In Search Of …

Everybody is in search of something.  We search for happiness, prosperity, vitality, etc.  We search for understanding, the meaning of life, the mysteries of the universe.  We look for people and special places and a million other things – all so that our lives will be meaningful.

In all my years of working in estates, I see clients searching for something too, but many of them haven’t quite figured out what it is they are looking for.  When it comes to clearing out the estate, many of them take way too much stuff only to clutter up their own homes.  You know they will never use those items, yet they continue taking, taking.  Why do they do this?  What void are these things feebly filling, that they didn’t get from the loved one in life?

Are they searching for absolution from a lost parent, or in need of validation of who they were to the parent?  Are they angry with the deceased loved one and never got a chance to make it right?  Are they guilt-ridden?  Did they not receive enough emotional love and support from the parent-child relationship, and now take things feeling “entitled” and holding a grudge?

Things are never a replacement for people.  At the end of our lives, we can’t take these things with us anyway and they will only serve to burden our children who really don’t want the stuff from the start.

When my mother died, here’s what I took from her estate and that very painful experience:

  • I took her beautiful smile and laughter, forever etched in my memory.
  • I took her solid advice and now practice it daily.
  • I took 50 years of memories … family gatherings and good times.
  • I took photographs so I would never forget how blue her eyes were.
  • I took her common sense, good manners, and lady-like disposition, and carry them with me, among many other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that memories are not found in things.  The things you take from an estate will gather dust and be forgotten eventually.  Special memories are already in your heart if you had a good relationship with the loved one.  And if you didn’t/don’t have a good relationship, now is a really good time to try to mend old, crumbling fences.

© 2012 Julie Hall

I’ve Created a New Blog Called “In The Trenches”

I’ve just created another blog called “In the Trenches: THE Alzheimer’s Support Blog for Caregivers.”  You are welcome to join with us!  Please let your friends know about this if they need a community for Alzheimer’s caregivers.  The more people who participate, the greater the support and blessing for all.

Here’s what I wrote in the Welcome on my new blog:

I am a daughter whose parent is afflicted with Alzheimer’s.  This blog will be a blessing for many. My goal is for this to become our personal respite for those days when we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, or we can’t handle one more thing without bursting.  For those moments where the next straw will actually break the camel’s back, we just need a haven to rest a weary mind and a heavy heart.

I wanted to create this for all of you out there who need a place to just let it all hang out, myself included.  I encourage you to write in and leave comments, stay tuned, be touched, and watch our conversations flow.  You are not alone!

I don’t know who you are or where you are from, but I do know the path you are on — the same path millions of us are on.  We put so much love, compassion, time, and energy into the care and understanding of this disease that I’ve decided it’s time for us to have a place where we can be ourselves and share.

I hope and pray this finds your heart, as it did mine.  Here’s to the renewal of our spirits and solace for our souls.  God bless us all, everyone!

© 2012 Julie Hall

I’m Seeing a Paradigm Shift

Lately, I have had an influx of calls that are resembling a pattern.  Boomer children are coming to grips with the financial hardship of long-term care for our elderly parents — and it comes at a high price.  We are living longer, but not necessarily healthier.

It used to be these boomers, of which I am one of them, called me to come out and appraise a few items or advise them on the best way to dissolve their estate.  Today, the phone calls have shifted to something a little more alarming.  “We need you to come out and advise us what these items will bring in today’s market.  Mom is in assisted living/nursing home and we have to sell everything to keep up with her care.  We even have to sell the family silver and heirlooms.”

These distress calls for help are a sign of the times.  It’s part poor economy, part living longer, and part not planning or saving as well as we could have or should have during our lives.  But even that last statement has multiple causes … I know many people who worked hard their entire lives, or were quite affluent, only to lose it in the stock market, ending up in possible foreclosure or financial ruin.

Sometimes it’s as simple as going through all the money the parent had, and now the children are doing their best to keep the parents’ care going; that includes selling what the children thought were valuable heirlooms.  Sometimes they do have value and sometimes they don’t, but the wrong time to sell is when the market is soft.

We need to learn from these hardships which are taking so much out on the children.  All of them thought it wouldn’t happen to them, but it did and it can.

I see a common denominator:  We are buying too much stuff we don’t need.  Shopping compulsions abound for men and for women.  At the end of the day, we are surrounded by piles of stuff and little money for our future.

MORAL TO THE STORY:  The frugal survive and thrive.  A little less HSN and QVC and a little more money saved for a rainy day.  This won’t solve all our problems, but it will build our confidence that we are doing all we can for an uncertain future, especially in healthcare costs.

© 2012 Julie Hall

This Part of Life Doesn’t Come With An Instruction Manual

I fell to pieces last night … literally an unrecognizable, weepy being frozen in my bathroom.  My husband heard my sobs over his ever-increasing TV volume and shoot ’em up Army movie, so I must have really let it all hang out.  To his credit and excellent nature, he came to comfort me without saying a word, understanding the pain inflicted on this lovely family.

I always thought I was incredibly strong, but when the realization hits that you are helpless against a loved one’s disease, there is no pain quite like it.

