Monday, February 22, 2010


My friend Norm died at 12:35 a.m. Thursday, February 18. Despite explicit instructions to notify me immediately, I did not learn of it until I showed up to visit him at 2:30 in the afternoon. When I went to sign in on the visitor's register and the receptionist could not find his name, I pretty much knew what had happened. When she went to check with a supervisor, who came out to tell me he had "passed away" (good LORD, how I detest that term!!!) I demanded to know why I had not been notified. She called the nursing supervisor, who was of course all apologies, saying "We called his brother" (in Wisconsin). That's all well and good, lady, but you did not call me despite my having seen them write a note and my phone number as his Power of Attorney on the face of his chart.

I later called his brother, who apologized for not having called me himself, but said he was sure they had called me. He had indeed been called at 2 a.m. and asked "what do you want us to do with the body?" He told them that I had Norm's P.O.A. and had made all the arrangements in advance, and told them to call me. He gave them my phone number once again. They did not call. Their explanation was that the Power of Attorney had ended at the moment of his death and I therefore had no legal right to do anything at all...which apparently included being notified of his death.

At any rate, it was all eventually resolved, and I walked the one block to Norm's condo to begin the after-death detail work.

Norm has lived in his condo for 40 years, and though he is/was now dead, there are 40 years of his life within those walls: photos of friends and family, high school yearbooks, certificates of acknowledgment for service to his church, bowling trophies, drawers of paid bills and receipts and records. Paintings, artwork, little stuffed animals, countless "things' collected over the years, closets full of clothes, a broken plant stand he'd never gotten around to repairing, a collection of antique irons--the kind you heated on the stove--, at least three coffee makers, a wok....and on and on and on. And all of them meant something to him. But to whom else, really?

His diploma from a school of horticulture and flower design, carefully framed, pages of detailed notes on his investment accounts, lists of his medications and which ones were to be taken at which time...but here I go again, off on another recitation of things which were all part of Norm.

But though all of them were Norm, most of them are now utterly meaningless to anyone else, whose lives are also and already filled with things.

So I select those things which I assume his brother would want--family photos, his parents' framed wedding announcement, an ornate, gilded wooden cross--and set them aside. When I returned home Thursday, I carried with me the small Faun's head I had given him for Christmas so very many years ago. His roommate, Eric, a wonderful and caring young man who had moved in to help Norm when he was no longer able to care for himself properly, told me Norm had said it was one of his favorite things, and that made me both happy and infinitely sad.

So Friday I went to the lawyer to begin the legal processes necessary to implement my having been appointed as the executor of the will. Then will continue the sorting out of things, the calling of an antiques appraiser to try to dispose of some works of art, furniture, etc. Then, when those are gone, the calling of an estate buyer to come in for what remains. Then the listing of the condo for sale, the decision of whether to replace all the carpets, scratched doors, torn wallpaper destroyed by Norm's beloved Jack Russell terrier-from-hell, Jezebel, who lived up to her name, or to sell it as is. And given today's housing market, even with a magnificent 35th-floor unobstructed view of Lake Michigan and the Loop, it may take a while.

But it will be over, eventually. And when I leave the condo for the last time, it will be empty, and whoever lives there next will have no idea of who Norm was. They won't know, or care. But I will.

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1 comment:

Eric Arvin said...

I'm so sorry.