Working Through Sibling Rivarly to Care for Aging Parents

Recently, I counseled a woman who was struggling with the ever-increasing demands of caring for her aging parents while trying to manage her own family’s needs. “Mia” has two young children, a husband, and a full-time job—in addition to her caregiving duties.

In our first meeting, I learned that she had been the sole outside caregiver for her parents for nearly two years. Mia’s mom and dad had been less than friendly to dog walkers and house cleaners alike and had developed a terrible habit of simply firing anyone who’d been contracted to lend a hand, which made their daughter feel all the more more tied to their needs.
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I also discovered that Mia has a sister—in perfect health—who lives about 25 minutes away.

In an all-too-common caretaking scenario, one sibling had neither asked for the other’s help; the other had not stepped up to offer.

“How is this possible?” you may be wondering. (Yes, the sister was well aware of her parents’ health and activities, as she has had regular phone exchanges with them and they have kept her up to date.)

It’s quite simple, really: No matter their true age, siblings tend to take on the same roles they played in childhood whenever they are engaged in stressful family dynamics—parents’ aging being one of the most stressful situations we will ever encounter. Our relationships to our parents and siblings are vital in shaping our personalities and our views of ourselves; each family member takes on a different role within the unit. Times of difficulty only tend to heighten unresolved feelings. “Dad never listens to me, anyway,” “They’ve always liked my brother better than me,” “Sissy has always had it so much easier than the rest of us!” etc.

In my role as a mediator for such families in crisis, my goal is not to heal these old wounds, but to help each family member better understand how he or she can play a role in the successful operation of the family unit as it stands today.

Not all of us are as self aware as we’d like to be. Sometimes we need a third party to come in and help us see where we really stand.

Such was the case with Mia and her sister, who were stuck in their roles from yesteryear. By first speaking with each woman separately and reminding them of the real focus, caring for their parents, the sisters were able to come together and articulate how each could best be of aid—be that financially, physically, or through making phone calls and arrangements.

Mom and Dad were also brought into the conversation, and they agreed to stop haphazardly firing contractors and instead to bring any complaints to the sisters, who would then take these concerns to their proper places.

Thus far, this family is doing much better, and Mia and her sister are able to see one another as the capable, grown women they are, and not the children they were so long ago.

If I may be of assistance with your family, or if you know someone whose family unit is also struggling with the fallouts of aging, please reach out to me

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

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Emergency Disaster Planning for Senior Citizens: Putting a plan in place for your aging parents

During these past days and weeks, as the entire country has been transfixed by news of first Hurricane Harvey’s, and now Hurricane Irma’s, impending upheaval, I’ve been thinking about disaster-preparedness and the elderly.

If you have aging parents, I would venture to guess that this same topic has been on your mind as well.

Imagine being in the path of a potentially deadly storm and having to worry about not just your nuclear family’s physical safety, but the safety of your aging parents, who have also come to depend on you. Equally terrible, what if you and your family are not in danger but your folks are, yet simple distance prohibits you from being able to help them prepare for, or evacuate from, a life-threatening storm? You would feel powerless and scared.

Then you would probably kick yourself for not having had a disaster-preparedness plan already in place. Below, I’ve written up the basics for you, but I recommend that you visit the links I’ve added in order to more thoroughly read up on the specifics as they apply to your family.

Geography/natural elements

First, consider your parents’ location and any seasonal or likely natural forces for which their area is known. Obviously, no one can predict the future, but if Mom and Dad live in an area known equally for its forest fires as for its beauty, along coastal waters, or perhaps in an earthquake-prone part of the country, etc., you can help them be far more prepared for the risk(s) they’re likeliest to encounter.

Create a plan (and practice it with Mom and Dad)

This website is fantastic. In fact, it even has a dedicated page for senior preparedness, complete with an on-target YouTube video for Mom and Dad to watch. The key to a disaster-survival plan involves putting into place, in advance, the following three elements:

  1. Support network

Your support network is someone who has agreed that in the event of disaster/community emergency, he or she will check on Mom and Dad immediately following the crisis. This can be a neighbor, a trusted friend, a pastor. This person will be given a key to your home and access to medical information. Remember that in a crisis event, travel may be challenging, so factor distance into your decision-making. More information about establishing a support network for an aging parent is offered by the American Red Cross.

