Reflections on my 64th birthday

I suspect that, like many people, I am not where I expected to be at this stage of my life. In my romantic thoughts of youth I expected to have a loving family with a partner by my side, my kids and grand kids sharing their lives with me and maybe some travel once in a while. From the age of nineteen I worked hard both at my career and renovating whatever home we were in, building equity for that day in the future when we would downsize.

One of my favorite sayings has always been “life is what happens while you are making other plans”. My life has been that saying personified. Although we are in control of some things in our lives, like what we do for a living or where we live, most things are a result of things beyond our control and how we deal with what happens unexpectedly.

After a life best described as what most would call “normal”, a long term marriage of twenty-three years, two kids, a nice home and two cars, two things happened to change the direction of my life. The first was realizing that I was trapped in a loveless marriage that had no chance of getting any better. After a year of living apart but paying all the bills for our last house, while my wife sat doing nothing to help, not working and not even filing for unemployment, I knew it was time to end it. The other was my mother being diagnosed with fifth stage melanoma and being given only a five percent chance of surviving more than six months.

My parents, brother and sister, had moved out West in 1970 and had I not met my wife and she got pregnant I might well have gone with them and my life would obviously have been completely different. Given where I am today it would have no doubt been a lot better, for many reasons. Back then the Okanagan was full of so much opportunity, mostly in Real Estate. The prices compared to Ontario were insane. I wanted to form a syndicate, buy up properties, renovate them and put them up for rental. Homes on the lake that I could have bought for less than two hundred thousand dollars were soon selling in the millions. They weren’t making any more lakefront so I knew demand would force the prices up and I was right.

With the exception of a couple of visits back and forth and taking the whole family out to Expo 86, I missed having my parents be part of my life. It wasn’t my decision to move away from us but my feelings about that all changed when my mother was first diagnosed in 1991. The thought of losing my mother and not spending whatever time she had left with her made me feel selfish and guilty, especially when my own life in Ontario was falling apart. I made the decision to move out West in 1993, partly accepting that my failed marriage was over and partly to be with my mother during her last days.

When I left Ontario I naively thought that my kids would come out to visit us, especially because of my mother’s failing health and because we had such a wonderful time when both of them came out for a three week vacation in 1986. As I said a tearful good-bye to my daughter I was shocked that she told me to stay out West because she knew how bad my marriage was and she said she had never seen me happier. I didn’t listen and returned to Ontario mostly because I couldn’t stand the thought of being apart from her. It was a mistake.

What I never anticipated was that my kids would abandon me for the next seventeen years, something I have deeply regretted every single day since I moved. My mother did beat all the odds and lived until 2007 although she suffered from Alzheimer’s the last few years.

The next truly life-changing thing that happened was when my Dad died in my arms in 2005. Not only was this the most traumatic time in my life but it also sent my life into a downward spiral of bad decisions, bad timing and incredible bad luck.

Although prior to his death my father had struggled with caring for my mother, he had done nothing to get her into a care home where she belonged. His drinking escalated and he called me every night crying, telling me that he could not take this anymore, but he was consumed by guilt at putting my mother in a home. Finally he agreed to sell their place although he had no plan as to what to do when it sold. Their home was very dated and he asked me if I would renovate it for sale. I spent four of the toughest months of my life working long days, seven days a week, with them calling me from Revelstoke where they were staying with my sister, constantly pressuring me as to when they could come home.

After my father passed away and given my mother’s health we decided it would be traumatic for her to lose her husband and move, so we took the house off the market. I was elected to move in to care for her, although I hoped this would be short term until I got her into a care facility. It wasn’t. For months and months I did everything humanly possible to get her into a care facility with no luck. Her condition was deteriorating rapidly and she was put on an emergency first available spot basis. Unfortunately there were three hundred and fifty people on the same basis, so I had to spend my days harassing anyone and everyone who could get her into a facility. Finally I got a call that there was a spot for her and as much as it broke my heart I had to lie to her to get her to go. The day I left her there was the saddest day of my life.

How my sister ended up killing our mother by pulling her out of the care facility is another story, but it’s enough to say I have not spoken to her since and I don’t forgive her.

After the house sold I moved into a place where, no sooner had I got there than the by-law officer told me I had to move. On short notice I couldn’t really find anything decent, but I did find one basement apartment that wasn’t terrible in Kelowna. I was on my way to give the landlord the first month’s rent when, for some unknown reason I checked my email. There was an email from my Real Estate agent telling me about a place In the Princess MHP that was about to go into foreclosure. He said it was a mess but I could probably just take over the private mortgage, renovate it and sell it for a nice profit.

I ended up losing my deposit on the basement apartment in Kelowna and I moved into the disaster in Princess. Even with the pad rent I was paying less than the basement apartment and I had a place of my own, albeit a mess. Thus began fourteen months of very long days, seven days a week, completely gutting the place and redesigning the layout and rebuilding it from nothing but the shell. As I neared completion I started getting opinions of value from several local Realtors. Without exception they all said it was one of the best manufactured homes in the valley and they all priced it around $159,900. At the time I had been researching other places to renovate and had found three ideal properties so I wanted to sell quickly and firm offers on at least one of these other properties. I listed the place for $139,900, much against the wishes of my Realtor.

The day before it was to hit the market one of the local Indian Chief’s came out in the local paper stating that anyone who bought on native land was “stupid” because there was no long term tenancy and all the parks would be closed for redevelopment with no compensation to the owners of the homes. Overnight the market collapsed. No Realtor, lawyer or bank would touch a property on Native land. Even worse, the commitment I had for a private mortgage, just in case the place didn’t sell, fell through. Even the Band’s own credit union wouldn’t touch financing. My world fell apart and the stress was killing me.

My doctor told me to get out from under this stress or it would kill me. The cold, grey winters were starting to get to me so I started researching somewhere warmer and settled on Panama. Another huge mistake. I left my place in the care of my electrician friend who I had let move in when he split with his wife. Another huge mistake.

Long story, but I ended up getting ripped off for everything I owned in Panama, plus the guy I left in charge of my place back in Westbank let the snow build-up on my roof, something I had warned him about, and the roof collapsed resulting in twenty thousand dollars worth of damage. If the place was unsellable before, it sure was worse now. I ended up getting less than half of what I would have gotten if I’d sold it before the collapse.

I managed to sell everything I had left in Panama and returned to Toronto to stay with my cousin. Another long story but I met a girl from London on the internet who eventually came to Toronto and for me it was love at first sight. I ended up moving to London to be with her. Another huge mistake. She ended up screwing around on me with, surprise, surprise, a guy she met on the internet. My world had been shattered yet again and now I found myself stuck in a place I loathed.

London has not been kind to me. My wacko landlady threatened to seize all my stuff so I ended up moving out with no idea where I was going. I ended up sleeping on the vacant office floor of a friends and finally got into the Centre of Hope, only to be turfed out because Ontario Works screwed up my paperwork. I then went to The Mission men’s shelter, a disgusting, filthy, dangerous place. After also getting kicked out there I ended up at the Unity Project, a wonderful place full of caring people. With their help I managed to get a job at Home Depot and eventually got my own apartment. It didn’t last. My contract ended at Home Depot and I was laid off along with a whole bunch of other people. I couldn’t pay for my apartment but I got a call from London Housing that a place had opened up in my current building.