Written by Jennifer McCallson on May 26, 2016
This is actually something I’ve yet to go public with. I was put in the position of having to sue my mother and this is my journey through that nightmare.
When I was 20 years old and became a quadriplegic due to a freak cheerleading accident, I was so grateful that I had my mom, my stepfather, and younger half-sister there for me. About six weeks after the accident I entered a physical rehabilitation center 60 miles from our home. My mother came to be with me almost every day. She would get up extra early in the morning, go to her job to make sure everything was in order, commute an hour to be with me in the hospital, commute home another hour to help my sister with dinner and homework, and then repeat the same thing the very next day. As a family we were fortunate that my mother was in a supervisor position and was able to modify her work schedule so she did not need to take a leave of absence during this time. She did this five days a week and usually at least one day on the weekends.
I was in the hospital for a very long 5 1/2 months and I was terrified every bit of it. I was terrified of needles, of being manhandled day in and day out by strangers in the hospital. I was terrified that this nightmare was never going to end and I was terrified that I was now worth nothing as a human being; it was crazy, I literally feared things I didn’t know I could be fearful of. I was fearful of making any decision, because what if it was the wrong decision? After all, didn’t my decisions lead me to this exact helpless situation?
I would thank my mother for coming, I was so grateful I would cry and tell her I was so happy she was there. I would wait for her in the mornings, knowing that when she got there I’d be safe. I would still be in the hospital, but I felt safe if my mom was there with me. “Of course I’m going to come Jennifer, I am your mother,” she would say to me “I would never abandon you, no one will ever love you as much as I do.”
When I finally was released from the hospital, the transition of me returning to live at home was not easy for anyone. Before the injury I worked part time, went to school full-time, coached cheerleading, was on my own cheerleading team, and had a boyfriend. Once I returned home I needed help to use the restroom, get dressed, prepare food and somewhat feed myself, navigate around the house, and many other things I could never have imagined I would ever need help doing. Needless to say there was a strain put on all relationships in the household. However, after a while we hired caregivers to help me with approximately two thirds of my needs. As time pressed forward my mother was able to return to her normal work schedule, mostly just helping me to bed and helping me to turn in the middle of the night. This was not a fast transition, and most definitely all family members got frustrated and angry at one point or another. But we persevered through the turmoil and found happy ground, or so I thought. Two years after the life altering injury I returned to the community college where I had been attending, and eventually I moved 460 miles away to San Diego five years after my injury.
I was very fortunate to be injured on the job and to have had Worker’s Compensation (WC) insurance. My parents did not have any medical bills to pay because of my injury. WC even paid to add an additional master suite on to my parent’s house, which included a roll in shower. WC also purchased an adapted van so I could be transported outside of the home, and they purchased all of my medical equipment and medical supplies. I was so grateful that at least I was not a financial burden to my parents, considering I did feel like a physical burden. One day when my mom was paying the monthly bills, she said to me “Jennifer I’m going to take $1000 out of your account each month for helping to put you to bed every night. I’m going to use it to help pay our mortgage.” At this time after my injury my parents were still acting in behalf of my finances, signing things is very difficult and getting to the bank was challenging, so I really appreciated the help. Additionally, I was in a physically vulnerable position. I was living under my parent’s roof and relying on my mom every night for help to bed. Although saying no was not a consideration I fathomed, it also was not an option. Over the years as I have described this moment of my mom telling me she was going to charge me $1000 for helping me, some people’s reactions have been those of shock and disgust. However, I gladly gave that money to my mom, I was grateful for her help, and considering I couldn’t help with chores around the house anymore I was very happy to help financially. I even continued giving my mom that $1000 a month while I attended a college 75 miles away, where she was not helping me at all and I was in charge of finding and directing my care staff. I still was happy to give her the $1000; I loved my family and wanted to help them. Little did I know that at this point my mother also began collecting an additional $5000 a month from a catastrophic injury insurance plan that her and my stepfather had, and I was the benefactor.
