I hadn’t expected Ken to die so suddenly. I thought his wife was sure to go before him. She was in the hospital when I called to tell her. She couldn’t understand and the dementia flared. I said repeatedly, “He didn’t want to leave you.”
I’d been taking care of them. Neither recognized how much help they needed and now that I was getting ready for school told Ken I needed to find a replacement. It took a few days to convince him.
It was all about the mystery of aging for me. It seems so slow and goes so fast. I was in awe of the process and hoped I’d have some grace when my time came.
I tried to find someone who could handle two people who were badly in need of mental and physical attention, but didn’t want any help. I finally located a lovely young woman who was also a nurse’s aide. Ken could easily afford the expense, but kept asking, “How much?” And then responding, “That’s too much.”
Money is always symbolic and carries all kinds of karma. Ken worked hard, made a lot of money, and since he’d come of age in the great depression, financial security mattered. He measured it by his bank account. I wanted them to move into assisted living, but that was out of the question. He’d lived here fifty years.
The night before the aide arrived and I was getting ready to say good-night and leave, he complained and said, “Aren’t you going to fix it?” I asked him, “Fix what?” He repeated, a little less patient, “You know.” I had no idea what he was talking about. He acted like I was being contrary or slow.
I went around the house looking for clues. It was dark by now and I turned lights on and off as I entered the small maze of rooms. I flicked the switch in the main bathroom and the light was burned out. I asked him, “Is this what you want me to fix?” He looked at me and the look seemed to say, “Isn’t that obvious, you idiot.” It was all very strange.
I changed the bulb and said I’d visit in the morning. I planned to arrive before the aide and make sure he was up and ready. But I saw her pulling up as I approached the house. His door was already open. I thought he’d be waiting in the living room. He wasn’t there.
I knew immediately something was wrong. I looked around and saw the light in the bathroom, the bulb I changed was the only light turned on in the house. My hair stood up as I walked in and found him.
I made calls to the relatives and authorities. I did what I had to do except for one thing. I knew the secret hiding place. There was only one other person who knew of its existence, but she was senile and no one really listened or believed her.
They had a large walk-in closet with its own light. I can still smell the talcum powder and see the wall of shoeboxes, many as old as the owners. One of those boxes had a pair of ruby red slippers, just like the ones Dorothy wore. But that’s not the secret. Under the white tissue at the bottom of the box was nine thousand dollars in cash. I know because I counted it.
No need to beat around the bush, I seriously considered taking some. The temptation was strong and I went back and forth along the edge. I went so far as to take some home, but Edgar Allan Poe was watching and the money made loud noises in the drawer.
I told a number of friends and a number of them said, “Take the cash. I would.” Even his brother in Texas had given me instructions on what to take and why I shouldn’t tell anyone. “It’s what he’d want.” He knew how close and how much time I’d spent. He all but said I deserved it.
I wasn’t so sure. Ken was funny about money.
I couldn’t wait for the relatives to arrive. They had no children and since he died first, it all went to her side. I told them immediately about the shoebox. They were grateful and trusted me.
I was grateful they still could, it was close call for me. I know that money carries karma. It matters how you get it, how much, and definitely how you spend it. We have all kinds of rationalizations and defenses. I’d already worked out mine.
Chyako recently gave a talk on Buddha’s path of liberation and one of the eight is right livelihood. What do we do to get money? It’s quite a touchy topic.
When I told her about my conflict with taking the cash, it was clear she considered it stealing. She wasn’t as pleased as I’d been with myself; in fact, she was a little disappointed I could even be tempted. But I’m not Japanese.