A month after my husband died, I was desperate to receive my Bank of Numerica Visa bill that was approaching overdue status. It hadn’t been mailed on its regular closing date because, I learned from the B of N phone representative after she conveyed her sincerest condolences for my loss, the Visa credit card was in my husband’s name only. Never mind that I had a plastic card embossed with my name on it. As the service rep explained in a solicitous tone, “It’s as if your husband loaned you the keys to the car without putting you on its title.”
Using that metaphor, let me add that I was the only ‘driver’ of the account and responsible for all car payments and maintenance. It was “my vehicle,” and I took exceptionally good care of it. Now that my husband was dead, I suddenly could neither unlock the car or start it up. It was useless to me.
I knew nothing about the frozen account immediately. For ten days after my husband died, I racked up a record sum (for me) as I paid for—among other things— the obituary, crematorium, and a down payment to the caterer for his memorial event.
“Please send me the bill,” I pleaded over the phone, “either by U.S. mail or electronically.” The service rep explained that nothing could happen until the certified death certificate was received and recorded at B of N. Meanwhile, the bank obliterated any way for me to access the account online, because no one but my late husband had the right to view transactions on “my” Visa. I was completely shut out. It was—extending the car metaphor again—as if the service department refused to let me pay for the new brakes it just installed because I wasn’t the car’s owner, just the chauffeur.
Meanwhile, I was frantic to get the bill and pay it off. Late is not my style. On five different days I called various departments at the Bank of Numerica to plead. “Our family is NEVER late paying off a credit card, even if its sole owner is dead! Please send it before it’s overdue!” On each call I was read a disclaimer, always preceded by an embarrassed apology by the individual service representatives about how Bank of Numerica was not attempting in any way to collect the bill from me. The disclaimer made it clear that the bank would collect only from the representative of the deceased’s estate. “You’re speaking to her!” I’d interrupt . . . to no avail.
When an envelope finally arrived from B of N, I tore it open. It contained a copy of an earlier fully paid bill, not the one I’d requested. I started all over again with identical narrative on my part, but this time I added, “SEND ME THE DAMNED BILL!” When it came, forty-seven days after my initial request, I paid it online within the hour.
I know my husband isn’t rolling over in his grave, as apt as that metaphor might be at this maddening scenario. Instead, I’m thinking maybe his ashes are blowing in the wind, which—with a little bit of luck—just might clog the air intake in the nearest Bank of Numerica’s vault. I rather hope so.