Thursday, June 19, 2008


Well, I'm getting on this bandwagon fairly late, but if you haven't already come across Hugh Crawford's and Betsy Reid's website with Jamie Livingstone's photo project, it's worth a look. Livingstone took 1 Polaroid everyday from March 1979 to the day he died, Nov 25, 1997. The thumbnail reprinted here is one of the most reviewed photos: it shows his wedding ring with his bride blurred out in the background, two weeks before he died. Rules for the Polaroid a day project were fairly simple: a day Polaroid a day, every day; one only; no retakes. It was basically Livingstone's diary, each image recalling the day or moment for him years later. But as Chris Higgins, the blogger who broke the story on this, points out, even if you do something very simple, if you keep doing it over and over and over for years, it eventually becomes something very different. Fascinating visual record of a man's life and times.

(And on a completely different level, it is interesting to note how Chris Higgins was able to deconstruct the photos to eventually identify Jamie Livingstone -- the site hadn't originally been intended for the public, and had not identified the photographer or those mounting the photos on the web, but Higgins was able to work it out based on looking at the people and places in the photos, and tracking through Google who was uploading material to the site. Which just goes to show that, given sufficient entries, there is no such thing as an anonymous blog.)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Fridge

Doug's condo was undergoing renovations for several months before he passed away, which has further complicated cleaning his place up. As the men came to put in the new flooring, they had to move the fridge out of the kitchen, which meant I had to show up and move the stuff out of the freezer compartment for the day. Fortunately, Doug had a second condo, so I simply moved all the meat from his freezer (he had a couple months supply laid in) to the freezer compartment of his other place.

I fully intended to move the meat back at the end of day, but the flooring crew made a terrible job of it -- six inch gash in the middle of the kitchen floor, flooring over shims under the stove, and so on. Apparently their attitude was 'the guy's dead, so who cares?" But of course we care, and who ever ends up buying the place cares, so the contractor overseeing the repairs for the building insisted they do the job over. So besides my having to stick around for a few more days to supervise, I decided to wait the further repairs before restocking the freezer.

I then forgot all about it, and returned home to my family. A week later, I get a phone call on a Friday night that the neighbours are complaining about the smell from my brother's second condo -- the fridge has failed, and the meat has gone bad -- very, very bad.

I guess my first clue should have been that the fridge in the other condo was empty, since nature abhors a vacuum, and Doug was not one to let storage space go unutilized. But having just gotten back to my family in Lethbridge, I was unclear what I could do to fix the problem other than give the caretaker permission to throw everything out. But she was very loath to undertake the task, which she described as a lot worse than finding Doug.

So I phoned Pat, a buddy in Edmonton I hadn't spoken to in months, and asked him to take care of it for me. But when I phoned the caretaker back, she said they couldn't wait until the next day for him to arrive, and that they would deal with it. (But I still owe brownie points to Pat for agreeing to do it, even if in the event he didn't have to.)

When I finally got up again about a week later, they had thrown out all the bad meat, but he place still stunk pretty bad, several cans of air freshener notwithstanding. It was pretty obvious that some of the spoilage had leaked into the fridge itself, so I had no choice but to get the fridge hauled away. Even then, it took about another six hours of cleaning over two days to get the worst of the smell out; I left the place filled with odour eaters, so I'll have to see how effective they are when I next go up. But at least it is now down to a level that it is only unpleasant inside the apartment, and should not impact the neighbours. I tipped the caretaker for her enduring the initial cleanup, though I recognize that no amount of cash can really compensate for gagging one's way through such a job.

Just another distraction in a semester of distractions. I generally spend about 6-8 hours each day I'm in Edmonton sorting through Doug's stuff, trying to get the condos ready for sale, but it is very slow going, and I spend 3-4 hours a day with Mom, so there's not really any way to get more hours in to speed the process. It looks like I will have to move the family to Edmonton for July and/or part of August to make any headway. And of course, looking through his stuff, dealing with all the memories, and figuring out what is worth keeping and what isn't, is all kind of depressing.

On the upside, I do wear my iPod for cleaning/sorting and at 6-8 hours a day have now completely caught up on CBC's Quirks and Quarks, and am making headway on The Current, Dispatches, and a bunch of other stuff I don't normally have a chance to listen to, since control of the car radio seems to reside with Tigana and Kasia. CBC and NPR podcasting (radio on demand) is an incredibly wonderful development in my world.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Last Will and Testament

Working through the probate following Doug's death has been incredibly frustrating, time consuming, and not a little depressing. Mary and I have already devoted hundreds of hours trying to get a handle on Doug's financial affairs, and we're still only scratching the surface. Although I was fortunate enough to find his will within hours of my arrival in Edmonton, and although his will was extremely simple, the rest of the paperwork has been incredibly complicated.

There are two factors here: First, Doug's finances are hopelessly confusing -- he had dozens of accounts with different banks and stock brokers -- I'm not sure we have still found them all. He originally kept fairly good records of what stocks he bought and sold, but that record system seems to have broken down in the late 1990s; now we just have piles of receipts and cancelled checks, all piled in apparently random boxes scattered around the apartment. No doubt there was some system known to Doug, but I haven't been able to deduce it. Our only lead is that, being March, he had started on his income tax, so there was one table piled high with tax return info that gave us a bit of an entree to it all.

