Building a Caregiver Support System

When you find yourself in the position of being a caregiver, who is there to help take care of you?

Kathi Koll sets out to answer this question in a great article that walks through how you can build a caregiver support system.

Her tips:

  1. Create a team: Who are the people that will help pick up some of the work, from running errands to managing bills?
  2. Share the situation: It will help people think of ways to help, beyond what you’ve explicitly asked for.
  3. Find a way to get support even when it’s difficult to ask: It can be hard to ask for help! But it’s even harder to try to do it all yourself.
  4. Accept help: Beyond the relief it can provide for you, it can also make them feel like they are contributing.
  5. Be creative: There are caregiving agencies and other community services you can turn to if you aren’t having luck finding help from family and friends.

Read the entire article for the full list of steps to take to get the support you need as a caregiver.

Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

When did my focus change?


I began to notice as I moved into midlife, that I was not really very interested in enhancing my resume. Yes, I would update it, but generally not until someone asked me for my bio. It just wasn’t that important to me. By that time, I was already five years into a major entrepreneurial endeavor, with a visionary partner, and it was something we were very proud of. Not because of how big it would ultimately grow (76 Chapters on 6 continents), or how much press we would ultimately get (which we did), or that it would make us rich (which it did not) but because we were doing something important for woman all over the world. Something to change lives, and change the way boards looked at women as potential board members. This really mattered to me.

In the succeeding years, my focus was more and more about my footprint after I am gone, how I would make a difference in the world, or at least my small part in it. Where should I spend my time, and our money? What really mattered to me as I moved into the later years of my life?

Friends had always been important, and it was one of my priorities to keep in touch, so that connection would not be lost. And today, with more time, my connections are stronger and there are more of them. And now we also have grandchildren, so my husband and I are building on our close relationships with our kids and with each other.

A while back I wrote about a TED talk, featuring the columnist and author David Brooks, on this subject: “Should you live for your resume…or your eulogy?”

Within each of us are two selves: the self who craves success, who builds a résumé, and the self who seeks connection, community, love — the values that make for a great eulogy.

This is definitely worth 5 minutes of your time. Watch Video

Brooks talks about the values of each self, and it makes one think about which values now matter most to you. It doesn’t mean you as a person change. To me, it is more about which values begin to take on more weight, and which diminish in importance.

I would add to Brooks’ thoughts that legacy, something beyond your eulogy, is also on our minds. What am I leaving to my children, and their children, that are not material, yet far more important? Do they know who their mother and father really are, and the footprint they left? Do they know anything about their parents, their grandparents, and earlier generations, and what did they do in their lives. It doesn’t have to be “big” to make an impact on future generations.

My grandmother was abandoned by her husband during the depth of the depression, and left with a business $5,000 in debt in 1932. That might as well have been a million dollars! The two oldest siblings left school and went to work in that business, and ultimately they settled all of the debts, and scratched out a living. My mother frequently would tell me, that if anything happened to our father, she would always be able to keep our family of 6 kids fed and a roof over our heads. That determination became a very big part of who I became, and I have passed this on to my children.

Resilience. Hard work. Persistence. Courage. These values are also an important part of your legacy.

Photo by Alice Wu on Unsplash

Protecting an Elderly Widower’s Assets

A recent column by Liz Weston in the Personal Finance section of the Los Angeles Times focused on the very real concern of adult children about their aging father’s ability to make good financial decisions. Specifically she was addressing a concern of a family about the attention their widowed father was getting from woman at various gatherings.  Their fear was: “We’re concerned because of a pattern we’ve seen in other families, where the widower remarries and the new wife convinces him that his kids are only after his money. When he dies, she gets everything.”

Most of us want our widowed mother or father to be happy and to have love and companionship. But we all know families who have been in this exact situation, leaving a family torn apart. I know of one situation where the adult children got nothing when their father died, not even photographs from their childhood.

