A necessary explanation.

A dear friend back in BC recently viciously attacked me on Messenger for “f*cking people over”. Not only did this come as a total shock but it also came at a very dark time for me. I had been fighting with my government who had suspended my pensions totally in error for three weeks. I had thirty-three cents in the bank. Hadn’t paid my rent. No food and no hope. I saw no reason to go on and was consumed with thoughts of ending it all, so her attack came at a very bad and critical time and nearly pushed me over the edge.

Life is timing. I was fortunate to get some good news later that day that at least part of my pensions had finally been released so I wasn’t going to starve to death or kill myself. I pressed on but was still deeply hurt and troubled by her attack. Although I’ve dealt with many aspects of this elsewhere on this site, I felt it was necessary to explain exactly what happened, and with the facts. I’m not trying to absolve myself of the guilt because I am ultimately responsible, despite all the things out of my control that went so very and tragically wrong. 

First, some important background on what led to this disaster. 

After calling me every night, drunk and crying, my Dad had finally accepted that my mother’s Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point that he could no longer care for her and she needed to get into a proper care facility. He decided to sell their home of some thirty-five years in Shady Rest on Lake Okanagan. Having renovated eight homes back in Brampton, plus being a Real Estate agent for a time, I suggested to him that doing some renovations to their very old and tired mobile would get them more money when sold. He agreed and I offered to do the work. 

What followed turned out to be months of work for me. Although he left most of the decisions about what needed to be done to me, he argued with others. Just one example was that I wanted to remove all the old, very dated, wall paneling, replacing it with drywall to give it a fresh, new, updated look. Instead, he wanted me to use patching to fill in all the panel lines then paint. This was going to be a very time-consuming process, plus I was concerned because there was some movement in the panels so the patching could crack. As Mike Holmes always said, “do it right the first time”. I knew I wasn’t. 

In the kitchen, I added another set of much-needed drawers, as well as a new dishwasher, something that my mother said she never needed despite the pile of dishes there were from numerous family dinners. I sanded, prepped and painted all the cupboards in line with my grey and burgundy color scheme that I had decided on. The biggest and most difficult job was turning the wall separating the kitchen and living room into a half wall to make it “open concept”. The hardest part was trying to figure out how to make the half wall stable. I ended up embedding a large “L” bracket in the wall, secured through the floor. That worked. 

Although their large living room looked just as tired, with the shag carpet and different style paneling, my mother was growing more and more frustrated staying with my sister in Revelstoke while I did all the work. She wanted to come home. Period. The living room reno would have to wait.

When they came home they were both thrilled with everything I had done. The discussion turned to what to do with the living room. After the nightmare of patching, sanding, priming and painting all the other old paneling I told my Dad that the right way was to remove all the different paneling, add to the existing less than adequate 2X2 studs to make it standard 2X4 studding, add proper electrical plugs and switches, then drywall with standard drywall. At first, my Dad agreed but then my idiot brother, who knew nothing about renovating the right way, and only knew how to do things as cheaply as possible, said to just add 1/4 inch drywall to the existing paneling. Dumbest idea ever, partly because we would never know where to screw the board to. I refused to work with him creating a disaster and told him to go right ahead and do what he wanted. I wanted no part of it. Luckily, and no doubt based on the work I had done, my Dad didn’t agree with my stupid brother.

Despite not renovating the living room my Dad saw how critical my mother was getting and knew that he had to get her into a proper care facility so he listed the house. If I remember correctly, for something like sixty-nine thousand. Although I constantly told him to start trying to get my mother into care because it could take months, he ignored me. He did know that things were not going well with my “girlfriend” at the time, Ans, so he suggested that we get a place together. We started looking for a place that we could renovate together and found a good one in a park close by, but I kept asking him over and over what was going to happen to Mum when their place sold and they had to move. Again, no answer. 

They did get some offers, like sixty plus thousand conditional on the sale of a home. Not really what you call an offer. Having only paid around twelve thousand way back when they bought the mobile my Dad thought these were good offers. I convinced him that they weren’t. Even though their place looked a lot better than it did before after all the work I had done, it’s still the same with any Real Estate. Location. Location. Location. Their place was on the beach and they were paying a hundred dollars a year in property tax for the exact same frontage on the lake that my friends were paying sixteen thousand dollars for in tax. Thankfully he listened to me and turned down the offers. 

Then tragedy struck. The worst of my life. 

