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Wednesday, April 29, 2015

"Where are you calling from again?"

People often ask me how my job has affected me. They tell me things such as “That must be depressing… what you do. Is it?” and “You must have become really cynical and jaded.” I’ve never had a clear and detailed answer for them and my reply has consisted of aimless thoughts. Perhaps if I write my thoughts down, I can gain some clarity.

During the past year, I have been working at the Los Angeles County Public Administrator’s office. My job consists of researching the remaining assets of deceased individuals who often have no known family. I am also tasked with locating any family they might still have. My work involves searching through houses, apartments, storage facilities, basements, safe deposit boxes, vehicles, and numerous other locations where the deceased person might have lived or frequented. I try to attain clues that can lead to evidence of financial assets or remaining family. Often time this involves looking for financial paperwork, Wills, Trusts, pictures, diaries, letters and holiday cards from loved ones, and address and phone books. Eerily enough, checking the deceased person’s voicemail can lead to finding family as well.  The residences I go into often times qualify as ideal candidates for the show “Hoarders.” They are generally full of trash, animal feces (and sometimes animal corpses), human feces (either on the floor or in buckets), pornography, and a plethora of other items that a horror movie set designer could potentially use to try to make a location look as creepy and disgusting as possible. In one memorable instance, I recall an extensive collection of dolls with only their heads remaining. The same individual also had pictures of naked men and he had cut out their heads and pasted animal heads in their place.

My work also involves interviewing friends, acquaintances, business associates, landlords, and anyone else who might have information on remaining family. Often times, these individuals comment on how lonely and estranged the person was. A common theme is that the deceased individual never seemed to mention any specific details on his remaining family.  When I finally do get in contact with family, their reactions to the news of the individual’s passing can vary tremendously. They can either be indifferent and not be concerned at all or they can be in tears and barely be able to speak. Sometimes, they are enraged that I even dared contact them because the deceased individual either wronged them immensely or physically (or sexually) abused them.  I recall a case where the individual claimed she was tortured by the deceased individual.  Perhaps the most depressing instances involve boyfriends and girlfriends who were with the deceased individual for over a decade or more and they show not a hint of emotion or sadness in their voice when speaking to me.

On the financial front, I am in contact with banks, government agencies, investment firms, retirement homes, attorneys, retirement and pension departments, and any other organization that would have information on remaining assets. These organizations are suspicious of my questions and rarely assist us without a proper explanation of California law and the fact that they are required to follow it and cooperate with our office. Additionally, they have no idea where I am calling from and have a hard time believing that such a government agency even exists.

So where does this all lead? How have these situations affected me? Even after being immersed in these matters for over a year, I am unable to understand how I’ve changed. I would like to think that I have learned the value of genuine friendships and how important it is to forge meaningful and long-lasting bonds with other people. But at the same time, I have realized how rare such friendships are. I mention this because I see firsthand what happens when someone neglects their friends and family. They end up dying alone and rotting in their own juices for sometimes weeks at a time until someone finally discovers them as a result of the stench of decomposing flesh. I have also gotten tired of dealing with death and focusing on the past. I now know more than ever that I would like to devote myself to helping the living, whether in regards to aiding people or helping protect our natural environment (or ideally both). It has also become tedious to care about money and material possessions since in my own life I generally don’t care for such things outside of the bare necessities and very few luxuries (i.e. a kindle and a camera). My job requires me to care about such things and track down every last remaining asset. I’ve also become disillusioned from seeing undeserving awful people inheriting assets that they will squander. I’ve become frustrated that the remaining money does not get distributed to worthy charities and causes and instead, it eventually gets absorbed by the State Treasury or is given to a long lost family member who is discovered at a later time.

With that said, I am still thankful for the experiences I’ve had so far. I have learned to manage high levels of stress and work on numerous issues simultaneously without panicking or getting lost.  I’ve learned to be persistent and keep searching until I hit a complete dead end and there are no further clues to follow. Such perseverance is useful in nearly all aspects of life, both personal and professional. I’ve learned how to break down, condense, and convey information in the smallest amount of space possible while focusing only on the most important and relevant points. And finally, I’ve learned that even if I dislike a particular job, I am still able to not lose focus and take care of my responsibilities as a competent professional.  Like with most experiences in life, I will take the good with the bad and make sure the negatives are not wasted and are instead used as lessons for the future.

This post turned into a diary entry looks like. My thoughts were once again generally aimless. I guess this issue isn’t prone to being straightforward and clear. Oh well. That’s alright.

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