Ms. Faye

As with most of my clients, I have a tendency to get attached.  At 94, she carried herself in a very youthful manner and looked more like a 60-year-old with manicured nails, perfectly applied makeup and gorgeous white hair that was set every few days.

She and I had grown close while working together on her downsizing move to a retirement/continuing care community.  Ms. Faye turned out to be one of my biggest supporters, always making an appearance at one of my local speeches and having photos taken with me for her memory book.  She had outlived everyone, including a beloved husband that she often reminisced about, but she was determined to enjoy life solo.

Uncharacteristic for a woman of her era, she made the decision to sell her estate jewelry and travel extensively, because in her words, “When you’re gone, you’re gone.”

Unusual as she was bustling with energy and always had a smile on her face, I asked her one day over lunch what her secret was.  She paused for a moment to reflect and suddenly a wide smile, that matched her glowing complexion, emerged on her face.  “It’s really very simple.  Always look up and never look down.  And always choose close friends that are younger than you because they will keep you young in spirit — the older ones die and leave you.”

There it was in a nutshell — life according to Ms. Faye.  She said it with gusto through her red Estee Lauder lips.  It’s difficult to forget someone like Ms. Faye.  Her words were so simple but powerful, and were her secret to longevity.

Not long after our lunch together, Ms. Faye died quietly and unexpectedly during the night.  While she is no longer here, I still smile every time I think about her.  I think of this older woman who had lived through and seen so much, and I remember her words, “Always look up and never look down.”

I think it is important to spread stories as upbeat as this, especially when the news all around us seems all doom and gloom.  Some would think it is sad that she died, but she left this earth doing what she wanted, whenever she wanted, and how she wanted it.  In my eyes, not a bad passing at all.  Thanks for the smiles and new mantra, Ms. Faye.

Rest in heavenly peace.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising.  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation.

Surreal Observations

I am beginning to question whether or not I’ve been living under a rock, because some of my recent observations caught me off-guard.  Recently, I went to Wal-Mart to pick up a few necessities before bad weather reached us later that day.  There I was, walking through the store with a pleasant demeanor and smile, but no one else was.  That was my first observation.

In the freezer section, a little boy was determined to not permit me to open the door I needed to get a frozen pizza.  His mother stood 2 feet away and watched as this 8-10 year old did everything possible to intentionally block my way.  He wasn’t being cute; he was doing it in a spiteful manner and mom did nothing to correct him or hurry him along.  I silently wondered to myself why this mother would not correct this boy.  The answer?  She never has, so why start now?  It was sad to see that.

People walked around like zombies.  Middle aged people and older were very rude, didn’t care if they were in your way, and certainly didn’t move to give you the right of way.  This happened less than a minute after the freezer incident.  I almost expect this from younger people, but certainly not the boomers.  Our parents taught us better than that.

Then, when I checked out with an armful of items, the cashier didn’t speak at all, not even to give me the total!  It felt for a moment that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people.  Was it a full moon, or what?

As I walked out, an elderly male employee was sweeping the entrance and having a hard time bending down to adjust the carpet mats, so people wouldn’t slip.  My heart really went out to him.  He had to be 75 years old, and here he was still working, still stooping, and bless his heart, he was the only one who wished me a good day and gave me a huge smile.  I flashed him a huge smile right back and wished him a great day.

I’m a little disappointed in myself for allowing this experience with the zombies to have affected my personality.  I let it get the best of me and it turned me into a sour person.  I was even aware I was scowling at one point!

But in the midst of the dark there is always light, such as the elderly gentleman who, in spite of his pain, wholeheartedly greeted me with kindness and care.  His smile made me smile.  Then I remembered this:  make yourself familiar with angels, and behold them frequently in spirit, for without being seen, they are ever-present with you.  Well, sometimes they are seen!

