This past week I closed my dad’s estate account. My job as his executrix is complete. Most of the work was finished within the first seven or eight months. He passed away in June of 2010; by the end of that first year, the house and car were sold and most of the financials dealt with. This last year was spent waiting for one little detail or another.
Finally, it was all done, and my job is done, and the account is closed, and I am sad because this was the last earthly thing I could do for my father and closing the account ends that last thing.
I am glad it is done, and my siblings are glad it is done. We worked together so easily and well, the five of us, our spouses, the three grandchildren. My brother John, my sister-in-law Cheryl, my sister Janet– that first summer, they spent weeks away from their own homes, cleaning out our parents’ home, taking care of the kinds of things that– had they been left to me to do– would not have gotten done. I could not have gone through all the closets and dressers and cabinets, the boxes of letters and photo albums, sifting through what we would keep and put into storage, and what we could part with. The days I spent there with them or by myself, going through papers that needed to be looked over before we could shred them or file them– those days, I would spend my hours skimming through piles of forms and then be stopped in my tracks by my mother’s handwriting, or a photo of my father as a young, strong man. I would have to stop to read, or look; I’d break down and weep.
If we had depended on me to do the work that John, Cheryl, and Janet did, I would still be doing it, and the house would not now be occupied by a happy family, a mom and a dad and two young boys with a yard and a deck and a dogwood tree and lilac bushes.When Dad was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s in January (six months before he passed), his doctor told us that he was going to have to have in-home physical therapy two or three times a week, for as long as Medicare would pay for it (about three months). My first thought was: How on earth are we going to accomplish that? I was working full-time in the city; Barb and George (our sister and brother-in-law in Dad’s town) also worked full-time; Alyssa (their daughter) was a high school senior. One of us would have to be there with Dad so that the physical therapist could get into the house. Dad would never have let in a “stranger” (even one he saw three times a week) without one of us with him. For those three months, for each physical therapy appointment, one of us was always there, helping Dad’s physical therapist, cheering Dad on.
It was a wonderful opportunity for closeness, and he loved the attention he got in those sessions. He would spontaneously break into song sometimes; at the end of his session, he would do a little dance around the dining room table with Analyn (the PT). On my days, I brought soup and bread and Zaro’s walnut yogurt loaf from the city and we’d eat together after he was done.
I treasure those memories. I know that what we did added joy to my dad’s last months on this earth.
One of the things I kept when we went through my folks’ house was the little white shopping bag with my father’s hearing aids. When I look at that bag, I think of the three trips into Manhattan to DC37’s Hearing Clinic that my brother-in-law George and I took with Dad. I never could have gotten Dad to the union clinic on public transportation without George’s help.
My brothers-in-law Walter (Janet’s husband) and Chris (Nancy’s husband) would work with Dad and his hearing aids with endless patience and focus whenever they came to visit. While the guys would work with Dad, the girls would clean Dad’s bathrooms and kitchen.
The thirteen of us– the five children, the five children-in-law, the three grandchildren– each one made a unique, valuable, loving, full-hearted contribution to Dad’s last years.
People keep telling me how unusual it is that in such a large family, there isn’t at least one person who acts out of venal (or at least selfish) motives. There wasn’t, and there were precious few disagreements among us along the way.
I believe that my parents can see us from wherever they are, and that they know that their life’s work was a success.
On Thursday, I went to Union to close the estate account. I probably didn’t have to go to the branch where I opened the account, but I wanted to. I’m big on ceremony and ritual.
When I arrived at the Roselle Park station, I walked down Chestnut Street, the way I had (in all kinds of weather) so many times in the last months of Dad’s life. This past Thursday was a gorgeous day; it was the same kind of day that it had been the day that Dad took his last walk.
I walked down Chestnut to Rutgers Lane, walked up to Galloping Hill Road. When traffic broke (I always ask my mom to watch over me as I cross this busy road), I walked across and up Forest Drive to the next intersection, then right, up a small hill, and on to Huntington Road, where my parents lived for fifteen years.
I slowed as I walked past their former home. The dogwood tree is still there, my mother’s lilac bushes, too; the windows on the screened-in porch have been replaced. Their house seems content, which pleases me.
I walk up to the corner of Livingston, and turn left, retracing the route I know my father took the last morning of his life.
I step into a mud puddle as I approach the shortcut path through the woods of Union. (In my mind’s ear, I hear my dad stifle a giggle, laughing at my muddy sandaled foot…) On the path, I look down into the woods where my father’s life ended. I wish I could know what he saw or heard that drew him in, but I will never know that, not in this life. I say a silent prayer, and continue to Salem Road.
I prop my muddy foot up on a fireplug, and pull a Wash-n-Dry out of my purse; three Wash-n-Dries later, foot and sandal are clean and I continue my walk down Salem Road to Chestnut Street and the Bank of America branch where I opened the estate account almost two years before.
The banker who closes the account is the same banker who opened it. It takes less than ten minutes, and I am done. I thank him, leave the bank, walk up the street to my sister’s house.
Barb drives us to the cemetery; at our parents’ grave, the bright colored daisies that she and George brought for Mother’s Day are still fresh, and I put the dark pink roses I brought right next to them. Barb waters both bunches of blossoms.
I say to my parents: “I did my best to do as you asked. I’m done now. I finished what you asked me to do. I hope you’re proud of us. I’m proud of us.”
Barb and I say a prayer; a gust of cool wind comes up; it chills her and she shivers, so she gets back into the car. I stay for another minute, and then join her for the ride back to her house. Before I go, I take a small stone, and as my friend Mitch once did, I leave the stone on the corner of my parents’ gravemarker. It signifies that I was here.
I am done.