Monday, October 8, 2018

Parable of Immortality

Gone From My Sight

I am standing upon the seashore. A ship, at my side,
spreads her white sails to the moving breeze and starts
for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck
of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says, "There, she is gone."

Gone where?

Gone from my sight. That is all. She is just as large in mast,
hull and spar as she was when she left my side.
And, she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.

Her diminished size is in me -- not in her.

And, just at the moment when someone says, "There, she is gone,"
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, "Here she comes!"

And that is dying...

Henry Van Dyke/Rev. Luther F. Beecher (uncertain)

Since 1976 when I assumed the captain's chair behind the desk of R. A. Jamieson, QC at 34 Mill Street in Almonte, I handled the administration of the estates of deceased persons.  This grim bent was the product of Mr. Jamieson having practiced law from 1922 - 1976.  He was called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall in Toronto in 1921 where previously at Hart House, University of Toronto he had been a long-distance runner.  When at last he retired in 1976 it fell to me to settle the estates of a multitude of his equally elderly clients, many of whom (Bill Bellamy, Russell Bain Thompson and Howard Sadler among them) were leading members of the local community and therefore afforded a wealth of historical anecdotes for my burgeoning local curiosity. It was a enlightening feature which distinguished the normally macabre business of death.

It wasn't until many years afterwards that I burnished the art of estate planning (admittedly at the behest of clients who sought ways to avoid probate and the strict necessity to endure the consortium of lawyers). The document which I developed was an inter vivos trust, an esoteric strategy even within the legal community. Although it treaded close to the adage that the lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, I extended the benefit of my juristic growth and experience to my aging parents who - in keeping with what was then predictable - had the bulk of their assets in the name of one or the other only and who flattered themselves to think that maintaining funds in separate individual accounts somehow sheltered the assets from an untrustworthy spouse or some other fabricated financial peril.  The trusteeship stratagem naturally derived its wiles from having been instituted long before the need arose. Only once in my practice did I witness a lawyer say to me, "You'll pretend you didn't hear that!" - an order given me by my senior principal when articling. Essentially the circumstance surrounding the proclamation was that the elderly couple had waited too long to legitimize a standard legal maneuver. While the bona fides and pragmatism of such counsel is supportable, it nonetheless risks contaminating the document if the capacity of the deponent is subsequently questioned, not to mention the deliberate though unwitting exposure of oneself and one's insurers to professional liability.

Therefore as a result of my professional exposure the two poles of death were for me loss and planning, and naturally everything else in between.  Certainly I have the expected appetite for reflection and reminiscence when it comes to my parents.  Frankly I have found that the older I get, the smarter they become!  I am also proud of them, gracious for what they enabled and respectful of what they personally accomplished. It assuages the grief of death that they were both blessed with long, predominantly happy lives.  Indeed I would be hard pressed to itemize any instance of especial defeat or sadness.  It helps at the moment that the leaves are changing, that the rigours of autumn are manifesting themselves with their accustomed brilliance and warmth.  The changing leaves are natural. So too is death.

Speaking more prosaically I confess it is my predisposition to be a problem solver. Given there is no way in which I can "solve" the matter of death, it at least provides me a vehicle of expression to manage the settlement of another's affairs. My sentimentality over death is so obviously either lacking or disguised that I cannot help but feel a remorse for myself, as though something is missing from my make-up or genetics, that I am somehow inexplicably hardened to the occasion. For the time being I can only excuse my apparent frigidity by advancing the propriety of a purely logical and intellectual perspective. It pleases me to know that I willingly bear the burden of such workaday activity as estate settlement; and to know that perhaps the facility provided is a relief to others.

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