  1. Communication tree

What could be worse than being hundreds of miles away from loved ones whose community is in turmoil and worrying whether or not they’re okay? Your parents’ disaster plan will therefore include specifics on communication (among your extended family as well) in the event of a disaster. While cell towers may be too jammed to allow for phone calls, texts are usually successfully delivered. Teach Mom and Dad how to text, download a texting app on their tablets, etc.—whatever it takes. Then practice texting with them routinely, so it’s not a foreign concept when the time comes.

           3Emergency kit

An emergency kit should contain not just food and water for each person for several days, but also a stash of medication, which is going to need to be replaced once a year or so if stored beyond its effective date. Other items to stash in the kit: a NOAA radio and extra batteries, important documents such as insurance policies, doctor’s names and numbers, medical information/limitations/allergies and schedules, a copy of the emergency plan, etc. You should also add a portable battery charger for Mom and Dad’s electronic device(s) and schedule a reminder for yourself so that you can have the folks recheck the charge a couple of times a year. Don’t forget about Fifi and Fido, who will need the same few days’ worth of food and vital supplies.

It’s a good idea to also include a flash drive of the same information—not for the folks, but for them to hand off to an aid worker or to the trusted family friend who is in your support network.

More information, including what to do after a disaster hits, where to seek shelter, how to have Mom and Dad’s Medicare payments wirelessly deposited directly into their bank account from now on (to avoid disruption in payment), etc., may be found online, HERE.

At some point in time, your parents  or parent may be safer in a different setting, one in which there would be more assistance during a crisis, but that is a conversation for another day (one I am happy to help you and your family to evaluate). Please reach out to me so that I may help lead you all through a constructive dialogue.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

More resources:

For even more perspectives on this topic, see the CDC’s page on senior emergency preparedness HERE

To stay atop disaster awareness and to locate shelter by area, download the FEMA app

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Why Your Aging Parents Need a Voice-Activated Home Speaker

While voice-activated smart speakers (Amazon’s Alexa-enabled Echo  and Google Home)  were not created specifically with senior citizens in mind, these fairly inexpensive gizmos are a futuristic dream come true for any member of the sandwich generation who is caring for an aging parent (either onsite or from afar).

These speakers are small in size (the same size as most portable speakers) and sit unobtrusively on a table or desk in the room, where they are listening, at-the-ready, for the appropriate wakeup word or phrase. Over time, they get even “smarter” after better adjusting to a person’s voice. Fun, yes? While I would never suggest a plastic speaker take the place of a caregiver, I can say that a smart speaker can ease the load on a caregiver’s shoulders, and I highly recommend that everyone make sure their aging parent has one in their own home.

Here are but a few examples of what these devices can do (with additional improvements being made all the time)

  1. Depending on the system you choose, a smart speaker can greet your parent every morning and tell him or her the local weather forecast, traffic, day and date, scheduled appointments, and news updates.
  2. A smart speaker can play music, direct-dial other users, play podcasts, movies and audiobooks, and even link to certain television systems. Mom or Dad can even ask the speaker to call for an Uber or deliver food.
  3. Depending on the system, the speaker can become the hub of your parents’ smart home, connecting to the digital thermostat, doorbell alert, even making sure the deadbolts are locked, all adjusted or activated by voice command.
  4. For safety’s sake, several medical alert companies offer monitoring through the speaker hub, as do major home security systems. Pill reminders can also be connected to the hub, alerting Mom or Dad when it’s time to take their medicine.

If your parent has memory issues, well-placed signage could be of assistance here, as only the right word or phrase will awaken the speaker and put it to use.

Of course, certain services may need to be turned off through the online settings; say, if Mom or Dad has a heavy-duty shopping habit….

Overall, however, this could be the perfect device for the elderly person who is suffering from some degree of dementia and who asks the same question over and over again.

If you’ve put one of these speakers to use in your own family, I’d love to hear about your results. Please reach out to me.

As always, if I may help you and your loved ones in seeking relief from the stresses brought on by caring for your aging parents, I am here for you.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

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Make a Phone Call, Make a Difference

How often do you call your aging parents?

