Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dying is an expensive business

Got a parent close to death?  Start saving

Here's a list of unexpected expenses that my sister, my wife and I had to cover in the 12 days immediately following my Dad's death, but mostly before we were able to access his or my mother's funds.  Almost all of it went onto our credit cards.

This will give you some idea of what's required of you when a parent dies, and you or the surviving parent cannot access funds to cover dying costs, or household expenses.

Many other expenses were incurred, but thankfully some of them came automatically out of our parent's bank account (e.g. phone, internet, television, AAA, insurance payments,  etc).

March 6 to 20th, 2014: More than $6,400.

  • $    421.00  Credit Card Payment (interest only)
  • $    443.04  Electricity and Gas Bill
  • $    262.50  Legal Fee for Power of Attorney
  • $    833.45  Memorial Service (food and donation to Church)
  • $    556.50  Obituary
  • $      70.00  Garbage Dump Fees
  • $      25.00  Land title change
  • $1,522.50  Cremation Fee
  • $   108.00  Mail Forwarding fee (1 year)
  • $     60.00  Photo Enlargement for Memorial Service
  • $     80.00  Beer and food run for friends/guests staying at house
  • $   162.00  Mum's Alberta Blue Cross Bill
  • $   459.00  Furnace Service (preparation of house for sale)
  • $     60.00  Hardware repair items (preparation of house for sale)
  • $  380.87  American Express Credit Card bill
  • $  168.00  Patient Transfer to have Mum taken to church
  • $  703.50  Water Testing
This excludes the flights, car rentals, parking fees, fuel and our food costs that we paid to be there and to run errands.

In total, since my father died seven months ago, my wife and I have outlaid $17,201, and my sister over $4,000.  Again, this excludes our initial flights and other transportation costs for the funeral.

Obituary - also not cheap

Be forewarned.  If you're going to put an obituary in the Newspaper (I used the Calgary Herald) it's going to cost you. Dad's obit cost $556.50 for not a lot of words, and with no picture.

It's worth spending the money, because a number of his colleagues and friends found out about his passing this way and were able to attend. Probably people we wouldn't have otherwise been able to reach.

Just be ready to be screwed on the price.  You'll be close to $1,000 if you want the obit to be nicely worded, be carried for more than a few days and include a picture.

I swear newspapers are only staying in business so that they can reap the massive rewards of having the baby boomers all die off in the next few years.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A day that will live in infamy

You may have noticed that this blog is out of order.  Well, so have our lives been since Dad hit the deck.

My sister, my wife and I have had many epic days on this journey.    One of them is the day that Wifey and I got my Mum to the lawyer.

You see, my Mum remembered who she was, who the rest of us were, and that Dad was dead.  She could remember many things.  But she had her down time.   In the days immediately following Dad's bucket kicking, I realized that given her condition, we were getting about two hours a day of clarity before she sank into a dark haze.

I realized that I had to get Mum to a lawyer.  I needed to get Power of Attorney so that we could pay her bills, sort out her finances, and take care of her medically.  We needed a way to ensure we could act on her behalf.

But this was going to be a problem.  Since Mum wasn't totally lucid all the time, there would be questions raised about her ability to act on her own behalf.

As I had successfully got into my parent's safe, and retrieved their wills, I had the name of a local lawyer. So, I rang them up.  I asked for the partner who had written up my father's business articles of incorporation.   I left a message for him, and a few hours later, finally spoke to him.  He was a bit of an arrogant dick, but in the end advised me that if my mother was indeed starting a decline into dementia, they may not be able to help me.  They asked if my mother had been certified mentally unfit, and I said that she had not, which was true.    He put me on to a secretary to book an appointment.

I spent a few minutes on hold, and tried to let the apprehension in my stomach subside.  You know that they say you go through these universal stages of grief?    Total and complete bullshit.  When I got the call from Nory, I had gone straight to Anger (and have not left that 7 months later).  Anyway, thanks to my reptilian brain, I was in full-on "fight" mode.  No flight for me.

Finally, I got through to a legal secretary who was sympathetic to my needs, and managed to find me a slot on the calendar of a lawyer the following Tuesday, five days after Dad died.  I timed the appointment to coincide with my mother's "best" hours of the day: 10am to noon.

