by John Aquino on 04/12/18
This is a tale of two burials and two different cemeteries.
My father died in 1968 and was buried at what we'll call Cemetery A. As the family
has grown, married and moved away, it is a cemetery that has been difficult for
us to visit. My wife’s parents, who moved from Long Island to live with us, are
buried at Cemetery B. One of my brothers died in 2015, was cremated, and his
cremains given to my wife and me by his children to bury with my mother when
she passed. My mother became very ill at the age of 101 in February 2016, and
we were advised to call a priest to administer last rites. We contacted Cemetery
A with the expectation of burying my mother with my father there. We mentioned
my brother’s cremains and the representative said, “Oh, that will cost you $250
to place them in your mother’s casket.” After further family discussion, we
concluded it might be better to bury my mother with my brother’s cremains at
Cemetery B, which we visit frequently, and later move my father to Cemetery B.
We contacted Cemetery A about this and were told there would be no problem.
We discussed the plan with family members and received their
approval. We then went to Cemetery B and discussed the plan with a young man
there. He told us we had to buy a second lot for my father at a cost of $1,750
because there was a limit of two individuals per plot and my mother and brother
counted as two. I said that we had received a different impression from Cemetery
B. He talked to the manager there who supported his conclusion. I then called
and called and worked my way up the chain of command. The last man I talked to
insisted that the two-person limit was unchangeable. I noted that the lady at Cemetery
A said that placing my brother’s cremains in my mother’s casket would only cost
$250. He said, “Oh, that occurs when people surprise us at the burial with
cremains and at that point we charge them $250 as a recordation fee.” I said,
“So, if I just surprised you with the cremains at the burial it would cost $250
but because I told you up front it will cost $1,750. And he said, “That’s about
The young man signed us up for two lots. We drove
around Cemetery B and found two lots on a hill where they would catch the
sunset in the morning. We made sure they would accommodate a headstone, which
we intended to move from Cemetery A, acknowledging that both cemeteries had
told us that Cemetery B had to okay the headstone. We took out our checkbook,
but the young man said we didn’t have to put money down. To our happy surprise,
my mother got better. A month later, I called the young man and said my mother
could continue on or could go at any time. He said, “Don’t worry. You have
these sites! They are yours!”
My mother suffered another steep decline in mid-April 2017, and we
were told she would last only a few days. My wife and I drove to Cemetery B the
next day with the paperwork the young man had given us the year before. We
found out he no longer worked there. The new young man whom we met told us that
the two sites we had been told were ours had been sold because the first young
man had written nothing down to hold the lots for us. Showing the paperwork
the first young man had given us, I askedhe second one, “How could this have happened?” The
new young man volunteered that it was not a surprise because his predecessor
had made many similar mistakes and lapses. The new young man drove us around,
and none of the sites he showed us would allow us to move the headstone from Cemetery
A. With my mother
likely to go to the Lord soon, we were forced to pick the best two lots
available, which were not on a hill and were closer to the rear fence than we
would have liked. And so, rather than utilizing the headstone we owned that
would cost us just $250 to move, we were required to buy a flat monument for a
cost of $3,500.
My mother passed away, and the burial at Cemetery B was done
professionally, and everyone was very nice. As my mother’s personal
representative/executor, I spent the summer getting her estate in order and
selling her house. Once we sold the house, we had the money in the estate to
move my father to Cemetery B. We met with Cemetery B, and I brought my letter
of administration as personal representative for the estate from the D.C.
superior court. We were told that there wasn’t much they could do until the
D.C. government granted a disinterment permit, which I was the only one who could secure because I was the
petitioner. They helped me fill out the petition form,and the cemetery director signed it. The next
day, I went to the appropriate D.C. government office, took a number, and
waited two hours. When my number was called, I walked to the cage, presented
the petition plus my letter of administration, and the lady said, “I can’t
accept the petition because it’s hand written. All submissions must be typed.”
I said that the cemetery had helped me fill out the form, and she said, “They
should have known better!” She told me to sit down and she would get the
registrar to explain to me how disinterments are done in the District of
Columbia. After two more hours of waiting, I had to go and retrieved my
paperwork from the clerk.
