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Day thirty

November 30, 2016

First up – yes, I went to the gym yesterday. I had to book another orientation appointment tomorrow for the weight machines. I haven’t gone near them since the first orientation some weeks ago and I’d probably hurt myself without a refresher. So, a mile and a half on the treadmill yesterday and (hopefully) today, then back on the machines.

Having missed a week of going to the gym, I said to the owner yesterday that I was probably back at ground zero for making the gym part of my without-thinking routine. “They say,” she said, “that you have to do something a hundred times before it becomes routine.” They do, do they (whoever the hell “they” are)? What happened to it taking six weeks to establish a routine? What happened to it taking eight weeks to actually start enjoying exercise? One hundred times? If I went to the gym five times a week (which I probably won’t), that suggests it will take twenty weeks to get myself to the gym without having to make an effort. Ye gods.

To the shops after the gym. In the food store I run into both Robin Hood and the evil Sir Guy. Both are still riding high from a triumphant weekend. I also receive congratulations from various people about a job well done. In the produce section I am congratulated by a couple whose names I should know, but have forgotten. I always greet this couple with a smile, but I never know what to say to them.

The woman is the aunt of Mike’s daughter-in-law. I’ve met her and her husband on a number of occasions, including a couple of birthday parties for Mike’s granddaughters. And then, of course, they were at Mike’s funeral service in Vancouver and his memorial gathering on the island.

They are nice people, this aunt and uncle. All of Mike’s daughter-in-law’s extended family are lovely people – especially the daughter-in-law herself. It would seem natural to enquire after her when I see the aunt and uncle, but I can’t. I don’t know what they know and I don’t want to find out.

In January 2008, when Mike was first diagnosed with cancer, I was, as I believe I’ve said, living in London, employed as the director of Free Tibet. We talked on the phone a lot. The diagnosis had served as a reminder to him that he needed to update the will he’d written many years earlier – before he and I had even met. In that original will, his estate had been divided equally between the son and daughter of his first marriage and the daughter of his second marriage. This youngest daughter, whom I had never met (a long story which I will not get into here), died from an overdose when she was eighteen. Unbeknownst to Mike she had tried to commit suicide once before. No one was sure if this overdose was an accident or deliberate.

Anyway, the youngest daughter was still in the will in 2008 and Mike needed to write a new one. We talked about this on the phone. If and when he died, the house would automatically come to me as we had a joint mortgage. He felt his money should go to his son and daughter. I agreed. It was only fair. (I did not say this to Mike, although I suspect he might have been thinking the same thing. It was only fair because he’d been a terrible father.)

That year was a crazy year for Free Tibet. We’d already been using the approach of the Beijing Olympics to highlight the human rights abuses in Tibet. Then, in early March there was an uprising in Tibet, brutally put down by the Chinese military. Suddenly Tibet was one of the biggest news stories on the planet. Trying to get away to see Mike was not easy, but I managed to do so in April, while he was still in hospital. He’d had femur replacement surgery, after the discovery that his femur was riddled with cancer, which seemed to have spread throughout his body. They couldn’t start his chemo treatment until the scar tissue from his operation had healed, but the doctors seem to think the chemo would do the trick. It was obvious that Mike would not be able to go back to his Vancouver apartment and he certainly wouldn’t be able to get back to Gabriola for some time. So I helped his son and daughter look at possible assisted living facility. One or two were so grim, so depressing, so smelly, that I walked in and walked straight out again. Eventually we found two possibilities.

It wasn’t easy flying back to London, leaving him in that hospital bed, but I had a huge number of work commitments and could not stay any longer. Over the next months we spoke on the phone most days. I wanted to get back over, but with the Beijing Olympics in August, the summer was impossible. I came back for another visit in September. That was when the oncologist told him that two courses of chemo and one of radiation had failed to stop the spread of the cancer, that he had, if he was lucky, a year left, perhaps six months.

And that, of course, was when I decided I had to come back. I thought it was going to be for the last several months of Mike’s life and then the following January he got the miraculous all clear.

We spent most of our time on Gabriola, but we usually made it to Vancouver once a month. Generally there was a specialist appointment involved, but the main attraction for Mike was getting to see his granddaughters. My, oh my, he loved those little girls. In a way, truth be told, he’d probably never loved his son and daughter. I’m not saying he didn’t love them. In his own way I know he did, but I’m not sure they knew it. They’d had a lot longer than I had of coming second to the bottle, of his broken promises to stop drinking, of his needs always coming first.

I had thought when I decided to come back, that there would be some way for me to find some work, but the reality soon became clear. Mike needed help with everything. He needed help showering, he needed help dressing, he needed someone to drive him to the bank or the doctor or the shops. The idea of me working outside or inside the home was impractical, not least because I was unlikely to earn more than he would need to pay for home care. So I didn’t even try to find any sort of income.

In the summer of 2010, Mike said he needed to change his will again, to make sure that I would be okay when he was gone. It was his money, to do with as he pleased, but it was comforting to know I would have some sort of cushion when the time came.