One day, having far too much to drink, as was often the case with my Dad, firstly because he was an alcoholic, then add that he also couldn’t handle caring for my mother, he was insisting all day that we move the boat anchor now that the lake level was higher. I was resisting because I knew he was too drunk to help me, but he kept going on and on about it, so I finally agreed, just to shut him up. Part of the other reasons I had been refusing was that the lake temperature was still a little nippy but I had my wetsuit so that wasn’t a big deal. More importantly, I didn’t have my contacts, which I normally wore skiing and wearing my glasses was dangerous if they fell off. I took them off hoping that I could still see what I was doing with the anchor. Off we went. 

My Dad was never a strong swimmer, possibly because of the trauma he had suffered in the Navy when his ship was torpedoed and he watched his buddies drown around him. Where we were working in the water his toes could just barely touch the bottom. He said, “sorry, I can’t do this anymore” and he left me. The next thing I hear is Ans screaming at me about my Dad, pointing to what I could barely make out was my Dad floating in the water. What followed was your worst nightmare – trying to run in chest deep water, plus I couldn’t see very well. When after what seemed like an eternity I finally got to him and saw he was floating face down, miraculously I managed to pick him up, despite the fact that he weighed more than me, and carry him up to the lawn. I started what I prayed was correct CPR, because I had not had any training in it. I started to panic when every time I turned him over to let water escape not a drop came out, which I figured was all my fault. 

Luckily the EMT just happened to be on our side of the lake so they were there in about four minutes. I was so glad to see them, assuming that they would take over, but the technician told me to keep going because I was doing it right. After what must have been twenty minutes or more I could see that they were giving up on him. After that long without oxygen even if he survived he would be braindead and I knew my father had signed a DNR. 

Just to finish this part of the story, the doctor at the hospital explained to us that my father had “dry-drowned”. That meant that he had had an asthma attack in the water and his throat had instantly closed. That’s why I wasn’t getting any water. It came as a relief to learn that I wasn’t guilty of doing anything wrong, but I had still just lost my father. 

Now the issues turned to his memorial and who was going to care for my mother? My brother and sister didn’t lift a finger to help with his memorial and it soon became clear that they were electing me to give up a life of my own and move in with my mother to care for her. So be it. Having just lost her husband we also figured that the very last thing she needed was for the house to sell. There remained the pressing issue of where she would go because my father had done nothing to get her into care. We agreed to take the home off the market, for now at least.

For the next year and a half my life was pure hell. No one who has never been a caregiver for someone with advanced Alzheimer’s can ever understand just how hard it is. If and when I could get her into a proper care facility I knew that the house still needed to get sold. I also knew that if I did more work the place would no doubt sell for a lot more. I did some work in the living room, painting the wood beam white and replacing that God-awful shag carpet, but not doing the work I had originally planned to do before my father died. I tore down the old dock that was falling apart and built the first rock crib dock on the lake. It was designed, by me, to withstand the changing lake levels. It was quite long so that you could still board a boat when the lake level changed. I added a bumper run all the way around it to protect boats docked in the waves. It was a work of art but took a long time to build. 

I also reconstructed the beach area which had always been a problem, especially when the waves had taken all the curbs my Dad had installed to keep the beach sand from washing away, which never worked. I built a very solid retaining wall using railroad ties, piled deep and pinned together with rebar, all around what would be the new raised area. The manager of the park called it the Shady Rest Seawall. I dug proper horseshoe pits and concreted in new posts. I rebuilt the firepit. I pulled down the carport, learning in the process that the manager of the park had been on my father’s case for years to remove it because it was a fire hazard. If it ever caught on fire the neighbor’s house would catch on fire as well. The people who lived behind were also thrilled that they could finally see the lake now. I moved and rebuilt my father’s shed, adding proper shelving to store things properly. I cleared out all the crap that had built up for years stored under the home. My father rarely threw anything out. I spent hours and hours repairing the lawn that my father had almost destroyed when he used sterilizer instead of weed killer.

When I finally got my mother into a proper care facility it was time to sell the place. I called a Realtor and told him to list it for a hundred and forty thousand dollars, more than twice what my Dad had listed it before, and more than any place had ever sold for in Shady Rest. The Realtor said that he thought that my asking price was ridiculous but he agreed to take the listing. I believe that, just like any Realtor, he took the listing knowing full well that he would be coming back to me to reduce the price. He didn’t. He brought an offer for a hundred and thirty-six thousand dollars. Cash. No conditions. It was from a family in Edmonton that had been vacationing in the Okanagan for years, always staying in expensive hotels. They had formed a family syndicate and agreed to share the place. It was a very smart move. The Realtor was left astounded that it sold for that much. A funny sidebar to this story was that the Real Estate office cut a cheque for the full price, not deducting his commission. We had quite the laugh when I called him and told him I would drop the cheque off for this commission. Well earned.