© 2013 Julie Hall

It Was As If She Never Existed

All it would have taken was some planning.  Mrs. Jones was recently removed from her home due to rapidly progressing dementia.  Since she had no children and her husband pre-deceased her, there was no one to care for her and her financial matters.  The case was turned over to a guardian who nothing about her or her situation.  I was asked to go to Mrs. Jones’ home and evaluate the possessions to see what could be sold for her continued care.

I went to the home and spent some time photographing it for the guardian so they could see the type of home and possessions that were in it.  While the home was basically clean, you could see that someone afflicted with dementia was living there, as the upstairs was all askew.  Food was left in the refrigerator from months before, and the drawers, cabinets, etc. had been rummaged through.  My job was to report back my findings, what could be sold, and offer an estimate to clean out the house.

As it turns out, they do not know if the house is falling into foreclosure, or if it is owned outright, or if there is even any money in Mrs. Jones’ name.  It would appear from a stranger looking in, that there were little-to-no facts about Mrs. Jones at all — it was as if any knowledge of her took leave when her dementia took hold.

My heart really went out to Mrs. Jones.  I am no stranger to dementia and how it affects the one who has it, and also the loved ones around them.  Yet, no one stepped forward to claim Mrs. Jones.  No one even knew if she had any financial means.  All they knew is all the utilities had been turned off because she forgot to pay the bills.  One day she was there and one day she was moved.  It’s as if she never existed.

If ever there was a classic example of planning ahead, it’s this one.  Ask yourself, your parents, your spouse … what IF?  Isn’t it better to give this life situation, and many others similar to it, some serious thought now while you can?

I am an old softy.  Tough as nails when I have to be, but soft when it comes to the elderly and infirmity.  Most of this scenario, if not all of it, could have been avoided with some pre-planning.  It’s too late for Mrs. Jones.  I don’t even want to think about where she is or the kind of care she is receiving.  But it’s not too late for us and our loved ones.

Have the talk today!

© 2013 Julie Hall

An Estate Find Tells the Tale of a Bittersweet Love

The colors of the WWI era postcard were the first to catch my attention.  Postmarked 1918, the picture depicts a soldier in uniform holding the hand of a girl he was leaving behind as he heads off to war.  When I flipped the postcard over to read it, their lives suddenly sprung to life.

Her name was Viola and she lived in Virginia.  The only writing on the addressee side is her first name, last name, and the city and state she lived in.  Your first thought, when looking at the simplicity of the card, was how complicated life is now in the 21st century, compared to a time when postmen knew you and where you lived.  But after reading the postcard, perhaps their lives weren’t that simple after all.  It leaves a lot to the imagination.

His name was Thomas and he was writing from Camp Meade.  Apparently, Thomas was quite taken with Viola.

Dearest Viola,  I guess you are somewhat surprised to hear from me.  And although I am taking it upon myself to drop you a card, I hope that one day very soon I can hold your beautiful face in my hands.  What a sweet and wonderful day it will be to see you again!  I thought today that I had to leave for France, But I am still here for a couple of weeks before we go so please answer me.  Yours, Thomas

What Thomas was really trying to do was get up the nerve to tell her how he really felt and that he wanted her in his life.

I wonder whatever happened to Thomas and Viola.  During this time in 1918, WWI was drawing to a close but the men were still actively fighting.  Did Thomas ever go to France, and if so, did he ever return safely to hold Viola’s face?  Did he die valiantly while fighting for his country?  It’s one of the myriad of mysteries we find in estates, and while it is hard to walk away without a firm answer, we simply fill in the blanks the way we would have wanted the story to end.

Thomas came back; Viola fell head over heels in love with him.  They had several children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren; they lived to a ripe old age, completely devoted to one another.

In my mind, that’s the ending to this affair of the heart.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Live a Life That Matters

(Source unknown)

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.

There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasures or baubles, will pass on to someone else.

Your wealth, fame, and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.  It will not matter what you owned or what you owed.

Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will disappear.  So too, your hopes, dreams, plans, and to-do lists will expire.

The wins and losses that seemed so important will fade away.  It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived.

