Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dealing with a death, the practical side

After a death, the checklist of stuff to do stretches for a long time. You're floored, you're in mourning, and maybe you feel like shit because suddenly all you can remember is your failings with the person in question - times you spoke harshly, things you could have done better or more of - and maybe you miss them terribly, but hey, welcome to it, you now have a mountain of stuff to contend with (especially if you're the executor, or the only family member in the province; in my case, both apply).

First, the remains: there's a protocol by which the Death Certificate is arranged by the funeral home. In order to do this, you need, obviously, to contact a funeral home, which often means paying through the nose for services that you might not be able to afford and may not even need (there's some sharks in this water that want to take advantage of your grief to sell you the Deluxe Package, "prove your love with this lovely mahogany box" kinda thing). For some (me) that's not an option. The absolute cheapest way in Maple Ridge - and I believe in other parts of BC - to deal with a body is a service called A Simple Cremation. At present, it costs just under $1000 for their most basic package - which is what both my father and mother requested; their wish was always that their remains be scattered together, at a place of my choosing (and, it turns out, at a time of my choosing, which will be sometime LATER than now; might do it on their anniversary in October, dunno - I believe it will be their 58th). When father passed in 2009, the cremation was about $850, so there's an inflationary aspect to this, too; it's the same service, but six years later, it's $150 more expensive.

Whatever your feelings on this matter - whatever your plans for a funeral are, or if you plan to have one at all - you have to do SOMETHING to get the Death Certificate, and it won't be free. The CPP and Old Age Security and such DO send final cheques for the month in which a person died, but most of that money will go to the last month's rent in their building and to the Funeral Home, so it makes sense to have something set aside to cover these expenses.

I didn't.

Anyhow, once you have the Death Certificate, you're ready to deal with the bureaucracy, the second big step. Each government office needs to be notified separately, because they don't interact: Service Canada, Service BC, Canada Revenue, and any other organizations that the person has a pension with, say, all need to be brought or sent copies of the Death Certificate (banks will certify "true copies," so you don't need more than one of the original, but that one, you have to keep). Pensions and ID need to be cancelled. To help with expenses, there's a Death Benefit that maxes out at $2500, but will only amount to that much if the person worked a lot and paid into CPP and such. My Mom didn't, but boy did my father ever have pensions lined up - all set to take care of Mom for the rest of her life, which they did. What I didn't realize until after she died was that almost all her pension benefits came from him, from the good old days when pensions were for life and survivor's and spouse's pensions were commonplace. She hadn't worked since the 1950's - he never wanted her to get a job outside the home; that was how it was for their generation - so whatever the benefit will be, it'll be piddling.

In any event, there's paperwork to do, people to notify. I still have a few stops to make on the checklist - have to go stand in line at the Passport Office, for instance. Meantime, hey, what do we do with all this furniture? This is also still an ongoing issue for me: Mom's apartment is still her apartment for five more days, and there's still stuff in it. Not much, mind you: mostly now it's stuff for recycling and thrift stores, because I was able to lose almost all of her furniture by posting notices ("free furniture!") in her building, where everyone else is kind of broke, too. There are a few boxes of (mostly) junk to sort through, but the seven-foot couch that was a concern is now the couch of a high-functioning autistic fellow whose mother lives in the building; he also got our TV, TV stand, a dresser, a table, a toaster oven and a microwave. Another guy got Mom's easy chair, blender, and the other toaster oven we had, plus another table. We were even able to get rid of her box spring (to one guy) and her mattress to another, who is using it as his de facto box spring, under the mattress he had been sleeping on. One carpet went to the thrift store, one went to someone in another suite. The freezer I was able to sell; the pine cabinet Erika thought nice was simply given away, when it was determined it couldn't be made to fit in her car. Several boxes of stuff went to storage, a few items made their way back here. There is still a bit of stuff that has some sentimental value that I really would like to just junk, like a horrible oil painting - an incompetent landscape, of a river and some trees - that has been in the family longer, I believe, than I have; it's awful, but it's got too much memory wrapped up in it for me to lose it too blithely, especially when I know no one else will want it...

In any event, I'm relieved that I won't have to hire a truck and/or pay to dump any furniture.

Once the suite is empty, you can deal with the cleaning; luckily, Mom's suite is being totally renovated before the next tenants move in, so this won't be too too bad (though there's some burnt-in  melted plastic and other substances caked on the bottom of the oven that might not want to come off too easily).

The one thing I've kind of let slide is notifying relatives. Most of mine, on Mom's side of the family, are in the Quebec area, as far as I know, but because of her 2009 stroke, Mom had memory issues, so she couldn't tell me with certainty who her surviving brothers and sisters were; on the day she died, she said her brother Billy was still around, for example, but he apparently died twelve years ago (more on that below). With sisters, good luck - because they'll probably have different last names - but Mom has at least one surviving brother, as far as I know, Peter, whose home I remember visiting some thirty years ago, on my one and only trip back that way; maybe he is the only one of her brothers and sisters left. The trick there is that the last phone number and address I have for him - the address on his last Christmas card to Mom and the corresponding phone number on - don't work anymore. I tried calling, and when that failed, I tried sending a letter, which was returned in the mail with the word "moved" written on it. What the heck to do? Government agencies won't help; they probably have access to the information, but confidentiality reigns - they will basically only give you the address if you are the person whose address you're asking about, which isn't much help at all.

Nonetheless, when my letter to Uncle Peter came back in the mail, I spent about an hour trying to reach his (former?) borough in Quebec, waiting on hold to see if they could help put me in touch - at least call him for me, if they had a number, and pass on a message. It was preferable to the awkward first attempts I had made to find him, which involved calling total strangers with my mother's maiden name, to see if they might be relatives. In a scam-hardened age, it's a little awkward to call someone out of the blue claiming you might be family: it took me about three such calls to resolve to try to find another way to do it.

After an hour on hold, tho'. I looked up her name on and called seven more numbers, before I found myself on the phone with someone who turned out to be my second cousin, driving in Quebec. His father was my mother's brother Billy, who died 12 years ago. He was wary at first, but I think he believes me now, since I knew his father's name, and his father's brother, and he might have even recognized his Aunt Helen's name, though she's as strange to him as most of them are to me (blood isn't very thick with my family, what can I say). Trouble is, he was driving, so I get to call him back later tonight, to see if he has updated contact information for Peter.

I don't think I even told him my name. 

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