My article about my brother-in-law Steve Julian's posthumous journey into space
recently appeared in Kaw Valley Senior Monthly.
Steve Julian: Posthumous Astronaut
When SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Kennedy Space Center on May 22, its Dragon capsule carried supplies for the International Space Station, the first non-government vehicle to dock there. However, for many of the people who crowded Florida’s Jetty Park to watch the night launch, the second stage of the rocket carried a secondary but extremely precious cargo: vials containing the ashes of their loved ones which, with a successful launch, may orbit the earth for several years. One of those vials contained the cremains of Steven Mark Julian, my brother-in-law.
On October 4, 1957, a day after his 7th birthday, Steve was bitten by the space bug when Russia launched Sputnik. For the rest of his life, he was fascinated by space and continued to arrange his work schedule so he could watch televised launches long after they became routine for most Americans. Because he was watching the only network to televise live the launch of Challenger on January 28, 1986, he knew about and mourned the tragedy before some media outlets interrupted their scheduled programming with news that the rocket carrying the shuttle had exploded.
Although his childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut were never realized, Steve’s life was full. During his high school and college years, he worked in a grocery store, advancing after graduation to night manager. He married the love of his life, my sister Vicki, and fathered two sons, Chris and Ryan. Our family was proud of Steve as he became an insurance agent and then a life insurance consultant assisting agents working for a brokerage company. After Steve’s death, his company established a highly coveted award that is given annually in his name.
When Steve was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2004, it was not long after extensive surgery before he returned to work and resumed his rigorous exercise schedule. He embraced Relay for Life and proudly walked the survivor’s lap. A medicine held the cancer in check for a year, but failed when the cancer mutated. As Steve and Vicki traveled from Houston to Chicago, chasing an elusive cure, it became obvious to Steve and all of us who loved him that he was in a battle he could not win.
In palliative care, Steve spoke to Vicki of cremation and she immediately recalled their earlier conversation when the ashes of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, were sent into orbit in 1997. An Internet search located Celestis, the company responsible for launching into space Roddenberry, Timothy Leary and others,
both famous and not. Vicki promised Steve that he posthumously would become the astronaut he always wished to be.
After several launch delays resulting in canceled and rescheduled flights and hotel reservations, Vicki, her sons, daughter-in-law and my husband Ray and I flew to Florida for the launch which was expected to occur on May 19. Out on the jetty in the middle of the night, we watched across a wide expanse of ocean for the launch of the rocket which also carried the ashes of L. Gordon Cooper, one of America’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, and James Doohan, better known as Scotty on Star Trek. Excitement grew as we saw the light on the horizon grow brighter, knowing it resulted from the engines firing on the rocket. The countdown reached "Liftoff" but the rocket failed to rise. High pressure in one of the rocket’s engines caused the computer to shut down all engines and abort the launch.
Ray and I could not rearrange our schedules for a second launch attempt planned for May 22, but Vicki was determined to witness the fulfillment of her promise to Steve. While I watched the 3:44 a.m. launch on NASA’s website from our home in Lawrence, Vicki and her children were standing on the jetty. As the rocket carrying the ashes of 320 people, representing 18 countries, rose in the dark sky, Vicki, her promise kept, threw up her arm in triumph and shouted a fitting tribute for her native Kansan husband: "Ad astra, Steve!"
Note: The second stage of the rocket carrying the ashes of Steve and many other souls orbited the Earth 576 times, about once every 90 minutes, before reentering Earth's atmosphere over the South China Sea at 10:22 p.m. CDT on June 26. Those interested in learning more about space memorials may do so by clicking HERE.
The following article appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Amazing Aging.
Is a rever$e mortgage right for you?
Among the celebrities promoting reverse mortgages for seniors age 62 and older are Robert Wagner, Fred Thompson, Henry (the Fonz) Winkler and Pat Boone. If it seems odd that wealthy celebrities — who will never need such a mortgage — are encouraging their fellow and poorer seniors to take advantage of the program initially signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988, remember this: These trusted celebrities are increasing their wealth by being well-paid for the ads in which they appear.
