A man I indirectly knew died of cancer in his mother's home just two months after his diagnosis. Six months before receiving the news, he had been fired from his job for unrelated drug and alcohol issues and moved in with her. There was no money and no insurance, so he withered away quietly and quickly.

The morning he died, his mother, equally poor, 75, and a little over 100 pounds, called the crematory (the cheapest option) to pick up his body. They apologized for the delay - there were a couple of customers ahead of her – but they would be there late that afternoon.

She gave him a sponge bath, washed and combed his hair, shaved and splashed a little after-shave on his face, put on his underwear and socks, dressed him in a casual shirt and pants, and scrubbed and tied his shoes. She put new sheets on his bed and propped him up a little with freshly plumped pillows.

And then, she sat in the chair beside the bed and talked to what was left of her son for the next five hours.

The company that had fired him, where he had worked for ten years, paid for his cremation and a small memorial service.

His mother died alone a week later. 

A neighbor found her lying in her bed, dressed in her best dress and new panty hose and shoes, with freshly fixed hair and what appeared to be a little rouge on her cheeks and lips. Beside her on the bed were a yellowed and much worn envelope with an engagement ring in it and a 3-page love letter from a man named Tom - not her son's father's name - dated Valentine's Day, 1954. She was holding a picture album of her life to her chest, and in her right hand was a check made out to the crematory for $500.