It won’t matter if you were beautiful or brilliant, and your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter?  How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built.

Not what you got, but what you gave.

What will matter is not your success, but your significance.

It is not what you learned, but what you taught.

What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, or sacrifice, that empowered, enriched, and encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence, but your character.

It will not matter how many people you knew, but how many people will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.

What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those that loved you.

What will matter is how long you will be remembered and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.  It is a matter of choice.

© 2012 Julie Hall

You Can’t Take it with You!

Joanne was in her mid-seventies, and her daughter knew mom just couldn’t take care of a house over 4,000 square feet on over an acre of land.  Joanne had to have a home that large to house all of her possessions.  She needed to downsize and move to Assisted Living, but she was giving her daughter a very difficult time about the move.

The daughter made an appointment for me to come over and educate them in the estate sale process.  Her exact words: “Mom’s got 4,000 square feet full of stuff, junk and everything else, and it’s time to sell it all so she can fit into her new place.”  To complicate the matter, the house had already sold!

Throughout the conversation at Joanne’s house, I had a familiar feeling that I had to share.  I addressed the daughter who had asked me to come: “I would be happy to assist you in selling the remainder of this estate, but I have a funny feeling mom will not part with anything.”

Joanne looked over at me and gave me a “cat ate the canary” grin; I knew she was up to something.  The daughter insisted that all of the possessions had to go.  Still, I persisted as gracefully as I knew how.  “I think your mom might have other plans for it, don’t you, Joanne?”  Again, I received the same grin, but she sat silent, as if this was punishing her daughter for trying to make the right decision.

The daughter became increasingly disturbed, and I was caught in the middle.  “Mom, what is going on?”  Still, no reply from her mother.  Once more, I put on my gentle voice and stuck my neck out.  “I’d be willing to guess mom has other plans for her possessions.  Something like storage.”  Mom’s face was simply beaming.  I had hit the nail on the head!

The daughter’s face grew dark like an impending storm, and demanded to know what nonsense mom was up to.  Finally, it came out.  “Julie’s right.  I’ve already reserved four extra large storage units.  I’m not giving it away, or selling it.  It’s mine.  No one can have it but me!”

The lady who wouldn’t let go ended up moving and placing everything in storage, to the tune of over $7,000 per year.

Moral: You can’t take it with you, no matter how hard you try!

© 2012 Julie Hall

The Recipe For a Long, Happy Life

I met the elderly Chinese lady at one of my estate sales.  Instantly drawn to her vibrant complexion and a smile that seemed to guard a thousand secrets, the only hint she was “on age” was her white hair.  I commented on her flawless skin and a small-framed, young girl emerged out of nowhere.  “I am her great-grand daughter.  She doesn’t speak any English.”

My curiosity got the best of me, and I asked the young girl to ask her great-grandmother the secret to such beautiful skin.  The young girl turned and chatted with the woman, who promptly burst out in laughter.  Through the three-way translation, I learned that the elderly woman was 101 years old and didn’t look a day over 60!  Her secret was so simple; she said anyone can do it.

Rule #1:  Never deprive your body of any food it wants to eat.  If it wants cake, eat it.  “Don’t deprive, but be reasonable.  By depriving your body, it will get angry with you.  If it gets angry, it will not work well for you.  If you make it happy, it will treat you well.”

Rule #2:  Go out each day barefoot in the grass and walk around.  She said to feel the earth’s energy under your feet and draw it in.  Breathe deeply while doing it and you will feel invigorated.

I’ve always lived by Rule #1.  While it has gotten me a bit chubby, I am happy and thankfully, very healthy.  From an Italian household, I was never very good at saying no to carbs.

As for Rule #2, I highly recommend it, particularly in the morning dew.  It does feel good to walk around in the grass for a few minutes.  A type of meditation where your attention is completely focused on the sensations in your feet, it is relaxing to your mind as well.  Since our feet carry us through life, and they are crammed in shoes all day, it’s quite a treat for your feet!

