My dad died last November and without knowing it launched my mother into a full-time career: claim filing.

For eight hours of every day since then (including weekends) she has filled out insurance forms and benefit claims, filed for reimbursement of doctor and hospital bills, made calls to the offices of former employers and veterans groups to discuss benefits, and tooled around town picking up more forms to fill out.I called her for lunch one day and she said, "I can't talk to you. This is my day to copy things."

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"It means I go to the supermarket with a pocket full of change and use the copying machine to run off extras of all my records to send to people."

"Do you have any idea what you are doing?" I asked.

"Not a clue," she said.

One day I dropped by and she was sitting in the kitchen surrounded by boxes, ledgers and envelopes, with the phone in the middle of the table.

"I cannot believe you are just sitting here," I observed. "Does that mean you're finished with this mess?"

"Are you crazy?" she asked. "I'm waiting for a call from Medicare, another from Social Security, and one from an insurance company that pays only 60 percent because he was an outpatient. I have to file with another insurance company for the ambulance, another for the oxygen and another for the medication. I'm looking into a bill from a doctor I have never heard of who sent me a statement for `consultation.' I am also waiting for a new batch of death certificates to come in from the funeral director. It would have been easier and cheaper to invite them all to the funeral."

At a time of her life when my mother should be sitting around watching "Santa Barbara" and playing with a pasta machine, she has been swept up in a current of decisions, from a funeral director wanting to know if she wants acknowledgment cards with an embossed cross or a rose, to a service station attendant asking what weight of oil she wants in the car.

Claim filing is a lot like motherhood. It's a career for which there is no training, no job description, no handbooks and no end in sight.

When my mother called recently and informed us she was going in for gall bladder surgery, she moaned, "I don't mind the operation as much as I dread getting into all those insurance forms again."

I told her to look upon it as a "career enrichment" experience.