My brother called Cemetery A, described my wasted day and asked if
the staff there could submit the form. He was told yes, but it would cost us
$200. It took a week before someone from Cemetery A went down to the D.C.
government office. We then received an email from Cemetery A informing us that
the D.C. government said the form had to be submitted by email. The logical
response is that if Cemetery A didn’t know how disinterments are handled in the
District of Columbia they should have called and found out before imposing on
me and wasting two weeks in the process. The petition was finally submitted and
ultimately approved. But the delay pushed the disinterment and reburial into
The disinterment and reburial were finally scheduled for January.
My brother and I went to Cemetery A at 10 on an extremely cold morning, I signed the paperwork and paid the
bill. We went to Cemetery B where we met my wife. Everything finally went flawlessly, and my father now rests next to my mother and
Copyright 2018 by John T. Aquino
by John Aquino on 04/12/18
My mother's house was her largest asset. After she died, we spent four months cleaning it out; it sold in one day.
First, we had to dispose of my Mom and Dad's furniture. With five children to raise and send to school, they had settled for serviceable furniture, nothing fancy. I was my mother' executor. My wife and I invited my siblings and their families and other relatives to come and see if there was anything they wanted. For what ultimately remained, I opted to donate it to charitable organizations.
I learned that the Salvation Army isn't the organization from the stage musical Guys and Dolls or the movies. My previous contact with the group had been with these portrayals and various individuals in Santa Claus suits ringing a bell in front of a large bucket. The earliest pickup appointment we could get was three weeks away, and when the two finally men came, they walked around, noticed a scratch on the dining room table and the china cabinet and said they could only accept furniture that was "show-room ready." I thought from their ads they were donating furniture to the needy, and here they were wanting unused furniture to sell in their show rooms. I told them they should send out an inspection team first and not make us wait weeks to be rejected. I was so upset at the wasted time I ordered them out. We ultimately found a nonprofit named Community Forklift that took everything--although they had a no-stairs policy so we had to rely on myself, my brother and one of my late brother's sons to haul the beds and dressers downstairs. Other items--bags and bags of clothes and popular novels--went to Northwest Children's Outreach Donations, which had an easy access drop-off.
Second, we learned that no one would take Mom's hospital bed--which was electric and had cost several thousand dollars--presumably for fear of contagion, even though she had no contagious disease. One of our contractors needed one for his mother, so it worked out.
Third, my Dad, an attorney, and my Mom, an English teacher had amassed a mass of books, for their own careers and for their children's learning. We had family members go through them. From what was left, we thought that we would donate literary novels and nonfictions to libraries and try to sell books Mom and Dad really prized. My Dad purchased the Book of the Year every year from 1951 to his death in 1968 and the Book of Knowledge annuals for the same period. He bought an Encyclopedia Britannia that all of his children used as THE resource through high school. No one wanted the two annuals, so they went to the Montgomery County (Md.) Friends of the Library. The Encyclopedia, which was copyrighted 1937, before a polio vaccine was discovered and the internet was invented, went to the landfill. My Dad collected books about Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy and World War Two, as well as religious books about and by St. Thomas Aquinas and my Mom did the same for books by and about Thomas Merton. We brought some to a number of used book stores, none of which wanted them. Second Story Books in Washington, D.C. told me the problem was they were all hardbacks and that it is hard to sell hardbacks today. I actually thought that hardbacks, being more durable, were the better buy. Maybe, with the internet, no one buys books. The Kennedy, Lincoln and World War Two Books went to the Friends of the Library, and the religious books to the Washington Retreat House run by the Franciscan Sisters of Atonement.
Fourth, having dealt with the big things, dealing with the family things pulls you into a bubble between past and present, remembering the past and knowing what will happen. My Mom saved every bill she received after my Dad died 47 years ago, and we had to go through them one by one because sometimes letters and stock certificates were mixed in. My Dad saved every tooth each of his five children lost and every spelling test, along with first and second pairs of shoes. Outside of making a necklace of them, there was nothing to be done with the teeth. The spelling tests, the valentines, the birthday cards, aside from one or two, all had to go. Dad and Mom felt the promise for each of us so strongly. Much of it was fulfilled, but with sadness and heartache and right turns when we should have turned left, and also a few miracles, such as medical innovations that the 1937 Encyclopedia didn't mention. And we pray for more medical miracles to come.
by John Aquino on 04/12/18
My Mom died on April 20, 2017, a little over a year ago, at the age of 102, her passing coming after several years in which she couldn't speak except for a few words. We had 24/7 caregivers for her, and she was also part of home hospice.
