By Lethbridge Herald on February 29, 2020.
LEAVE IT TO BEEBER
Wounds heal with time. It’s a saying I’ve heard often over the years. But with the first anniversary of my dad’s death approaching, I can tell you that isn’t true.
So I’m taking the next week off to spend some much-needed time remembering my dad and for the first time since he died, I’m going to mourn him.
Yes, for the first time. That may be hard to fathom but as the executor of his estate, I’ve been completely focused on his affairs for these past 12 long and arduous months.
It was a year ago this week while covering the the Little Big Town concert at the Enmax Centre I got a phone call from dad’s best friend Mel that he’d been admitted to hospital in Strathmore with a silent heart attack. Dad, who lived in Calgary, had been in that town to see his doctor and visit Mel. But after his appointment he wasn’t feeling well and went to the emergency department of the hospital there. He never left alive.
I knew dad wasn’t well. When my friends and I had seen him in early January after the Calgary Motorcycle Show — which he regularly attended with us for years — he looked yellow and feeble. I sensed something was wrong and shortly after his birthday, I found out I was right.
Dad started having breathing problems while walking up the steps at a Calgary seniors centre where he had begun taking Spanish lessons at the age of 87. Yes, 87, and dad was determined to learn a new language.
Days later, tests showed he had fluid on a lung but even more ominously, a low white blood cell count and his once-high blood pressure was suddenly too low. He told me his doctor thought he might have some form of blood cancer and was considering a blood transfusion but while he was worried, he was still hopeful he could get his Zodiac out on the water for one more season of fishing.
While I asked myself during that phone call if his end may be nearing given his age, I never thought it would come from a heart attack, that call from Mel just before Little Big Town went on stage hitting me like a gut punch.
When I saw dad a few days later — a year ago to the day tomorrow — he looked better than he had in January. He had colour in his face and was joking with nurses about our Ontario trip just a few months before. He was eager to read the copies of The Herald I’d brought him and was hoping that this stint in hospital was just a bump in the road. I felt he was right because he looked and sounded good. But when he grabbed my hand, stared into my eyes and asked me again to promise — as I’d done on several occasions dating back to 2015 when I agreed to be his executor — that I would take care of his affairs, I truly felt for the first time that dad had a sense he wouldn’t see his Zodiac again.
The next morning when I called, there was a different tone in his voice and as the week progressed, it sounded weaker and he more subdued. A sense of doom began to gnaw at me so I started reluctantly googling everything I needed to know about being an executor. I talked to my friend Bruce, who had fulfilled that role for his own father and began preparing for what I still didn’t think would happen.
On March 8 — a frigid day when morning temperatures were in the -30 range, dad’s voice when I called changed my mind. He could barely talk but didn’t want company even though I insisted I could get up to Strathmore as soon as I warmed up the car. He insisted I wait until the weekend after he’d gotten an update from his doctor about the results from removal of lung fluid that had been done the day before.
Reluctantly, I agreed but I texted my family and told them I thought dad was dying. Several hours later, Mel called and said I needed to get up to the hospital because dad had become unresponsive. I didn’t even have time to start the car before Mel called again and said he was gone.
I was devastated and guilty that I hadn’t ignored his wishes and driven up anyway that morning to say goodbye in person.
The next day the process of dealing with his affairs began in earnest with the first of several trips to Calgary to clean his apartment, meet with the estate lawyer and deal with other matters.
Since his death, the work of executor has consumed my life. Meetings and phone calls with lawyers, accountants, bankers, his company’s pension people and others while taking care of his affairs has taken an enormous amount of time, work and even money. Executors also have to deal with the Canada Revenue Agency, which is first and foremost a priority when it comes to settling a decedent’s affairs. Utility companies, bills and mail forwarding also have to be dealt with.
Death isn’t easy — at least for an executor, whose role is one of huge demands. As one banker told me jokingly, people chosen to be executors are the people loved ones hate or trust. It’s a huge responsibility that never seems to end.
But with the anniversary of dad’s death just days away, I need to take a break. I know the memories of his final week will haunt me more as the week progresses so I’m taking vacation time to remember.
Except for the dog park and a trip to the vet for Rio’s annual thyroid tests, I’m not planning to leave the house this week. I’m going to take a long-overdue breather and finally grieve the loss of a human being who in the last years of his life truly became my best friend.
Dad was a complex person, one who evolved enormously over the years, one who became an integral part of our little crew of Raymond “kids” who hit the bike and boat shows in Calgary every year and was always up to join us for lunch when we made spur-of-the-moment trips there.
From Hooters to the Harley-Davidson cafe or even Costco, he was one of our group and life hasn’t been the same since he left us.
This week, more than ever, he will be missed. This week and forever. RIP, buddy.
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