Lottery Winners & Family Grief

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    Lottery Winnings and Happiness
    By Mitch Albom, Jewish World Review
    January 19, 2005

    I'm sure winning the lottery is good for something. But that something obviously isn't marriage.

    Take the recent case of Robert Swofford, a postal worker in Florida. He had been separated from his wife for three years. That's a long time to be separated. That's longer than many marriages. You figure that much time apart, you might as well finalize it. But they never got around to it.

    Then Swofford won the lottery. A fat $60 million. And wouldn't you know it? Just like that, his wife served him with divorce papers — and claimed half of his prize.

    In New York, a woman booted her husband out after months of arguments. They had been married nearly 20 years, but she was tired of him. Done. She didn't divorce him. Why bother? He was bankrupt. Had 78 cents in the bank. Not much to split up there.

    Then he won $149 million in the lottery. And wouldn't you know it? She filed for divorce — and half of his winnings — before the check was cut.

    Sometimes, you don't even need to be married. In Canada, a lottery winner already had divorced his wife — after never living in the same place during their marriage — and yet she still sued for a chunk of his winnings, claiming that, yes, they were divorced, but they were still having sex.

    So, you know, the relationship was intact. Who really needs a spouse?

    I've often wondered why the divorce rate has skyrocketed the last 50 years. I once asked my mother, who was born during the Depression, if she thought couples argued more now, or had bigger issues with one another.

    "No, we had all that," she said. "I think we were just too poor to get divorced."

    Lottery winners seem to prove that true. Suddenly, it seems, the belief that you can be taken care of by a windfall of money trumps the belief that you need a husband — or a wife — for your happiness.

    Suddenly, men envision a carefree life of younger women and endless parties, and women envision a life unburdened by the fat slob they've been putting up with for years.

    Of course, the world is full of examples proving otherwise. In Scotland, a 76-year-old widower became that nation's oldest lottery winner. With millions in his bank account, he married a woman 30 years younger, whom he had met at a singles club.

    Within a year, he'd filed for divorce. He even banned her from his house. He finally paid her an undisclosed settlement.

    At 79, he was back where he started. Single.

    "She was a gold digger," he told reporters. "Now I've learned my lesson; I'm never going to marry again. … The next thing I'm going to do is book a holiday to somewhere sunny and warm."

    Here's a tip: Stay away from Club Med.

    It seems like every few weeks, you hear some rags-to-riches story about a lottery winner. And a few weeks later, you hear a riches-to-rags story to counter it.

    None is sadder than that of Jack Whittaker, who, a few years ago, won the richest undivided lottery jackpot in U.S. history — $315 million. At the beginning, he was joyous, boisterous, promising to share his good fortune with the church and the poor.

    Two years later, he'd been arrested, sued, ordered into rehab, accused of causing trouble at racetracks and nightclubs and — worst of all — he'd seen his 17-year-old granddaughter die of a drug overdose. Her body was found wrapped in a plastic tarp.

    Whittaker won his fortune on Christmas Day of 2002. His granddaughter was buried on Christmas Eve, 2004.

    "I wish all of this never would have happened," Jewel Whittaker, his wife, said. "I wish I would have torn the ticket up."

    You wonder, one day, if someone will do that. You wonder if someone will come forward, winning ticket in hand, look at the swath of ruined lives, crushed marriages, exploded families and down-and-out former millionaires, and say, "You know what? It's not worth it."

    Maybe. Then again, if they were capable of saying that, why buy the ticket in the first place?

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