* * * *

The day dawned sunny cold and clear.   My sister had not yet arrived from the UK.  But wifey and I had already sprung into action.  We knew that my Mum would be physically sick in the morning, and would need a few hours to get up, vomit, go back to sleep, and then rise again.  I took a massive gamble: I woke her up three hours before we had to leave for the appointment, helped her to the bathroom to vomit and void herself, helped her wash up again, and my wife and I got her back into bed to sleep.  Before we put her down, I gave her half a gravol.  She drank it with the tiniest sip of water.

She snoozed while Wifey and I prepared ourselves to get some kind of food into her.  The time finally came to get Mum up, about an hour after we'd put her down. She woke up feeling slightly better, but drymouthed and groggy.

We got her cleaned up and dressed and sat her down in front of a toasted Eggo, and some gatorade.  She sipped listlessly at the drink, nibbled half the waffle and, nauseated, fed the rest to the dog.

I had printed out the papers that the lawyer had sent us to review. I went through them with Mum.  We located her glasses and watched her read through things.  We couldn't actually tell if she was soaking it in.   I then asked her some questions that we knew the lawyer would ask: Was she executing this Power of Attorney of her own will?  Did she understand why she was signing it?  Did she understand what my sister and I would be able to do with this power?

She gave us pretty good answers.

We prepared her coat and shoes, and got her dressed for the journey.  Slowly, we walked her out onto the snowy deck and carefully toward the three steps down to the car. She hadn't been off the deck (let alone off the property) for over 6 months.  She was terrified.  The sun shone and the air was fresh and clean,  but in Mum's mind, a terrifying darkness had descended.  She started to wobble and cry out as we attempted to ease her feet down the three steps to the drive way. Wifey and I were on either side of Mum with an arm each under hers around her back, our other hands were steadying one of her arms.  She wailed and cried out in fear that she was falling.   It was an absolutely maddening moment. Wifey and I actually looked at each other and laughed because we were so helpless.  Every step forward was a step toward the abyss, for Mum. Somehow, minutes later, we had her down the steps - hysterical and crying - and to the open door of my rented Camry. The front seat was slid back (my Mum is tall), the door was wide open, and carefully we began lowering Mum to her seat.  The fear returned:

"I'm falling!  Oh God, oh God, oh God."

"You're fine Mum. We have you.  You're OK."

"No no no, I'm falling. Help me, please oh God".

And moments later, her bum was on the seat, and I'd helped move her legs into the car.  Wifey and I made sure we had everything we needed, got in the car, got Mum's seatbelt on and the two of us sat shaking and stunned for a moment.

"Oh, it is a lovely day", said Mum looking out the window.

* * * *

On the thirty minute drive to the Lawyer's office, we quizzed Mum again.  She was clearly at her best, and we'd timed it perfectly.  We got to the lawyer's office, got parked, and got Mum out of her seat and onto the sidewalk with much less drama.  As we were walking into the office, she whispered to us:

"I need to pee."

Wifey, like a trooper, found where the toilet was and took her there ... my Mum shuffling along like a wizened old crone.

I met with the receptionist, found where we were meeting the lawyer and got settled.  Wifey was standing outside the lady's toilet, listening to Mum's clearly audible shouts of annoyment:

"Oh for HEAVEN's sake".  As she tried to get her pants down, etc.

Finally and unbelievably, we found ourselves in front of the lawyer and the legal secretary.

In what seemed like a whirlwind, they asked Mum questions, she answered them, and we listened to a litany of legal terms and advice.  The strangest calm came over me, as I realized that there was nothing more I could do. Wifey and I had done everything in our power to get to this moment.  Either Mum was going to answer correctly - whatever that meant - and we were going to get Power of Attorney, or Mum was going to blurt out something and end it all spectacularly.

To our utter amazement, suddenly Mum was signing.  A bit shaky and not always on the lines, but she was signing.  Copies were being made, staplers were being crunched, hands were being shaken, coats were being thrown around shoulders, and we were suddenly out in the sunshine.

Wifey and I felt like Gods.  Mum had asked God to help her, and we had.

We drove home and talked ... about nothing that I can remember. I was just in a daze.

We got home, got Mum out of her clothes, and got her to bed for a nap.  We woke her up for lunch time (Wifey had laid out some cheesed and meat and crackers) in the hope that we could get some protein into Mum.  We got everything laid out.  Mum said she wasn't feeling very hungry but came and sat down. The sun was shining in off the bright snow outside. It really was a lovely day.

And then, as I watched Mum sitting at the table, her eyes rolled up into the back of her head, her hands lifted off the arms of her chair, and then she suddenly slumped down, limp and lifeless.

