Not long before he died my father reportedly said, “I might as well be dead; I’m just a nuisance“. Granted he was 94 years of age, in a veterans’ retirement home, virtually bed-bound and threatened by renal failure. Apart from the philosophic issue surrounding the utility of what he said, my father was normally inclined to be kind and generous to others. I viewed that mournful expression of his illustrative of the underlying feature of charity. A more curious recollection concerning my father is that he had the courtesy to die on April 8th – which is my sister’s birthday and therefore easy to recall – but which more importantly from my vantage is its alignment with my retirement from the practice of law.
The significance of my father’s death in the spring of 2014 when I retired has nothing really to do with my retirement other than it conveniently afforded me the opportunity to attend to the administration of my father’s estate. In fact it constituted my first project after retirement. I have no intention to regurgitate the details of the administration other than to point out the salient achievements: transfer of funds to spousal beneficiary; consolidation of funds to spouse; activation of Joint Trust; transfer of investment management to fee-based financial advisor; and, tax clearance for distribution purposes from Canada Revenue Agency. Coincidentally – and entirely by accident – only months before I had arranged the sale of about 180 acres of land in New Brunswick belonging to my parents. This and a cluster of stock certificates constituted the settlement and consolidation of all outstanding capital. I had thus completed the transfer of assets to my mother. The trust agreement ensured the speedy settlement of her own estate (as in fact it ultimately did).
I mention all this because it has grown out of an aimless thought earlier this afternoon regarding the death of my parents – events about which I clearly remain in a state of suspension. Though I attended (along with my mother and sister) the memorial of my father at his grave site, I did little more than lend an arm to my mother as she trod from the carpeted square to the grave where she strewed some flowers. Pointedly (to me at least) I said nothing by way of public pronouncement or memorial. Afterwards we all just got into the black car and went home.
My mother died four years later at the age of 92. At the instant following her death, I was approached with the intelligence while lounging by a pool on Longboat Key. I had only arrived in Florida mere days before. My last words with my mother were still fresh. Accordingly I had no intention of returning to Canada for the ceremony of a funeral.
It occurred to me today while revisiting these touching memories that I have yet to cry a tear for the death of either of my parents. This is not so much a reflection of my obdurate nature as it is an acknowledgement that they had rich, long lives. Indeed their record is probably far more brilliant than I can speculate. They spent a lifetime in the care and management of staff. They travelled widely and entertained at times lavishly. Their earliest recollections were along the French Riviera. And to boot they were a handsome couple!
As a child one tends to insulate parents behind a gloss of dedication, deprivation, loving kindness and general laudability. There were however certain allusions which piqued my interest. I cannot think that my mother spent a lifetime of marriage to my father without at least some intrigue. Before she married my father around 1945 I understand she frequented the hockey arena in Montréal where she lived at the time. The little I have heard of any other detail is that she may well have dated one or more of the young, handsome hockey players.
When however my mother abandoned that particular passage, she chose instead a young, handsome airman. Reportedly my paternal grandmother, upon the announcement of the engagement of my parents, told my mother, “Get everything you can out of him in the first four years; because after that there’ll be nothing!”
This in itself would be nothing more than the prattle of a comic in-law were it not for the fact that in many respects that is precisely what transpired! It is silly to impose impossible principles on anyone much less one’s parents. Indeed my mother spent a good deal of her life engaged in a rather unengaged marital relationship by sheltering her personal assets from those of my father – even though it amounted to a distinction without a difference. But it pointed to her thriving subliminal independence which she maintained to the end.
A greater amusement to me was my mother’s perpetual good looks. And Father Finck. That at least was what my father, sister and I called the chap when we three dined together in the restaurant at the early seating while my mother and Father Finck sipped Manhattans on the balcony of my parents’ apartment overlooking the Mediterranean. My mother had insisted upon Father Finck of the local parish in Stockholm accompanying us on a summer vacation to the Costa Brava. We actually had two cars, one with the chauffeur directly from Stockholm, the other which my father and I had collected from a shipyard in Rotterdam (another import from the Ford Motor Company). All in all a somewhat strange accommodation for an equally unique alliance.
These events linger in my mind as a reminder that my parents were real. This alone is a satisfactory conclusion to our 65 year relationship.
Amidst this improving historic descent I couldn’t resist marvelling at the mechanical superiority of the latest creation of the Ford Motor Company. In the current vernacular driving about the countryside is the backdrop to my hobby and entertainment. The weather lately has been marvellous! The highways smooth and dry. My patent shallowness – or shameless gratification – is however adequate compensation for its common shortcomings. I defend the “car thing” as the last innocent preoccupation of an old man. Definitely worth the price of admission!