My dad is battling Alzheimer’s and he is losing.  I can see it now and the heartbreak is almost more than I can bear.  He answers the door when the telephone rings, pushes buttons on the telephone to lower the volume on the TV, and just fell last week and broke his nose.  There’s more, but I won’t bore you.  Dad is still exceptionally conversational and cares for himself very well.  He’ll talk on virtually any topic, but politics and gardening seem to be his favorites.

Recently, for what seemed like an eternity but only took a few seconds in reality, he forgot that I was his daughter.  Then a moment later, he caught himself.  That is the first time that ever happened.  I somehow managed to keep a poker face only through the grace of God, I’m sure, then managed to walk out to my car where I promptly called my brother and let it all hang out again.

I am not complaining.  I am hurting.  I hurt for dad who never deserved this horrid affliction.  I hurt for him because he is in the stage where he knows something is amiss; it seems like a hellish limbo to me.  Truth be known, I hurt for all the people out there that have this disease, and for all of us that are dealing with it on a daily basis.  “It must be the work of the devil,” I told my husband.  “He must be in such a lonely place.”

On the one hand, I praise the doctors for knowing as much as they do and helping as much as they can.  On the other hand, I curse them because they don’t know enough.  My mom made her exit from life rapidly, and I am seeing what a blessing that was.

As with anything negative, it is the wise who will turn it into something positive.  Because of this life experience, I can now add another dimension to my work as The Estate Lady: assisting my clients who are also dealing with this same issue.  I can most definitely relate, and now I can comfort them too.  It has long been said that in comforting others, you also will be comforted.  I certainly hope so.  I feel another book coming on.  I’m open to title suggestions ….

© 2012 Julie Hall

The Wallet

Last week, I wrote about the things people leave behind in estates.  This week, I want to share with you a special find that not only surprised the daughter when I presented it to her, but helped to heal an old, yet still open, wound.

Their dad had died over 30 years ago, and the daughter had shared with me how very special dad was, and how she could feel his presence while she was disassembling the family home.  While going through a pile of stuff the realtor moved aside to stage the home, I found dad’s wallet and knew I had to keep it for the daughter.

The moment I opened the wallet, I remember being greeted by a kind face on the driver’s license staring back at me.  The wallet was filled with oodles of photos of his children and grandchildren.  I instinctively knew he was someone special.  So when I handed it to his daughter at the completion of our job, you could see the joy in her face.  We had indeed found a treasure among the ruins of taking apart the home.  It had been particularly rough for her, so this was like the prize at the bottom of the box — that special slice of serendipity that plops on your lap when you least expect it.  I love it when that happens.

Little did I know when she called me the next day, she had discovered a special order to the photographs in dad’s wallet.  Her brother’s photo was the first one, and underneath were stacked photos of her, her mom, grandkids, etc.  Instead of being bothered by that, she said the most amazing thing.  Her brother had battled a substance abuse problem in his youth that caused upheaval in the family and I can only assume the same for his interpersonal relationships.  And while the sibling had long been clean and sober, dad never lived long enough to see the wonderful person his son turned out to be.

Even though dad had been gone over three decades, he still had a message of love to send to both of his children.  The message was loud and clear: At a time when a parent is pushed to the limit of love and understanding in dealing with a substance issue, he never gave up on believing in or loving his son.

Today, I understand that son is an incredible man who found his inner strength and now helps others do the same.  May the finding of this small, yet powerful item bring both children peace and emotional closure, knowing how much their father loved them!

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

Permission to Let Go

The last two weeks were spent cleaning out Mom and Dad’s home.  Mom passed in October and Dad is moving closer to me here in Charlotte this week.  For 20 years, I have served others in doing this very task.  What a bittersweet experience and very cleansing for me.  Plenty of tears but even more smiles, which is the way Mom would have wanted it.  So many memories came flooding in!

In cleaning out Mom’s closets, I was reminded of a conversation she and I had a few months ago.  Wearing her robe, she escorted me to her closet one morning and pointed out 4 large Xerox boxes full of family photos from long ago.  There, stacked neatly on the top shelf, these boxes took up quite a bit of space she couldn’t even reach.

Mom sighed and said, “Julie, when I die, I want you to take these boxes and throw them out or do whatever you want with them.  They are photos of people you do not know; I don’t even know them all.  So I am relieving you of the guilt my mother put on me. Get rid of them.”  It was an Ah-Ha moment.

Standing before the closet without Mom by my side and feeling the pain of that solitude, that memory came shining through.  I suddenly felt much lighter emotionally and physically, knowing I had her permission to do what I felt necessary. 

Letting go.  What a beautiful gift to give our children.  We can’t hold onto everything, and releasing our loved ones from the guilt that binds us, offers peace we wouldn’t have otherwise.  Thank you, Mom!

© 2011 Julie Hall

Sometimes There is No Second Chance

We are mortal beings.  On a subconscious level, we all know our days are finite.  Why then don’t we appreciate more the people close to our hearts, and tell them each and every day that we love them?  Why do so many put it off and procrastinate?