Towards the end of 2010 Mike decided we should take out a mortgage line of credit on the paid-off house. I understood his reasoning. His son and daughter-in-law were living in a townhouse, perfect when they were a couple, far from perfect now that they had two young children. They wanted to buy something bigger and Mike wanted to be able to help them with the down payment when the time came. Taking large chunks of cash from his pension fund counted as income and would be taxed accordingly, whereas money from the line of credit would not be income. I was all for helping his son and daughter-in-law, so I said sure. Also (although this really wasn’t part of my thinking) if there was a large sum on the line of credit when he died, I knew I would have enough money to pay it off.

Mike was never good with money. I honestly don’t know what he spent it all on, but spend it he did – and more than he had. In addition to the line of credit we’d just taken out on the house, he had a line of credit at his bank in Vancouver that was more than $25,000 in the red. The interest rate on that line of credit was higher than on the one we’d just taken out, so I suggested to Mike it might make sense to pay one off with the other. When we went to Vancouver in February 2011, we did just that.

On our next visit, less than a month later, Mike went into the bathroom to brush his teeth, had a massive heart attack and died.

The day after he died, his son and daughter came to see me. His son, in the nicest possible way, laid out the situation: I got the house, they got the money. Mike, of course, had never got around to changing his will. I told them he had been planning to do so, but hadn’t so it was what it was. His son, who’d been named executor of the estate, told me the estate would pay off all his debts, including the line of credit. Well, that was something. By the time I’d used the money in our joint savings account to pay off Mike’s credit card and other debts, I was $30,000 in the red.

I understood it would take a while for the estate to be settled. There was still some money in the savings account to tide me over and I didn’t push. In May, Mike’s daughter and son and his family came over here. We scattered Mike’s ashes at his favourite place on the island and then attended the gathering that had been arranged.

In June I received a letter from the lawyer retained by Mike’s son, stating his understanding that in providing home help for Mike I had incurred some expenses which the estate was required to reimburse. Home help?  I kinda lost it at that point, wrote a shirty letter back to the lawyer, explaining in some detail that my role in the deceased life was rather more than home help. The lawyer replied almost immediately with an apologetic email. I then contacted Mike’s son to let him know how upset I was at being reduced to a glorified servant’s position in his father’s life.

That’s when the bombshell dropped. Apparently, at the time of writing his new will in January 2008, Mike had, his son informed me, also made a sworn statement that I was a friend (and no more) who had no claim whatsoever on his estate. Wham! Oh, and FYI, he and his sister had decided that, as the mortgage line of credit was in both Mike’s name and mine, it was my problem, not theirs. This despite bank statements that clearly showed the debt had been transferred from his account to our joint account less than a month before his death. Double wham!

It seems it’s true. Money changes everything. Here are these two people whom I’d known for nearly twenty years, with whom I thought I had a good relationship. Here they are screwing me. I could almost understand if this debt was going to make a dent in their inheritance, but it wasn’t. I’d attended all Mike’s meetings with his financial advisor and I knew pretty much down to the penny what the value of his estate was: over a million dollars. Yes, that’s right: six zeroes, seven figures.

Was I angry? Yes, I was. This was chump change to them, but a major debt for me. I went as far as consulting a lawyer, who confirmed my suspicion that, at a minimum, I could sue the estate for wages lost in order to devote myself to caring for Mike. This would have amounted, based on my salary when I left Free Tibet to the better part of $150,000, money that would have made a world of difference to me. The lawyer warned that my claim was certain to be challenged, that I would probably eventually win, but could very well end up with nothing after paying my legal costs. At that point I didn’t honestly care if I won, but ended up with nothing. It was the principle of the thing. I said I’d think about it.

The next day I went down to our favourite spot on the island, the place where Mike’s ashes had been scattered. There was no one else around. I sat down on a log near the spot, lit a cigarette and actually talked out loud to Mike. I knew the last thing he’d want to see was me in a battle with his kids over his money. I also knew that he would hate the idea of me being screwed by them. “I don’t know what to do,” I said, over and over again. A little while later, as I was walking back to the car, a voice in my head said, “Let it go.” I don’t know if it was my voice or Mike’s, but it stopped me in my tracks. Let it go. Don’t get involved in a long, bitter legal fight that will probably drag on and on and make it impossible for me to move on. Let it go. I could almost feel the weight lifting off me as I decided that was exactly what I would do. I let it go.

Eventually I did receive a cheque for $5000 from Mike’s son for the bills I’d paid off after his death. Probably just as well I’d used the money in our savings account to do so, submitting receipts for everything, otherwise that money, too, would have been my problem.

Shortly after Mike died, a friend of mine told me she was sure his son and daughter would do right by me. They did, after all, know how important I’d been to Mike. I think they did know this. They just didn’t care. When this became apparent, the same friend wondered if perhaps they felt they deserved all the money as recompense for Mike’s shortcomings as a father. I told her I thought that was exactly what they believed.

When I decided to let it go, I had to also let Mike’s son and daughter and granddaughters go. I had thought they would continue to be part of my life, but how could they be? I was sorry to let the granddaughters go. I’d become almost as fond of them as Mike. I was also sorry to let the daughter-in-law go. I’d always really liked her and she’d always treated me well. But she had to go.

And that, of course, is why I never know what to say to her aunt and uncle when I run into them on the island.

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From → Black dog diary

One Comment
  1. krysross permalink

    It was very shabby treatment and still makes me angry.

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