The Problem of Harper Lee & Other Seniors


Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 11.11.19 PMHaving spent the past four years of my life dealing with my father, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, and my mother who nearly worked herself to death, caring for him, I’ve learned a few things about life.

On Tuesday, I reported the publication of a newly discovered Harper Lee manuscript.  Most of the story is not about the publication of the book but about the woman, herself.  In 2007, she was discovered, alone, in her NYC apartment, having had a massive stroke.  Apparently it may have damaged her short-term memory.  Suffering from Macular Degeneration, she is now nearly blind.  She is also “profoundly” deaf.  Having lost her 104 year older sister, Alice, who appeared to have controlled much of her life, both financially and even emotionally, the 88 year old woman is now in an assisted living facility.   This much we know.  We also know she has been used and abused (financially) by those who claim to have her best interests at heart.

“...Many of the town’s residents wonder why Lee, who stopped giving full interviews in 1964 and disdained the relentless marketing of “Mockingbird,” would endorse the new book. She is 88, reportedly nearly blind and deaf, and living in an assisted living center since suffering a stroke in 2007, which prompted her move from New York, where she’d lived most of her adult years. As one Monroeville native put it — on the condition that her name not be used, to avoid making the town seem unappreciative — “It’s apparent she never wanted this to be done, because she would have done it earlier.”…”


Then this:

“…Alice, who died last November aged 103, wrote in 2011: “Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.” But a spokesman for Penguin Random House said: “Harper Lee still enjoys reading and uses a magnifying machine from the New York Institute for the Blind to read books, newspapers and documents.” Harper, who resides in an assisted living facility in Alabama, also suffered a stroke in 2007.

Actress Mia Farrow was among the first to raise concerns, ‏tweeting: “Is someone taking advantage of our national treasure, 88-year-old Harper Lee?” Writer Madeleine Davies also questioned whether the book was “willingly given”, while novelist Tracy Chevalier told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she was “just a little concerned that Harper Lee may have been pressured into this”.

Lee’s international rights agent Andrew Nurnburg issued a statement, acknowledging the “speculation” but reassuring readers that Lee was fully behind the project. “I met with her last autumn and again over two days in January; she was in great spirits and increasingly excited at the prospect of this novel finally seeing the light of day,” he said….”


Or… is something else going on here?  Are you paying attention to the story.  Family members are saying one thing, friends who have access to hear are saying another.  This when, if you are familiar with having to deal with the elderly in your family, red flags start waving.


Let’s have at it.

  1. She is living in an assisted living facility.  That is not a nursing home.  It is an assisted living facility, where she is allowed to do as much on her own as possible.  It is also indicative of the fact that she is not incapacitated.  If her short-term memory was fried, she could not truly be even in an assisted living facility, but would need quite a bit of care.  I know.
  2. Short-term memory loss due to a stroke is different from memory loss due to dementia and Alzheimer’s.  My grandfather Froehlich eventually developed dementia due to the numerous little strokes he was having, but that was more about the fact that he had a piece of shit doctor who did not properly give him the medication he needed to stabilize the situation.  Until the last months of his life, he was not ‘senile’.  He simply had a short-term memory problem.  It did not inhibit his thinking prowess, which was amazing.  He just couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast.  It is entirely different from Alzheimer’s Disease, which my father had.  There, it is like the brain is being devoured by an internal PACMAN.  The ability to think and reason dissolves, along with the brain.
  3. The most telling statement is that “…”Harper Lee still enjoys reading and uses a magnifying machine from the New York Institute for the Blind to read books, newspapers and documents.”…”  Her brain is functioning well enough for her to know how to operate the magnifying machine.  Big Fat Hairy Deal.  My father could still read, and did up until the last day of his life.  He could not operate any form of a computer.  My 85  year old mother has wet MD.  She can’t even use a Kindle, and her brain works, well.  If the woman is capable of using one of the magnifying machines, then her brain is far from fried.
  4. “…Alice, who died last November aged 103, wrote in 2011: “Harper can’t see and can’t hear and will sign anything put before her by anyone in whom she has confidence.”…”  I have a real problem with her sister.  Evidently she is the one who told Nelle, that the manuscript was lost.  I don’t know about you, but there is a big red flashing light going on and off here.  The new attorney immediately finds the manuscript, after the sister dies?  Why is no one even bothering to question the possibility that the sister, Alice, was the villain here?  According to one source, Alice knew exactly were the original manuscript was, locked in a safety deposit box.
  5. It is quite obvious that people in Nelle Harper Lee’s home town have taken advantage of her.  It is also rather obvious the new attorney, Tonja Carter is cleaning house.  I would too, and I did just that.  Certain individuals are no longer allowed to have access to the 88 year old writer, but yet, people like her publisher, agent, and her friend Wayne Flint are allowed access.  Family members are complaining.  “Old” friends are complaining? (More about this below).
  6. Maybe, just maybe the woman is such a recluse she is encouraging rumors about her mental capacity so the world will leave her the hell alone. This is what Katherine Hepburn did.
  7. Evidently her attorney is NOT controlling the situation with publishers.  This is also a big deal.  From what I gather, Alice did.
  8. Was Alice the snake in the grass?

Several years ago my mother was the first to realize that several individuals who were actively courting my father, were doing so out of personal greed.  The first thing we did was create a power of attorney for both of them.  In order to do this, I had to go with them, first to their physician, who, on that specific day, in writing, certified that both of them were capable of signing a document certifying that they were quite capable of signing a POW, putting it in my name and in my sister’s name.  We drove, immediately, to the attorney, with the document from the physician.  The POAs were signed and notarized.

There was an individual who was known for trying to bleed seniors dry, taking what they had.  We were well aware of this.  It is the primary reason we did the POA, knowing if we did not act when we did, we would need to go to court and have my father declared incompetent.  That was something none of us wanted to do.  The situation was such that this individual could have managed to sneak in an destroyed our lives.

From what I gather, even after the 2007 stroke, Nelle’s sister Alice did not have her POA.  This is a very big deal.  She then told everyone how incompetent her sister was.  From what I gather, until I’m proven wrong, Nelle’s attorney, Tonja Carter did not sign the book deal, but Nelle did it, herself.  This says that the attorney does not have POA for her.  If she does not, and Nelle were incompetent, we would be hearing about it in a heart-breaking court battle.

I suspect what is going on here is something every family faces, should they be blessed with elderly parents, aunts, or uncles, grandparents, who live well into old age.  It’s something my sister and I were forced into learning.  It wasn’t easy.  One of the things you quickly learn is that people must be denied access to your senior.  It was required with my grandparents when the minister from their ‘new’ church constantly preyed on them.  My mother and I did the same thing with my grandmother Reidhead and Aunt Mabel.  We did the same thing with my father.  I had to write a To Whom It May Concern letter for the family attorney, to have him keep it on record.  My mother then informed the person we knew was trying to score, big, off my father, that certain legal steps had been taken to assure that no one took advantage of him.  The attorney had a list of those people.  The individuals we feared never went near him, again.

When I read that there are people near Harper Lee who are grumbling about access, yet other individuals are not, then I suspect the people doing the grumbling and complaining, trying to set the stage for mental incompetence, are the ones looking to score off her.

It ain’ easy, trust me.  You learn, very quickly.  If not, they lose.  It happened to my father.  People who are scam artists and not honest have a sixth sense when it comes to cheating those who aren’t with it, anymore.  It happened to him.  Right now, it looks like Harper Lee has some good people, trying to care for her.  That’s a big deal.  My sister and I deal with it on a daily basis. Then – you’re left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.