Ms. Weston offers one path to protect assets in this column: "Protecting an elderly widower's assets." In all cases, be sure to consult with an attorney who understands all of the tax and estate issues.

Creating Lasting Memories for Dying People

People often will keep the voice-mail message of a loved one who has died, just to hear their voice. Kate Carter takes this to a whole new level.

In 1998, Kate’s best friend Tairi was dealing with breast cancer. Tairi’s husband had recently died of ALS. They had young children. Kate says, “I sat around crying, wondering how I could help.”
Kate ran a medical transcription business in Santa Barbara, CA. She began thinking there was “something more meaningful” she was meant to do. Waiting for that something to appear, she signed up for a TV production class.

What started off slowly with a few videos a year has now grown into a full-fledged non-profit operation, LifeChronicles, that has created over 1,500 videos.

The video experience is, Kate says, “more than I expected. At first I thought it was about telling stories. I didn’t realize the therapeutic value for families. Some things need to be said. Families have a chance to resolve issues and tie up loose ends.”

It's a terrific read about a woman who has given so much to these families. You can read the entire story here.

Signs Aging Parents May Need Help Managing Finances

I have recently seen a number of articles on the subject of aging and the related decline in financial judgment. Here is a well-written article on how to identify this, and ways to begin a discussion of this difficult subject.

From the article:

Research shows that financial decision-making peaks around age 53, and by age 60 our ability to process new information starts to slow. The shift happens at a different pace for everyone, and it can be accelerated by medical conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia. While some people are capable of managing their own finances throughout their lifetime, others may find their skills suffering.
The impact could be as benign as paying a utility bill twice, or something worse, like falling prey to a scam.
Experts say there are signs that children or spouses can watch out for that will help them know when it's time to step in and help an older relative with their finances.

The article goes on share findings from a new study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham:

The study looked at up to seven years of financial skill performance among cognitively normal older adults. The warning signs of financial decline it found are:
— Taking longer to complete everyday financial tasks;
— Missing key details in financial documents;
— Having difficulty with everyday math;
— Showing decreased understanding of common financial concepts;
— Having difficulty identifying risks in an investment opportunity.

Finally, the author shares some great tips on how to prepare for this situation, with the key takeaway being the importance of being proactive (something we can all work on!).

Sheryl Sandberg: Life After Death

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and the author of Lean In, is back with a new book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. After abruptly losing her husband two years ago, she is now trying to help others deal with grief.

Excerpt from the Time cover story about it:

Dying is not a technical glitch of the human operating system; it’s a feature. It’s the only prediction we can make at birth that we can bank on. Everyone will die, and it’s very likely somebody we love will die before we do. And yet the bereaved are often treated like those to whom something unnatural or disgraceful has happened. People avoid them, don’t invite them out, fall silent when they enter the room. The grieving are often isolated when they most need community.
That’s a problem that Sandberg, now 47, can work with. The woman who urged the world to lean in is now under­taking a campaign to help people push on, to bounce back from horrible misfortune. Her newest book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, is a primer for those who are bereaved, to help them recover and find happiness. But it’s also a guide for the unscathed on how to help people “lean in to the suck,” as Sandberg’s rabbi puts it.

The entire Time article is a great read, and I look forward to seeing how this movement progresses.

When And How to Begin a Conversation about End of Life Planning with Older Parents

One question I hear often when I am speaking with groups of people is “How do I bring up the subject of my parents’ plans for the end of their life?” It is not an easy question, nor is the answer a simple one, as it depends on the willingness of one’s parents to even discuss such issues, and also on the relationship they have with their children.

No one likes to spend time contemplating his or her death. But there are ways to begin a series of conversations that might take place over many months, depending on their willingness to open up.

“Have you and Dad made any arrangements with a funeral home or cemetery? If you die, we want to know what your wishes are, and that you have written this down for us.” That can also lead into a discussion on the relative pros and cons of burial versus cremation, and related costs.