When the place closed I found a nice apartment on Horizon Drive, but the minute I moved in the by-law officer came by to tell me I had to move out because my apartment was illegal, That came as quite the surprise because all of the homes in this development were designed as two-family homes, with the lower level entrance at the back off the laneway and the main level entrance on the front of the homes. People had bought these homes understanding that they could rent out the lower levels to help with their costs. Made sense but the by-law officer told me that the builder had not applied for the proper permits to build two-family homes. He also said that having stoves on the lower level was illegal and that the fire department wouldn’t allow it. 

So off I went in search of an apartment somewhere and I found a basement apartment in Kelowna. I wasn’t thrilled to live in a basement but it was all I could find or afford. I gave the lady a two hundred dollar deposit and promised to return the next day to give her the balance. 

Fate stepped in once again. As I was on my way to give her the balance of the deposit, literally on my way out the door, for some unknown reason I went back and checked my email. The Realtor had emailed me about a place in the park next to Shady Rest, a place he said was in disastrous condition, but he saw what I had done with my parent’s place, so he thought I could do the same with this place. We agreed to meet. 

Well, he wasn’t kidding. The place was a total mess. Garbage piled everywhere. The deck was falling down. They had had two dogs that had destroyed what used to be the lawn. I could see mold in one of the bathrooms where the pipes were leaking, no doubt for years. The tile in the kitchen had not been installed properly and was cracking and lifting up everywhere. The eavestrough was falling off. Weeds everywhere. It was a total mess but I saw potential if the price was right. It tuned out that the previous owner was in default of the private mortgage so I just needed to take over the mortgage and agree to start paying the pad rent. It was unquestionably a very bold move but I went for it. I knew that I would be facing months and months of major work, but I also believed that just like the value I added to my parent’s place, I could turn a handsome profit.

Although I did surprisingly get major credit from places like Home Hardware, Canadian Tire and, most importantly, Home Depot, I knew that I would need to use some of my mother’s money to live. Eat. Pay the pad rent and so on. I wasn’t entitled to use her money until she passed away and I got part of her estate, but my sister had demanded twenty thousand dollars to save her business, and, despite the fact that my mother hadn’t died yet, I gave her the money. I thought if it was good enough for her it was good enough for me. I started what turned into a year and a half of working day and night, living in the worst possible conditions, at one point having no kitchen for six weeks waiting for the cabinets I had ordered. I had completely redesigned the place, gutting it back to the studs. Adding three new bathrooms. I rebuilt the shed that had been falling apart. I added a new concrete section to the driveway where there had just been dirt before. I removed the dilapidated deck. I replaced the broken front door with french doors and built new stairs to the door. I replaced all of the flooring. I turned what might have been a playroom before into a new bedroom and an office. I got a good deal on a fridge, stove, and dishwasher from someone upgrading their appliances. I installed all new cabinetry and countertops in the kitchen.

It was a lot of work, to say the least, but as I came close to finally finishing I called Realtors to discuss listing it. The electrician who had installed a new electrical panel for me had split with his wife so I let him stay in one of the bedrooms, one that had its own brand new bathroom and separate entrance. Very private for him. The Realtors that came over said it was unquestionably the nicest “mobile” in the Okanagan. When they learned that I had applied to have the registration updated from the original ancient registration to a brand new one, meaning it would now fall under the Manufactured Homes Act, they were even more impressed. The general opinion was to list it for a hundred and thirty-nine thousand dollars. It so happened that my electrician buddy (at the time anyway) and I had been looking at other places we could renovate and flip and we had found three very good places. I fully intended to pay the money I had borrowed from my mother back but there would be lots left over for us to buy and renovate the places we had found. I had more than earned it. I told the Realtor I went with to list it for a hundred and twenty-nine thousand and sell it quickly so we could close on these other places.

Well, fate stepped in yet again and this time it was a disaster. The day before my listing was to start one of the local Westbank Indian Band chiefs, Noel Derrickson, was quoted in a local paper saying that anyone who bought on native land was “stupid” because there was no tenancy. The band could give notice to vacate and people would lose their entire investment, which was already happening in other areas of BC at the time. Overnight no Realtor or lawyer would touch a property on band land. Even the band’s own Trust company, Peace Hills Trust, who I had arranged a mortgage with, just in the unlikely event that the place didn’t sell, refused to honor their commitment to me. My world fell apart. Not only did I owe money back to my mother but I had also run up debts with my suppliers. Now I had zero options left. I was a mess. My doctor told me that I needed to get out from under all this stress or it would kill me. I knew that I couldn’t pay my bills or my pad rent. Everyone would soon be coming after me. I would obviously lose the great credit rating I had built up with my suppliers so even if by some magic I managed to close on the three places we were looking at my credit would be toast and we would have no money to renovate the places. It was beyond a hopeless situation. 