It wasn’t until my step father had passed away in 2008 (I was injured in 1999) that I found out my parents had been collecting $5000 checks every month that were intended to be used in my benefit. At this point I had long been settled out with Worker’s Compensation (WC), and although I was managing my own finances, having a spinal cord injury is grotesquely expensive.
My mother came to visit me for Christmas after my stepfather’s passing and with her she brought a letter. The night before my mother was to return home she casually explained that she had been receiving some money from an insurance claim after my injury; however, the checks were written in my stepfather’s name and she needed to have them transferred to her name. It had been approximately 10 years since the claim had been made and the insurance company needed to have proof that the condition still existed in order for the payments to continue. So my mom presented me with the letter and a form for my doctor to fill out, proving I was still a quadriplegic. Wow! I thought to myself, my mom is receiving money because I broke my neck. I was slightly confused but just responded with OK.
My mom left the next day and following her departure I called the phone number listed on the insurance form and requested a copy of the policy. Something seemed out of balance and I couldn’t figure out what, so I wanted to read the policy.
It was such a weird emotional state to be in. I wanted to talk about it but I didn’t know who to talk to. I was actually somewhat embarrassed to bring it up to anyone. As my friend and I were at coffee discussing other things in life it just kept eating away at me, I needed an outside opinion. So I explained the above story to my friend very casually. I still did not quite grasp the gravity and reality of the situation. I wasn’t accusing my mom of anything, I was just kind of venting about how I felt betrayed although I couldn’t quite put my finger on it as to why. My friend looked me straight in the eye and said “Jennifer, that’s stealing.” He just let it sink in for a minute, and then he continued, “That is in no way legally their money to keep.” I was hoping he was wrong.
I came up with every rebuttal and defense as to why this was OK for my mom to collect that money and not tell me about it, and that I most likely misunderstood the situation. I was a physical burden, I needed help with everything, my mom helped me so much, I should just be grateful that they were willing to help me, etc. etc. And every single one of those justifications were debunked and shot down by the truth. My mom cashed in on an insurance claim when I broke my neck; she and my stepdad retired early, bought two brand-new vehicles over $50,000 each, and bought a second home. My mom also would continue to talk about how hard the accident was on her (and I don’t doubt that it was) but, as a mother she could never fathom abandoning her child. Monetarily capitalizing on her child’s life altering injury is apparently ok though? If my parents had acted in integrity and truly used the funds to pay for financial hardships they had incurred because of me, then why did they continue to collect for six more years after I had moved out? How was my injury affecting them now? Nothing was adding up. This is my parents I’m talking about, they love me, right?
Following the learning of this secret insurance policy I went to my stepfather’s memorial and did not mention this to any of my stepsiblings or relatives. I didn’t have all the answers and I didn’t want to drag his name through the mud. My stepdad had worked hard and provided for me a majority of my life and he wasn’t there to explain his actions. It is really hard to believe, but he did do this; however, I just had to let it go. I felt it pointless to start family drama, and I was ok with his other children forever holding him in high regard. I had nothing to gain by telling them, I was OK with being the only one who knew the truth as to what was going on after his death, and I had no interest in hurting any of them.
Once I received the policy I went and spoke with a lawyer. I actually spoke with three, each one of them saying the exact same thing. Breach of fiduciary duty, insurance fraud, and abuse of an adult who is a member of a vulnerable population.
I didn’t know what to do. Confrontation was not big in our family, yet it was going to be impossible for me to simply let this go. And I was vastly interested in the TRUTH. There had to be some sort of explanation that was going to justify everything and settle this for me. I had a really hard time believing that this was a conscious act, I mean “no one would love me as much as my mother,” right?
