Seniors & Aging

Three Cheers to us! But, are we heroes yet? | Real Life

With awe, and with gratitude to the Sun News’s mentoring and accommodating editorial staff past and present, and to you graciously supportive and responsive readers, this “Real Life” segment celebrates our third anniversary. Wow, three years already, 65 columns, and thriving!

Let’s commemorate the occasion by re-visiting an especially memorable segment that addresses a profoundly and personally vexing heartache that impacts so many among us. The issue certainly merits periodic re-introspection, anyway.

If the following true story’s message doesn’t relate to you, or commendably and wisely, you’ve already fixed the problem that it addresses, please stay tuned anyway, because you could be a mega-huge help to someone who still needs to fix theirs.

Neighbors Pete and Alice (names changed) have been an ideal harmonious couple, admired for six decades as Alice the perfect homemaker and Pete the consummate family business manager. Alice thrives on her freedom from the “messy, mundane and intimidating” mechanical and financial chores of administering life’s business, and Pete revels in prideful self esteem for protecting her from them, finessing them so expertly himself. He’s her hero.

Terminal cancer is extinguishing Pete’s life, and Alice is awakening to her imminent helplessness. Besides losing Pete’s loving and protective companionship, she’s unequipped to manage life’s ordinary daily business.

We’re talking about the affairs of life’s daily operations, big things and little things. For example:

▪ Reconciling the checkbook register and bank statements.

▪ Dealing with service providers, and buyers and sellers.

▪ Creating a shipping label, and figuring the charges.

▪ Changing printer ink cartridges, and battling the computer’s tyranny.

▪ Skirmishing with the auto repair, HVAC, or carpeting shop.

▪ Unjamming the garbage disposal and the toilet.

▪ Mastering the attorney’s advice and the resulting documents.

▪ Guru-ing, strategizing, and managing the investments.

▪ Ditto: The insurance and credit accounts.

▪ Ditto: The income, budgeting and spending.

▪ Tuning in to the car’s “language”, and supervising its maintenance.

▪ Transacting the home, and working with realtors, lawyers, and lenders.

▪ Pursuing grievances against bungling contractors.

▪ Prepping, filing, and understanding tax returns.

▪ Planning for both of your futures and for your estates, and readying documents and assets to carry them out.

By pampering and protecting her, Pete unintentionally undermines her. Sure, she loves it, but the consequence will be grievous. She’s been deprived of the ability to function with pride, dignity, self-reliance, and independence. Now, in painful necessity, she’ll have to sacrifice that cherished ideal and must endure the pain of helplessness, burdening the children to shepherd her through the details of managing the business of daily living. Even though they welcome the tasks lovingly and supportively, the emptiness still will sadden Alice’s remaining life.

Are you one of those “in-charge” family heads, thinking that you’re doing your Alice a favor and sheltering her by excluding or excusing her from navigating the daily business of life? May I suggest that you’re likely, albeit inadvertently, setting her up for disaster? In many families, the roles are reversed, but the inevitable is the same.

Others divide the chores and management functions between the partners, each doing what he or she likes best to do, or is better at. That’s fine, but the problem happens when, for whatever reason, one doesn’t keep the other informed, or the other isn’t interested and just doesn’t want to know. You’ve seen this, yes?

We think we’re pretty smart and successful about stewarding our financial and property affairs, and we probably are. But let’s be sure to keep our partners in our loops, and to be diligent about being kept in theirs. And if we already do, but we look closely, we well might even discover how we can improve each other’s methods.

Want to make the inevitable disaster worse? Just ignore the problem. Denial and its co-conspirator, procrastination, are such convenient cop-outs.

So, how to bring Beloved around to self-reliance mode, even if Beloved resists going there? Here’s our chance to be even bigger heroes or heroines than we already are. It seems to me that, unless Beloved suffers incapacity and truly can’t handle it, it’s basically a matter of mind-sets, emotions, and motivation. It’s about “cerebral options” such as: Want-to vs. want-not-to; can-do vs. can’t-do; confidence vs. apprehension; reality vs. denial; urgency vs. procrastination; self-esteem vs. self-doubt.

You’re already telling yourself that to motivate and to help Beloved learn requires respect, patience, gentle guidance, and understanding. And that its time is today, if not yesterday, because even though you are fantastic people, life and lucidity aren’t guaranteed for tomorrow.

You might start with the typical heart-to-heart, hand-holding feelings-oriented conversation. Intellectually, Beloved likely already anticipates and anguishes his/her future. But, if for whatever reason it’s difficult to conspire successfully at the sensitive emotional level, maybe an admired confidant friend or relative can help to accomplish the needed positive thinking and motivation. And, if reluctant Beloved can see and feel the stark misery of a dear one who now is suffering an Alice life, that perhaps would be a harsh approach, but a mind-opener and motivator.

All of that might work, but, yes, it surely is negative and unpleasant. Let’s instead try something that’s positive, comfortable, and even enjoyable – a desirable togetherness activity. Both of you really are quite capable, and have good ideas to contribute:

How about joining together in a project, such as creating your core single-info-source working guide, your own marvelous chaos and anxiety-eradicating “Estate Operators’ Manual“? I’ve noted how this project generates introspection, thinking and decision-making, and encourages hands-on managing of the business of living and dying. The “Manual” can turn intimidating chaos feelings into can-do, calm, readily-manageable confidence. By doing it, Beloved can’t not acquire the needed skills. You’ll have succeeded.

Now, though, let’s be realistic. What if the efforts don’t succeed, or can’t, or Beloved and the family don’t want to change? Here’s “Plan B”:

It’s time to prepare the other family members, and whoever else will be needed, to become your surrogates. They should be informed, positive, willing, available, capable, and compassionate. Logically, they might be your chosen role-players in the estate plan that you’re building or updating. Both when creating and when updating your plan, check to decide whether they’re still the right choices, available and willing. And, instead of merely keeping them in reserve until they’re needed, keep them posted periodically with insights briefings, and awareness of the “Manual”, the key enabler.

If the family scene is favorable, together you might consider integrating the helpers into your operation now, to become comfortable and to acquire hands-on knowledge of everything. But do that only after examining the possible downsides, such as privacy intrusion, family conflict, information and identification security, and loss of pride.

For items complex or intricate enough to suggest professional and specialized skills, everyone can be best served by engaging professional firms, despite the cost. But, in selecting and working with them, invoke those same criteria as for family members and friends serving in helper roles.

Then, when it’s done, that wonderful partner in life, whom you take such good care of and who could well be your survivor, will confidently and happily either be self-reliant and skills-elevated above Alice’s (or Pete’s, if reverse-role) imminent misery, or insulated against it. She/he will really admire you and be grateful for your liberating wisdom and your magnificence.

What a feel-good! Nice going, hero!

Contact Gary Newman at Your ideas and comments are always welcome.