My Realtor tried to help, saying that this would all blow over, eventually, and I would probably be able to sell again, maybe the following spring! Great, but without the mortgage how was I going to survive until then? Impossible! So I started looking for places to escape to and found Panama. I transferred the ownership of my place to my buddy, Wade, who had said it was the only way to avoid my creditors coming after me, getting judgments and forcing a sale to pay them back. He said that he would do his best to keep trying to sell the place. My electrician “friend” agreed to pay the pad rent, so, as bad as it was, it looked like the only possible answer. I left for Panama. Not happy to do so, obviously. 

A little while later Wade phoned me with the terrible news. I had made sure that the electrician “friend” understood how critical it was to watch the snow load on the roof and clear it off if it was more than an inch or two, as my father had done with their place for all those years, and as I had done when they went south for the winter. Every time we had the least bit of snow I checked on the roof and cleared off any snow, just in case it melted and got heavier. Instead, my “friend” let the snow pile up high. It melted, became incredibly heavy and collapsed the entire roof, destroying all my work. Wade estimated it would cost at least twenty-five thousand dollars to fix. Impossible! A short time later he said he found someone who was willing to repair the roof and buy the place. He was offering sixty thousand dollars for the place that had been worth a hundred and forty thousand before! What choice did I have? Selling it would mean burning my creditors and not being able to pay my mother back the money I had borrowed. I would never be able to come back to BC, ever. Not only was he offering this pathetic price but he also didn’t have enough money from his parents, so he needed me to take back a five thousand dollar mortgage. Again, not much choice, so I agreed. A short time later Wade called again, this time to tell me that the guy had sold the place but was going to default on the mortgage. Naturally. How could my life get any worse? 

Now, despite this total disaster, I was the one who suffered for it. My life was left in ruins and I was so depressed that I could not return to the Okanagan, mostly because things were not going well in Panama. As for my mother’s estate, first I had told my sister that she had to pay the twenty thousand back because my mother wasn’t dead when I first gave it to her. She never did. Also, as my father’s executor, I had to keep track of every single penny of what was now my mother’s money. When my sister yanked my mother out of the care home I told her that she had to give me a monthly accounting of what was happening with my mother’s pension. For months she refused. Then I learned that she had used my mother’s pension money to pay her mortgage! Totally illegal and as executor, I was the one going to be held accountable for this. After she killed our mother I told her she would not get an accounting from me until she provided one, which, of course, never happened. 

There were many other complications with my father’s estate, but regardless I did a complete accounting to the penny and gave it to my lawyer. I had done a lot of research on the costs of caring for my mother and all the renovation work I had done for my parents. I went back through my accounting, charging far less than the going rate for care and for the extensive renovations I had done. My father had said he would pay me ten thousand dollars as soon as they sold, but that hadn’t happened after he died, of course. As to charging for caring for our mother, I obviously couldn’t work outside the home because I couldn’t leave her for a second, so I was denied any income. No unemployment insurance. Nothing. Why, considering it was live-in, twenty-four hour a day care meaning no opportunity for me to get a job? I thought it was perfectly reasonable and fair to earn something for the time I cared for her. What would have been the alternative? Hire someone to live in and care for her? That would have cost a fortune! When I finished the accounting I had shown where every single cent had gone, except for the money my sister refused to account for. 

I told my lawyer to only release it to her when my sister gave him a full accounting. I never heard a word from anyone, that is until I got a call from the RCMP with questions because my sister had accused me of fraud. I answered all their questions plus I authorized my lawyer to release my accounting to them, as long as they did not give it to my sister. That was the last I ever heard a word. I gather that the RCMP were satisfied. My sister was not. 

Do I regret what happened? Of course I do! If that idiot band chief hadn’t shot his mouth off in the press the place would have sold quickly and for full price, maybe even multiple offers. Who knows? That would have allowed me to pay off all my creditors and left me with a stellar credit rating. I would have paid my mother’s estate back every nickel and never charged for care or for the renovations to their place, regardless of my father’s offer. I would have closed on the three other places that I had already done designs for. I had visions of becoming the Mobile King of the Okanagan. I had already laid out a manufactured home park design and got agreement from a local builder, Chaparral, to supply a model home for my development. I had already been talking to WestCorp, the company that had been thrown out of Kelowna’s waterfront plan, to provide the infrastructure for the new park. Life was at long last going to be what I always dreamed it would be. I had visions of my kids coming out on vacation. Taking them skiing with my new boat. Dirt-biking with them in the mountains again. It was going to be a great life. I had earned it, but those dreams had all been destroyed.                    

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