I’ve always had some sort of magnetic attraction to the elderly as they are rich with experience.  Give these rules a try for a week and see if they don’t make a difference in how you feel.  I’m always happy to share what I learn along the way … now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of chocolate cake in the fridge calling my name!

© 2012 Julie Hall

Bring “Oxygen” to Your Own Life

There never seems to be enough hours in the day.  If you are a caregiver, you know this better than anyone, for your schedule is not your own.  Yet, I have heard many of my elderly clients say, “You must make the time because it is important to your well-being.”  Here are some suggestions I have learned along the way that might bring some “oxygen” to your life, so you can breathe again.

  • You’re all you’ve got!  Make dates with your spouse and children to keep your sanity in check, and the bonds of relationships fresh.  This is imperative, so make yourself a promise to do this.
  • Rest and replenish, even if you have to steal private moments in the backyard, in prayer or meditation, or just sitting.
  • If you are experiencing guilt, anger, jealousy, resentment, etc., seek the assistance of close friends, a counselor, your minister or rabbi.  Realize that most of what you are feeling is perfectly normal.  Know when to seek professional help, if you become depressed, anxious, or experience feelings that are not normal.
  • Combat depression by finding time to engage in an activity that brings you pleasure — a walk with your children or grandchildren, writing in your journal, getting out to shop for 2 or 3 hours.  Respite care is available in many communities, just so you can rest from caregiving.
  • Pay attention to these things: sleeping, nutrition, exercise.  Eat as well as you can; snack on fruits (natural pick-me-up) and granola bars, plus plenty of water.  The brain is less tired when hydrated and your organs love it too.  Sleep is one of the first things we miss in stressful situations.  Instead of relying on sleep aids, try listening to soothing music, curling up with a good book, and cutting down on caffeine.
  • If your loved one is napping, pop a yoga DVD into the TV and do some stretching; very invigorating.  Better yet, if you can get away for an hour, go get a massage.
  • Listen to music during the day, preferably easy listening, classical, or other calming music.
  • Spiritual self-care: make time for reflection and spend time with nature.  Stay connected to your faith-based organization, or consider joining one.  Be open to inspiration that will come from others.  Surround yourself with kind and loving people.

© 2012 Julie Hall

Caregivers, Care for Yourself First

I find it hard to believe there is actually a word in the English language that could possibly describe what caregivers go through.  There can’t be.  What is experienced during the caregiving process is often a deep, emotional shift accompanied by confusion, frustration, even resentment for many.  Somewhere along the line, one loses oneself and their individuality blurs with the needs of the loved one.

Most are caregivers out of love and affection, and others caregive because it is not financially feasible to pay for professional care.  Perhaps a child has a strong desire to care for mom and dad, or possibly a sense of obligation.  They will caregive for as long as they can, only to surrender when they reach a point when they can no longer offer the quality of care the loved one really needs.  It make no difference what the scenario is — all have experienced the same emotional labor.

Who then will care for you, the caregiver?  Ultimately the answer is you.  We’ve all heard the saying: “You have to remain strong for those you care for, so please take care of yourself.”  But are caregivers really taking the time to replenish their bodies, minds, and souls?  If I were a betting lady, I would say no.

As a dutiful daughter myself, I would put my dad first at every turn, and would eventually become weak in body, mind and soul.  Lost somewhere between raising children and tending to fragile parents, there is a place called limbo, and we must prevent ourselves from going there by anchoring to a solid, stable place.

What I have learned along the way from my clients is that it is 100% necessary to tend to yourself.  This brings with it the image of being on an airplane; the flight attendant talks about placing the oxygen over your moutn before assisting others.  You do this because without you, others might perish.  The strong one must get stronger (have oxygen) before helping those who aren’t strong.  Place the mask over your face and “breathe.”  The same is true when your feet are on the ground, and you are a caregiver.

Next week, I have some specific suggestions to offer for the caregiver to administer “oxygen” to themselves first.