So I decided to write my mom a letter. In an extremely non-emotional way I explained to my mom why she hadn’t heard from me recently, the timeline of events as I understood them, and I asked her to pay me back the money. I suggested multiple ways we could do this, but I insisted on lawyers being present. I didn’t know if I could believe her and so I wanted help to make everything fair. I also informed her that if she did not pay me back the money then I was going to take legal action. I ended the letter with telling my mom how much I love her and that I really hope we can resolve this and move forward with our relationship. I remember the moment I dropped that letter into a public mailbox. I sat there and sobbed, because I knew this was going to change everything between my mom and me. Even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong to my mom, although I knew she would perceive it as such, doing what is right for one’s peace of mind can sometimes be challenging. I had never confronted anyone in this way before nor had I such a big reason to do so either.
After mailing my mother the letter I would not take her phone calls. I was too vulnerable and knew that I could easily be manipulated. I did not want to speak with her without a lawyer present, I no longer could trust her and that was a very sad point for me. The truth was really hard for me to swallow. If I couldn’t trust my mother whom “no one would love me as much as her,” then whom could I trust?
My mom responded back to me in a letter that blew my mind away. I truly thought she would just say she was mistaken, it was an accident, and we would work out a payment plan. Unfortunately her letter was nothing like I had hoped; it confirmed all of my biggest fears. Some direct quotes for her reply were “I don’t know what you want from me, the money is gone.” “You don’t know what it was like when you came home after the accident.” “You may not realize it but we were affected too.” “You seemed to be doing OK financially, so why couldn’t we benefit also?”
OH MY GOD! What the heck just happened? I know the whole experience was very hard on the entire family. I know it changed all of our lives (yet I wonder how it affects their lives now), and I know that I cried a lot and asked for many favors; but, this was a hurtful, extremely defensive, and resent filled response. Why would my mom want to hurt me like this when I already knew times were tough back then? I felt bad that our family had to go through this, but I didn’t do it on purpose and I tried to help any way I could.
I corresponded via snail mail with my mom for a year trying to reach some kind of agreement, but it didn’t happen. She would say things such as “when I sell the house I’ll give you some money, but I’ll decide what that amount is then.” She would never commit completely to paying me back, she would not agree to mediation, and she always continued to claim entitlement to the money because she had to deal with me after I was hurt. I think she thought that if she held strong to her claim, that this accident was burdensome to the family, that I would feel guilty and back down. It was really hard to take in; however, it confirmed the truth: my mom took this money intentionally and tried to hide it from me. This truth made my decision to sue slightly easier, but not by much. After one year of knowing about a wrong the statuette of limitations expires and a person forfeits their claim to any retributions. I had to choose to sue my mom or let this whole ordeal go.
It was a real mind screw. If I chose not to sue my mom because I wanted her love, what kind of love would I be receiving? If I followed through with my initial letter and filed a lawsuit against my mother she would with hold her love from me. I was in a no win situation with regards to my relationship with my mom. All I really ever wanted was to be loved, but not because I am paying the bills, that’s not love at all. Conditional love is not love.
So, I decided to go with what felt better to me. Did suing my mom feel good? No freaking way! Actually, it felt like crap. But it felt a heck of a lot better than a sucker punch to the gut and letting someone use you and not doing anything about it. Suing my mom felt better than living with resentment towards her and towards myself for being too scared to fight back. If it weren’t my mom who did this would I have any problem suing? Nope. So what was holding me back? My fear of not being loved and accepted. I was already experiencing that though. It was painfully difficult at first, but I was learning to conjure that love from within and creating relationships where I was being valued for simply being me. So, I decided to sue my mom.
Some people had some very strong opinions of my choice, which is interesting because I didn’t tell anyone what was going on. I didn’t tell anyone because I didn’t want to embarrass my mom or gossip behind her back and shame her. It was no one’s business but ours. However, my mom attempted to rally the troops in her favor and she told anyone who would listen. Now, if I was on the receiving end of my mom’s sympathy plea I would want to hear the other side before forming my opinion. Apparently that’s not what my family is interested in. Only one family member called me to get my side of the story. It was my older stepbrother’s wife, and her jaw dropped when she heard my version of the truth. Apparently my mom had left out some pretty big details.
