Two weeks ago, I wrote about learning of a lawsuit filed by my adoptive father in an attempt to have my Momma’s body exhumed and moved to a location of his choosing, because he “should have gotten to make that final decision as her husband“…No matter that they had been seperated for over 3 months and my Momma had officially filed for divorce and the only reason it wasn’t final was because of her death.
I am not certain that anything could have hit me any harder than learning that this lawsuit had been filed…And that this level of cruelty actually existed…In someone that I thought I knew?! Seriously, what possible reason could there be for exhuming a body and moving a person who passed away over a year ago, to a different place?? Was my father unable to travel to my Momma’s current resting place? No…It was only about 35 minutes away. A very short drive for someone who had been known to drive 8 or 9 hours in a day to look at a tractor or a farm implement. Was it because he was distraught over her death? It hardly seemed so, since he helped that along by showing up with that “living will”?!
Also, learning that my father had asked that my Momma’s body to be exhumed and moved on the exact date of Brad’s and my anniversary and my younger brother’s birthday (we were those who originally helped and stood by Momma), made it seem like cruel and unusual punishment to her, when he obviously really wanted to hurt those of us who helped her…But then, what better way to hurt us than by doing something else to her??
Originally, we thought that his plan would be to move her body to one of the four plots he had purchased many years ago in the public cemetary of our hometown, even though no arrangements or pre-planing had been done. Momma had made it very clear to me that she did not want to be buried in that cemetary with my father, so that was reason enough to try to stop it. But something we later learned made us even more determined to stop this action from happening.
My husband and son own and operate a lawn care business. Brad was doing a job in the summer of 2016 in our hometown and was talking to one of his new customers, who had been a friend of my family. He asked Brad how my father was doing since Momma had passed away. Brad told him he really didn’t know…that after my father had kicked us out of his house, then tried to shoot Momma, and was now trying to exhume and move her resting body…we didn’t really talk to him anymore. To say the friend was shocked would be a vast understatement, but what he then told Brad was by far even more worriesome! He said that it was so weird to learn this because my father and his “preacher” friend had been by their place (on the outskirts of town on their family farm) a week or so ago and my father was asking about a little old cemetary that was on their property and had been coal-mined all around. The friend told Brad is was a tiny little cemetary, back in the middle of nowhere, and very hard to get to and that most people didn’t even know it was there.
Immediately, Brad said “I knew. I now knew that your father’s plan was NOT to move Momma’s body to the public cemetary in our old hometown, but to move her body to this place where no one would know where it was, and that she would be hidden away and difficult, if not nearly impossible, to visit.” He said it made him physically sick. And as much as he didn’t want to, he came home and told me what he had just learned. I was in total disbelief…Although I dont really know why because this man, my “father”, had already proven that he was capable of about anything to hurt anyone who didn’t go along with what he wanted or who disagreed with him in any way. He obviously had an insatiable need to be in total “control”. It was amazing how I didn’t recognize it sooner…I mean, I am a psychology major, for Pete’s sake?!
Thinking back over the past 53 years, time and time again…there it was! As plain as day! ALWAYS, ALWAYS having to be in control! But, he was so smooth at it?! Momma being “able” to stay home and be a housewife and taking care of her husband and the kids was never equated to her NOT being allowed to work outside the home and have a career or make her own money?! It was always about him “taking care” of her and him “being the provideer”. But what it really translated to was that Momma really had nothing if it weren’t for him?! I remember when I was probably 12 or 13, Momma begged my father to let her sell Avon. He reluctantly agreed, but allowed it; however, any success she had, he belittled and laughed at, and always made jokes and made fun of her “Avon money”, like it was so insignificant and not worth anything. Just like her…In his mind.
Or how he provided both of my brothers with houses he owned to live in…rent free. However, it wasn’t “free”…There was always a price. They could live there so long as they did what he said, the way he wanted it done, and to be at his beckon call. And the minute they were not, or didn’t, they were out, just like last week’s garbage. This happened to my oldest of brothers when he got into trouble with the law…He went to jail and my father quickly rented the place to some other people. Then when my youngest brother decided to help our Momma when she finally left him, the electricity and heat was turned off in that house where he and his two kids lived, which prompted them to move in with us and then he finally officially “evicted” him and his kids right before Christmas that same year.
And we, ourselves, were offered a 3-acre piece of property right next to my Momma and father’s home in the year 2000 because we wanted to build a home and move into the country. And at that, when our kids were young and we were younger (and much greener and still naive), we were excited with the prospect! And we accepted. And build a new home. It was wonderful being able to walk up the hill and check on my parents and our son, Alex, loved living next door to MeMe and Papaw. He visited them at least every day…It was like his second home. Until it wasn’t.