© 2012 Julie Hall

How A Senior Party Changed Me Forever

I’d like to share a special memory from two years ago as we prepare for the new year ahead.

It was a spur-of-the-moment invitation from my 78 yr. old mother.   While visiting my parents out-of-state, Mom announced she bought me a ticket to their senior holiday dinner and dance party at the local clubhouse.  Knowing it would make them happy, I obliged, but wasn’t exactly ready to kick up my heels just yet.  How much fun could it really be?

The clubhouse was nothing fancy — it was reminiscent of a church basement or school gym, devoid of color though there were a few decorations on the wall.   In front of the small bingo stage was the collapsible black sound system from the hired DJ, complete with a disco ball spinning crystal-like dots on the walls and a lighted 3 ft. Santa next to his unit.   The floor was exceptionally shiny, as if someone had spent hours buffing and polishing it to perfection, meant just for dancing.

With roughly 40 seniors present, dinner was served.  We all waited in line, cafeteria style, to be served our food – a very simple meal of roast beef, green beans and a roll with coffee or water.   Dessert would be homemade cakes from some of the neighborhood ladies.   Styrofoam plates in hand, we waited patiently as everyone got the same amount of food.

During our meal, the DJ came alive and it was obvious he loved his job.  The beat from Glen Miller’s  “In the Mood” was evident in my tapping feet, shoulder motions and bobbing head – was that me actually having fun?  Dare I say the fun was just beginning…

Mesmerized by the fantastic selection of 40’s and 50’s music and jazz beats that made you want to get up and bounce all over the dance floor, the seniors suddenly came alive, as if their simple meal had fueled their fire.  Some with canes, others with oxygen, still others like my mother afflicted with heart disease – it didn’t matter to them – they got up and started dancing like they were young again!!

Before my very eyes, the music became their magic. Transported back to the 1940’s, the hands of time literally spun backwards to return them to their prime in life.  No longer weak or frail, they would have easily danced their boomer children into a state of exhaustion.   This was their night and they proudly took ownership of it.

Over the course of the evening, I found myself looking closely at the old men’s weathered faces.  They didn’t look old to me anymore.   It was like watching an episode of Star Trek when they were brought back in time wearing their U.S. military uniforms and the ladies’ vibrant and shiny hair had curls and they had small waists, just like in the old movies.

But the most moving part of the evening was how they looked at each other.  Couples who had been married for 50-60 years still gazed upon each other with love and affection – I even caught a glimpse of an elderly man stroking his wife’s face while they danced. I had to fight the tears back because mom told me that lady was fighting an illness.  This, I thought, was true commitment.

They had survived the Great Depression and one of the world’s most devastating wars, and raising us!  These were people who simply did what needed to be done.  They are fiercely loyal, still loved America, and always had a strong work ethic.

For one night, for a few hours, they didn’t care about their diseases, ailments, aches and pains.  They only wanted to let their hair down and have a memorable time.  There I sat, a 48-year-old daughter, who found herself in love with each of them – for the way they laughed, for the way they did the “Twist,” for the way they treated each other with smiles galore and twirling about as if today were their last day on earth.

The thought crossed my mind, as it probably did theirs, that our time is indeed limited, for some more than others.  How is it they could dance and enjoy fellowship with such carefree smiles and attitude?  Because they love life and offered each other the best gift anyone could possible receive.  They gave the gift of simple joy.  The gave the gift of each other.

I found myself deeply moved by what I saw that evening.   Ours has become a world of convenience, and often inconvenience.  A place where people are always saying “What’s in it for me?” and a place where we don’t see as much care and concern for each other, as there was in our parents’ generation.

I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge visiting a strange place and time, who saw the light and got the meaning in just the few hours they allowed me to share with them. I feel so very honored to have witnessed such a gift.  Our seniors truly are our greatest asset, and we have much to learn from them.  All we need to do is open our eyes, ears and hearts.

© 2011 Julie Hall