Tuesday, October 22, 2019

No Regrets

A story on nextavenue.org/talk-about-death, discusses Katie Couric’s regrets.She wanted to be positive as her first husband was dying of colon cancer.  She said she never discussed with him the idea that he might die. 

She is now writing her memoir and met with the doctors who took care of Jay Monahan to “revisit” those days. 

I was surprised by her admission.  I thought Katie Couric “has it all together”.  She’s smart, articulate, and has all the resources at her fingertips.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.   She was as vulnerable as any of us and when we are in a crisis mode, we don’t think straight.  That’s why it is so important to make plans ahead; to talk with family about the “D” word. 

The story goes on to say that the $16 billion US funeral industry is being shaken up by the new thoughts of death rituals and burials.  I have not watched the HBO documentary Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America, released August 14, 2019.  However, I have written about many of the show’s topics: green burials and urns among others.  What I have not discussed and what is a new idea to me is the “living wake” which “force people to say things to each other while still alive.”    I’d rather have a birthday or holiday party than a living wake!  The key, as I see it, is to talk to your family about your death and how you want it to be handled. 

The D word doesn’t take away hope or research; it merely makes it less frightening.  And while I’m on the subject of talking about death, I will be hosting another Death Café in Pittsburgh in December.  There is even a Facebook group for Death Café Pittsburgh!  Let me know if you are interested in attending and I'll send you info as it becomes available.

Until next time…

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Music at a Funeral

I held onto an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for over a year.  It was a feel-good piece by Brian O’Neill about a duo (keyboard and guitar) who play for weddings and funerals in the Pittsburgh area.  What a concept!  I think background music in a funeral home would be comforting.  While I have not experienced this- yet- I think music would be calming.  What are your thoughts? 

Musical selections, in addition to hymns if that is in your tradition, is one more way to honor the deceased and is another option for someone who wants music at his/her funeral to be proactive.  Recently there have been several obituaries that are funny and/ or sarcastic that have gone viral on the internet.  The deceased either wrote it in advance or the family created it as an homage to their loved one.  Planning ahead is the key and sets the stage for the long period of grieving for friends and family.

Please share your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Resources for Advanced Directives

While we know we need advanced directives, many of us have not taken the steps to create this document.  Here are several resources:

1.      Five Wishes, https://www.agingwithdignity.org

2.     PREPARETM for Your Care, https://www.prepareforyourcare.org/welcome

3.     Put it in Writing: American Hospital Association (AHA),  https://aha.org/2017-12-11-put-it-writing

4.     The Conversation Project, http://theconversationproject.org

This website also has resources for communities to create a Conversation Project Sabbath.  Log on and share the information with your clergy.

And, of course, there is always an attorney who can help you work through your decision making process.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Writing an Advanced Directive is Hard

The Washington Post August 12, 1029 issue contained an article written by an ICU nurse.  She discussed her hesitation and indecision to write a living will, yet she sees the agony when families of patients under her care do not have one.  According to her information based on a 2017 study, only one-third of Americans have any sort of advanced directives. And this statistic includes health care professionals.

So why is their such a gap between thinking about advanced directives and actually creating them?

“The first barrier to advanced-care planning is often understanding what is involved…. An advance directive is a document that usually includes two separate elements: naming a health-care surrogate and creating a living will.”

The author points out the difficulty of looking at a form that may not have any bearing on the patient’s condition.  When a person is healthy and creating a living will, fantasizing about what may happen in the future can be a useless exercise.  The suggestion is made to appoint a surrogate or health care power of attorney with whom you can talk to about what you really want and about what’s really important to you when you are facing end of life decisions.

Another barrier to creating the document or discussing the issues with family is fear of talking about death.  So how do we overcome the fear?  Perhaps by “Framing end of life planning as a service to loved ones…”  The author of the article filled out “Five Wishes” which is an online document. She named a health care proxy and two backups.  She then wrote she did not want her life to be artificially prolonged by machines. She then had 2 friends witness the document which was legally necessary in her state and she put the form in her file cabinet.  

The important element is she has shared the location of the document with the important people in her life.  It’s great if one takes the steps to create the documents only to hide the documents where no one will find them.  

If you would like to read to entire article, look for “I’m an ICU nurse.  I know I need an end-of-life directive. So why can ‘t I bring myself to write it?” by Andrea Useem, August 12, 2019, The Washington Post. 

