Seeking Answers

David Gartland

I LEARNED OF MY brother’s death by Googling his name. I always wondered whether his family would let me know if he was ill or had died. After Google led me to his obituary, I had my answer.

My brother and I were co-executors and co-beneficiaries of my mother’s estate. From the start, we couldn’t agree on how to settle her affairs. I wanted to sell everything and divide by two, but he wanted to hold off selling my mother’s house.

Why? My mother passed away in 2007, when home prices were down sharply, and my brother thought we should wait for the real estate market to recover. But there was another reason my brother didn’t want to sell: He, his wife and one of his adult sons were living in the place.

Thus began a difficult estate settlement. In 2021, the house was finally sold and the proceeds divided, but we still hadn’t finished settling the estate when my brother died the following year.

The disagreement over the estate caused a rift between my brother and me. In the years before his death, the only information I received came from his lawyer and the mortgage company. Not being notified of my brother’s deteriorating health or his death didn’t surprise me, but it did bother me.

I believe in divine intervention. I’ve recently felt spurred to seek out information about how my brother died. My parents both had heart conditions. I assumed my brother and I would suffer the same fate, but I wanted to know for sure.

I guessed the location where my brother likely died, and requested a death certificate from two local townships. I lucked out, and one of the towns sent along his death certificate. It didn’t show a heart condition as my brother’s cause of death. Still, I wanted to know more.

My brother had two sons, my nephews. One carried a gun. The other carried a Bible. I decided to try and find the one who carried a Bible. I Googled my Bible-carrying nephew and figured I’d show up at his door. My wife, who has a ton more social etiquette than I do, suggested I write to him and wait for a reply. I rejected that approach because, if I never got a reply, I wouldn’t know any more than I already did.

I identified a possible address using Google, and then used MapQuest to get directions. I printed out the directions, since I don’t have a GPS in my car, and began the two-plus hour drive to where my nephew might be.

I found the place. My nephew’s neighbor stopped me and asked what I wanted. I told him who I was looking for, and he pointed me to my nephew’s house. I knocked on the door, not knowing what to expect. I heard a dog barking but no one answered the door. I didn’t want to give up easily, so I tried two more times.

Finally, from the other side of the door, I heard, “Oh my God, Uncle Dave.” My nephew opened the door, gave me a big hug and invited me in.

My 56-year-old nephew might be best described as a hippy. His super-straight ponytail reaches his belt. He has a wife, three children and three grandkids. He’s been working for the same company for 20 years, laying down flooring, so he’s doing well considering he dropped out of high school. Drugs and a negative attitude contributed to his decision to quit school.  After high school, he married, accepted Jesus into his life and completed his GED.

Over lunch, he described his problem with attention deficit disorder, which made school difficult for him. We discussed cars, science and religion. He demonstrated a vast knowledge of different subjects, but nothing of great depth.

When I was growing up, my parents emphasized the value of education. But while I earned a college degree, my parents never did, and nor did my brother. Would a college education have benefited my nephew? I doubt it. Further education wouldn’t have helped him with his job of laying down floors, but it likely would have left him with debt.

We can all use our learning time and our dollars to understand all kinds of subjects. That’s fine once we’re retired. But if we still need to earn a living, focusing our learning in a way that’ll benefit us financially will lead to a more comfortable lifestyle.

My brother and his son both chose non-traditional paths to acquiring knowledge. Unfortunately, that path didn’t lead them to a wealthy life. Yes, it could result in great cocktail party conversations. But such conversations don’t pay the bills.

David Gartland was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and has lived in central New Jersey since 1987. He earned a bachelor’s degree in math from the State University of New York at Cortland and holds various professional insurance designations. Dave’s property and casualty insurance career with different companies lasted 42 years. He’s been married 36 years, and has a son with special needs. Dave has identified three areas of interest that he focuses on to enjoy retirement: exploring, learning and accomplishing. Pursuing any one of these leads to contentment. Check out Dave’s earlier articles.

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