Because about 5 years later, my oldest brother would be released from a correctional facility after getting into trouble with the law due to illegal drug activity, and would move back in with my parents next door. We tried to help the situation. We tried to welcome my brother back, but we were cautious. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he was back in trouble and once again, incarcerated. The next time he got out and came back to stay at my father’s, illegal drugs were still the problem and there were some questionable folks coming in and out of my parents’ home. Alex would come home from school and get off the bus alone and would be there for about an hour by himself. And he was afraid…of my brother. And of these other strange people next door. I decided that I would try to explain to my father about him being afraid…We had already voiced concern about their safety and ours. So, I went up and talked to my father, in person, and told him Alex was afraid and that he couldn’t even go out and ride his bike or play with the dog until we got home. My father acted like he understood and I felt like he would take some sort of action to make his grandson feel safe again. But in reality, what happened the next day was the first real clue that something was just not right.
I came home from work the very next afternoon to find my oldest brother on my father’s big riding lawn mower, mowing my father’s side yard, which connected to our front lawn. I went into my house and found Alex cowered down, hiding behind the sofa in the living room. I asked him what he was doing and he said “Hiding from my uncle…He’s out there in our front yard!” So, here’s my 10-11 year old scared to be in his own home. Later that evening, I called my father and asked him if he knew that my brother had been mowing next to our front yard earlier, because honestly I figured he was gone or something and didn’t know. However, what he said to me was that he indeed, did know, and, as a matter of fact, he had asked my brother to do that mowing this afternoon! I told him about coming home and finding Alex hiding and afraid. And he laughed. And told me that was “ridiculous”. I told him I couldn’t believe he didn’t care about Alex being afraid, especially after I had made it a point to talk to him about it the day before? He said that I needed to “get over it” and that I shouldn’t “coddle” my son. I told him that I didn’t consider being concerned about his safety from known drug offenders living and hanging out next door as coddling. He basically told me that I might as well get used to it. I told him we would not be visiting their home again until my brother was gone from there taking away that risk/concern. He said “Fine, keep your asses down there at your place!”
Now…You have to understand that growing up, my father was so adamantly opposed to anything that had to do with drugs, that this attitude about it just made zero sense?! I remember when I was a little girl, a young couple moved into a rental house right up the road from us, and my father just raising Cain about it, talking about those “hippies” and how they were “damned dope-fiends”!? So all of this was so confusing to me?
Anyway, we stopped visiting them and it hurt me so bad. I had never given my father a minute of trouble. I was the straight A, honor-roll student, the straight-laced kid who never got into any trouble. The kid that didn’t smoke or do any kind of drugs. The kid that followed the rules and didn’t sneak out at night and came home by curfew. And at that time, I was the working mother, with two kids, who tried to have a career and take care of my family, etc. But, just like that, I was nothing…totally unimportant. And my son, who my father professed to be crazy about, just didn’t matter any more. I talked to my Momma on the phone and she apologized profusely, but said there was nothing she could do about it. She said she was also afraid of my brother that was living there and that he talked to her “like a dog.” And that she was definitely afraid of the people who were coming into their home to see my brother.
My father and Momma showed up at the Little League Park on opening day shortly thereafter, even though we had not mentioned it to them. They sat and watched Alex’s game in their lawn chairs, away from us. We were sitting on the bleachers. After the game, when we came down from the bleachers, my father was waiting. I had no idea what was about to happen was him getting in my face and shaking his finger at me, basically scolding and threatening me for keeping him away from Alex! This was witnessed by some of our friends, who couldn’t believe what had just happened?? They asked if we were okay and said they couldn’t believe that just happened! In public! My Momma had walked ahead and was reportedly also watching, in horror, as this scene went down. She was clearly not any part of it.
In August of that year, I got an unexpected call from my oldest brother telling me we needed to make up because Momma had cancer and she needed all of us. So, long story short, we put our differences aside and went back to my parents because we loved my Momma and we knew none of this was her fault. So we were there for her long, hard battle with lung cancer. And then fast forward another year, and we were also there to support Momma and my father, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer. But it was my younger brother, who really supported my parents through all of the chemo and radiation. He stopped working and became full-time caregiver, driving my dad to treatments and appointments…So you see how this works? Everyone else “gives” and “does” and my father “takes” and it doesn’t take a lot to fall out of the good graces.
So back to the lawsuit. We felt we needed to let our Attorney know about this latest piece of information Brad had learned. She, like us, was blown away! And determined…MORE determined to make sure that this action was NOT taken against my Momma. It’s hard for me to describe the level of caring and empathy I felt from this Attorney. She took the time to listen to us and to feel like she knew my Momma…And what she had been through at the hands of my father. After seeing her come to tears after the first meeting when we told her my Momma’s story, I knew she had the heart and fearlessness to take on the bully and not back down. And after learning of this latest information, she vowed to do EVERYTHING in her power to make sure he didn’t hurt her any further. And I am happy to say, she did not disappoint!