"Jesus", I thought. "Mum's dead."

In a flurry, Wifey was on the phone to 911.  I stood beside Mum and felt for a pulse, but she was clearly breathing.  She came out of it like nothing had happened. And then it happened again.  Eyes into the back of the head, arms up off the chair, and another slump.  By this time, Wifey had the operator on the phone and was describing Mum's state. (Have to say here, my wife is an experienced first aider and expert at dealing with emergency medical situations ... like a Godsend, I tell you).  Now Mum was coming out of it again, but heaving.  We got a bowl in front of her in time, and her minuscule breakfast and lunch came out of her.

In a few minutes, the Paramedics and Fire were there.  They'd been to the house before, it seems, for Mum's falls, and Dad's desperate pleas to help get her up.  After they came once before (probably more than once) and discovered the alcohol abuse, they weren't as much in a rush. They seemed surprised to see Wifey and I there, and hopped to it.

While Wifey and I gave stats and background to the paramedics and fire crew, one of the young firemen led me out of the room:  "You may want to step out of sight here, sir. They're going to have to expose your mother's chest to put the leads on her."

I stared at him dully.  "I gave her a sponge bath last night, mate.  Nothing I haven't had to deal with before."

"Oh," he looked at me sorrowfully. "I see".

She was wired up, stretchered, wheeled out (feet first, I might add) and, by God, she was gone.

Wifey and I cleaned up the house, made some calls (sister, neighbour), took the dog for a pee, cleaned up ourselves, made up a list of chores, and followed Mum into Calgary.  We stopped and ordered the big picture of Dad for the funeral. We ran some other chores and eventually ended up at Rockyview Hospital.  Mum was in the hallway on a stretcher in lively spirits, wondering where she was, talking to the delightful paramedic stationed with her.  We got her a paper and settled her down, and eventually she was found a room in the emergency ward.

She mentioned to Wifey that we shouldn't hang about in the bedroom, that we should go to the living room.

After what seemed like forever, but was actually only a few hours since Mum's seizure, an efficient and stern looking woman showed up with a sheaf of papers:

"Are you Hazel Parker's family?"

"Yes," said the son and daughter-in-law.

"I'm the transition nurse.  I've just received community orders from your Mother's doctor. She's been psychiatrically certified."


"Yes. She's not going anywhere."

And that was it.  In one masterful stroke, we'd cheated oblivion by a few short hours.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


While my sister and I were preparing my parent's house for sale, there were a few last minute items to take care of. My sister and I had been alternating, working on the house and it's contents for a few weeks.   Many stories and lots of hard work.  My cousin painted the kitchen and dining room.  Did I tell you that?  Amazing.  My best friends helped me haul two tonnes of garbage away.  Cousins pitched in from far away.  So many stories of selflessness and support. Anyway.

With less than a week left to transfer the property, I discovered that the ensuite bathroom off my parent's bedroom hadn't been touched.  We'd all missed it in our cleaning and tidying.  Truth be told, my Dad had been living in the room for years; my Mum had been banished to the spare room where she could sleep without interruption.

The ensuite was disgusting. I spent an hour scraping my father's caked shit off the outside of the bowl .. at some point he'd flushed it, overflowed the toilet, and just walked away.

Some things they don't cover in the bereavement sessions at your local church.

OK, this might have been the moment

.. when I decided that Sandy was coming home with us.

Just look at her...

And look at all the shit on their deck.  We got rid of all that shit.

8 lbs

My Dad was about 150lbs when he died.

His ashes were about 8lbs.  A little heavier than when he was born.  As I left the cremation service with his sandy bits on the seat beside me, my rental Camry warned me that the airbag was disabled, even though it appeared someone was in the passenger seat.

All of him fit into a small shipping box.  I checked him out.  White and calcified.  Dusty.

Was it even him?  I realized what many bereaved probably did:  I couldn't give a shit if it was him in there ... or the ashy bits from last night's charcoal grill.

It's all in the symbolism.

Simply dead

$1,500 is the cheapest amount you can spend in Alberta to rush a human body from corpse to ashes.

These guys were weak communicators, but - in the end - fast and efficient.   My Dad died on March 6.  I booked their services on March 7.  They had him on March 11.  I had his ashes on March 13.

Calgary: You stab 'em, we slab 'em.

Ok, he wasn't stabbed.

