The Saddest Case I Ever Faced

As a regular course of activity I deliver a series of flyers to clients that are at various stages of foreclosure processing.  This week I was contacted by a good friend that was a member of my cohort at the University of Oregon that referred “a family that was enduring some challenges that seemed to fit in the wheelhouse of the things that I do”.  Apparently the friend was so impressed with unending hours that I grace her with insights of what my week-to-week activities consist of that she referred a personal friend to Fairplay Realty-Elite as a possible source to address a very complicated real estate matter. The following story is an accurate depiction of the events, cross-references to another dynamic story that I recently heard.  As always, the names and addresses have been deleted to protect the privacy of the individuals involved (but if you try really hard you can probably figure out who the referral came from :).

I recently read a story about a doctor, a resident, and an intern.  All three were working in a pediatric oncology ward at a children’s hospital and were particularly smitten with a case involving a 13 year old girl who was enduring painful cancer treatments.  The challenge of the case was heightened by a number of peculiarities that were described in the story.

a. The child was apparently quite beautiful in both spirit and physicality.

b. There was a point in the treatment regimen where the Dr.’s were certain the cancer had went into remission, only to discover later that this was not the case.

c. Through every failure, through every painful treatment, it was the terminally ill child that soothed the pain of not only her own parents, siblings, family, and friends – but also the hopeful medical staff.  It was an amazing story.

I was recently reminded of the ebbs and flows of triumph and tragedy while attempting to negotiate a settlement on behalf of a Portland area family facing foreclosure on the family’s childhood home. The case didn’t directly involve life or death, and certainly it didn’t involve the amazing courage of the little girl in the story.  But it did challenge my perception on what qualifies as a tragedy and the fine line we walk in leading people through the dynamics that these challenges can provoke – both personal and professional.

I was first asked to speak with the extended family of a friend’s – friend.  The contact explained that his wife and her brothers (2) had inherited a home and were facing some issues because of delinquent taxes.  Upon interviewing the wife, I learned that there were additional complications to the situation:  Namely, the drop-dead date for repayment of the taxes was fast approaching and the family was actually facing forfeiture if we couldn’t resolve the issue.  Upon interviewing the family as a group it was also revealed that the home was left to the siblings, by their deceased parents, with no mortgage debt.  Having no immediate family to care for, the youngest brother had been allowed to live in the property for years, with sole responsibility to make the tax and utility payments and maintain the upkeep on the property. In the midst of my queries to determine how such an initially moderate amount of money could be overlooked, the younger brother blurted out and emotional confession that he had hidden a drug problem from his siblings for several years and that this had led to the delinquency.

In a period of 60 minutes I had walked into a situation that had escalated from the much simpler but unfortunate potential loss of a home, to the possibility that this family could be irretrievably damaged by the revelations that had been bought out in what was intended only as an informational meeting.  The eldest family member, a PhD professor, immediately expressed that he was appalled by the actions of his “chronically irresponsible” younger brother.  My original client, the middle child/sister, was a little more understanding and took a limited exception with the eldest brother.  She stated that it had been their parents wish that the elder siblings continually monitor their developmentally compromised younger brother and that neither of them had done so.  Seizing the moment, I attempted to redirect the parties to the idea that their parents would certainly not want them to lose the home to the county assessor, and that given our limited time to cure the default the sale to an investor was probably our most reasonable course of action. But my small claims mediation instincts kicked in and I immediately drove the parties back to the one mutual interest that I knew they shared: their parents intention that they remain a family unit. The parties agreed to entertain investors offers provided that the investors could close a transaction quickly.

I completed an assessment of the property in the same manner that I would construct for a potential auction property and disseminated the information to the company’s core group of investors without delay.  Several investors dismissed the property due to the limited  projected profits.  However, there were a couple of newer investors that the property appealed to because it represented a simplistic first project.  We prepared what represented a full price offer (based on my original proposal to the triumvirate) and I delivered it to the seller’s.  The eldest brother and the middle child/sister gave their immediate approval; the youngest brother rejected the offer based upon his assessment that the offer was “insultingly low!”  I pleaded with the younger brother to recognize not only the motives of the purchaser but also the conditions that were driving our need to consider any offer a victory at this point in the process…but to no avail. Time ran out and the home was forfeited for delinquent taxes.  In spite of my efforts to mend this potentially damaging event I would guess that the resulting division may not be broached in this lifetime.  I am reminded that while our work is certainly a capitalist endeavor, in truth, it represents so much more.

The little girl being treated for cancer took an unanticipated turn for the worst and died.  But the actions leading up to her death certainly were life-giving for the people who were charged with her treatment.

As I juxtaposed the story of the little girl to my real life encounter with this family I was smitten by this reality: How often do the things each of us encounters endures have a life-granting capability for those who are peripheral characters?

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About asuomason

Graduate Student, Conflict and Dispute Resolution - University of Oregon
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