It was sudden. Thanksgiving Sunday. October 11. He was 82. I am grateful it happened after Elmer spent Thanksgiving supper with my two sisters Heather and Debbie. The four of us Zoomed after their supper near Saskatoon. They drove him home that evening and on the way he slumped over and it was over. Every day this happens but when it happens to YOU it’s so impactful. Dad was mourning the loss of his partner of over 30 years. Just eight days earlier, Roseanne’s death was a result of cancer over the summer and fall. Dad took it hard. Maybe he didn’t want to carry on without her. The Thursday prior I Zoomed with Debbie, Heather and Dad after Roseanne’s memorial. Another time with Dad and sisters I am grateful for.
When the girls called that Thanksgiving Sunday evening from the highway so many decisions had to be made immediately. Never been through something like this, I had a lot to learn. I was executor and along with my sisters decisions started right then, that on top of the grieving. I was also about to learn a great deal more about three people. Elmer, Debbie and Heather.
Jan and I flew to Saskatoon, Tuesday. We planned a funeral of sorts for Friday but the pandemic meant much was in the air about public gatherings. More decisions about Dad’s wishes were made. With trepidation we planned a 6o minute “come and go” event for Dad. I’m glad we did. It was wonderful. No planned speeches, just a get together in the funeral home basement two blocks from Dad’s. Around 50 people came and went. One of the more touching memories was Elmer’s banker who said to me “When I heard, I just had to come. We only met once or twice a year but it was always a wonderful visit”. After the funeral we went to the graveyard where Dad’s ashes were put with Roseanne’s in a “niche”.
Next, a few of the close family members drove to Muenster / Humboldt, Saskatchewan area, where Dad grew up. We visited the church where Dad went as a boy. I remember attending myself when visiting Grandma and Grandpa’s farm. I’ll never forget Grandpa pulling my ear at church here, apparently I was being less than quiet. At the church graveyard we looked over the many Hilgers there. Humboldt is a German town and this is where the Hilgers family homesteaded. We left some of Dad’s ashes by his mom and dad’s grave and his brothers grave. We also visited Dad’s farm, now abandoned, we could still go in the house. Inside Elmer’s sister, Bernice remembered along with us, “this old house”. We creeked up the stairs and visited the bedroom I slept in with my cousins when we came for visits as pre-schoolers. Bernice told us a few more stories about her brother, Elmer. It was a wonderful day of remembering Dad.
The business of wrapping up an estate is quite interesting. The funeral event was Friday, Sunday a Realtor came over and we got into listing Dad’s home of 40 (!) years. We wondered if it was a little “quick” to put a for sale sign up – but none of us looked forward to having a home sit empty through a Saskatchewan winter. I flew home Monday. It was difficult to leave Dad’s home that morning at 6 AM for the airport, knowing I’d probably never be in the house again. Fortunately Cousin Russ got up and took me to the airport – that made it easier.
In the coming days a whirlwind of discussions with my sisters moved many things forward. I was grateful to have two wonderful sisters to work with. Hearing many stories of family challenges after a funeral – we have had a very positive journey. Living in Victoria I couldn’t be there day to day but I could pull my weight doing the paperwork as executor. Between the sisters and I we listed, sold – and possession is before Christmas for the new owners.
As a son and executor I learned a lot about Elmer. It was a big part of the healing process as I spent the next couple months going through the paperwork, Dad’s files, banking, everything. I was fortunate to have a Dad that made things a lot easier than what many people may have to go through. Dad and Roseanne kept a meticulous house. Elmer enjoyed updating it. He kept precise records and receipts. His landscaping was the envy of the neighbourhood. He built a wonderful garage. This all made it easy to list and sell. Like his home, Dad also kept a well done will and estate documents. His files made things clear and concise. I really enjoy looking at Dad’s handwriting, he kept many notes in his files. Always the banker! Dad had the same lawyer for decades, a man I would spend considerable time leaning on.
David the lawyer helped us with “probate”. Probate is a legal step that puts the estate onto paper and into a legal document so all are assured it’s handled correctly. We had no choice but to take these steps. It was quite interesting. It also gave me considerable time to pour over Dad’s notes and writings and let me get to know him better. It took a couple weeks to put all the details together for probate, the lawyer helped with the finer details and put together a document for the courthouse. While you may not need a lawyer for every probate, when property is involved it may be wise. Also, I was out of province and that added to the journey. Legal papers had to be sent to me, witnessed here, and sent back. Once done, though – the document went to the courthouse November 30, and we had probate in hand just a couple days later. The staff at the courthouse were quite pleasant with advice.
Through the process I got to know my two sisters a lot better. Living so much closer to Dad they were probably closer to Dad personally, as well. The three of us worked together to move things forward as Dad would wish. I did the paper work, they did the heavy lifting. Literally. Even furniture. Although Elmer and Roseanne lived sparsely (Elmer in particular) there were some items to sell or giveaway for sure. Not once did the sisters complain or moan (that I can recall, anyhow!) They rolled up their sleeves and we all worked together. I know Elmer would be so proud of us, to see his three kids working together like this. It was a chance to understand one another far better. This too, helped with the grieving process. I really, really miss my dad. Spending time with my two sisters and meticulously handling his estate has made me feel closer to all three of them.
A few weeks ago I realized I didn’t have a record of Dad’s voice. After some searching I did come across a small voice mail clip, the only one I have. Sometimes I play it just to hear his voice.
Elmer was Charter President of the Riverside Optimist Club, formed in 1984. He spent considerable time working with this service club in Saskatoon – they have a focus on serving youth.. Sadly, like many service clubs the group has struggled lately and dwindled so much that the remaining members decided to finally end the club officially, a decision Dad hinted at more than a few times recently. The pandemic made it even more difficult to continue. Their members told me with Dad gone it was easier for them to finally decide to close for good. They made a donation in Dad’s name to a local youth program, one of the club’s last decisions. My two sisters and I matched it. The Riverside Optimist Club, so much a part of Dad’s life. He was there at the very beginning and made an impact to it’s last moments.
So much to be grateful for. A Dad I am proud to have known. Now I know him even better. I got to know my two sisters so much better, too.
Like others who go through this, I’ll never forget my Dad.