Sunday, March 22, 2015

Things We Never Thought We'd Know

What do you do when your child dies?

That's a question we never thought of, and never thought we'd know the answer to.  Emotionally, it's impossible to answer - and that isn't what this post is about.  What actually happens?  What do we have to do?  How long does it take?

Before we took Obie home from the hospital, we kept asking what we had to do when he passed.  Who do we call?  We didn't want to be staring off into space and having to google what to do.  For some reason, the social workers and hospice people seemed surprised by our questions.  This will never cease to be confusing.

In our case (and we suspect most cases), when someone dies under hospice care, the first call is to the hospice company.  They send a nurse out to confirm the death and start the paperwork.  Then, the nurse calls the funeral home.  It helps if a funeral home has already been selected, which thankfully we had done.  The social worker from the hospital had called the funeral home in advance so they knew our name and some of our information already.

From the time we called the hospice it was about an hour before the nurse was at our house.  The nurse was here about thirty minutes.  It took the funeral home person about an hour after he was called to come to our house, but he was only here about fifteen minutes.

Obie passed away at 12:50 a.m., but he didn't leave our house until almost 4 a.m.

The next day, the funeral home called us and made an appointment for us to come in, which we were able to do same-day.  In probably one of the most surreal experiences we'll ever have, we walked to the funeral home to fill out paperwork and make arrangements for cremation.  This also made clear the need to determine what to do with Obie's ashes.  We weren't completely sure at the time, but we knew we don't want to keep an urn indefinitely.  We wanted to lay his ashes to rest somewhere, but we hadn't decided where.

We also had to order copies of the death certificate from the county.  We thought it was up to us to take the death certificate to social security (turns out, the funeral home did it without telling us they would) and we weren't entirely sure what else we would need copies for.  We ended up ordering three copies of the death certificate, but we didn't know if that would be enough or too many.

We went to the social security office to report the death, but as mentioned, we didn't have to do this.  There was no way for us to know without going, and we don't know if it's a state requirement that the funeral director notifies or if it's the same everywhere.  That visit was also when we found out why Obie's social security card didn't have his full name on it.  Apparently the cap for middle names is 16 letters, so it reads OBERON CHRISTOPHER FIOR THOMA.  Unfortunate.

It was important to us that we had a copy of Obie's birth certificate.  We waited the suggested 8 weeks or so and then headed over to the Santa Clara County clerk's office to get an official copy.  This process was extremely simple and efficient.  The certificate has his full name and our names, and it's nice to have.

Oberon's official paperwork

Elizabeth still carries Obie's insurance card in her wallet, but we've also gotten notices from both our employer and the insurance company that his coverage is no longer valid.  We know it's just an unfortunate situation within the company processes (the same letters go out when dependents turn 26, when spouses separate, etc.), but it's still jarring to get mail addressed to Oberon telling him he's not qualified for insurance.

Another jarring thing was dealing with picking up Obie's ashes.  At first, the funeral home told us there was "no rush" to pick everything up.  A later communication mentioned no deadline, even after specifically asking.  Then, we got a tactless phone call that we had to come right away - apparently there is a 30-day limit for them to keep the remains.  Maybe don't wait until day 30 to call the grieving family?  Maybe be more tactful on the phone?  Maybe don't tell people you can use e-mail to communicate and then refuse to do so?  They called Chris in the morning on day 30 and Chris said we weren't ready to get them, yet.  He asked if we would call back over the weekend, and they begrudgingly said yes, but Monday was the limit.  (They still didn't actually mention the 30-day legal limit).  Later in the day, someone else called Chris again, but he couldn't answer while at work.  After Chris didn't pick up, they called Elizabeth at work. She said she couldn't talk about this now and to please e-mail her, and they started rambling about why they can't e-mail and yadda yadda... so she said, "I can't talk about this right now" and hung up.

