Peter was, without a doubt, one of the most unusually unique individuals I've ever known, as I'm sure most of us would attest to. He wasn’t a big man, but he had a big personality. Encounters with Peter were never boring, in fact, they were typically quite entertaining. Some people come and go from this world without necessarily leaving an impression on anyone. Peter left an impression on everyone. The nature of that impression I cannot comment on, but it was an impression!
In 2001, when I was in the process of separating, and I desperately needed a place to stay, Peter opened up his home to me. And, as I transitioned into a newly single life - one I had never had before - he was there to provide moral support and advice as I navigated through a challenging time in my life. I was losing my wife, my son, and my home. Peter had been down the divorce path before, so his experience helped guide me through mine. I was fortunate enough to start to get to know him around the early 2000s, when he was in the process of rehabilitating himself. Tackling his alcohol addiction and then his spending addiction led him down a path of personal salvation. And during this time, I witnessed a new and better Peter emerging. I had never really known the old Peter, mind you, and we all know he was no Saint! He was human and flawed, as we all are. So, I’m choosing to speak solely from experience, which is that he was only ever good to me and those close to me.
Learning not to take things personally and detachment from the outcome were the two pillars of his new life philosophy, which I can say impressed upon me over the years. I learned a lot about how to communicate with others from him, even though, and let's be honest, most of the time, none of us ever really knew what he was talking about! Even Kay, his mother, admitted to this. His emails were often cryptic too, but they were never judgmental, gossipy, or mean-spirited - never. Peter's big thing was, "Surender to the Universe." I'm still not wholly convinced that we can surrender everything to the Universe (See Chapter 14: "A Bitter Sweet Moment of Surrender" for more on this), which was the foundation upon which he lived his life, but I'm starting to surrender more and more each day, because most of the time, the outcome you're hoping for will present itself if you let go.
Back to me
He was extremely generous, perhaps to a fault. He was also there for my sister when she needed a place to stay. During her college years at John Abbott, she lived in his home in Beaconsfield and even traveled to Europe with him. He also took my mother to Europe when she and my dad were splitting up (again). And I should mention that all these events were always on his dime. In 1994, I called him to ask for a small loan to help us pay for my upcoming wedding. He said, "I don't lend money. But I'll give it to you! How's that?" That was a first for me. He was also quite funny, always ready with a joke to share whenever he called. One of the funniest things he used to do was say "Back to me" whenever a conversation strayed from him being the center of attention. He made no apologies about it! We all knew that it was just his way of being funny, that he didn't really mean it - if you know what I mean. His sense of humour was clever and usually somewhat dry. A perfect example of this is the costume he chose to wear to an 80's party I had when I turned 30, and my son was turning one. He actually had no costume. His costume was his ex-wife Sally! Yes, that's right. He walked around pretending she was there, saying things like, "Sally says it's okay for me to have one drink and tell one joke." It was hysterical!
He was a mover and a shaker - a force to be reckoned with.
Peter was a walking encyclopedia. Highly intelligent, there was very little he didn't know. He was the Trivia King, always colouring his stories with all sorts of additional information, not all of which was necessary to make the point of the story, mind you, but it was certainly entertaining. He was a mover and a shaker - a force to be reckoned with. He was a master negotiator, accomplishing, from what I've heard, some remarkable deals in his time. Strangely though, despite being extremely knowledgable regarding human behaviour, he could, at times, be a little awkward with his social interactions.
Peter despised the word "try." Those of you who know him well know that he was averse to the idea of "trying." His mantra was, "Don't try, do." I guess he was inspired by Yoda: "Do or do not. There is no try". He would even correct you if you used the word try - hilarious.
And here's one more funny story. He and my sister traveled to Florida on one of these "stay for free" if you agree to hear the time-sharing spiel. So here they are, in a golf cart or minibus of some kind, and the driver, being cordial, decides to initiate a conversation. Here is the exchange they had:
Driver: "So, what's your name?"
Driver: "Okay, Larry, and what do you do?
Peter: "I drink."
Driver: "You drink! Okay, and what else do you do?"
Peter: "I drink, and I smoke."
To this day, my sister and I crack up every time we bring it up.