First things first

One of the benefits of having to get on a plane to deal with the death of a parent, is the downtime you're afforded to get shit done.

In the time period between getting the phone call that my Dad had died, to the time that my plane landed in Calgary, this is what I had completed:

- Called my sister to tell her that our Dad was dead
- Called my Uncle to tell him his brother was dead
- Booked a flight.
- Booked a rental car.
- Called my Mom and spoke to her twice.
- Called my Dad's three best friends to tell them dad was dead
- Called my Dad's employer to find out the name of his supervisor
- Spoke to my Dad's supervisor to tell him his employee was dead.
-- Spoke to the RCMP agent at my parent's house
- Called my boss and told him I was out for at least a week
- Called my best friend in Alberta and told him I'd need him.
- Called and left a detailed message for my mother's Doctor
- Spoke to my parent's neighbours a few times
- Spoke to band members from my two bands to let them know I couldn't gig with them for a few months
- Wrote a draft of my father's obituary (which I ended up using with almost no changes)
- Wrote the eulogy for my father's funeral service (which ended up being my welcome and thank you to his friends)
- Left a message for the Alberta coroner's office

This was all before I'd even seen my mother.

Adrenalin is the thing that will show you what you can do when you need to do it.

We're going to be taken out of our house feet first

That's what my Dad said to me a few years ago, when I told him that he needed to move out of his house. He hadn't been able to afford its upkeep for years.  Almost a decade.  But he refused to admit it. He said that no matter what logic said, he and Mum would be "carried feet first out of the house".

Well, he was right.  They both were.

Dad was carried out in a body bag.  Mum was carried out on a stretcher.  Dehydrated, malnourished, and barely functioning.  In the words of one doctor: "Your mother was a few weeks away from total organ failure and death."

She was living in a house with a loved one who was tasked with her care.  Someone who was catering to her every need, apparently.

This is a picture Mum 5 days after Dad died, in the care of Alberta paramedics who had taken her to hospital.  She looks happy, doesn't she?

When these pictures were taken, she had only a foggy idea of her own name, or what had happened in the previous 24 months.  Looks happy, doesn't she?

She would never sleep in her house again.  She returned two more times.  She had lived in the house for 28 years and on those two trips, barely remembered it.  Couldn't remember the bedroom she'd slept in for the previous 7 years. A room she'd decorate.  Put the wallpaper up.  Sewn the curtains herself.

The house would be sold two months later in order to pay for the massive debts that Mum and Dad had run up ... almost $200,000 Canadian.  Debts they'd incurred simply because Dad was too proud to admit they couldn't afford the home any more, and because he'd kept Mum away from the finances out of pride and hubris.

Mum looks oblivious to that debt doesn't she?

She was.  Bless her.  Me old mum.


My mother was not able to take care of herself. My father was dead. They had a dog.

The dog needed somewhere to go.

The neighbours had previously promised to take Sandy if anything happened to Mum and Dad, but when all the shit came down, they couldn't do it after all.

These pictures capture me and Sandy at the exact moment I decided that Sandy was coming home with me.

I'm allergic to dogs.

At least, I was.

Wendy. Ah Wendy.

This is a picture of my friend Wendy and I on the floor of my parent's basement.

We took a giant pile of documents- an eighteen inch deep pile of paper on the floor of my father's office - and started filtering it into piles of income statements, bills, receipts and other detritus.

Right after this picture was taken, Wendy found my father's life insurance policy.



Where there's a will, there's a way

A few years back, my Dad called me.   He asked me to be his executor.  Actually the executor for his and Mum's wills.  The first executor.  Not the only one.  My sister lives in the UK, and he thought it prudent to have me sorted out as the first line of defence should he happen to pop his clogs. Sis would be second.

No problem.

I was 34 when he told me this.  I was touched and honoured.  Felt a bit chuffed.  Yeah, look at me ... all grown up. Executor.  Fuck yeah.

At work, we were all worried about the Y2K bug.  I was mainly concerned at the time because my Mum and Dad's dog Becky had died 3 years ago, the night that the Hale Bopp Comet was visible to the naked eye.  I wanted them to have another dog, and they were dragging their heels.  But it wasn't my business.

Wills?  Pffft.  Got that. No problem.

I promised him that I would take care of everything, and that he could count on me.

My Dad told me that he and Mum had rock solid wills.  He told me that he had bought a safe, and the password would be easy to remember: It was the phone number of our old home in England (a four digit number) with an additional number added, because the safe's digital keypad required 5-numbers for a pin.

