When right is not right

I’ve learned a lot of things in the past year.  Things about life as well as about death, things about myself and things about other people.  I’ve had to face things and do things that I never ever gave a thought to.  I had to realize that things happen to everyone, even me, my family – not just to other people – that in itself is a terrifying thought.  The vulnerability that seeps into one’s soul after losing someone so precious and loved defies description; it makes you fear for everyone else you hold dear.  This is not a good way to face life.

I learned that there are two perspectives on doing the “right’ thing.  There’s the impartial, clinical, defined, sort of absolute type of right thing, and then there’s the hazy, subjective, emotional, and very personal ‘right’ thing.  My recommendation to anyone grieving is to do the latter, go with what feels right for you, rather than what is determined by society in general or the values and mores of a collective.  My lesson, when I learned this, was when I tried to do the ‘right’ thing and notify all the required sources of Kevin’s death.  This would be the government, the bank, the credit card companies, the municipal services, etc.  The federal government stuff, cancelling the driver’s license, health card, etc., was all done for me by the funeral home. For the other things, I was given a list, a helpful list, designed to help me identify other agencies or service providers that I needed to inform about the death.

Not feeling inclined to do any of the face to face stuff; I started with the credit card companies.  This was the first surprise.  I was advised that my credit card was being cancelled, since I was a secondary cardholder and that I would have to reapply for a new one in my name.  Credit history for this card, which spanned 34 years, was gone out the window.  ‘Sorry ma’am I don’t make the rules.  Oh, and ma’am, we will need a copy of the death certificate, otherwise the card will continue to accrue the annual fee even if the cardholder is deceased.’  (What I heard was: ‘This is an uncomfortable conversation, I can’t wait to get it over with, and really, lady, it’s your problem, not mine.  You should have had your own credit card.   Secondary cardholders have no value to our organization.’)   This interaction set me back on my heels.  Did I carry on updating accounts, changing titles, or not? What other surprises would I face?  Frankly I didn’t have much fortitude to withstand these types of surprises.  With limited capacity to think and reason coupled with minimal energy, tending to these notifications was exhausting, but they weighed heavy on me as an obligation – after all, they were on ‘the list’.

I decided to see the family lawyer; I had to update my Will anyway.  His recommendation was to take the helpful list and put it away.  Nothing had to be done right away, as a matter of fact, some things didn’t have to be done for years – it was all up to me.  I pondered over his counsel and then contacted my bank, after all this was one area where not doing the right thing could cripple me with devastating effects.  I just couldn’t take a chance. Unfortunately, this had to be a face to face meeting with my account adviser.  I set it up a couple of times before I was actually able to find the strength emotionally to go in and talk about my husband’s death with, essentially, a stranger. That meeting was informative.  The advice she gave me echoed the lawyer – don’t rush to do anything. Take all the time in the world.  It may feel like the ‘right’ thing to take Kev’s name off of the cable bill and put it into my name, but if I can pay the bill without any issue, what’s the big deal if I don’t change it over right away.

In the first few months after Kevin’s death I didn’t want to answer the phone or talk to people; it was a big deal to go out to the grocery store – what if I met someone I knew?  At that time, when the death is so close and raw, everything is overwhelming, whether you face it alone or have 20 people helping you – it’s too much, too much to expect from someone who is in pieces.  Unfortunately, the things to do don’t go away. They have to be done, not all of them, but there are things that have to be done.  It’s a year now and I have to admit that I still haven’t done some of the notifications identified by that ‘helpful’ list.  Even though I haven’t done them, not a thing changed, not a blip on the radar.  So I will continue to do the right thing for me.  I figure if I cross some invisible line into an area of errancy, I’ll know, or better yet, someone will tell me.




BMO and the Widow – Let the Games Begin

I sit here in front of the computer making one of the dozens of calls that I have to make to different utilities, credit card companies, etc. where Kevin may have been the addressee on the monthly statements.  There are far more than most people would suspect, at least than I did, and frankly it is not an easy thing to do.  First, if Kevin is the addressee, if the bill is sent out in Kevin’s name, then I have to prove identity or provide proof of relationship by answering various security questions.  After authenticity of identity is established the ordeal begins.  I want to retain the billing history, but most places don’t want you to.  It’s got everything to do with internal practices and likely with rates as well.  Long-time customers usually have greater entitlements if they are savvy enough to ask for them.  New customers have none until they have established a credit history.  I want the billing history and I feel that I am entitled to it.

Why retain the billing history?  First of all, it can influence whether or not you have to pay a security deposit for a service.  Second, it’s actually my history, mine and Kevin’s true, but essentially I am entitled to the history.  If I died, he’d keep it, why then if he dies do I lose it? I certainly won’t “lose” the outstanding balance – banks are ruthless in that regard.  Third, I don’t want to fill out any more paperwork or go through any additional credit checks; I did that once when I went on as a joint card holder.  Fourth, my new credit limit and my new interest rate will be established based on earnings only not on the payment record with the institution over the last 30 years.  Consequently, I want them to do a name change, they can do it conditionally, I don’t care.  Change the name on the account with a six month probationary period, put on conditions that stipulate that if I miss a payment then the account is shut down, freeze it or do whatever.

As I type I am on hold with Customer Service at the Bank of Montreal going through the full spiel about why I want to do a transfer of credit card ownership, not a new cardholder agreement. I’ve gone through the initial dialogue with the frontline – the customer service clerk.  Now I’m onto the Customer Service Manager.  Although she’s very sympathetic, she is inflexible.  So am I. It’s a lot of effort, but trust me, this is worth it.  Keeping almost 30 years of credit history will make life a whole bunch easier at some point down the road.

This smacks of systemic discrimination against all secondary cardholders.  The fact is that contractually the institution considered both of us equally responsible for the debt. This should work both ways, I believe that the institution should be obligated to consider both of us as equally deserving of the credit history compiled as clients. I believe that I have been penalized because I was not identified as the primary cardholder, yet the card that I use has a clear assignation that it is mine in that it identifies me as the cardholder and has a unique number that is assigned only to me.  I own the card and I own the debt and, rightfully, I should own the history.  I consider payments made against that card under my name to be mine, and yet the bank suggests that these are not mine but rather my husband’s, although his credit card number is uniquely different.

Just because it has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that it is right.  It’s time to challenge this practice.  This is one for the Ontario Human Rights Commission – to start with.  It’s likely out of their league but I will follow due process.  The bank was inflexible and I have already lost the credit history – that occurred by the end of the telephone conversation when I was advised that they had cancelled the card. In this case I would suggest to the Bank of Montreal, you may have won the battle but don’t consider yourselves as having won the war – not yet.  This could take years but I have nothing but time. If it flies, then how far back in time is it reasonable that the BMO and other like banking institutions be investigated for practices that generated profits (directly and indirectly) off the back of human tragedy?