I also received hate mail from a very close member of the family who had helped me tremendously the first couple years after I came home from the hospital. In this letter she blamed me for my accident, which I found comical because she was trying to hurt me, yet I had already come to terms with the choices I had made that ultimately led me to this predicament. I chose to work as an instructor at a cheerleading camp. This lady made it seem as if that choice was equivalent to getting myself high on the craziest drugs while drinking an entire gallon of liquor and driving a car into a kindergarten class room where it was bring-you-kitten/puppy-to-school-day and I killed all of them. My choice to go to that camp wasn’t a mistake, I just happened to get hurt while I was there. She then proceeded to tell me I was doing nothing with my life and that I needed to get over wanting to walk again and start being a productive citizen. Little did she know that I was actually going to school full-time when she sent me that letter and attending 16 hours a week of therapy. I don’t see why I have to limit myself to either walking or having an education, I’m doing it all. Additionally, she has obviously never googled me or she would see that I’ve done a lot with my life since moving away from home. She also gave a long list of things that my mom helped me with in those four years after my accident before moving out. About 85% of the list was accurate. Yes, my mom came home from work a couple of times because of caregiver situations, she came home when I wasn’t feeling well, she helped me use the restroom, gave me showers sometimes, and got me dressed when caregivers didn’t show up. Additionally, my mom met other needs of the family too. I was extremely grateful for that help and I thanked my mom repeatedly. But does that justify her entitlement to money from a medical fund for me?
At a family function that I attended, my aunt said to me “you don’t do that to family Jenni,” referring to me suing my mom. Wait. What? I’m not allowed to stand up for myself against someone because that person is a family member? What about profiting off of another family member’s misfortune? That’s OK? The madness continued to perpetuate itself so it seemed. Simply because someone does not want to believe the truth doesn’t automatically make it a lie. The most ironic thing about all of this is that had my mom apologized I most likely would have never had gone through with it.
Four years after I filed the suit my younger sister shockingly returned my annual birthday phone call to her. In this phone call she attempted to blame me for the selling of her childhood home (granted she was 25 years old at the time of this call and this was something our parents discussed doing years before my stepdad passed away) and she blamed me for the havoc my accident had on her life (mind you this is 2013 and my accident was in 1999 and I hadn’t lived with her since 2004, additionally my injury never kept her from playing any sport she wanted, nor did it prevent her from attending normal jr. high and high school social events). She then continued to explain that the reason my mom will talk about the law suit and the money to anyone who will listen, but refuses to discuss it with me, is because “it hurts too much.”
Are you freaking kidding me?! It hurts too much? I tried to negotiate a resolution for an entire year and my mom would have nothing to do with it. I’m really confused as to what hurt so bad? I didn’t DO anything to my mom. She made choices and her choices produced repercussions. End of story. How in the heck is this my fault? I think acknowledging her wrong doing is what hurts. Thinking back on this conversation now makes me chuckle and shake my head. My sister then asked me,
“You didn’t HAVE to sue her, why did you?”
“You’re right, I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to do any of this, I could’ve just let it go.” I responded frankly.
“So then why did you, why did you sue Mom?” She was obviously not over it.
I took a deep breath and the truth just beautifully poured from my soul, “Because I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I hadn’t. It would have eaten away at me and I would have hated myself for letting someone do this to me. I don’t regret it and I sleep very well at night. It’s too bad mom is mad that I stood up for myself.”
I did not intentionally become a quadriplegic. And considering I was a 20-year-old girl on the brink of coming into her own and on the border of becoming an independent adult, who suddenly had a world shattering catastrophic injury, I may not have been the most pleasant person to be around at times while progressing through the trauma and learning how to live in a whole different state of existence. However, there are a lot of other cranky and high maintenance 20-year-olds I’ve met who don’t experience life-altering injuries and still need some type of support from their parents. It doesn’t justify the stealing of medical funds from anyone or myself.
My mom does not speak to me anymore. She considers herself a victim of my accident and now a victim of my empowerment. That’s her choice and I’m ok with it. After all I already paid my mom to take care of me, I don’t feel I should have to pay her to love me.