Sunday, September 07, 2008


It has been some time since I posted here.

There have been so many upheavals in our life and most of them have been due to dealing with things to do with Mom.

Mom's memory is becoming increasingly spotty and this has led to problems. Apart from that, the fact that certain people, grown adults, have "borrowed" money from Mom over the last years that she was left with nothing more than her pensions and a lot of debt. Every month was robbing Peter to pay Paul.... and then have Tom, Dick and Harry calling for what they were owed, as well. I had no idea how bad it was until I finally took the initiative and dragged Mom and her records off to a financial advisor.

I had said to Mom that I thought she must owe "tens of thousands of dollars". She was sure she owed less that 10 thousand.... "probably less than $8,000".

When the everything was tallied, just the credit cards and bills were over $60,000. That didn't include last year's taxes and the installments for next year.

I was horrified... Mom was incredulous.

All her RSPs were gone. All her investments... gone. All her savings.... gone. She has a good pension -- her own, my late father's, her Old Age Pension and her Canada Pension -- enough to live fairly comfortably -- but within days of every month was into her overdraft and by mid month even that was all gone. And still she wasn't even paying off all the minimums, let alone the principals of the debts... And, of course, the two relatives had their hands out for money.

Mom couldn't say no.

Mom has never been able to say no.

I can remember years ago, while she was in the midst of a burn-out at work... when she could barely sleep at night and was falling asleep during the day, unable to keep up with the demands of her work as a high-school teacher and having a three of us at home (plus my Dad who lived for his work)... She would get calls from the church to ask her to join committees or volunteer for this or that. "I wish they would stop asking me! I can't go on like this!"

I told her that she had to say n"No!" when they called.

"I can't say No! What would people think!?"

"Who cares what they think, Mom! You can't go on like this. You just said you wished they would stop calling. As long as you don't say no, they will continue to call!"

She got so angry at me.... "But What will people think?"

A carry over from her mother for whom, as the wife of a prominent Presbyterian minister in the town where they lived, "what people think" carried a lot of weight.

"Letting people down" is one of the worst things we could do, as far as Mom was concerned. Saying no to relatives who know which buttons to push - "We'll get kicked out of our house", "The kids don't have shoes", "My cheque was stolen" (a practically monthly occurrence for one of the two), or "Just until the tax cheque comes in" -- was simply not possible for her.

What she feared was either them not talking to her again or "losing their kids" to Childrens Aid, a constant hook used by one but the other used it a couple of times. Again, there was also the dread of others thinking she would let her children down in a time of need.

Now, it was she who needed financial help and they stopped calling. As I had tried to say to her repeatedly, "It is all very well and good helping them pay rent but when when we can't pay the rent, who can help us? If you die, from the stress of all this, they are going to have to fend for themselves. They will have to do it sometime."

Thank GOD my company just signed on with an employee assistance program which offers all sorts of professional help and/or assistance in finding professional help for employees and their family. Certain services, those offered directly by the EAP, are free. Others are partially free (the first visit or several visits.... the first three hours, etc.) or they put you in touch with professionals that you pay for. They also have in-house and web-based confidential counselling, both psychological and work-related and if more serious problems exist, they referr you to professionals in the community.

This was a godsend.

I was at my wit's end when I called the confidential EAP phone number and was immediately speaking with a counsellor. She could tell I was distraught and asked me questions first about my state of mind. They have a policy that when they are concerned about the risk of a caller harming themselves or others, they are required by law to call the police or EMT. Once they establish there isn't a risk, they assist you in finding a professional to help you in whatever area you need.

They call the professional who then contacts you, either by phone or email.

Within an hour, I was talking with a debt counsellor and had an appointment for myself and my Mom for the nexr day.

Within a few days, we had several avenues suggested to resolve the problem. After looking over everything and talking several times with my mother about the options open to her, we settled on bankruptcy.

For Mom, theis was a terrible blow. Again "What will people think?" was her question.

Both my sister and I, who we discussed to options with, said "What will people think if you end up in court when the debts go to collection and you can't pay?"

Besides, she simply couldn't go on the way things were. I know I couldn't continue. I was so stressed I was becoming suicidal. I knew Mom must be worried, too, despite her not realizing the extent of her debt.

We assisted Mom in filing. Both our incomes and debts were taken into consideration and a budget was worked out which seemed frightningly small but workable for us and we turned a new page.

The first month was filled with concern about how things would work, juggling the money for the rent in and out of Mom's account and mine until we were sure that if the bank shut down her account and the cheque hadn't gone through, we would have cash to pay the rent. Mid-month, the overdraft was gone, as as her credit card account, and Mom was in the black foo the first time in several years.

The rent cheque went through with no problem. Mom called all the organizations which my mother had donated money to which came out in direct payment and told them her situation. Every one of them, with the exception of one she could never reach, cancelled the payments, immediately. One, the Provincial NDP, gave her a copmplete refund to the beginning of the year and offered her any help they could. Their kindness was very moving.

August went even smoother and Mom has finally understood that the money she pays the Bankruptcy Trustee covers ALL her debts. It is a large sum to pay evey month but only slighly more than she was paying every month to pay only just the interest (and not even fully covering that) and instead of the principle rising, the debt will be paid off in 18 months.

However, the biggest benefit of all this is that Mom finally understands how she got into this. She finally understands that she has to say "No." when asked for money. She finally understands that helping them continually was doing her no good and, really, it wasn't helping them stand on their own two feet.

She says "No!" to charities calling for money (except those she has long supported, like Child Haven. She has a small amouth set out in the budget for chartiable donations, so she can still feel she is contributing).

She also sees that, when the debt is paid off, she will finally be able to do some of the things she would have been able to do had she not given it all away.

The one thing I now have to imress upon her is that being on a budget does not mean she can't afford to get a haircut or the buy clothes when she needs them.

It is all a work in progress....

Now, if only I can get her to stop losing her keys or leaving her purse in Tim Horton's (she had her wallet stolen from it on Friday... luckily, no money in it -- and, of course, no credit cards!).


Just Passing By said...

Do you know about this blog from the New York Times:

I'm so glad to see that you were able to get your Mother some financial "first aid." I found your blog quite by accident; I wish you and your Mother all the best.

Mudhooks said...

Thanks, so much for taking the time to comment. I never know if anyone reads these. It is nice to know someone did or does...