The second factor is the catch-22 is that we had to estimate the total value of his estate for probate; but we could not access any of the information necessary to answer that question until after probate. If we went to the bank, the bank said they could not talk to us until I could prove I was the executor; but I don't get to be the executor unless I can say how much is in each of the bank accounts! It's crazy! I couldn't even be positive that there wasn't a more recent will (though his lawyer was certain he hadn't done a newer one) because the banks couldn't even tell me if he had a safety deposit box, let alone let me look to see if there was a will inside.

Similarly, I guess I appreciate that credit card companies can't just allow you to phone up and say so and so has died, cancel their card, because it would be too easy to screw over your neighbour or enemies. But without being able to cancel his cards or access his mail or talk to the banks or stockbrokers, it's awfully difficult to figure out what he owed to whom or what income he had coming in. In the end, we just had to come up with our best estimate, and go from there.

And all of this was further complicated by my brother also being in charge of my mother's financial affairs for the last several years, she being blind, bed ridden, and no longer competent. If access to my brothers info was limited, access to my mother's finances was absolutely out of the question. Only Doug could have access to her accounts, and clearly, I am not he.

Doug's will specified Mom as his executrix, and me as back up; so I not only have to apply to have her certified unfit to serve as executor, but also for guardianship over her, so I could take charge of her affairs -- which now include the not insubstantial estate of my brother. But you guessed it, in order to apply for guardianship, I had to estimate the size of her estate, which is problematic because we can't get access until I'm officially her guardian!

And the process is so slooowww. We can't move on either probate or guardianship without the report from mom's doctor, who has just left for three weeks vacation when I take in the form to be filled out; when the form finally arrives and we take it into the lawyer, he asks a million questions about mom's family -- when did my dad die, where was mom born, what was her mom's maiden name, where was grandmother born, where was grandfather born, etc. etc. Unfortunately, Mom was the one who kept track of family tree, and when she no longer could, Doug took it on. I had no clue; and there is no hope asking mom anything now. So it was a matter of tracking down cousins and asking them what they remembered. But even there, why would they remember the year my dad died when I could even recall for certain (i wasn't close to my dad).

The irony is that, given that we had some glimpse of how complicated all this could be when my father-in-law passed away a few weeks earlier, I had suggested to Doug that, seeing how mom was approaching her 99th birthday, it might not be amiss to get some of the paperwork organized in advance when we were not having to deal with the emotions and funerals and everything else. So Doug had agreed that we should sit down when I was next due in Edmonton, April 9-10, and nail down all the required details -- basic stuff like where Mom's will is, and where her mother had been born and her maiden name and so on. And I had said to Mary, once we finish doing Mom's, I'll push Doug to give me some info on where he kept his will etc. But of course, he died two weeks before the scheduled meeting.

All of which has made Mary and I fairly impossible for people to be around, because we end up lecturing everyone we encounter to (a) do a will, if they haven't got one (we are astounded at the number of parents who have never given thought or pen to paper about what happens to their kids if something happens to both of them!); (b) to tell everyone where the damn thing is; (c) to have a list of bank accounts and brokerages etc etc somewhere with the will, and (d) to have joint accounts wherever possible, since accessing accounts is otherwise very complicated. I'm quite sure our friends, colleagues, neighbours, and grocery clerks are thoroughly sick of hearing us harp on about this, but good grief people, a little planning if you please!

Kasia's Field Trip

Kasia on the far right

Kasia's Montessori preschool/kindergarten made a field trip today to the city's Nikka Yuko Japanese Gardens. I tagged along as a parent volunteer. Highlights included ringing the friendship bell -- the guide explained that whatever couple rang the bell stayed friends forever, so the kids lined by two by two to ring the bell with their BFFs. I rang the bell with Kasia, so one of the teachers said, "Now Kasia, you'll be best friends with your dad forever." To which I replied, "Is this guaranteed to get us through her teenage years?"
The other memorable moment (not exactly a highlight) was when kids lined up at the wishing well to make their wishes. Kasia turned to me and quietly said, "I wished that everyone who died would be alive again." (No doubt in reference to Portia, GrandDad and Uncle Doug.) *sigh* It's been a very sad year.

Monday, June 02, 2008

It takes six weeks to get there.

Another brief trip to Edmonton to feed mom. Of interest here was that Douglas has now joined the circle of deceased relatives sitting with her.

We haven't told mom about Doug -- there is no point since she wouldn't be able to remember for more than a few minutes, and we and the majority of the staff at the home felt it would just be cruel. (One staff member and one neighbour thought we ought to tell her, but they seemed to be projecting their own 'need to know' onto Mom.) The first few days Mom asked after Douglas, and I would just reply that he wasn't here today, that I had come instead. After that Douglas became confused in her mind with her long dead brothers, especially Tom, when talking to me; or she would say her "son was coming" to the staff, and they'd simply answer in terms of when I would be there next. But suddenly this week, for the first time, she was including Doug in her conversation with those from beyond the veil. As in: "Evie, why don't you have another cup of tea? Douglas, get Evie some tea, will you?" And clearly not addressing me, but the unseen individuals on the other side (in both senses of the phrase) of her.

Not sure how I should interpret this, but it does make one wonder. If there is something after, and if one retains volition, then Douglas would certainly want to sit with Mom. As before, it's something of a comfort knowing that Doug is there for Mom when I cannot be.