After Elizabeth hung up on them, the manager called Chris again, and he angrily stepped outside to speak in private (still during the workday).  Clearly upset, Chris yelled at the manager about how unprofessional and inconsiderate they had been to a grieving family.  After a moderately believable apology and explanation, he finally got the real story and what needed to happen when.  Some of the people at funeral home were extremely considerate of our situation, some had the tact of temporary retail employees.  This was completely shocking to us.

In California, there are some of the strictest laws and permitting for where and how remains are kept or scattered.  At first, Obie's ashes were on file at our house in San Jose.  After a while, we knew we wanted to scatter Obie's ashes back to nature, and decided on scattering them in a Santa Clara County park.  We thought about taking them to Tahoe or Yosemite, but waiting for spring just seemed too long.  There are also services that will scatter ashes by plane or at sea by boat, but we decided it was better for us to do it ourselves.

After a fair amount of looking we decided on a park, and started looking into the process.  There is a little bit of information online, but not much, so Chris ended up contacting the Santa Clara County Parks department to ask how to get the required permit.  He was put in touch with the right person, and after getting a copy of the right form filled out, we received a special use permit for the chosen park for Chris and Elizabeth to scatter the ashes privately.  Again, the process was extremely easy and efficient, so props to Santa Clara County for apparently having their act together.

With the permit giving us permission to scatter the ashes in the county park, we then had to go back to the funeral home to have them get a new permit from the health department documenting where the remains were to be scattered.  Three trips to the funeral home later (in a turn of events that surprises no one, they don't have their act together), we received the correct permit from the health department, and could legally spread Obie's ashes how we wanted.  We plan on sharing the story of scattering Obie's ashes in a separate post.

While there were more logistics and permits to deal with than we would have thought, it is much less than required when an adult passes away.  If you don't have a will, we strongly suggest considering it.  Having to deal with accounts, power of attorney, and other issues in the midst of grieving would add another complication at the worst time.  Be good to your loved ones, and help take care of what you can.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


"How are you?"

"Getting by."
"Barely able to function."

It hasn't really gotten easier answering niceties.  Sometimes we want to talk, sometimes we don't.  Sometimes we only want to talk to each other, sometimes we want to talk to other people.  It's always awful.

We are alive.  We are functioning for the most part.  Going to work most days, eating most meals, and sleeping most nights.  Time is going by at a slow crawl.  It doesn't feel right to commit ourselves to new endeavors to fill up the time, so we try to pile up take-it-or-leave-it activities.  Watching T.V.  Working out.  Crocheting for Elizabeth.  Cooking for Chris.  Sometimes it feels good to make something, sometimes we can't do anything but sit.

Most people have dreams for the future.  We have dreams, but there's not a thing we can do right now to try to make them a reality.  We just have to wait.  For time to go by, for things to happen, for grief to change.

We're on pause.  We can't wait to get off pause, but there's nothing we can actively do to move things along.  People like to say when things are bad to move on or move forward, but we can't move towards anything yet.  This horrible pause brings more frustration, impatience, and sadness.  Sadness for losing Obie (always), sadness for ourselves, sadness that we aren't really living right now.  "Life is short."  No kidding.

 Hiking in Muir Woods, 2/28/2015

Motivational speeches and tropes just don't apply to us right now.  Elizabeth went to a conference recently, and most of the fluff was even more irritating than usual.  Being told to drop her perspective at the door was laughable, being told that fear was courage trying to get in was inane.  Making nice with pregnant strangers was next to impossible, and crying in the exhibitor's hall probably happened.  In general, people are nice and very worried when you shockingly start crying during small talk.  She's done it enough times now that it's not even embarrassing.

Someday, hopefully, this time will be a painful memory that we never revisit.  We love thinking of our Obie and will cherish those memories forever.  But now?  This empty time of acute grief, deafening silence, and aching hearts?  There's nothing we can do but try to get through it, and hope the pause is almost over.

Hiking in Castle Rock State Park, 2/22/2015