About 20 years ago or so, Peter had traveled to the DR to visit with his brother. The two of them went on a motorcycle ride in the country, with Peter riding a borrowed bike from Marc's friend. Peter came around a corner and struck a horse dead on, sending him and the bike flying and killing the horse. He broke his clavicle, had to reimburse the owner of the bike, and I believe may have had to pay for the horse as well. I remember me saying to him: "Wow, talk about being unlucky!" His response was: "Who else do you know hits a horse at 50 miles an hour on a motorcycle, and walks away?" I stood there, and thought to myself, "He's right". I saw the event as being terrible, he saw it as him having narrowly walked away from death. That sort of perspective was something that I always admired in him.
Speaking of Marc, when Peter came to visit me shortly after I had my hip revision in 2016, I asked if he had anything from Marc that I could have as a keepsake. He took the shirt off his back and handed it to me, saying, "It was Marc's". Below is a photo from that day with me wearing the white shirt and him wearing an undergarment shirt that my son gave him so that he could have something to wear to drive back home.
Vives les Bélands
Peter was very fond and proud of our family. He participated in just about every function that was ever held and opened his home to all of us for countless special gatherings. When he traveled to England and France, he specifically sought out information on our lineage. He was my "go-to” person whenever I had a question about some distant relative or who was related to who and how. He had memorized our family tree - it was remarkable.
Supporting family and friends
A few years ago, when my health had really tanked, Peter offered to come and spend 1 day a week with me, just hanging out, watching a movie, or chatting. Sadly, I only ever took him up on 2 visits. Why? Because I was so sick and miserable that I couldn't face seeing anyone. But his commitment was there. He continued to reach out to me regularly to try to get together, which, as I write this, reminds me of what it was like in his last year of life when I was trying to go visit with him. He was doing the cancer treatment and was struggling with side effects. Sadly, I too, was quite sick, making it difficult for me to make a trip out to see him. But despite my poor health, I made a few attempts just the same, but sadly, it was his turn to decline my invitations because he just wasn't well enough. Some of you may have seen the photo of me in full COVID-19 PPE taken at the hospital just a few hours before he passed. Although I seem fine, I was actually not well, but I pushed myself to go and be there because he would have done the same.
In recent years he made it a priority to make amends with those he had hurt in the past. I also know that he saved his friend Nuha's life. How exactly, I don't know, but I've heard her mention it, more than once, including on the evening before he passed, that she owed her life to him.
With music being such a big part of Béland culture, and with me depending on it as a form of therapy to help me survive, this tribute would not be complete if it did not include some musical references. Below are a few musical moments I'd like to share with you.
Peter convinced me to sing a verse and chorus of "Unchained Melody" with him at LeeAnne and Pierre's wedding. He made that happen, and it was a turning point for me. I think he worked on his "sing with me" sales pitch for a half-hour until I was finally ready to get up and sing in front of all these people! This would be my first foray into the singing world and would plant the seed that would only develop years later.
After his dad Jean-Baptiste had passed, he would be the one to lead the way with Christmas carols, always having copies of the lyrics ready to hand out to anyone willing to join in. Even though he did not consider himself a "singer," he always sang on key and on pitch, which says a lot about his ear for music.
...his dance style was like a cross between Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, and James Brown. His feet floated on the floor.
It's no secret that The Rolling Stones were his favorite band. I remember performing Jumping Jack Flash with my band and seeing Peter come out to the dance floor, with his signature dance moves, singing along with me, and knowing all the words, of course. Seriously, his dance style was like a cross between Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, and James Brown. His feet floated on the floor.
I'm not sure which Stone's song was his favorite, but I have chosen Gimme Shelter as my tribute song for two reasons: 1) Because he provided me and others with shelter when they needed it, and 2) I once sent him the link to a performance of this song featuring Lady Gaga that he absolutely adored. Whether you are a fan of Gaga or not, there is no denying that she kicks ass on this.
Ta Peter for giving us all a little Shelter.
Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones featuring Lady Gaga
And, here's another version with U2, featuring Mick Jagger, Fergie, and Will.I.Am that he also thought was fantastic - Fergie kills it too!
Thank you for sharing some of Peter's stories. It made me smile, cry, laugh, miss him in ways I can't express in words. But then again, how lucky are we to have had the honor to meet him, be loved by him and loved him back? We are lucky! Thank you for being some of Peter past to the surface today. Love, N