Couple can't mourn wife's parents' death

Jennifer Lee Preyss By Jennifer Lee Preyss

July 9, 2012 at 2:09 a.m.

Tammy Terrell would like to mourn her parents' death.

But before she can begin the process of grieving, Terrell must come up with $2,524 - the remaining balance of a $3,524 funeral bill that has yet to be paid off.

"The money covers the rest of the balance to the funeral home for cremation and death certificates," said the 44-year-old Victoria homemaker. "They won't release their remains to us until we pay the entire amount. And we can't afford it."

Terrell's parents, Charles and Phyllis "Charlene" Lewis, both 69, died in a house fire from smoke inhalation about 4:30 a.m. on June 22.

The couple was in their Pasadena home when the fire broke out in their bedroom for unknown reasons, Terrell said.

"When the fire departments got there, the door hit their bodies ... they tried to get out," she said. "They were able to revive my mom, but on the fourth time, they couldn't do it. The fire was ruled accidental, but it was so bad they couldn't pinpoint an exact reason."

Terrell said the pain of losing both parents at the same time is emotional enough without worrying about how she's going to pay to lay them to rest.

Terrell and her siblings, David Lewis, Tracy Meza and Jeff Lewis, are individually struggling with finances and have no additional money to contribute to the funeral expenses.

"It's taken a toll on me. I don't like reaching out, but my family is in trouble and I need help," she said, her voice trembling with emotion.

Meanwhile, Terrell was forced to borrow money from a friend to pay attorney fees to help settle her parents' $1,000 AAA Life Insurance policy. The two-year policy, which did not have time to mature beyond $500 for each parent, hasn't been paid to the family because the Lewis' named one another as the sole beneficiaries of the policies.

"It's a mess," she said. "We wanted to give our parents more. They deserve so much more, but we can't afford anything more. And not being able to lay them to rest is even harder."

Terrell described her parents as loyal and loving, concerned always with the well being of their family. They were also role models for love and marriage - seven months ago, the pair celebrated their golden anniversary on Christmas Eve.

"They were devoted to each other. They would be lost without each other. They completed each other," Terrell said. "We look at it as a blessing that they got to pass away together because they couldn't have been without each other."

Charles Lewis recently retired for a second time as a school bus driver for Pasadena ISD. Prior to working for the school district, he was employed as a truck driver for 17 years with Shell Oil Company, which later partnered with Motiva Enterprises.

"He had a lot of passions. He loved fishing, working on cars, doing yard work, gardening and devoted a lot of his time to family," Terrell said. "He liked to make wise cracks and sort of pick on people. He was always good at giving advice, though. He taught me to be strong."

Terrell's mother, however, was the heartbeat of the family.

"She loved reading and devoting her time to family. She was a homemaker, so she loved to cook. And she was funny, so peppy, nothing could bring her down. She was the calm of everything," Terrell said. "They were just great people. They would do anything for anyone."

Together, the couple had four children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The Lewis family has set up the Charles and Charlene Lewis Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo bank for anyone who may be able to contribute to the funeral expenses.

"We're not having an actual fundraiser because we can't afford it. But if anyone could find it in their hearts to help, it would be greatly appreciated. My parents deserve more, and I would love to give them more but, unfortunately, I can't," Terell said. "We just want to lay them to rest."



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