I think I can pinpoint the last time she seemed to know who I was. It was about eight months before the end. Up to then, she would eat and drink but really not respond to conversation. But on that day in August, I left work at 4, took the 45 minute trip by train from Crystal City, Virginia and walked the 10 minutes to her home in Tenleytown, Washington, D.C. Washington is traditionally hot in August, and I was sweating when I entered her house. I said hello to her caregiver Christina, and knelt in from of the hospital bed in Mom's living room where she was lying. "Mom," I said, "I'm sorry. I'm sweating, and I don't want to get you wet." She looked up at me and smiled. For the first time in months, she smiled and recognized me. She looked up at me, reached for my face and wiped my sweating brow as she had when I was a boy. It was, I think, the last time she recognized me, the last time I saw her smile, and the last time she was really herself. It was the first goodbye.
After that, except for one or two times--with prompting on Christmas Day she was able to say, "Merry Christmas"--we would visit, talk to her, sit with he and watch tv with her or sit in silence and hold her hand , and she wouldn't respond or even acknowledge we were there. The Monday after Easter, her caregivers told us it would be a matter of days. Christiana called us at 1 a.m. on Easter Thursday to say Mom wasn't breathing. Mom had a DNR (do not resuscitate). We told Christiana not to call 911 but to phone hospice. We then left and drove the generally empty streets, deep in our own thoughts.
The second goodbye was the long goodbye. When we arrived at the house around 1:30 a.m., the door was open. Mom was lying on the hospital bed, covered up to her neck by the coverlet, very still. We knelt and took turns kissing her. When we stood up, I asked Christina when hospice was coming. I had thought they would already be there, establishing time of death. She said she couldn't get through. I went into the dining room to call, and the phone rang and rang until, after 20 rings, it went into voicemail that said our call was important to them and that the next available operator would pick up soon. Elevator music began to play. How many people are calling and queuing up at 1:30 a.m.? And having hospice involved was supposed to make it easy. I hung up, called again and the same thing happened. I let the music play, and after five minutes the call disconnected. Obviously, something was wrong. I called the Virginia office, which answered, and they called the D.C. office and couldn't get through. I suggested that my wife and Christina get some sleep. I called the D.C. hospice number every 15 minutes. Finally, at 5:30, someone picked up. I explained to her what was happening, and she apologized profusely, explaining that their phones had been out all evening. She said someone from hospice would be there in 20 minutes. While we waited, I went back into the living room,, knelt by the hospital bed, prayed, kissed Mom, and ended the second goodbye.
The man from hospice declared the cause of death as 5:30 a.m., even though she had passed away four and a half hours earlier. He said that was the protocol. He asked me questions, called the D.C. medical examiner, gave the information, and told the examiner the cause of death as Alzheimer's Disease. I said, "No, she was never diagnosed with Alzheimer's, only the dementia that happens when you are 102." But he shook his head, indicating that that too was the protocol, making me think that this was inflating the figures for Alzheimer's. He called the funeral home, which in a hour removed her body from her home.
There followed meetings with the funeral home and the cemetery staffs, the wake, and the funeral, with relatives and friends coming from Georgia, Kentucky, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Ohio. That was the third goodbye, a shared goodbye with loved ones. Things happened with the burial process, of which I'll write more later. I've already posted the eulogy I delivered at the funeral mass.
Then we had to clean out and sell the house, of which I will write more later.
The house sold in September. I turned over all of my keys. I took them one by one from my very crowded key chain--the front door key that Mom always reminded me turned left to open, the key to the second lock that we installed in the front when Mom began to wander, the back porch key, the key to the basement entrance, and the garage key. When I was done, I had just one key left, and it was the one to our own house. A few weeks later, I drove down my mother's street and passed what had been her house. The new owners hadn't moved in, and from the street it looked like the place was still empty. I got out of the car and started to walk to the front door. And then I realized that for the first time since I was six years old, I couldn't go in. As I walked away, I realized that that was the last goodbye.
Copyright 2018 by John T. Aquino