A less direct approach might be to raise it after they have been to a funeral of a good friend.  Parents often let their children know when a friend has passed away, as the children likely know that person well. It is a good opening to ask about the funeral, who spoke, was there a celebration of life afterwards, etc. This can easily lead to the questions of “Have you and Dad thought about what you want?”

If you are in your 40’s, and nothing has yet been said, try to start a conversation…“I know you guys are healthy, but just in case something were to happen that put you in the hospital, we need to know that you have made some arrangements.”

At some point as they age, and you are likely in your 50’s or even your 60’s, you will need more specific information. I think it is easier to address in stages, starting with knowing their medical history, prescriptions and doctors. Past the age of 60, the great majority of people have been given some indication that there could be a problem in the future, due to high blood pressure, cholesterol numbers outside the desired range, and perhaps even diagnosed with diabetes or some other cause for concern which will lead to problems down the road. You can start the conversation by asking if they have this information written down, in case you need to help them at some future point. If you volunteer to help them put this together in one place, they are even more likely to agree to do this, and then you would only need to ask to update this perhaps twice a year.

Talking about financials can be sensitive, and often parents are reluctant to discuss this with their children. Initially you can say, “We don’t need to know who advises you, what your assets are, etc., we just want to know that you have this information, and who to contact, in some document, in case one of us needs to step in to help you.”

This takes on more urgency if they are hospitalized or begin to have signs of early dementia.

Putting these plans in place is a process that takes place over time. In my own personal experience, once someone is diagnosed with a very serious health issue, they first think about updating their estate plans. You want to remind them that they also need to think about the plans that detail how they are honored and remembered when they die.

The 5 Biggest Regrets People Have Before They Die

We just came across this great post on LinkedIn from John-Paul Iwuoha. He shares the story of Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse and counselor:

As part of therapy, Bronnie would ask about any regrets they had about their lives, and anything they would do differently if life gave them a second chance.
Of all the responses she got from her patients, she noticed there were 5 regrets that stood out. These were the most common regrets her patients wished they hadn’t made as they coursed through life.

He then expands on each of the five common regrets Ware found in her study:

  1. I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier

I think we can all relate to at least one of these; I know I can. It's a good reminder to live each day to the fullest before little regrets become big regrets. You can read the full post here.

Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator

Happy New Year to all you procrastinators! The start of a new year is always a good time for us to think about what are the most important things we want to accomplish in the next twelve months. Some of these may be a carryover from the prior year, such as finishing a project, others may be perennial carryovers, such as lose weight and exercise, and some will be entirely new.

Watch this hilarious TED Talk by Tim Urban, and see if it doesn’t change your perspective on the idea that there is always tomorrow. It will likely get you to focus on those things on which you really need stop procrastinating. Maybe even your Gracious Exit workbooks.

Writing a ‘Last Letter’ When You’re Healthy

I recently learned about the Stanford Letter Project, a movement founded by Dr. VJ Periyakoil, director of the Stanford Palliative Care Education & Training Program. You may have seen a piece on the project in the New York Times.

Over the last 15 years, as a geriatrics and palliative care doctor, I have had candid conversations with countless patients near the end of their lives. The most common emotion they express is regret: regret that they never took the time to mend broken friendships and relationships; regret that they never told their friends and family how much they care; regret that they are going to be remembered by their children as hypercritical mothers or exacting, authoritarian fathers.
And that’s why I came up with a project to encourage people to write a last letter to their loved ones. It can be done when someone is ill, but it’s really worth doing when one is still healthy, before it’s too late.

The project offers people a template for a letter that can help people complete seven life review tasks: acknowledging important people in our lives; remembering treasured moments; apologizing to those we may have hurt; forgiving those who have hurt us; and saying “thank you,” “I love you” and “goodbye.”

There are some great stories in both the New York Times article and on the site itself, I encourage you to check them out and think about writing your own.

Photo by Kirsty TG