I’ve had hundreds of clients dealing with past hurts, power struggles, estrangements, and unresolved issues.  Then someone dies suddenly; you can no longer converse with them in person once they leave this earthly plane.  It is then impossible to make things right and you carry that heaviness with you the rest of your life.

I didn’t know my mom was going to die so suddenly four weeks ago.  My parting words to my mother in this life were as we parted every day.  “Take care, mom.  I’ll see you soon.  I love you.”  But her response was what has given me peace, even though she passed 8 hours after this conversation.  She simply said, “I love you too.” and said it with conviction.

Though I am in a fog of grief right now, and dealing with a dear father who is struggling with Alzheimer’s disease, I’ve seared into my mind those joyous last words between mother and daughter.  These words made me understand she always felt that way and clearly demonstrated the love between us.  What a beautiful gift I shall cherish the rest of my days.

Pick up your cell phone, and call a loved one you have been meaning to call for a while.  Call your mom or dad if you are fortunate enough to still have them, and say “I love you.”  Sometimes tomorrow never comes.

© 2011 Julie Hall

A Change in Your Health Can Mean a Change in Your Will

An estimated 50% of us have a will or trust!  This is not good news!

Most people have not yet comprehended (or accepted) that dying without a will is a very costly mistake that will negatively impact all you leave behind.  It’s not just about the hassles and frustrations your heirs will go through potentially for years, but the expenses involved.  Ultimately, the state you live in will make decisions regarding your estate that will not distribute it the way you would have chosen.  In a nutshell, get it done now and leave a legacy of respect, instead of resentment.

For those who do have a will, it is important to consider any changes in mental and physical health, as these could greatly impact the outcome of someone’s wishes.  For example, let’s say mom’s healthcare power of attorney states that dad makes all decisions for mom in the event she is incapacitated, vegetative state, etc.  Suddenly dad is exhibiting odd behavior and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which is progressing rapidly.  Can he now make sound decisions for mom?  Or, mom may not think about these details and this is the time for the children to talk with her about it.

So many Boomer children don’t know how to talk with their parents about these delicate issues, so permit me to offer some very sound advice.  It has to be done; it has to be discussed, as painful as it is.  If left “under the carpet,” no answers will be available to you should they become infirm or die.  Get the answers now, and do so with love and compassion.

Here’s one example: “Mom, we were thinking about yours and dad’s situation.  Now that dad is showing a decline in health, new decisions have to be made and documented so your wishes are fulfilled the way you would like them to be.  Dad is no longer capable of understanding complex issues, and you will need to choose a new healthcare power of attorney, so we can ensure the correct decisions will be made.  Can you please give this some thought?  Can we make an appointment with your attorney to have this changed soon?

This one example really gets you thinking.  Anytime there is a significant change in your life or a parent’s life, consider discussing ith an elder law or estate planning attorney.  Being proactive isn’t always easy or pleasant, but it can head off gut-wrenching issues that will occur at some point, especially if you have elderly loved ones.  Making sound decisions in the midst of crisis is not the optimal time to think clearly.

Lead with love, and start communicating while you can!

© 2011 Julie Hall

My Christmas gift to you

Again this year, I’ve helped people understand the necessity of preparation before death, and helped them avoid battles over stuff after death.  I have accumulated a wealth of understanding after nearly 20 years of experience handling personal property in estates.

My book, The Boomer Burden — Dealing With Your Parents’ Lifetime Accumulation of Stuff, provides practical and effective steps for liquidating and distributing your parents’ assets in a way that both honors them and promotes family harmony.

You’ve probably heard the stories:  arguments over stuff, an inheritance lost forever when parents are scammed, siblings estranged, or an adult heir taken from daily responsibilities for months while trying to empty their childhood home. 

This book is valuable for both senior adults and Boomer children.  My trustworthy counsel covers the following areas:

  • Divide your parents’ estate with peace of mind
  • Minimize fighting with siblings during the estate settlement process
  • Clear out the family home in two weeks or less
  • Identify potential items of value in the home
  • Have “that conversation” with your parents
  • Prepare your own children for the future carrys my book; you can purchase it in time for your family’s holiday celebrations.  If you have a close relationship with parents and siblings, you owe it to all to keep harmony in the home after the unexpected death of a parent.  If there are difficult relationships, distance between you and your parents, an accumulation of stuff in your parents’ home, and other thorny issues, please buy a copy of this book and save yourself even more pain and struggle.

One of the most distressing, yet integral parts of estate planning and liquidation is the division of personal property; who gets what?  A vital conversation now can go a long way to prevent squabbling between the heirs after mom and dad pass away.  For peaceful resolutions and wonderful guidance, please order The Boomer Burden.  It has earned wonderful reviews, and it makes a great gift for siblings, parents, children, even clients.

This is my Christmas gift to your family: a wealth of information and valuable resources to protect the relationship, sanity, and peace among your family.  The joy of preparation for the inevitable, and the kindness of knowing that everything is in order.  Merry Christmas!

© 2010 Julie Hall