Sunday, April 03, 2005

Executing Change (A Miniseries: 2/2)

Just when I thought I’d felt everything…
This second part of the story is actually that from which this miniseries’ title is derived. It was really just sort of serendipitous the way the two storylines from the first part played out and sort of related to the overall theme. Like my old friend, Col. John “Hannibal” Smith used to say, “I just love it when a plan comes together.” This story will be considerably shorter, but certainly no less important to me to tell.

I received a telephone call Saturday morning from my Dad. It was somewhat puzzling to me why he would be calling, since I had just spoken to him on Thursday evening. We’d had a good conversation as I recalled, and I didn’t have any sense that something had been left unsaid. Apparently I was wrong.

“AJ, I need to ask you a favor,” he said in his increasingly halting, but ever-friendly voice. “You know we talked the other night and I don’t know why I didn’t ask you then, but I really just need to ask you now.”

He definitely had my interest piqued, but seconds later I knew what he was going to say before he finished his sentence. “You know…” he began slowly, “Your brother Alex is the co-executor of my estate, along with (my stepsister) Janice.”
“Yes,” I answered, already feeling my throat begin to tighten.
“Well…you also realize…he’s doomed,” his voice beginning to crack.
“Yeah,” I whispered.
“So,” he continued softly but having seemed to steady himself, “I’m kinda living on borrowed time now, so I need to find someone to take his place.”

He paused again just briefly and asked, “Will you be that person? Would you be the executor of my will?”

I tried hard to choke back the tears that were welling up in my eyes. I felt sure I had swallowed my throat. I tried unsuccessfully to answer him, then the second time I managed to gasp, “I’d be honored, Dad.”

Oh what a flood of emotions and memories washed over me at that moment. I felt dread, pride, sadness and joy all at the same time. How could this be happening to me, the onetime undisputed black sheep of the family? I had indeed wondered if this responsibility would befall me. I knew that someone had to do it, and it obviously could no longer be Alex, who is now in the middle stages of Early-Onset Alzheimer’s disease. And even though at 45 years of age and the youngest of my Dad’s five boys, the likelihood that he will outlive my Dad is now certainly in doubt. But even if he does, he obviously is no longer capable to carry out the responsibilities of such an office.

As an attorney, Alex was always the obvious choice to be executor of the family estate. But when it became obvious that he was the second among us to bear the family curse, I always figured that the job would be passed on to my eldest brother Jack, who is ten years older, or perhaps, TK, my other surviving brother who is three years my senior. However Dad told me that Janice had requested that he ask me to do it instead because she felt more comfortable dealing with me than the other two.

Janice and I have grown infinitely more close since the death of her Mother, my stepmom, Maxine, nearly five years ago. The two of us have communicated more in the last five years then we had in the previous thirty. However it had been Alex with whom Janice was much closer over the years, but now the two of us had become pretty good friends. My Dad agreed that was an important component, but I still feel incredibly humbled just by the fact that he would want me to do it.

In the original agreement, I’m sure the roles between Janice and Alex were pretty much reversed from what they will be between she and I. Alex being the lawyer, Janice being the executive secretary for a high-powered Orange Real estate developer, her organizational skills are incredible. I’m sure between the two of them, all things involving dealing with the courts, the paperwork and finally the distribution of assets would have gone as smooth as silk. Now it seems to me that Janice will assume the lead role and I will attempt to support her however I can. Am I up to it? Yeah, I think I am. But this is so far from any role I ever imagined myself being involved in. It’s nearly unthinkable.

I did a little research on the role of the executor. Here’s what MetLife’s web site had to say:

An Executor is the person responsible for settling a deceased person's estate. As executor, your duties include inventorying, appraising and distributing assets; paying taxes; and settling debts owed by the deceased. You are legally obligated to act in the interests of the deceased, following the wishes expressed in his or her will.
The bottom line is, this is going to be a daunting task, and most likely not a fun one. How will I respond to the emotion that will be such a part of dealing with the constant reminder that the greatest man you’veever known is gone? What if some crazy circumstance, like someone contesting the will were to happen? How would I respond? Could it be possible that my loving family could turn on each other? These are worst-case scenarios of course, but definitely something to be prepared for.

But I guess the most humbling thing of all is merely the idea that I’m now somehow a leader in my family. To be honest, I’m really not sure I want to be. I’m not used to it. I’ve held plenty of leadership positions in other aspects of my life, but within my own family I guess I’ve never quite broken out of my self-image as the runt of the litter; the one whom no one really expected anything of; the one whom even his little brother passed up years ago.

There’s a sense of comfort in flying under the radar. Maybe I’ve just been doing it for so long I don’t know anything else. Maybe it’s time to think differently. Maybe it’s time to execute my own will for a change.

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