I was called to a house in Arlington; it was a mess. The other houses on the street were carefully maintained in their yards; this one had nothing but weeds and derelict pieces of machinery.  Inside was no better.  It looked like a hoarder’s home.  You had to walk through piles of paper and other things in narrow pathways to get through the house.  The house was occupied by the husband, who sat in the midst of piles in the living room in his underwear and suffered from (I was told) bi-polar disease; the wife, our patient, who was in a back bedroom, on oxygen, having difficulty breathing and so scantily clad that I had to sit with my back to her to discuss her wishes; and two sons, one married, who also live in the house.

Once I managed to find her, I talked to our patient about her final wishes and then went home and drafted her documents, including her wish for her body to be sent to her home state and buried in her family plot.  When I went back to make sure that she and the family were clear about her wishes, the husband didn’t sit in on the meeting, but the two sons did.  After she told me that she was happy with the Last Will and Testament, I packed up my documents and prepared to leave the house when her two sons stopped me on the front porch.  It was raining and a truly ugly day. They stood there together, half in and half out of the rain, and asked me to remove the paragraph from their mother’s will that called for her body to be returned to her home state for burial. They told me that their father wanted to simply cremate her in Virginia, save the money from her insurance and try to get the family out of debt.  They asked me to do a “secret will” calling for her body to be returned home, without telling him.

I suggested that such a procedure wouldn’t work, since their father was the designated Executor. They asked me many questions about how we could get around his role. The sons both said they were afraid of him, they’d been directed and controlled by him all their lives and could not stand up to him……and asked for my help.

I looked at them, in the rain and the misery and the ugly yard and said, “if you want your Momma buried as she wishes, you have to deal with your father.  And I left, not knowing whether I had made the problem better or worse.

They called me a week later, said that they had sat down with their father and told him that their mother wanted to be buried in her hometown cemetery and that they were going to make sure that that happened, no matter what he thought.  He had listened and agreed, and they asked me to come back and get the Will signed, which I did.  Six months later, they asked me to come back.  The yard was neat and clean; the inside of the house was neat and clean; their father was well cared for.

They had taken control of their lives and of the family.  The love they felt for their mother and their desire to honor her wishes had forced them to confront their past and make things right.