What are your thoughts about this dilemma?  Do you have advanced directives and a health care proxy?

Photo by Andy 'Thrasher

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Payment for Caregivers

Several months ago an article appeared in the local newspaper about being compensated for family caretaking.  While I knew about programs for low income families in my county, I was not aware of concerns for middle and upper income families.  It seems that if the individual made gifts to their caregiver and then went into a skilled nursing facility and applied for Medicaid, the individual would be under the “5 year lookback” period (monies that were given to others for 5 years prior to the application for Medicaid) and if the amounts were substantial, the gifts might create an ineligibility period for Medicaid.

The attorneys (the authors of the article) suggest creating a written document that spells out exactly what services will be offered and the reasonable amount of money given for each service.  For example, with meals (who will do the shopping, cooking and cleaning up), who will do home maintenance, who will do the bookkeeping (bill paying, balancing the checkbook), and who will provide transportation (who buys the gas, services the car, pays for insurance and/ or car payments).  Also, it is suggested that a written log be kept of the time and money spent. 

Record keeping is essential.  Look into a “Caregiver Agreement” with an attorney to make sure the individual will not be penalized if he/she needs to go on Medicaid.  Also, talking with an attorney may educate you as the caregiver about your responsibility to report your income to the IRS. 

Thoughts?  Comments? 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

We've Moved

But are we organized?  We unpacked, hung a few pictures, continued to give away “stuff” that couldn’t fit in the space and now we are reorganizing.  Take heed, if you are planning a move, add several months to the timetable to reach that sense of “moved in”. 

Of course, during the process, life continues:  laundry, grocery shopping, pre scheduled appointments, cooking, etc.

Lessons learned:  complete post office change of address forms 6-8 weeks in advance of the move; contact credit card companies, insurance companies (health/car/homeowners/renters/life), family members, doctors, financial services, mail service pharmacy, shopping sites that have your address preprogrammed in their system, charities you may want to receive mail from, and any other contacts from whom you receive mail.  Go to AAA or go online for a change in driver’s license and owner’s card.  To easily donate clothing or small household items, keep a few large bags or small boxes in which to put things that you thought you could use and now realize you can’t.

And after the move is completed and the organizing/reorganizing is done, sit back and celebrate.  You are entering a new phase of your life.  Focus on the positives, the negatives will always be there.
And think about the following: Does my will need to be changed?  Do I have a secure place for my important papers and do the important people know the location? 

Please share this and encourage your friends to subscribe.  My goal is to have 100 subscribers by the end of 2019.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


I’m pretty good about dealing with the ends of a Bell Curve.  Extreme sadness or medical issue can be dealt with; joy and jubilation can be dealt with.  But this slow stream of having to give up things that have been a part of me is really, really difficult.  Intellectually, I understand that in order to have room for the new, the old needs to be discarded.  But, boy, it is difficult.  I also understand that the less “stuff” one has, the easier it is to clean the space….mentally and materially.

We are moving into a space one half of the current footprint.  When I agreed to move, I didn’t expect to find a new location so quickly and I didn’t expect the experience to be so tumultuous. 

Selling things conjures up feelings of sadness, fun, excitement, and resignation.  To have a house sale or not; to sell pieces individually on Craig’s List or eBay or Facebook Marketplace or not; to donate or not; to locate a consignment shop or not.  And of course, all this while trying to keep the daily routine and responsibilities.  Whenever I think about or utter the word “trying”, I remember a comment by Tony Robbins who said something like “trying” is not doing.  So I will rewrite the above phrase:  all this while keeping the daily routine and responsibilities.  I actually feel better.  Less overwhelm. 

Lessons learned from selling a house: 1) the less cluttered it is, the better it shows; 2) the cleaner it is, the better it shows; 3) the better your paperwork, i.e., the dates, companies, improvements made, the easier the disclosure form can be completed and the more accurate the written description for the house ads becomes; 4) lower expectations for meal prep during the time the house is on the market makes for less stress; 5) every day is a day in which the perfect buyer will see the house so every day the house must look pristine.

I will be speaking to an AARP group later this month about my blog and my mission to encourage people to organize their intentions so that those who inherit the responsibility to deal with the person’s incapacity or death will actually know where things are and what to do. 
Contact me if you have a Pittsburgh group that would be open to having me speak.