(Pause for uncomfortable silence…)

I completely understand. I have been there myself. Now, In this digital age especially, it can feel as though your days are not your own: work seems to demand more from us all than it ever has; friends, colleagues and acquaintances are able to reach out to us 24 hours a day on multiple social media platforms; plus, as a member of the sandwich generation, you have your own growing family to care for. With the day-to-day errands and chores needed to keep dinners rolling out nightly and children (not to mention yourself and your spouse) dressed in clean clothing, it’s no wonder that days, even weeks, may go by in between check-ins with Mom and Dad.

This past week, an article about the development of a robot companion for the elderly caught my eye. Intrigued, I began to read it in greater detail, initially thinking that a blog post about geriatric technology could soon be in order. Instead, the real detail which stuck with me was nothing new, and that is this: Our elderly are dangerously lonely.

Here’s an example from the article: “According to Age UK, nearly half of all people aged 75 and over live alone and more than 1 million say they always or often feel lonely. Thirty-six percent speak to fewer than one person per day and 11 percent say they spent five days or more a month without seeing anyone.”

Additionally, since science and medicine are helping to extend people’s lives, our aging population is living longer–and mostly “confounded by” the very technology needed to stay interactive and engaged with the rest of the population.

And so … a team in Israel is working on creating a robot, one which is programmed to know the aging person’s likes and dislikes (among other things) as reported in part by family members, in order to provide missing companionship as well as guidance for technological needs.

I’m sure that this is a good thing (yes?), and yet for some reason it causes me just a twinge of pain.

Can’t we also all resolve to make a few more phone calls, specifically to those we know who are old and lonely?

If you have a loved one who is elderly and alone, or if you know of such a person in your neighborhood, I’d like to ask you to please schedule five minutes into your day today to phone that person.

Making a difference in someone’s life doesn’t necessarily take a team of engineers. Sometimes all it takes is just one small action.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

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Virtual Chatting with Your Aging Parents: How Skype and FaceTime Could Benefit Your Entire Family

 

It’s something you probably do regularly in your business or personal life (either with colleagues, friends, or both), and yet you’ve likely never even considered making it a part of your ongoing routine with your aging parents. The “it” I’m referring to here is virtual communication, such as FaceTime, Skype, Google +, and various social media apps (though you may need to ask your teenage children for help with those).

Just as speaking “face to face” through the magic of today’s technology helps to make business and personal conversations clearer and interactions more meaningful, why not bring these same feelings to your conversations with your mom and dad? Most of our parents own tablets and/or Smartphones, and even if not, they are certainly computer-literate enough to download software to a computer and plug in an earpiece/mic. (If not, you can talk them through the process.)

Here are some benefits I see to conversing with your folks via virtual chat:

  1. If you have kids of your own, you are opening up a world as vast as their imaginations can take them in terms of all new ways to engage with their grandparents. Now your aging parents will be able to read bedtime stories, play games, help with homework, or simply be available to to talk at the press of a widget. Whether you live across the country or across town from your folks, you are allowing your kids and your parents to forge an entirely new bond for themselves.
  2. See above, but think of yourself, and even your spouse. While you may be too old for bedtime stories, perhaps closing out an evening or two weekly with a (virtual) face-to-face goodnight or recap of your day will bring a renewed closeness with Mom or Dad. Nobody enjoys hearing from you as much as your parents do. They want to hear from your spouse or partner, too.
  3. If your parents have trouble with their mobility, or if you are separated by miles, imagine being able to spend a few moments of your holidays together, virtually: opening birthday or Christmas gifts and getting to enjoy real-time reactions, lighting Hanukkah candles, and more. I know of a family who FaceTimed their elderly parents into their Passover Seder last year. It was a resounding success for all involved and brought the family members on both ends much joy.
  4. You and I know that these software applications are fairly user-friendly, and yet people of our parents’ generation may not have had reason to have engaged in the use of many online tools for communication, other than email. This boost of knowledge (and confidence) is valuable to the elderly in so many ways.
  5. With a renewed ability to reach out and engage with family members, your parents will likely feel how loved and needed they are. Depression is such a problem for the elderly population. Simply having a need to shower and dress daily improves anyone’s mood.

So get in touch with Mom or Dad today and figure out which software download will work for your family. You may be in for a few minutes of frustration while you get both sides set up, but I assure you, the end results are well worth any potential (and very minimal) aggravation.