Thirteen years later, the night I arrived,  after I got Mum to bed and I was vibrating around the house, looking for a clue as to how I was going to figure out what the fuck to do next, I went to the fridge.  I opened a shitty Sleeman's beer, hateful swill that my father felt was real-ale, and went down to the dank pump room in the basement. That's where the safe was.  I pulled a wine-making bucket over, flipped it upside down, and sat on it in front of the safe.  There was a 40 watt bulb in the trouble-light hanging over my head. It smelled like mold and death down there.  It was 9 degrees celsius.

I knew the wills were in there, in that safe.  It was locked solid.  It had a digital readout.  I stared at it.

It took me 5 minutes to figure out the pin pad.  I just had to figure out if Dad had added a number before the four digit phone number, or after, and which number it was.  Figured it out fast:  He added a "1" after the phone number. Sorted.

I had a massive adrenalin rush when the digital keypad turned green, and it beeped positively.

I pulled and wiggled on the handle.

I had a massive and 10-second silent tantrum when I realized that the safe needed both the PIN and a key.  A barrel key.

Yeah, a key.

It took me two hours to find where the key was kept (in one of their many "anything" drawers.)  It was under a small baggie filled with stale antacid tablets.

I went to bed that night with a sheaf of papers to read.  Wills are great sleep aids, in case you are wondering.

Funny money: Bills and wills

While driving from the airport in Calgary to may parent's house, my dad's body still (apparently) cooling on the floor of his kitchen, I knew that I had to figure out immediately:

- what bills had been paid
- what bills hadn't been paid
- how I might access their funds so I could pay their bills
- how I might figure out what they owed.
- how I might figure out what income they had.
- how I might figure out whether or not my Dad had finished marking his class' midterms (he was an instructor at a technical institute)
- how I might figure out where my Mum could live, since she obviously couldn't stay where she was.

They had wills. I know they had wills.  My sister and I were co-executors.

My parents are, and always have been, fucking pigs.

I think this is why I'm such a neat freak.

In the days after my Dad died, my wife gave my mother a shower.  Mum was afraid and shouty.  She cried out because she didn't know where the water was coming from.

Later, I wiped my Mum's old bottom because she couldn't help herself off the toilet.

She laughed and cried a bit.

Strangely enough, it was just fine.

In those days I gave my Mum a sponge bath.  She was really happy to be clean. Never done that before.

It's incredibly hard to get an old, arthritic lady into her clothes.

Unlike a wriggling infant, the limbs and joints of a senior citizen don't bend the way you'd think they would.

Singed, sealed, delivered

Do you know that: In Alberta, Canada, if you want to sell a car, all you need is the registration slip.  You can take that little slip, fill out the back of it, sign it, and give the car to a total stranger, and it's a legal transaction?    I know, right?  Fucked up.

No transfer form.  No title exchange.  Just sign the back of the form, fill out the name of the person you're selling it to. And it's gone.

Now, wait.  You may be asking:  "But, Hoto, of course that's the way it works.  When you're the registered owner, you can sell the car whenever you want.".

Yeah.  That's what I thought too.   Sell that car. Sell that car to whoever you want.

Reality is: You can sell that car to whoever you want EVEN IF YOU DON'T OWN THAT CAR YOURSELF.

Yup. That's how it works.  No registration with any kind of vehicle registry. No title transfer documents.  No government form of any kind.

Of course, if you sell your buddy's car out from underneath him, he could claim theft, etc.

But my sister and I sold our parent's cars thus:

Find the form in the glove compartment.
Find a buyer.
Fill out the form.
Shake a hand.
Have the car taken away.

The end.

Actually, not the end.  I sought out a vehicle registration agency in Alberta.  Thought there might be a governmental office that oversaw vehicle titles. Etc. Looked around for a few days. Found an office of an insurance company that did vehicle registration.  Went in to see them.  Asked them about this.  Confirmed the above is true.

In Alberta Canada, if you have the registration papers (which almost everyone keeps in the car), you can sign that vehicle over to another person, and it's a legal transfer of title.  Fucked up.

But hey, worked for us.

One 2000 non running Saturn Sedan sold for $200 to a scrap dealer. (Sister: result).

One 1986 Volvo sedan sold for $1 to a friend who had sold it to my Dad in the first place.  (Me: result)