Monday, August 01, 2005

Back from Florida

Well, the trip to Florida went well. Basically, I really didn't need to be there at all, but I'm glad my brother and I went all the same.

It was an exhausting 50-or-so hours, though. My flight there was screwed up of course, and as a result we didn't get into Port St. Lucie until almost 8:00PM Thursday, effectively preventing us from getting anything of substance in regard to my grandmother's estate accomplished. Not that we didn't make use of the time, mind you. We found a cool little Italian restaurant out on Hutchison Island, ate and drank a bit, then grabbed some beers and headed for the beach. As it turned out, the beach we went to was one of those sea turtle sanctuary beaches. The benefit of these is that they are unlit after about 10:00, so the place was pitch black and deserted.

Even better, thanks to the darkness and complete absence of other people (well, almost complete -- I saw one person walk by in the hour we were there) when I got a suit full of sand I just said "fuck it," stripped, and skinny dipped in the Atlantic for about 15 minutes.

It was glorious.

After that, it was more drinks at a local joint, and ending the evening at a strip joint across the street from the hotel. Not exactly what people would have expected us to do I suppose, given that we were in town as a result of the death of our grandmother, but whatever. As I said, we weren't close, and really this trip was more about doing what I felt was right and respectful, not about grieving.

The next day we hit the ground running, as we only had about 8 or 9 hours to accomplish anything. First we hit the funeral home to settle the cremation charges and to make sure everything there was in order. Then we met with the nursing home staff to get a sense of what things were like for her in her last couple of years, and to personally thank the folks who had worked with her and helped keep her happy and active before she passed away. The facility was a nice one, clean and pleasant, and the staff filled our ears with charming anecdotes about how sweet and kind our grandmother had been.

And we were like, "Ummmmmm, really? Oooooookay...." Because she wasn't all that nice. I mean, she could be nice when it suited her, but mostly she was selfish and petty. If she was getting her way she could be a lot of laughs, but if you weren't playing by her rules then she was like a 3 year old child throwing a tantrum. Or at least that was how I remembered her. Perhaps she had mellowed in her final years.

After that we headed to the attorney's office to take a look at the jewelry she had at the time of her death. It's mostly costume stuff, although there were a number of nice pieces that might actually have some resale value should we decide to let them go. Otherwise, she literally had nothing aside from a couple of bank accounts, the contents of which had been greatly reduced by the nursing home costs of the past 2 years. Over $116,000 in charges since she was admitted in 2003. Nothing unethical or illegal in there, although it's amazing just how expensive those places can be. Sad, but hey -- it was her money, and she actually liked it there.

So we put the lawyer on retainer to finish up the disposition of the estate, which will take the better part of the next month. We're hoping that some additional funds will magically appear (via a death benefit from a pension or something like that), but we don't really think that's all that likely. Still, about 8 or 9 folks will be getting a tidy little sum of money (some more than others) per her wishes. Not enough to change anyone's lives, but a little cash beats a sharp stick in the eye hands down.

The biggest recipient of my grandmother's good will was her friend Walt, and elderly gentleman whom we had never met, but who had taken care of her affairs over the past few years. Of the parties singled out for special gifts in the will Walt and I got the most cash, and Walt got twice as much as I did. After we met with the attorney, we were able to track down Walt and sit with him for a few hours, exchanging stories about my grandmother. It was the closest thing to a wake that we were gonna get, but it was pretty good nonetheless. The best part was how Walt presented us with a slightly less rose-colored glasses version of her than the one the nursing home staff had provided.

Basically, she drove him nuts.

Demanding, petty, selfish, occasionally charming (when she wanted something), often nasty (when she didn't get her way). According to Walt, half the nursing home staff had essentially stopped speaking to her due to her mean streak (a lot of the care workers at the home are black, and she had some pretty racist attitudes that tended to surface when they wouldn't give her cigarettes...). Turns out he never knew my grandfather (lucky him), and the only reason he had gone to such astonishing lengths to help out my grandmother was because his late wife had asked him to take care of her.

And so, for the past 4 years, out of respect for his late wife's wishes, he visited with my grandmother nearly everyday, kept an eye on her expenses, apologized to the folks she was being so awful to on a regular basis, and made sure that she received the care which almost certainly prolonged her life into just over 92 years. Had this guy wanted to, he could have emptied her bank accounts and disappeared. In fact, she often encouraged him to buy himself things using her funds, but he never did any such thing. The guy is scrupulously ethical. But seriously, had he bought himself some groceries every now and then I wouldn't have blamed him a bit: she was a full-time job, and he wasn't getting paid to do it. But he did it anyway. He's a gem, and it was a pure pleasure meeting him and chatting for a few hours.

After that it was back in the car and down to Ft. Lauderdale, where we checked into a hotel near the airport to make it as easy as possible to catch our 9:30AM flight the next day. As it turned out, there was a Dave and Busters right across the street from this hotel, so we wound up drinking and eating and playing games until about midnight before heading home and turning in. After a full day of meeting with person after person after person I was emotionally and intellectually drained and chicken cheesesteak, beers, and games were the perfect solution.

And then it was sleep, and getting up too early, and the flight home.


So, a few general observations as a result of the trip:
  1. I think it's wonderful that an elderly woman still maintained, until the day she died, a routine of visiting a beauty parlor twice a month, ensuring that her hair maintained the same strawberry blonde hue it'd had since forever and a day ago.
  2. There is something indescribably sad about looking at a box of costume jewelry; an old purse with some makeup, reading glasses, 3 combs, and lots of tobacco residue in it; several beautiful rings and bracelets that may have some monetary value; one photograph; a note pad; and 2 bank account statements and realizing that that's all that remains of someone you once knew. The way in which her estate contracted within the final years of her life, as her home was sold and her possessions distributed or discarded, was astonishing.
  3. On a hot night, with the stars in a moonless sky and lightning flashing on the horizon, nothing beats swimming naked in the ocean.
Mood: Not bad
Now Playing: The Cars, "Candy-O"


Anonymous said...

Gregg, this entry is particularly intense for me. So many of my relatives, dead or dying, are not nice people. They too, are or were petty and ignorant and vindictive and unpleasant to be around.

How to react, when faced with the responibilty for these people in their latter years or in their deathes?

(Beer and strip clubs is the best solution I've heard so far...)


Gregg P. said...

Yeah, toots -- it can be tough. But I think that if you are a decent person, you do the decent thing, and that's how you live with yourself. I knew that if we hadn't done this, hadn't gone through the motions, I would have regretted it.

We didn't do this for my grandmother, exactly. It was to some extent a selfish act, really: we didn't want these folks to think we were bad people for never coming to see her when she was alive. We wanted them to know a bit of the history, to see that the distance and damage that made us not exactly close were the results of 20-something years of bitterness and recrimination, and fixing it would have taken 20-something years as well.

We wanted to do well by the caregivers, saying thank you in person and letting them know that in spite of her nastiness she was really, truly, happier in that home than she would ever have been otherwise.

And finally, most of all, we wanted to meet Walt. He seemed too good to be true, but now that we've met him I can say I'm honestly honored. It's worth losing some sleep and spending some cash to meet a really, truly good person. It was, ultimately, an unexpected and very welcome honor.

Karl Elvis said...

...nothing beats swimming naked in the ocean

Amen, brother. It'll make ya feel good.