As always, I am here to help you and your family navigate the waters of communication during the challenging time of parental aging.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2017.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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Are You a Caretaker? Make Your Life Seem Calmer in Less Than 30 Minutes a Day

By now we all understand why the term “sandwich generation” was coined. It’s an apt description of living life as the main caregiver for two generations, one above and one below. This person is sandwiched in-between his or her two lives, caring for aging parents while still struggling with the more traditional and already challenging routines associated with being a parent, a worker, a spouse, partner, friend, etc.

Sometimes I like to articulate the role in a slightly different manner, to aid in expressing just how pressure-filled being a caretaker in the sandwich-generation truly is: I think of this person as the bread of the sandwich — the very stabilizer of the entire family.

Today I’d like to discuss adding yet one more responsibility to the caregiver’s routine: care of self. It is the No. 1 ingredient for long-term energy and success, and without prioritizing yourself, if only for a few moments each day, you will surely attain burnout in no time — and that’s bad for everyone involved.

So consider yourself as important to your weekly calendar, to-do list or daily activities as the other family members who fill these spaces, and save a few for slots for yourself. You will be amazed by how spending a serene few moments alone, focused on your own well-being, can lift your spirits and rejuvenate your energy, and better get you through the stresses of your days.

Here are five calming ideas to get you started:

  1. Grab a drink. No, not that kind. I am talking about a frothy and ridiculously-priced coffee or tea from a place such as Starbucks. There is something about treating ourselves well that is rejuvenating. With specialty coffee houses located seemingly on every corner, most with drive-throughs, this is a simple stop to brighten any day. (They also have cold, bottled drinks and snacks if coffee and tea aren’t your thing.)
  2. Go to the library. When was the last time you spent an hour reading the latest issue of your favorite magazine — in peace and quiet? Oh, and it’s a completely free outing. County libraries typically stock the latest issues of all kinds of major periodicals. While they are available for check-out to library cardholders, anyone is welcome to come in and peruse the shelves and sit and read amidst the quietness. Bring your book, if you prefer. Just try it.
  3. Take a walk around the block. I learned this tip from a writer friend of mine, who swears by it as her singular remedy for head-clearing, creativity awakening and energy cleansing.
  4. Meditate for 10 minutes. I like the downloadable app called Headspace, which talks you right through 10 minutes of daily meditation. It may be used on any digital device. Or, check your preferred app store for a similar program.
  5. Soak in a hot bath or shower. It just feels good, and that’s what we’re aiming for here — simple ways to regroup in just a few moments’ time. Just as your children have scheduled bath times, perhaps you may look forward to your own 30 minutes of escape each evening

Here’s an extra tip, and it’s a vital one to accomplish most of the other five, as well as any of your own: Learn to accept help, then go out and find some, if need be. We all need to be able to phone a neighbor or a friend, or even a reliable sitter, who can come be with the kids or the parents when we need a 15-minute break. “I have got to get out of here to clear my head. I’ll bring you a Starbucks if I can drop off the kids with you for 30 minutes?” Who would say no to that.  Tell your spouse or partner how helpful it would be to you if you could get even 20 minutes of silence each night, then go read in the tub, uninterrupted. Our friends and loved ones don’t know how to help us if we don’t speak up and ask first.

I hope that adding these small snippets of time for yourself into your days can be of overall value to you. Please try it for a month and see. I would love to hear your results.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

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Surprise! Paying an Unannounced Visit to Your Aging Parent and Caregiver

Have you ever dropped in unannounced, just to check on your aging parent and his or her caregiver?

If not, you should.

There is so much more to true daily caregiving beyond just feeding, dressing and medicating a patient. Environment is everything. Does the caregiver speak compassionately to Mom throughout the day? (Does she speak to Mom at all?) Is there light music playing in the background to elevate the mood at home or in Mom’s room in the facility, or is the caregiver glued to her cellphone and texting while blasting endless angry hours of daytime television at your dad to keep him “occupied?” How often are the sheets changed? How often does your parent get outside for some sunshine and fresh air? Where did they go on their last outing? How do they pass the time?

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know the answers to these questions, but do make it a point to try to find out more about the daily atmosphere in which your parent is living. If distance or other physical obstacles prohibit you from dropping by, enlist the aid of a friend or relative, or even a clergyperson who lives in the area.

