Tag Archive | end of life planning

The Best-Laid Plans Can Be Wrecked By Family Dynamics

wills-families-family-dynamicsThis blog has talked a lot about the need for each of us to take immediate action to get our life affairs in order because the reality is that for any of us death could be just one breath away. We just don’t know.

But one thing that has not been discussed is the wild card of family dynamics that can wreck even the most-meticulously-thought-out and best-laid plans that we have made for those we leave behind.

Robin Williams, before his suicide last year, had put all his affairs in order spelling out how his estate was to be dispersed in exact detail. Nevertheless, his family members are now in a bitter contest over his estate.

So this post is not about end-of-life planning, but instead about while-you’re-still-alive fixing.

Each of us is limited to what we personally can fix in our family relationships, but, when it’s all said and done, the real fixes that each of us needs to make are within ourselves.

There has not been a non-dysfunctional family since Adam and Eve, so the first thing we need to do is reset our expectations of being surrounded all our lives by perfect people who do all the right things all the time.

And we should recognize that we wouldn’t survive being surrounded by perfect people because none of us is perfect.

Here’s a reality check for all of us. People screw up. People make mistakes. People fall way short of any semblance of perfection.

I know this will be shocking to read, but guess what? So do you. And so do I. 

And the three things within family dynamics that throw monkey wrenches into the best-laid plans for death are related to our imperfections as human beings. They are attitudes and mindsets that only each of us can change within ourselves.

The three monkey wrenches are grudges, greed, and grievousness. They are likely already at work in our families and family dynamics and have been for some time. Death and all that goes with it will just take them to a whole new level that will break everything wide open.

grudges monkey wrench family dynamicsGrudges are things that we believe have been done to us by other people to harm us and hurt us. The attitude and mindset of grudges is that we hold these real or perceived wrongs against those people for as long as we live and we refuse to forgive them. 

Grudges are extant in families and in family dynamics. And it shows up in the reactions to how stuff – the material things – get dispersed (or taken without anyone else knowing long before a death).

When family members believe they were cheated out of something they deserved or were entitled to (the truth is we’re owed nothing and we’re entitled to nothing because we didn’t do anything to acquire the stuff that’s in dispute), their complaints are a litany of all the grudges they hold against every other family member (and these can go back almost to birth).

Family members with grudges like to enlist company, so they actively work to divide the family by trying get other family members to agree with them (validate their grudges) and turn on family members who don’t agree.

This will rip the family apart. And, many times, the tear is so extensive that it cannot be put back together at all.

greed families family dynamicsThe second monkey wrench is greed. When stuff and material things matter more than anything else on earth, then greed is the attitude and mindset at work. Greed wants everything and wants to share nothing with anyone else.

Greed also is present in families and family dynamics. Look around at the members of your family. Look at yourself.

Which of your family members cares the most about appearances of affluence? Which ones are always on a mission to have the best stuff, the most expensive stuff, the latest stuff, and the most stuff?

Are there competitions under the surface – or right out there in the open – between family members to outdo each other in the stuff department? Are you one of those family members?

I can guarantee it’s somewhere in every family. Wherever it is, greed is the attitude and mindset. And it will take over when it’s time for estates to get settled (many times it starts long before then) and it will also rip the family apart. And that will likely be irreparable.

The last monkey wrench is grievousness. Grievousness is anything that is intentionally done or said to inflict pain and cause grief to other people. It too is an attitude and a mindset.

causing pain and grief going gentle into that good nightGrievousness also is replete within families and family dynamics. It seems that there is always at least one family member who is determined to intentionally cause pain and grief to the rest of the family members. They seem to get a perverse satisfaction out of the pain and the grief they cause, often crowing over it and recounting it as a glorious thing again and again for anyone who will listen.

Grievousness is vindictiveness and vengefulness. The attitude and mindset reflects a desire to crush other people for the fun of it and also to bask in the “victory” of how much damage was done.

If we want to change our family dynamics and remove the monkey wrenches of grudges, greed, and grievousness, we have to change our attitudes and mindsets.

Grudges need to be forgiven. Holding something (real or imagined) against a family member for life and not letting it go (it doesn’t mean you forget and you’re not aware if it’s real, but you let go of the hurt and the anger about it) says more about us than it does about the other members of our family.

It shows that we are unforgiving and that if anyone else in our lives does or says something that we perceive as wronging us or hurting us, they will not be forgiven either.

Being a grudge-holder drives people away because nobody wants to be in a position where there is no forgiveness when they screw up, because we all do.

Grudge-holders tend to have a series of short-lived really-hot-then-suddenly-cold relationships as a pattern in their lives. The pattern looks like this: as soon as they develop a grudge against someone, they drop the person as if they never existed, and they move on to someone new, until that person screws up, and on and on.

If we’re grudge-holders, then we need to change. We need to forgive and we need to let our families know – we don’t have to say anything, because our actions will show it – that we’ve forgiven all the things we were holding against them.

Greed needs to be eliminated by putting life into perspective. Stuff is just stuff. It can’t hold you, it can’t love you, it can’t care about you. All it can do is wear out, break down, and eventually end up on a garbage heap.

It’s ironic that in families where there is greed among its members that all the stuff that they’re so desperate to acquire at the risk of everything else eventually ends up in boxes or basements or attics where it is never touched again.

We need to let go of our intense attachments to stuff and work on rebuilding our attachments to the people we love, who in the long run, are our only physical saving graces. When those people are gone, they’re gone, and no amount of stuff will ever take their place or fill the void they’ve left behind.

