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HE EARNED IT, THEY TOOK IT AWAY
By Gary S. Howell
Nov 22, 2003, 19:58
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One evening, early this spring, my brother Mark went out running. He never returned. He didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye to his wife, children, or other family members. Eyewitnesses said he just collapsed. Mark had a massive heart attack and died, instantaneously.

He didn't think to take ID with him. Why should he? As far as he knew, he'd return from his jog, eat dinner, and go to bed. Because of this, the authorities were not able to identify his body and notify his next of kin.

My sister-in-law works into the evening. When she got home, she asked her son where his father was. At first she thought nothing of her husband's absence. Mark usually ran in the evening.

As time passed, my sister-in-law began to worry. Finally she called the police. After she explained her concerns, the police told her they would send someone over to talk to her.

Because the police weren't positive that the dead man they had was my brother, they told my sister-in-law that she would have to identify the body. My niece telephoned and asked if I would go with them.

When I first saw his body, I didn't believe he was dead. He just didn't look dead. I was overcome by the urge to grab him and yell "wake up you stupid bastard, this ain't funny."

These feelings were slowly replaced by anger. Anger because my brother died alone. He wasn't with his family. He never had the chance to say goodbye and we never had the chance to say goodbye to him. It's likely he didn't even know what hit him. One second he's jogging, and the next, he's dead.

Anger.

Mark wasn't the first family member to die and leave his kids fatherless. A few years earlier, my brother-in-law died, leaving four kids fatherless. What about the kids? Their father didn't die on purpose. But they're kids! No matter how hard you try to explain the cruel facts of life to them, there is still a chance they won't understand.

And who is going to take the place of their father?

From prior experience, I know the harsh answer to that question: No One.

Anger.

Mark's death seemed to bring me one step closer to my own demise. When everyone around you starts to die off, you begin to realize that one of these days it's going to be you.

When you're young, you go to a lot of weddings, christenings, and birthday parties. When you get older, you go to a lot of funerals. Each funeral hits you with the realization that one of these days, it's going to be you in the coffin.

Anger.

I don't want to die - ever. I'm too young. I'll always be too young. There's so much I enjoy, especially my nieces and nephews. I'm not going anywhere until I see them grow up, get married, have children. By then, I'll be so attached to their kids that I'll want to see them grow up, get married and have children. I'm having too much fun being the wild uncle who stuffs the kids with food they aren't supposed to eat - who takes them on the fierce amusement rides they're supposedly to young for - and who takes them to the places their parents can't afford to.

Anger.

Maybe I'm the one that doesn't understand. Mark, you stupid bastard, why the hell did you die?

I miss my brother. I can't go over to his house without having an anxiety attack. I'm too young. My brother and I were bigger kids than his children were. We played harder . It's supposed to be the parents who tell the kids not to play rough inside the house. Mark and I started wrestling matches with the kids. We'd have shoot outs with nerf guns - the furniture was our breastwork, doors were shields, and the top of the stairs a strategic stronghold.

Now it's hard for me to go to their house because my brother isn't there for me to play with.


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When a family member dies, everything changes. Mark and his family were never wealthy. They always managed to get by, but they never had a lot of extras.

While stunned, Mark's family didn't let his death kill their desire to live and prosper. Mark's wife, Sue, worked before my brother died and is working even harder now.

My niece, Breann, has three jobs. She is also a full-time honors scholar at Canisius College.

My nephew, Justin, has two jobs and attends high school. He is also the starting goalie for his school's senior soccer team.

Mark's family are not the kind of people who expect something for nothing. Their actions prove they are ready, willing, and able to go out and work hard to succeed.

They aren't looking for alms.


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My brother worked at Scott Aviation for 24 years. After Tyco bought the company, my brother jokingly told me that he'd never be able to retire. For some reason, his prior retirement package flew out the window.

Mark wasn't joking. After his death, my sister-in-law applied for his pension benefits. After 24 years, they totaled a mere $63.72 per month.

My sister-in-law isn't the type of person to complain. She isn't running to a lawyer to challenge the pittance in court. Sue is taking what she got and moving on with her life.

But there's something wrong with this picture.

Tyco executives are currently on trial for mismanaging corporate assets. While Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Swartz squandered millions, people like my brother were working hard to feed their families and provide for their old age.

Kozlowski and Swartz's misconduct deprived my brother of benefits he earned.

These sentiments are creating a firestorm of controversy. Did my brother deserve a pension? Tyco belonged to Kozlowski and Swartz. Didn't the money they squandered belong to them?

There is a difference between squandering personal income and depriving employees of benefits they earned.

In Part 2 of this series that difference will be explained.


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