Helping Clients Cope with Sudden Loss

   May  2022  Blog  by  Monica Dwyer

Three years ago, my mother-in-law’s sister died. My husband, five kids and I were driving back from the funeral when we received a call. “Pat (my mother-in-law) is being rushed to the hospital. I don’t know what is going on, but they were giving her chest compressions and the ambulance just left.” My heart sank. This couldn’t be happening. I didn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it. I just saw her a few hours earlier at the funeral and she was happy and looked great. She seemed so healthy.

Pat had an unexpected heart attack. She was only 75, had no apparent health problems, and didn’t take any medications. It was my father-in-law, Jim, that we expected would be the first to leave us, and not for a long time. He was two years older than Pat and had recovered from a minor stroke, although it affected his vision.

We all drove to the hospital, and despite our prayers, she was gone before the ambulance pulled out of the driveway. We were all in a state of shock. What were we going to do? Pat was the matriarch of the family. She was the one who insisted on having the rest of us over for holidays and birthdays. She was the glue that bonded my husband’s side of the family together.

This Changes Everything

I started to think about how everything would change for Jim. Pat drove him everywhere. Jim couldn’t do it anymore because of his vision.  They lived on a farm in the country. Over the next several days, we considered what kind of changes he would go through. How would he handle being alone? Would he feel secluded not being able to drive and socialize with his friends? Would he even want to go back home? What if something happened and there was no one there to help him?

The Funeral

Getting through the funeral was a challenge. Emotions were high. Jim was devastated. He spent the next few days calling friend after friend and discussing what happened. It seemed to be therapeutic for him to talk it out. My husband and his siblings weren’t doing so well. No one expected to have to plan their mother’s funeral. There were many decisions to make. Who was going to preside over the mass? How were we going to have the visitation? What kind of a casket would she want? Where would we have the reception? Would there be a brunch afterwards? What did we want the announcement to say? What kind of flowers did she want?

Planning for the Inevitable

As a financial planner, I have found that people avoid the topic of death because it is uncomfortable. I wished we had those conversations so that we could have been more prepared. As a financial planner, there are many practical things to consider, such as:

  • What life insurance policies were in place and where can the surviving spouse find them? (I imagine that heirs are frequently unaware of some of these policies so they may not collect the benefits they are entitled to.)
  • If the spouse who passed away was more financially savvy, who can the surviving spouse turn to for help with financial matter? (Oftentimes clients say they hire me so that their spouse has someone to go to if anything should happen.)
  • Where are the investments and do you have records of the cost basis information?
  • Where is the will and when was it last updated? (It should be reviewed should there be a major change in a client’s life, or every five years as a precaution.)
  • Are there assets in a trust or is the intention to fund a trust after the passing of one spouse?
  • Are beneficiaries updated on all accounts, including 401(k)s, 403(b)s, IRAs, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, etc.?
  • If there are minor children, what happens should both parents die?
  • Is real estate held individually or jointly? Does it need to be structured to bypass probate? (Laws vary by state.)
  • Do medical and financial power of attorney documents need to be updated?
  • Has your client decided to do funeral planning, and if so, where are those documents located?
  • If one spouse was in charge of the finances, does the other spouse have the tools and information they need, if they were less involved?
  • Do both spouses have access to each other’s retirement plans and account information?
  • Does someone have access to important passwords, such as Facebook, which would allow family members to shut those websites off if they didn’t want reminders popping up anymore?

Death Over Dinner

Conversations about death might feel taboo, but we would have felt more at peace had we known we were making choices that Pat would have liked. If you are interested in how to start these conversations with the most important people in your life, this website can help: https://deathoverdinner.org/

Encourage Planning With Your Clients

Through this experience, the financial firm where I work recognized that many of our clients are also ill prepared. We decided to offer our clients Everplans, an online organizer. It allows clients to securely secure the important documents that should be reviewed if anything were to happen to them. It also assigns people (called deputies) to have access to the information should anything happen. Access isn’t provided until needed so our clients can keep their information private until the time comes.

We decided to purchase a firm level subscription so that our clients (and prospective clients) could use it to organize their lives. In addition to asking some of the important questions above, it also encourages clients to write letters to their loved ones for when they are no longer around. We feel that offering this to our clients adds a lot of value to their lives and helps them organize everything from finances to funeral planning.

Where We Are Now

In the year that followed Pat’s death, my children expressed some fears about losing either my husband or me. Jim went back home and said that he felt Pat’s presence when he was there. This experience has given me a renewed focus on life.

I have had more conversations with my parents about what their last wishes are. I have expressed some of my wishes to my husband should anything happen to me. But most importantly, I have a renewed energy and appreciation for the biggest gift that we each get … the gift of time and our own lives. I hope to leave this world a better place for having been in it.

Monica Dwyer, CFP®, CDFA®, is a Certified Financial Planner® Practitioner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® with Harvest, Financial Advisors in the Cincinnati/West Chester, Ohio area. She may be reached at monica@harvestadvisors.com.

