct deposit, inquired about my mother, helped me figure out how to get another bank card on the account for my brother (so he can buy things for my mother), and, gradually, it seems, become part of my life.

Then, a turning point: mid-March’s check arrived with a notice. Direct deposit is now available! An end to a tedious, repetitive chore and the chance to streamline one more part of my life!

I called the enclosed number to inquire. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. The first time through the voice mail maze, I was led to a recording that told me, basically, “no human is available at this voice mail box and we are now hanging up on you. bye bye!” Second time through I just kept punching zero till I got a human. Who gave me the voice mail of some other human who would, maybe, call me back. Well, she did, and of course there is a form, and they would send it to me, and they need this and that, and so on.

The form arrived in my mail last week. I looked at it…and I hesitated. I don’t know. If I sign up for direct deposit now, what reason will I have to go back to the branch and chat with the friendly tellers? The snow has finally melted and the Phillies are starting a new season.

I look at the form for direct deposit, and all I can think of is that one time in the grocery store with mom when I was about to go through the self-checkout lane. “Don’t do that!” she exclaimed, in alarm, like I was about to beat a child. “That’s taking a job from someone. Go through a lane with a person.”

The sensible thing to do is to fill out the form. I don’t suppose I’ll go so far as to put it through the shredder, but maybe, for the time being, I’ll just put it in the file cabinet. And go ask the tellers what they think about the Phils.

Comments

  1. #2 Coturnix
    April 6, 2010

    I understand. I never use the self-check-out lane and do as much banking in person as possible. I like conversing with cashiers and tellers, and like the idea that my persistence in going there in person is keeping them employed.

  2. #3 Isis the Scientist
    April 6, 2010

    Mr. Isis will not use the drive through ATM for exactly the same reason your mother doesn’t like the self-checkout. We fight everytime we go to the bank about it, but your post gave me pause….

  3. #4 steve
    April 6, 2010

    Nice post, and thank you.

    It is somehow comforting to realize that we are all going through this stuff.

    I guess I am already like your mother, in that I have the exact response to the self checkout lanes. “That is just one more way for corporate to fire one more worker.”

    If there is a way to get around voice routing, I will take it. Every time. Customer service has become a euphemism for “insulate us from those damn customers.”

    I go to the local hardware store as well. Yes, it is more expensive. Yes, I am paying for the friendly advice, and it is worth it.

    I guess the logical fallacy is that I buy my insulin from Canada; but with no health care, and ‘per vial’ costs of $129 here or $24 over the internet, my pride dies up with my wallet…

  4. #5 Alsofish
    April 6, 2010

    In college, a teller told me I was basically wasting her time depositing a check in person and should just use an ATM. I had always enjoyed banking and talking to the humans there.

    Five star service my ass. I was angry about that one for years.

  5. #6 ScientistMother
    April 6, 2010

    My dad always refused to use the ATM because it was taking jobs away from people. I now find myself frequently avoiding self-checkout lanes for the same reason.

  6. #7 Tanya Derbowka
    April 6, 2010

    Reading this post is like traveling into my future. I am slowly taking over my mother’s finances. I help her with income taxes and house repairs. I can see that in several years (hopefully a long, long way off) I will have to completely take over. That scares the crap out of me because I am already overwhelmed by responsibilities. I want to go back to being a kid, when I didn’t have to worry about things like funerals or taking over my mom’s finances or figuring out how to care for her or any other family member.

  7. #8 Zuska
    April 6, 2010

    Tanya, it is incredibly hard doing these things, and becoming the one who gives care to the parent who used to care for you. In my case, my mother’s mental faculties remain intact, although she has many physical ailments and is very weak. So one blessing is that, when we are able to spend time together, we can talk, and I have enjoyed talking with her about the past – my childhood, and the early days of her marriage, and her youth. Conversations I never could have had when I was younger, because now we talk as two adults. And in a way, maybe she opens up to me more because all I do for her has brought us close in a different way.

    I’m not saying this totally makes up for all the sadness and loss of change, all the grieving for what is passing by and can never be recovered or regained. Just saying it might be one thing to look for, think about, prepare for. Mr. Z has a small digital recorder than runs on batteries and has a really inobtrusive microphone – last time I was home I recorded some of our conversations. You think you will remember all those details but you don’t. Getting it captured on recording is nice.

  8. #9 Lyle
    April 6, 2010

    Just a comment as one begins to have to do things for ones parents, one should also anticipate that it will eventually happen to them. At a minimum a durable power of attorney should be drawn to allow someone to help if need be and also a medical power of attorney. Having a discussion with your children or siblings/nieces/nephews on what should happen is better had when fully with it. Having seen the difficulties involving my aunt whose daughter was not up to doing this and the guardianship system (which looks like she got somewhat ripped off), suggests that making preparations is a good idea. As our parents leave the scene we need to recognize that we are next.

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