If the thought of showing up unannounced on anyone’s doorstep , even at the home of your own parents, makes you break out in hives, then phone ahead without much notice— perhaps just prior to hopping in the car and heading over.  The whole point is to see what the atmosphere is like on any given day and at any given hour. Feel free to bring Mom’s favorite snack or beverage, a plant or flowers to brighten the home, a box of tea, etc., as an ice-breaker. “May I pick anything up for you and Mom while I’m still out?” is a friendly and non-threatening conversation starter.

What to look for when dropping in unannounced on your aging parent and caregiver:

  1. Glance around the main living area to see whether it’s clean and tidy, or whether yesterday’s lunch dishes are still stacked in the sink (or worse, haven’t even made it to the sink). Dad’s bathroom should be wiped up for his safety and sanitation, his sheets should be clean and fresh—certainly not soiled. Above all, your parent should appear to be groomed and wearing clean clothes. Other signs of trouble: Extreme body odor, greasy, unkempt hair, overgrown fingernails, raw, angry skin in need of care, bad breath.
  2. On a similar note, is your parent dressed, or is Mom hanging out in her bathrobe and nightie at 3:00 p.m.? Daily routine is important to us all, and simply being allowed the dignity of ritual washing and grooming, along with fresh clothing, can make for a happier day and a greater feeling of productivity in any human being.
  3. As you sit and make conversation with your parent, take a look at his or her view of the world. Can Dad reach his books and his iPad from his chair? What surrounds him to help him stay occupied? Can he look out the window, or at photos of family members? Can he reach the telephone if he wants to make a call or to answer one made to him? Make any necessary adjustments while you’re there—a pillow, a handmade blanket from the guestroom, a photo album brought to your parent to peruse … these can all improve anyone’s mood by surrounding them with love.
  4. Chat with your parent.  While still keeping the visit upbeat, ask Mom directly how she feels about the quality of the care she’s receiving. While it’s true that you may have to take some of what she says with a grain of salt thanks to the effects of aging, if there are any complaints, you should hear them out and see if they ring true to you.
  5. Don’t forget to engage in conversation with the caregiver herself. Is she friendly? Does she seem put out by your visit? A true professional would welcome the added brightness this visit brings to her patient’s otherwise ordinary day. It is okay to ask about excursions and doctor’s visits. In fact, you have every reason to do so. Use this as a springboard to better ongoing communication between the two of you. If the caregiver pushes back, she may not be easy to get along with, and that could mean that your parent also has trouble getting his or her own needs met by this person. This is also a great opportunity to see how the caregiver presents herself outwardly in other ways. Is she dressed in clean, professional clothing? Does she reek of cigarette smoke? Perhaps your dad has had to give up smoking. Can you trust this match? We all have good and bad days, so just take this visit as what it is—a welfare check on your aging parent.  Of course, should you see anything truly alarming, deal with it immediately. Don’t forget, always listen to your gut …

If you need any help sorting through these or other issues you encounter while navigating the difficult waters of eldercare, please reach out to me.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

 

 

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Your Aging Parents and Medications: Putting Systems in Place Makes Everyone’s Day go Better

If you are an adult caregiver for your aging parent(s) and you have your own family, job and chores that you need to work around, then you are well aware of the stresses of being a member of today’s sandwich generation. One of the first hurdles you will face is worrying about Mom and Dad’s medications. Are they being refilled and picked up on time? Is Dad taking his high blood pressure medication? Does Mom remember to take her thyroid pill one hour prior to breakfast? You likely find yourself worrying about this very thing during meetings at work or while tending to your children’s care. Getting your parents’ medications properly organized can help alleviate a great deal of this stress. Below, are some ideas:

  1. Put together a list of each parent’s current medications, including the name, whether it’s generic or brand, dose, time(s) of day it’s taken, and any special instructions. Type each list up using an easily-accessible document editor such as Word or Excel, and then store them in more than one cloud space. That way, you cannot only access the lists at a moment’s notice, but you can share them with any health professional who may need it. If one doesn’t have a Dropbox account, perhaps he or she uses OneNote or Box? Additionally, favorite these lists under your own main cloud source, allowing them to be viewable without an Internet connection. You never know …
  2. Print the list and tape to the front of a kitchen cabinet at your parents’ home (or have someone who lives close by to them do so for you). Keep a copy of both lists in your vehicle and your folks’ vehicles as well (if they are still driving).
  3. Talk to someone at the pharmacy where your parents fill their medications and arrange to have all of Mom and Dad’s prescriptions put on automatic refill. Additionally, ask to have your phone number, along with your parents’ number(s), added to the pharmacy’s notification service. You will be notified not only whenever a prescription is ready for pickup, but also when there is an issue with a refill, such as a denial from the insurance provide, or the need to phone a doctor to authorize a new refill. (Note: This is a good time to transfer all prescriptions to the same pharmacy so that the pharmacist can be on the lookout for any previously overlooked dangerous drug interactions.)
  4. If you’re going to help oversee Mom and Dad’s safety by putting together their weekly meds, you may as well put together a month’s worth of daily pill bundles for each parent. Buy a distinctively-colored specialty pill box for each parent (easily found online through a key word search or at a local apothecary, near your town’s hospitals), then label “Mom” and “Dad” on the respective receptacles. Fill accordingly.
  5. If your parent or parents do not have 24-hour caretakers, how can you be certain that Mom and Dad are taking their medications? First off, you are all now set up for a greater likelihood of success. You know that the medications are being refilled, have been collected, and you know that these prescriptions have been carefully doled out as per their written instructions. During the first weeks of your new system, come check on the pill packs yourself (if that is possible), or have a trusted neighbor or friend of your folks come do it for you and report back. You can also help Mom and Dad set up recurring timers on their Smartphones or tablets, or you could purchase specialty timers, even vibrating alert watches, developed for just this use.

 

Still, there is absolutely nothing to replace watchfulness on a caretaker’s part, as medication hoarding and stashing—either to take all at once later or to throw away without taking at all—is an all-too-real problem for many families of the elderly.

I hope that this list provides you with a little bit of guidance and comfort moving forward in caring for your own aging parents. I’d love to hear if you put any of these ideas into action in your own family, or whether you have other helpful suggestions.

If I may be of assistance to you, please reach out to me here on my “contact me” page at any time.

All the best,

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

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Having “The Talk” With Your Aging Parents: Pick up the phone and do it today

 

Last week I checked in with a friend from whom I’d heard neither hide nor hair in months.  “I was worried,” I told him. My friend went on to explain to me that he and his wife were feeling incredibly overwhelmed and had not had time to connect socially, as their days and nights suddenly revolved around the care of his ailing parents and their ongoing affairs. As if that weren’t enough, this friend and his wife are parents to their own three children, who range in age from first grade through high school, and both parties work full time.  “We’ve been feeling very ‘sandwiched,’” he said (though I’m still not sure whether or not that was a joke).

“What about siblings? What financial arrangements did your parents have laid out for this time in their lives?” I asked

“None, it turns out. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along …” was the pained answer my friend offered. His only other sibling lives across the country with her own family. Their parents, who are in their 70s, had never planned for the inevitable day in which they would require some assistance. There were no financial arrangements in place, no living will for either parent, no retirement savings, no nothing. My friend was trying to stay afloat amidst his simmering anger and shock, having basically doubled his family in size as well as in responsibilities, practically overnight.

“I mean, everyone gets old, right? Can you believe this?” he wanted to know.

I sure can.

Seems that for whatever reason—in my opinion a mix of both pride and fear—many of us in the baby boomer generation have aging parents who will either never make plans regarding their own twilight years, or if they do, will fail to discuss them with their adult children, who therefore will be working blind when that day comes. No one likes to think about death or the terrible possibility of a prolonged hospital stay and/or illness, and so perhaps it seems easier to put those thoughts away until tomorrow (and then the tomorrow after that …). And for those folks who never managed to save enough money for those later years? Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. While it is painful to have to ask one’s child to help out, it is a great deal kinder to warn those adult children of what is ahead for them, so that they can get a plan in place. Your children love you and will forgive your fallacies. We are all imperfect beings.

There is never a guarantee that tomorrow is coming for anyone. So, adult children with aging parents, if you have yet to hear about such end-of-life planning from your own parents, you need to make a phone call.