Undeniably, reverse mortgages may work well for some seniors who wish to remain in their homes and who have the discipline to do everything right. But, while ads imply that you cannot lose your home with a reverse mortgage, you should know that you can. Indeed, in 2012, one out of every 10 owners of reverse mortgages were in default. Here is what you need to know if you decide to apply for a reverse mortgage loan.
Your home’s equity is used as collateral for a reverse mortgage loan that generally does not have to be repaid until the last surviving homeowner permanently moves out of the property or passes away. Interest and handling fees are added to the loan each month. During the time the homeowners are in the home or temporarily away — for example, a brief stay in a nursing home — they are responsible for taxes, insurance and maintenance of the home. Failing to do so results in foreclosure.
When the last surviving homeowner moves permanently (12 months) out of the home or dies, the estate then has approximately six months to repay the balance of the reverse mortgage or sell the home to pay off the balance. Any remaining equity is inherited by the estate and the estate is not personally liable if the home sells for less than the balance of the reverse mortgage.
A reverse mortgage works best if the borrower is older and has no or a small mortgage on their home because any mortgage must be paid off first with proceeds of the reverse mortgage loan. As life expectancy has raised, more people are living into their 80s and 90s, many into their hundreds. It is easy to see how they can outlive the proceeds of the reverse mortgage loan, especially if they take the money in a lump-sum and are not disciplined about spending the money.
JAAA Executive Director Jocelyn Lyons is her family’s matriarch and chief caregiver. Her strong-willed grandmother, then 96 — without allowing Jocelyn time to research other options — took out a reverse mortgage loan so she could stay in her home. Affectionately known as Gran, she initially withdrew $1,000 to host a Thanksgiving dinner for her entire, and very large, extended family. When added to the monthly fees and interest, that $1,000 grew to $12,000 in only four years. The rest of the loan money remained unspent. The family, especially Gran’s son who had purchased the house for her, thought that $12,000 would not be too much to pay off the loan if Gran died as it looked she might do at age 100 when she was very ill.
Happily, Gran did not die then and the bulk of the loan proceeds remained untouched until she entered a nursing home. Her savings, CDs and the rest of the reverse mortgage loan paid for her stay in the nursing home. Although Gran’s son had been required to remove his name from the deed so she could apply for the reverse mortgage loan, it was expected that the house would be returned to him upon her death, provided he purchased the house from HUD (US Department of Housing and Urban Development) by paying off the loan.
Sadly, after her money ran out, Gran was forced into applying for Medicaid because the lending company, without the approval of HUD, would not allow Jocelyn to use the remaining $13,000 of the loan to pay for her grandmother’s care. The attorney who assisted Jocelyn in applying for Medicaid for her grandmother also advised her to cease paying taxes, insurance and utilities on the house since Gran would never return to it. But Gran insisted that the utilities remain on so that visiting out-of-state relatives could stay without incurring hotel costs.
When Gran died at age 104, the son who purchased the house for her informed the lending agency of her death and said he would like to talk to them about paying off the mortgage to buy the house. They said they would "get back to him" but, in the meantime, required him to continue to pay the taxes, insurance, maintenance, utilities, interest and fees. Eighteen months later, they still had not "gotten back to him," and he decided that — with 18 months of additional interest and fees — the amount of the loan exceeded the value of the house. He advised the lending agency that he was no longer interested in buying the house and that he planned to have the utilities turned off.
They informed him they would not accept release of the house until it had been thoroughly cleared and cleaned (vacuumed, mopped, walls and windows washed) and gave him 10 days to have the work completed. He called Jocelyn who told him that, in a foreclosure, the lender customarily took care of those duties and readied the house for sale. However, her uncle was worried that he would pay a penalty if he did not have it done, so Jocelyn (family matriarch and house cleaner) personally cleared and cleaned the house.
While her experience with Gran’s reverse mortgage loan was not positive, Jocelyn, when asked her opinion of such loans, says, "It depends on the situation. I would also want to learn more about a home equity loan."
She also recommends that seniors thinking about taking out a reverse mortgage loan be cautious, investigate other options and carefully check out the lending agency. Clearly, some are better than others and, if you decide a reverse mortgage is right for you, you will want your lending agency to be the best you can find when it comes to treating you fairly and responding promptly.