“I Couldn’t Pay for His Funeral”: Patron Borrows Money and Bills Spiral Out of Control

When you imagine being saddled with crippling debt, you might think of someone buying a house or paying off student loans. Maybe you think of someone going on a shopping spree. But for many people, particularly GBM’s patrons, that’s not the case.

Vera Bradley loved her husband. Even now, though he’s been gone since 2011, she cannot stop the tears that come at his mention. Since then, not only has she been without her beloved husband, she has been going through a number of financial struggles that seem impossible to recover from.

“I couldn’t pay for his funeral,” Vera said through tears. “So I borrowed money to pay for it, but then I had to pay the loan off, so I got behind on other bills. I just couldn’t pay it all back.” The stress the financial burden is taking on Vera is clear–she’s tired from perpetual worry, yet can’t seem to stop guilting herself despite there being nothing to feel guilty for.

Paying off the loan to cover her husband’s funeral caused Vera to get behind on her mortgage for two years afterward. She found a program–that she knows only by the name Obama plan–that helped reduce her mortgage payments, so, thankfully, she was able to remain in her house. “I’ve been so lonely since my husband died. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d lost my house, too,” said Vera.

Having her house allows her to care for her grandchildren, too. She enjoys keeping them because she’s lonely and the free childcare helps her children, but the extra food costs eat further into Vera’s severely limited income. She receives Social Security and gets $39 in food stamps, but that’s hardly enough when she’s caring for several grandchildren–all growing and hungry.

Recently, more financial woes have struck Vera. The house she fought so hard to keep is falling apart. “I found out I got bad termite damage on my house. But I can’t afford to get it fixed. I can’t get it fixed when I’ve got to go to the water company today and pay $100 or they cut my water off. I scraped up $86 that I can give them, so I hope they’ll keep my water on,” said Vera. “All the money I have–the $86–is about to be gone. I don’t have no other money. I’m struggling.”

Even before her husband died, they didn’t have much savings to fall back on. “My husband worked two jobs, but he had that deforming arthritis and he got to where he couldn’t use his hands and feet much anymore. I had to bathe him and feed him and dress him. Caring for someone wears you out, ” Vera said. “Now I’m caring for one of my grandkids full time because my son is on probation and he has fines to pay.” Because Vera doesn’t have legal custody of her grandchild–and getting custody of a child is a long legal process that Vera can’t afford–her food stamps aren’t adjusted to reflect the additional mouth to feed.

Vera is so focused on paying her bills and taking care of her grandchildren that she hardly has time to take care of herself. Vera is on disability because she has a dislocated disk in her back and can’t afford the surgery to have it fixed. If she were to lift more than ten pounds, the disk could slip further and lodge itself even deeper into her spinal cord. In addition to being extremely painful, it could paralyze her if it didn’t kill her first.

If you’d like to make a donation to GBM’s food pantry and utilities assistance program to help people like Vera, click here to make a monetary donation online, or you can drop food off at the GBM’s location, 2304 12th Avenue North Birmingham, AL 35234, Monday through Friday between 8:30am and 4:30pm. All donations are tax deductible.