This evening after you’ve put your own kids to bed, please call your parent(s) and have The Talk. Here are a few key topics you should discuss:

  • Do your parents have an updated will? Tell Mom and Dad that you don’t care to know what’s in it, nor who gets what. You’re only concerned about where you can find it. If the answer is no, there is no will, then find a reputable attorney who specializes in estate planning and bring your parents to this person.
  • Do your parents have a power of attorney for their health care? In other words, can someone other than your mother legally make decisions for Dad in the event that he’s incapacitated? This is so important as both parents age. While you’re on the topic, ask your parents how they feel about end-of-life issues, as painful as this may be. (Would Mom like to be kept on a ventilator past a certain number of days, etc.)
  • What are your parents’ long-term wishes on moving from their current home? Where would each parent live in the event of losing the other?
  • Finally, and this one is perhaps the toughest for most families, ask your parents about their finances. How is their debt load? Is their home paid off? Where do they keep their important paperwork? Do they have a banker or financial representative with whom you can connect when the time comes? This is not about judgement but about planning—ideally taking stress off of everyone by getting ahead of a crisis.

If you get a reaction along the lines of, “Can we talk about this tomorrow?” along with a “promise,” go ahead and schedule a time for the discussion and then follow through with the conversation.  It’s on you at this point to get the information your entire family depends upon.

I realize that this topic, as are so many of our more important familial conversations, is rife with feelings. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time, via my “Contact me” page.

Wishing you all the best,

 

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

 

 

 

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Show Mom and Dad How Much You Care … With a Package!

There’s nothing quite as thrilling as receiving a package in the mail. Even if you already know what’s inside, there’s still that sense of exhilaration as you race to cut open the packaging and get inside the wrapping as quickly as possible.

Last week a friend of mine was telling me about all the packages she’d received for her recent birthday, from friends all around the country. Each gift was a surprise, and each brought her immense joy. She was stunned that people took the time out of their lives to remember her in this most thoughtful manner. This friend described to me the thrill she’d felt from the moment of finding each package at her doorstep through tearing into the package at hand.

All of this got me to thinking: What a simple tool we have within reach to bring happiness to someone we love. Why not start with our parents? For those adult children who even still may not have the easiest time communicating in words with their aging parents, a “caring package” can do the talking.

I realize that the thought of gift-giving seizes many of us with fear; but this is not so much a box of gifts as it is an unexpected package, full of thoughtfulness. Think about your mom or your dad … the best times you’ve shared together and the stories they’ve told. Think about their favorite places, trips, foods, memories … Think about your own family, the hobbies your kids enjoy, and the trips you’ve taken together. These are all clues from which you can gather. The treasures you put together for your parent can be as inexpensive as hand-drawn pictures from your children to their grandmother, or can cost as much as you’d like to spend—a plane ticket, perhaps. The point is to the ignite joy in your parents, a joy they can revisit each time they look at any of the mementos reminding them of the love and care that went into creating their packages.

Here are just a few ideas to spark your own creativity:

  • Ask your child(ren) to draw a picture of themselves, your family, the family pet, etc.
  • Take a quick family photo with your Smartphone, then print it yourself, or have it printed at your local copy store. You can even upload a batch of photos to an online photo store and have an entire photo album printed, so that Mom and Dad can keep abreast of the latest goings on at your house
  • Does Dad have a dog? Enclose a few homemade dog biscuits, or a hand-painted “man’s best friend” picture frame
  • Show Mom you remember the little things by including her favorite candies (only if she is not on a special diet, please)
  • Enclose a pre-paid card for the local movie theater, so that you can treat the folks to a movie, “on you”
  • Order and include a postcard from a place you all visited as a family when you were young
  • Create a coupon book for Mom, with coupons for a girls’ day out, mani-pedi, or just a visit twice a month
  • Write a hand-written thank you note for all your parent(s) have done for you

What if your mom or dad happen to live in the same town as you, or, heaven forbid, what if your parent is not always as lucid as he or she once was? In my opinion, parents who live close by still deserve (and love!) surprises, and as for the second scenario, this is all the more reason to send a caring basket, box or even a bushel . I’m pretty sure that the acts involved will be a helpful exercise for you, the adult child, and you never know what spark may be lit within the heart of your parent upon receipt of this wonderful gift.

I’m always here to bounce around ideas for better ways of navigating the treacherous waters of life within the sandwich generation.

All the best,

 

Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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