I am not one of those people who is tethered to a cell phone, so, while the call had come in around 1 pm., I didn’t notice the message until nearly five o’clock. As soon as I saw it was from the “310 “area code, I assumed it was the Los Angeles law firm that I retained several years ago to represent Lee’s interests. This past week alone I’d communicated with my “case manager” at the firm twice already. Seeing the message, I suddenly felt weary.
Shortly before Lee died, we both became aware of a massive lawsuit involving the manufacturer of a drug she had been using for a long time, alleging that this drug caused cancer. I recall how angry Lee had gotten upon learning this news because by nature she was the very antithesis of an angry person. It was remarkable, but I had done nothing to discourage her reaction as I interpreted such a display as a reflection of an enviable fighting spirit and a deep desire to live. Even so, on this occasion Lee had been pissed off and she made no attempt to hide how she really felt. On the spot Lee extracted my promise to pursue justice for her.
So, I mustered the energy to call Los Angeles. Momentarily forgetting the significant time change, I was expecting to leave a voicemail when the case manager picked up my call. Surprised to hear a live human voice, I wondered what she looked like.
The purpose of her call had been routine. The case manager began by describing the steps in a lawsuit, apparently oblivious to my professional background in law. I listened impatiently.
This said, I was struck to hear there had been no formal discovery taken to date. Discovery refers to the process by which case evidence gets developed and disclosed by the respective parties to a lawsuit. I thought to myself, great, hurry up and wait! It’s no wonder people don’t like lawyers.
Moreover, I previously had authorized my lawyers to obtain Lee’s medical records, which, given Lee’s sad history of cancer, is extensive. Obviously, I do not have Lee’s complete records in my immediate possession. As for the few pieces I do possess, I try to avoid them because they stir up unpleasant reminders, which inevitably make me alternatively weepy or mad. Now, despite my protests, here was my case manager insisting I prepare a chronological listing “to the best of my recollection” of Lee’s every episode of cancer along with the approximate dates for each diagnosis. The last thing I want is to relive this nightmare.
It appears to me that the reason I had missed my case manager’s call was I had been on hold for nearly one full hour with the Social Security Administration at the time. The SSA recently delivered a written notice of overpayments to me relating to Lee’s social security account. Lee retired at age sixty-five and began taking social security. I was still working at this time and planned to defer my own social security until age seventy to maximize our combined benefits. This had seemed to us a sound and good plan at the time, although admittedly we hadn’t considered the possibility that Lee would be stricken back-to-back with colon and pancreatic cancers and in short order be deceased. Now, several years removed, I had been informed she also was overpaid!
While waiting to speak with an SSA representative, I killed time by rereading the agency’s written notice, which informs the recipient that he or she enjoys a right to appeal or contest a repayment demand. I was referred to something called SSA Form 632-BK. Since I was still on hold, I obtained a copy of the form from the internet. Form SSA 632-BK turns out to be a stereotypical 14-page government form, designed by nameless, faceless bureaucrats, obviously intended to discourage all but the hardiest souls from attempting to take advantage of their valuable administrative rights.
Interestingly, Form 632-BK purports to encourage one to file an appeal if, “You think that you are not at fault and you think the overpayment is unfair for some other reason.” As I read this specific advice I thought, well, it’s completely unfair that Lee succumbed to cancer after barely getting a taste of her hard-earned and well-deserved retirement. It’s unfair that she was not allowed to follow or achieve the dreams and personal goals of which I heard her speak many times. Most of all, I thought, how unfair that Lee won’t grow old with me.
Certainly, I am not at fault. Even so, I do not plan to exercise my right to appeal or contest the repayment demand. To me, in the end, the lawsuits, the administrative orders, the government benefits programs, even adulterated “health” products such as Lee consumed come to nothing in the big scheme. What truly counts, regardless how much I desire it, is that Lee’s death is not something that can successfully be reversed on appeal.
Occasionally, seemingly mundane transactions still take me by surprise. Perhaps it’s the very blandness that touches me emotionally in surprising ways my rational mind can’t grasp.