This case finally went to a hearing before a Judge on October 4, 2016, almost a whole year after we learned the lawsuit had been filed by my father, and we intervened to try to protect Momma. It was originally scheduled for September 29th, but postponed by my father’s attorney because he wasn’t “ready”. And even though, Brad or I did not have to testify, and we had the utmost confidence in our attorney who would be presenting our case on Momma’s behalf, the thought of having to see my father, who was trying to do one more awful thing to my Momma, made me completely sick to my stomach! I was a bundle of nerves and actually thought I might have to vomit on the way to the court room. I just knew that my father was capable of about anything to get his way.
The court room was empty except for the Judge, our Attorney, the Attorney for the Corporation that owned the cemetary, Brad and me, and my father and his attorney, and the court recorder. My father’s attorney had evidently came flying in at the last minute. Luckily, our side got to present first. The Corporate Attorney spoke first and basically stated that they stood by their decision to have allowed Brad and me to make Momma’s final arrangements because of the temporary emergency guardianship that had been granted.
Then our Attorney got her turn to present. She was the picture of a confident, polished, extremely professional Attorney…She was dressed in a suit, impeccably groomed, and had very organized and prepared copies of everything for the Judge, the Recorder, and the Corporate Attorney in separate file folders. And then she gave her heartfelt, very eloquent presentation of Momma’s story and why it would be so unreasonable and wrong to allow her body to be exhumed and moved, in light of everything that had happened, as well as there being no legitimate reason for it. She was nothing short of amazing!
Then it was my father’s Attorney’s turn. To put it kindly, he was less than impressive. His suit, wasn’t really a suit. It was a pair of wrinkled dress pants that were too short and a suit jacket of another color. His shoes were scuffed and dirty. And he had a folder with all kinds of papers sticking out of it in different directions…”disheveled” would be a good adjective to describe him. And then…he spoke. And the word “schmuck” immediately came to mind. He sounded unprepared and to our surprise gave the impression that he wasn’t even convinced that my Momma’s body should be disturbed?!
We fully expected my father to play the “victim” card that he had been playing since Momma left him. We we prepared to hear how they had been married for 53 years, and that we had forced Momma to leave even though she didn’t want to, and how much he “loved” her and wanted to be buried next to her so they could be together for eternity, and possibly how sickly he was and that visiting her grave was a hardship…But this was NOT what we heard. At all.
What we heard was that “legally”, they were still married when Momma died. And since they were still married, “legally”, she was still his wife. And because she was still his wife, “legally”, he should have had the POWER to make this decision about where she was buried. And he was not allowed to make that decision. And he did not think that was right.
And that was it. Plain and simple. He considered my Momma nothing more than a piece of property…Something else he “owned”. And while, in my heart, I knew this…Hearing it so coldly and so matter-of-factly spoken, in that court room, it was unbelievably hurtful. And it made me so extremely angry! How dare he consider my Momma nothing more than another piece of his “property”?! I am not a violent person and have never physically “fought”, but at that very moment, nothing would have made me feel better than to have been able to punch that man in the face?!
A few minutes passed after my father’s Attorney finished and took a seat. And then the Judge spoke. And if I could have a recording of this on a non-stop loop, I would listen to it over and over and over. This is what the Judge said: “According to the law, it states that there must be a compelling reason to exhume and move a body that has been laid to rest, and Mr. ______________, just because ‘you want to’ is NOT a compelling reason. Therefore, your petition is denied.” And then the sound of the gavel. And, I was able to take a breath. And to cry some tears of relief.
To say my father scrambled out of that court room would not really describe how quickly he made his exit. I fully expected him to be waiting outside the court room to have something nasty to say, but I was pleasantly surprised that he was nowhere in sight. And I thanked God for that. As I did for the outcome.
We walked back over to our Attorney’s Office a few blocks away. We rode up the elevator and went back into the conference room and our Attorney turned to me and gave me the biggest hug! I am not sure, but I believe she might have been as relieved and happy as I was with the outcome. She hugged Brad too and thanked us for sticking with this and for trusting her with this delicate and important matter. Her Assistant (who I had spoken with many times) came into the conference room and joined us in our “victory” for my Momma. We profusely thanked them both again for working so hard for Momma and then we said our good-byes.
It was finally OVER. And I admit, that while I was happy and relieved, I kind of fell apart. I don’t think I had fully realized how very much I had been affected by this? So I had a good cry on our way to the cemetary. I needed to let Momma know that she wasn’t going to be bothered and that she could finally, actually rest “in peace”. I was overcome by emotion, but so very relieved. It was truly bittersweet.
The next day, I had Momma some beautiful new fall flowers made and I sent our Attorney a beautiful thank you card and an owl keychain that I found at a local gift shop. She was touched and I want to share her reply…
With this matter finally settled, I believe I was finally actually free to grieve the loss of my Momma. And with that, I think I finally started to heal…