Hello friends, friends of friends, friends I have not yet met, and those I may never meet. I’d like to tell you the story of a woman named Barbara. Barbara is my mother and I’ll tell you now that thus far, her story has been a pretty sad one.
When Barbara was thirty years old, she was hit by a drunk driver. In the accident, she rolled over the top of the car. Barbara was lucky to be alive, but both of her legs were broken. Through physical therapy, she eventually regained the ability to walk, but her gait and legs were never the same. As a result of the accident and subsequent court settlement, Barbara was able to put the money towards medical expenses and the purchase of a home.
Yet all was not well within the walls of this home. For the last 40 years, Barbara has been in an abusive marriage. Her husband, my father, was abusive in the fullest sense of the word. My mother and I lived in fear every day of our lives. If you know anyone who has been in an abusive relationship, you know that there are a number of reasons why they may stay in the relationship: Isolation, insecurity, fear, a sense of obligation, an eroded spirit and shattered sense of self, etc. At around 10 years old, I remember asking my mother why she didn’t just leave my father. She looked at me with certainty and replied, “because he said he would find us and kill us.” Isolated and trapped in her marriage, Barbara did the best she could to survive day to day.
Barbara became self-employed fixing and selling cell phones and pagers. She lived at her small store from the moment she woke up until near midnight every night. Even though she had been robbed before and it was dangerous to be alone in a closed down plaza that late at night, for Barbara it was still better and safer than being at home. Despite her store barely making any money over the years (or outright losing money), she needed it like oxygen. Her store was her safe place. It was her coping mechanism. It was the place she could feel a sense of herself and connect a little bit with the outside world.
No matter what was happening in her personal life, Barbara loved talking to the people who came into her store. She treated absolutely everyone who came into her store with dignity, respect, and care. Barbara got to know many of the people who walked through her door. She heard their stories, what was happening in their lives, how their families were doing, etc. Barbara would even front money for her customers or try to help them out if they were financially struggling. She did this even though she was always financially struggling herself.
You see, Barbara’s husband only worked for a few years. He was as abusive and overbearing at his jobs as he was at home and often had difficulty staying employed. Plus, having Barbara entirely support him fed into his constant need for power and control.
After nearly 20 years of struggling and refinancing the home in order to keep the store she loved and needed so much, the day finally came when Barbara had to make the difficult decision to give up her storefront. By this time, both her and her husband were in their late sixties. Though weakened by various medical complications, Barbara’s husband had not changed and was no less dangerous. When she wasn’t keeping her distance to the far side of the house, Barbara was out in her car determined to still work and connect with her customers whenever she could.
Barbara also had her cats. Throughout my childhood, I remember my mother buying food for stray cats and nursing back to health sick and motherless kittens. She would pay for vet visits, medicine, and keep them close if they had a terminal illness. Barbara is also allergic to cats. I once saw her caring for a terminally ill kitten undeterred when her right eye became swollen shut from allergies. Even if she didn’t know how to help herself or love herself in the ways she so needed, she was able to put that energy and love towards any stray animal that crossed her path. Soon after I left home, Barbara began a small cat rescue at her house.
Unbeknownst to Barbara, shortly after losing her store, she became at risk of losing her home. Due to her increased financial struggles, Barbara had to temporarily stop paying on her home insurance. During this time, her lender sent letters to the home stating they would apply force-placed insurance if she did not provide proof of other insurance. Her husband, being the person he was as well as suffering from senility and worsening undiagnosed mental illness, hid these letters from Barbara. He hid the letter including the plan for their ridiculously expensive force-placed insurance of $20,000 a year. He hid the letters pertaining to their mortgage delinquency and looming foreclosure. After nearly a year, Barbara found a statement showing that they were 7 months behind on their mortgage. The more she researched, the more Barbara uncovered about her husband’s betrayal and lies. He claimed to make phone calls to the mortgage lender that he never made. Other bills he said he had paid were going unpaid. Barbara felt as if the ground had fallen out from underneath her.
In a desperate effort to save her home and the home of the cats she rescued, Barbara sought legal help and was advised to file for bankruptcy. Though her attorney told her she would be safe from foreclosure for 5 years, following which she would again be current on her mortgage, she discovered this was not the case. Instead, Barbara’s attorney wrote a modification into her bankruptcy plan. A modification that her lender had the ability to deny and a modification that her lender quickly did deny. This means that Barbara’s home is still subject to foreclosure.
During all this, Barbara’s abusive husband’s health started failing. Denied access by Medicare, he was kicked out of the hospital several times. Though unable to properly care for him at home, Barbara still tried her best to do so. Despite being almost a foot shorter with two impaired legs, Barbara used every ounce of strength she had to try to pick back up the man who terrorized her for four decades whenever he fell down. When needed, Barbara would bathe the weakened body that used to beat her. Here was a man who isolated her from her friends and family, who took advantage of her in almost every possible way, who put her in jeopardy of losing the home she obtained from suffering a terrible accident, and who emotionally, spiritually, and physically bullied her, and not once did she abandon him or seek vengeance of any kind.
In the days following her husband’s death, Barbara has not had time to mourn or process the events that have unfolded. Instead, she has discovered that her income will be reduced by 50% thanks to Social Security. Instead, she has discovered that her new reduced income cannot support a mortgage modification or revised bankruptcy plan. Barbara has also discovered that from their refinance ten years ago, her husband went behind her back to make sure he was the only borrower listed on the loan. As a result of his death, the lender's force-placed insurance pushing her into foreclosure, and her newly reduced income, Barbara cannot afford to stay in her home any longer (unless by some miracle, she can pay off her lender in full).
So, the home that Barbara invested in after being hit by a drunk driver and having both of her legs broken; the home in which she survived decades of abuse; the home where she has invested love and caring into building a small cat rescue for kitties who may have otherwise died from preventable causes or been run over or euthanized; the home in which she wants to live out the rest of her days in her long awaited and deserved peace is going to be taken from her.
So, this is a chance to transition my mother into a new home where she can make new, good memories. A home that she can truly call her own, free from the violent dark cloud that was her husband. A home where she can start to live rather than merely survive day by day.
However, we have to act fast. We have to sell her home before the bank can swoop in to take it from her, leaving her with absolutely nothing. We have to find her a new, low cost home where she can continue her small cat rescue. We have to setup the new home for her small cat rescue, which will most likely include contractor costs. We have to hire movers to help her sort through and get rid of 40 years of accumulated stuff and downsize. We have to pay for storage during the transition between homes. We have to get professional help to clean up her place and get it ready for sale. We have to hire a bankruptcy attorney as a representative to manage the process and payoff her predatory lender, in hopes that we will have enough money left over to afford a new home at all. We may have to board her cats if we are unable to secure a smooth transition. And this all has to happen within the next 60 days or so.
To those of you who are moved enough by my mother’s story to donate, thank you from the depths of my soul and I wish to put that caring energy back into the world. Which is why for every $100 donated, I vow to volunteer an hour to local women’s shelters helping women and children who are victims of domestic violence in whatever way I can.
To those of you who are not in the position to donate funds, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share a bit of my mother’s story. I hope you will forward this story on in an effort to add voice to the issues of domestic violence, predatory lending practices, and financial support for seniors (especially following the death of a spouse). Thank you and please take care of each other.