CAREGIVERS ARE PRONE TO BURNOUT

Recently, I have been reflecting on the topic of burnout. It’s as if it has become an accepted part of life – whether cramming in every college class and extracurricular activity possible, straining for a work accomplishment, or managing all the aspects of personal life – burnout is alive and well in society. Add an enduring global pandemic and I am willing to bet you have had up close experiences with burnout, either personally or within someone you know. Caregivers especially are prone to burnout.

What I have come to understand is that burnout is a result of ‘human doingness’. It is a symptom that rears its nasty head when one is so consumed with the mechanics of life – the doing – that s/he loses sight of the truth that s/he is in fact a ‘human being’ – a person who has needs and wants beyond taking care of the nuts and bolts of life. Burnout is an indicator that it is time to recalibrate what you do and who you are. This is especially necessary for caregivers.

If I may, I would like to share an important lesson I learned from my maternal grandfather. I believe it offers perspective on the concept of recalibrating the human being and human doingness of life.

Grandpa was a farmer. He grew, harvested, and sold sweet corn. Every year, he would plant the seeds in the field. He also did the work of tending to the corn throughout the growing season, so he could ultimately harvest and reap the reward of his work. Yet if my grandpa had not planted the right and best seed, he would not have had a crop worthy of his needs and aspirations. If he had been so consumed with the mechanics, he could have run the risk of planting a different seed, perhaps popcorn – which would not have been what he or his customers needed. He would have grown something, but it would not have been what he wanted.

My grandpa’s business was all about finding and planting the right and best seed to accomplish what he desired. It was not my grandpa’s business to make the seeds grow. He did not stand over each seed and whisper, “grow, grow, grow” all season long. Rather, he committed to what was his business – knowing what he desired and doing the work of planting that seed.

The lesson of this seemingly obvious story only recently came into clear view for me. Sure, the right and best seed must be planted for a farmer to create his ideal life. Yet, the deeper message pertains to all of us, and perhaps especially to caregivers. Our work – every person’s work – is to plant the right and best seed. To do so, you must know what it is you desire. The right and best seed is the life you would love to live! Sure, there are everyday realities such as sleep, nutrition, and adulting. The question, however, is – are you paying ANY attention to the life you want? Or are you trying so hard to do the work of making the seeds grow – (Who will watch mom so I can facilitate a work meeting? How will I prevent dad from wandering out of the house? Have I completed all the necessary end of life paperwork? etc.) – that year after year of caregiving the crop you harvest is not at all what you want? Do you have any picture of how you want to feel, who you want surrounding you, how strong and healthy you want to be, what memories you want to create? If your answer is no, I suspect you are spending far too much time frantically planting seeds, yet never harvesting the crop you want. You are offering a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and attention to all the doingness and not nearly enough to the beingness of life. And you are not alone.

Our culture teaches us to manage as many details as possible. We have been brain washed to believe we are at our best when we are organized, responsible, and ensuring everyone else is okay. While these attributes are often helpful when caring for an aging loved one, raising a family, and juggling everyday life, you must also embrace the reality that you are not in control of every little thing. You must come to terms with the fact that your level of organization and responsibility are subjective. Wouldn’t it be meaningful to consider what you need to feel fulfilled, peaceful, joyful, and every good feeling you desire? Instead of continually investing every ounce of energy in the external situation and expectations, try shifting just a portion of that energy internally to assess what it is that makes you tick. Those are the right and best seeds of your life. Those are the seeds begging to be recognized and planted within every caregiver!

The details of caring for an aging loved one will persist. There will always be an amount of human doingness that gets to be tended to. Yet, when you are planting the right and best seeds for yourself, you will have doses of energy that create clarity as you pursue resources and access support. You will not be alone. You will not be burnt out. You will be growing, even if slowly, through this season of life.

Every day is a new day for planting. No matter your age or situation, you can and should be planting the right and best seeds to live the life you love living. Spring is a season of planting and growth – now is the time to plant the right and best seeds in the areas of your life where you crave growth. Now is the time to recalibrate your human being and human doingness! You have permission to embrace the truth that you are a human being too!

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Krista Powers, MSW
Life Coach & Consultant

Krista Powers has been a primary caregiver for a partner as well as an integral part of care teams for many individuals. She has experienced being consumed and lost while caregiving and has learned how to grow in a way that has rekindled her mind, heart, and spirit.

Krista Powers offers 23 years of experience moving beyond surface solutions and diving into the deep work of innovation and transformation in healthcare, nonprofit, education, and business. As the CEO and Founder of Potere Coaching, Krista is dedicated to supporting individuals and organizations with tools to accomplish immediate momentum and enduring success especially during important and transformational moments of life, such as caring for an aging loved one.

PotereCoaching.com

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It’s no secret that aging can get pretty scary at times. It’s a new stage of life that brings joy and sadness, challenges, and uncertainty. At CARE, we aim to be your trusted friend.  Our experts are always on the lookout for new topics to cover and new ways to help. Whether it’s sharing about the latest medical alert systems, helping seniors find affordable housing, or giving advice to caregivers and loved ones — we do it to improve lives.

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