More Than Money
Issue #30

When Differences Divide

Table of Contents

“A Sliver of Love: A Conversation with Andrew”

Money in our family was like a Geiger counter. There was always an underlying tick tock that said, “We have to get it as cheaply as possible. We can’t spend money.” My mother struggled with that her whole life. She was a Depression girl and for that generation, pennies mattered. When I wanted to go on a date, if the girl lived too far away and my mother thought it would take too much gas to go pick her up, she would dissuade me. One time my brother Ron wanted to buy a pair of pants and when we got to the checkout counter, we discovered the price was one dollar more than my mother had thought. She and Ron screamed at each other about buying the pants. And one time, I accidentally hit Ron in the nose with the back swing of a golf club and his nose started to bleed. I wanted to call a doctor, but she wouldn’t let me because house calls cost money.

It might have been the sickness about money in our family that moved my brother to try and steal the family fortune.

As soon as my father died, Ron got my mother to sign papers saying he would be the only one in charge of the money if she were declared incompetent. A few years later he got two doctors to sign papers saying she was incompetent. When we got a statement from our investment firm saying there was no money left in our account, I called Ron up to try to find out what had happened. I thought maybe he would say, “It must be an administrative error.” Instead, he said, “I lied to you, betrayed you, deceived you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

When I called the investment firm, I discovered that Ron had total control of the money. He hadn’t put my other brother and I on as co-trustees, as he had promised he would. I didn’t know what to do. He was my kid brother and I loved him. A lawyer told me there was nothing I could do except send him a stiff letter saying he had financial responsibilities. I was confused and didn’t really care about the money. I thought, “If he wants the money so much, let him have it.” But someone else told me I couldn’t let him get away with that. I called another lawyer who got my mother and her physician in the same room and my mother signed a statement saying that anything she had signed up until that point was null and void. The document also created a trust with all three brothers, with no amendments allowed unless all of the brothers and my mother agree to the amendment. So we did regain control of the money, but Ron hasn’t spoken to anyone in our family since, including my middle brother and me. We both forgive him—after all, nothing bad happened, in the end. Perhaps he was unsuccessful at stealing the money because some part of him really didn’t want to. I’d love to start talking with him again.

Although Ron and I have not reconciled, my relationship with my mother, including around matters having to do with money, has gone through profound transformation. At the end of her life, we had finally created a very loving relationship. She had grown very generous toward me, though not necessarily toward herself. One time she wanted to give me $5,000 for a new kitchen. I was a bachelor living quite simply and I didn’t want a new kitchen. She called me up the next day and said, “I think I was trying to control you. I’m going to send the check for $5,000. You can do whatever you want with it.”

That change in our relationship may have happened because I have always tried to be loving to my mother—but I also didn’t speak to her for four years. She loved to fight. If I asked her to stop yelling at me she’d scream, “Don’t try to control how I talk! You’re a Hitler.” After our four-year break she was afraid I might stop talking to her again. When she started yelling at me, I yelled back, “Ma, stop talking to me this way. How do you like it when I speak to you this way? How does it feel?” She left the room. The next morning she said, “I think we should talk to each other more kindly.”

After that she invited me to visit her in Sarasota. When I was about to go home, she uncharacteristically said, “Is there anything you would like to do?” I said, “I’d love to visit the nature preserve.” At first she said no, and I knew it was because it would cost gas money. But she changed her mind because I was leaving, so she said, “I’ll take you.”

At the nature preserve, we were walking along looking at the crocodiles in the rivers and an armadillo crossed the road. Mom said, “Wow. Isn’t that cute?” Suddenly, I felt as if there were all these shells of armor between us dissolved. For the first moment ever in my life, I felt a little sliver of love between us. After that, that little moment of love grew. She became the most appreciative person I’ve ever met in my life. My job from then on, as I saw it, was to be the only person in her life to consistently love her.

I had the experience of the “evil mother” replaced by a much more loving and appreciative one. She also softened toward Ron. She knew what Ron had done, but she didn’t hold it against him.

Ron might not talk to my other brother and me for the rest of his life—which would be very sad for all of us. I imagine he needs our forgiveness, and he has it. It’s “pre-approved,” although I would not trust him with money again. What he did still boggles my mind—I am amazed that he could have planned it so much. (He had been planning it for three or four years.) He and I were allies in a very difficult family. We loved each other. I still have tears in my eyes telling this. But looking back, we did have a warning. He had betrayed me once before. Someone more alert than I would have realized then that he couldn’t be trusted. We let him handle the finances and I wouldn’t give him that control again. As Red Auerbach said, “If someone deceives you once, it’s their fault. If it happens twice, it’s yours.” I’ve learned that it’s not a kindness to trust people with stuff they can’t handle.

—Based on an interview with Pamela Gerloff


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