Don’t Call Me Sue

I’m a litigator.

For the last 30 years or so, my professional life has been about helping clients whose disputes could not be handled out of court.

I’ve helped clients who haven’t been paid for the goods or services they provided.

I’ve helped clients whose neighbors have not been careful in their tree-trimming.

And I’ve helped a lot…a LOT…of clients who have been sued because other people think they’re responsible for causing them harm.

In my current position, I mostly defend clients who have insurance. Their insurance carriers retain me. Motor vehicle, slip and fall, with the occasional defamation or bar fight thrown in. These days, I get the call after the lawsuit has been filed, but there were days when clients came to me for counsel. They had a beef. The other side wasn’t budging. They wanted to sue.

I’m probably the worst attorney out there in that whenever I have been asked for legal advice – by paying clients or by family members who ask me what I think and then do precisely the opposite – I have, almost 100 percent of the time I’ve been asked, counseled those who have asked me, not to sue.

I tell people, your case isn’t strong.

I tell them, litigation will take 2-4 years of your life away from you.

You will fret and stew and be angry for much of that time.

You will hate your opponent more and more each day.

When all is said and done, you will likely hate your own attorney.

And even if you win, you will lose.

Because you will never, never, NEVER get what it is you want – an acknowledgment of responsibility – or an apology – or whatever it is you think you lost.

You can win millions – except you won’t, most likely – and even if you do, after fees and costs, it’ll be a whole lot less than those dollars you’ve been spending for the last 3 years.

Litigation benefits no one, except in very rare cases. And even when a plaintiff rings the bell…well, most would rather be where they were before the Defendant they are suing entered the picture.

Don’t sue. Don’t litigate.

My mantra. The way I stay sane, even as litigation pays my bills.

Right now, I find myself in the peculiar position of potentially becoming a litigant – not because I wanted to, and not because I’m looking for a windfall.

I’ve become – through woefully misplaced trust – embroiled in an ugly, desperate situation in which my integrity has been challenged and in which I have to consider where one should draw the line between (1) a shared history, blind love, and survivor guilt; and (2) emotional health, clarity, and the shelter of a loving family built day by day over 35 years BY ME with intention, grit, and a will strong as steel to make sure a healthy family came from me.

My father died from dementia-related ailments on October 16, 2016. He was a very flawed man, who gave my older brother and sister good reason not to want to be there for him during his final illness. On his last day, I sat with him, in his room at the memory care center to which we had entrusted him, and read to him while he slept. I had become very familiar with this facility – when my mother finally told me, during an urgent Friday morning phone call, that she just COULD NOT DO THIS, ANYMORE…I called the facility, my husband (the doctor) filled out the intake paperwork, and after attending an event that we had committed to 2 weeks earlier – and sending multiple emails to my siblings to tell them of my mother’s decision and requesting their input – my husband and I found a 24/7 Target where we bought sheets, towels, blankets, and a comforter, which I then washed at home as I assembled photograph montages of the people he loved best.

Later that morning, I drove to my parents’ home, lied to my father and told him I was taking him for lunch, and then watched as he gazed, with the excitement of a child, out the window, as scenes that were once familiar passed him by.

At the facility, my husband and my mother signed the paperwork. I was given the task of taking my dad into the facility where we were having “lunch,” He eagerly dug into the meatloaf and mashed potatoes while I gulped back my anxiety and tried to make things seem normal.

Eventually, it was time to show him to his room. I took him back, asked him if he wanted to nap, and sat with him as he tried to figure out what was going on. Eventually, he told me he was ready to go home.

“This is your home now,” I said.

“I want to go home,” he insisted.

My sister had told my mother she should write a card to my father, to give him at the time we left him there. I didn’t agree. My mother and sister overruled me. I handed him the card.

And I sat there and watched my Dad sob as he read the words that told him he was never going home. I finally kissed him goodbye,

I visited him every day for the next 10 weeks. After a few weeks, my mother – so relieved to be done with the work of caring for him, for sixty years – could barely stand to spend 15 minutes with him. I didn’t blame her. But I showed up.

Every night.

Every night.

And then he died, and I was the one who sat with his body until it was taken away, and I who made the phone calls. My sister and brother ….they showed up for the funeral and accepted the attention and kind words of friends and family.

I cried, because every time I visited my father, he asked about everyone except me.

Then I took my mom into my home, with excitement and joy. Neither my brother nor sister ever considered what should be done after my Dad died. They were happy to let me take on my mom.

I did. My husband did. My children did. For three years, our Little Mommy lived with us, ate with us, traveled with us, prayed with us, watched television and enjoyed lovely summer evenings and became one of us. We loved her.

In 2020, she began to fail. I railed against it – who loses two parents to dementia? Me, it turns out. With my sister in North Carolina and my brother 2 hours away, it fell to me to upend my life to get an official diagnosis, take my mom to doctor’s appointments, assume responsibility for her medical and financial and legal affairs. I did my best.

My siblings were unsurprised, and unmoved, by my mother’s decline. They had long suspected that she, too, would succumb to dementia. I had not. I believed my Little Mommy would be there, serene and sanguine and neurologically intact, until the end.

When I heard the diagnosis, I was devastated. I cried. I was furious. I was furious at my beloved Little Mommy. I could not begin to compute how this could happen.

I vowed she would stay with us, in our home, forever.

But that didn’t happen, because taking care of a parent with dementia is really, really hard – especially when you have a disabled adult child, a child who is attending college at home virtually because of COVID, and you are a busy litigation attorney, and your husband is a primary care physician – dealing with COVID.

I did my best. Eventually – and against my better wishes – I allowed my mom to move in with my sister – who is single, with a dog, no children, no job – into her new house that I arranged for my Mom to pay for – because I had no other alternative.

Three days later, my sister got mad at me for no apparent reason – a thing she does – and for the last 6 weeks, I have been denied access to my mom.

I agreed to turn over the POA to my sister. She hired an attorney anyway who immediately demanded I return things of my mother’s she had either promised to me or told me she didn’t want. I was also told I had to prepare a financial accounting based upon account documents I had already turned over to my sister.

She took my mother’s car. She took money for her house. She accused me of misappropriating my mother’s funds.

The sister-in-law she accused of immigrating to the US illegally became her best friend. The nephew she had labeled an “anchor baby” forgave her everything.

I am the bad guy, and I have not seen my mother in 6 weeks. I have no idea if she is healthy, if she is well, if she is happy. No one will tell me, and her attorney has told me I am not to contact her, even as she has sent me items in the mail which have been intrusive, upsetting, threatening, and violative of the very rules her own attorney set.

I’m so sad. I’m sadder than I have ever been in my life. It is hard to imagine that I will ever not be sad.

I could hire a shark – a ball buster of a lawyer – and I know plenty. I could unleash a maelstrom that would rain hell and fury – and I’d win – because I’d hire the best, and because I am the best.

But I won’t, because I’m a litigator, and I understand that the benefit of a pyrrhic victory inures only to the attorneys.

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