Grievousness needs to be replaced with gentleness and kindness. Hurting other people intentionally and reveling in the fact that we’ve caused people pain and grief is a reflection of our own mindset and attitude of hate.

This hate transfers all blame, responsibility, and accountability for our own words and actions – and we know those aren’t always perfect or good – onto the people we hurt and gloat about seeing in the grief and pain that follows.

I challenge each of us to look deeply and carefully and honestly at ourselves within the context of our families and our family dynamics and see if we personally have the attitudes and mindsets of grudges, greed, and grievousness.

And if we find any, some, or all of these within ourselves, then I give us the biggest challenge of all: to change them, starting today.

There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when a person begins to change their attitudes and mindsets. The people with whom that person’s life intersects will start changing too.

Only you and I can decide whether that change will be for better or for worse.


Medical, Financial, and Legal Advocacy and Help: What Happens If You Can’t Advocate For and Help Yourself?

All of us need to be preparing in advance for the possibility that something – whether it’s Alzheimer’s Disease, dementias, other life-threatening illnesses, or simply time and chance – could suddenly and dramatically or slowly and insidiously render us incapable of taking care of our own affairs.

It seems to me that the very thing we try most to avoid thinking about, talking about, planning for is the very thing that will eventually happen to us all. And that is death.

Denial is, in my opinion, stronger and more pervasive in this area of life than in any other. “If I don’t think about it, then it isn’t real” seems to be the underlying thinking of this denial. I’m here to tell you that all the denial in the world won’t take away its inevitability of happening.

None of us, except those who chose to usurp God’s will and end their own lives, know how or when we’re going to die.

I believe most of us assume it will be quick and instantaneously, but the reality is that, in all likelihood, most of us will probably have a period of decline in which we will need help handling our financial, legal, and medical affairs before we take our last breaths.

And, after we take our last breaths, someone will have to take care of getting us buried and ending our financial, legal, and medical status among the living.

Who would that be for you? Yes, you, the one who is reading this post. Do you know? Does that person know? If that person knows, have you made this as easy as possible for him or her by doing your part and making sure he or she has everything he or she needs to do what needs to be done?

Or, because you don’t want to think about it or talk about, will that person have the burdensome responsibility of trying to figure it out all on his or her own?

We say we don’t want to be burdens to our loved ones. By taking care of this, you and I – we – have taken a big step toward easing the magnitude of that burden that, if we live long enough, will be shouldered by our loved ones.

I did my first will and living will shortly after I turned 21. I had just graduated from college, but not before having a very serious car accident (one that I miraculously survived with some significant injuries, but nothing like what I should have suffered) just before I graduated.

I’d never been that close to being face-to-face with death before, but it made me realize that I needed to make sure that my affairs – and they were paltry in those days but even then I had life insurance – were in order for the ones I’d leave behind.

From that point on, I have been meticulous about keeping my will up-to-date, the beneficiaries on my insurance policies up-to-date, and all the information my executor will need to take care of things up-to-date. I added a DNR to my medical wishes about 20 years ago, I got my cemetery plot 15 years ago, and I wrote out my funeral service and burial wishes about 10 years ago. 

Additionally, my executor has updated access and account information to everything online and offline to finish up my earthly affairs when I’m gone.

preparation-death-alzheimer's-disease-dementias-age-related-illnessesThis, in my opinion, is the last act of kindness I can do in this physical life. It is also one of the greatest.

Mama used to worry that something would happen to me (i.e., that I would die before she did) and then about what would happen to her. There were times in our lives together that could have been a possibility, but I always reassured her that I’d be there with her to the end. And I was by the grace of God.

Of my parents, Daddy was a paradox when it came to this subject. On the one hand, he had life insurance that would take care of Mama after his death and he insisted, in the year before his death, that Mama get her own checking and savings accounts and get credit cards in her name only.

On the other hand, there were other areas in which he had great difficulty facing his mortality. I remember Mama suggesting that they start getting rid of clothes and other things they weren’t wearing or using anymore and Daddy’s response: “the girls can take care of that.”

The will that Daddy had in effect, until shortly before his death, was the one that he had drawn up just after he and Mama adopted us. None of the information was pertinent or relevant anymore.

After much and extended (I’m talking a couple of years) discussion between Mama and him, they finally went to a lawyer, about six weeks before he died, to have a current will drawn up.

Mama was just the opposite. Somehow, I think all the deaths of close and beloved relatives in her early years made the inevitability of death more real to her. She, primarily, during our growing up years, talked on a regular basis about what would happen to us if she and Daddy died and how we needed to take care of each other and be good kids so the road without them would be easier for us.

Not long after Daddy died, she and I sat down together (I was now checking in daily and helping her navigate through some of the things that Daddy had done and offering advice and assistance as she needed it) and she told me what she wanted – and didn’t want – as far as end-of-life wishes.

We went to an attorney together and she did a will (which she later changed to a revocable living trust), living will, and all the POA paperwork. I had copies, she had copies, and she put copies in a safety deposit box at the bank.

At that time, I didn’t need or want knowledge or access to her financial accounts, but as time went on, she needed more of my help in dealing with them, so she gave me access to get into the accounts and help her (we always sat down and did this together until she wasn’t able to anymore) keep up with bills and what she had. 

By doing this with me, Mama made things much easier for me when the time came that I had to step in because she couldn’t do it.

I can’t thank Mama enough for her foresight with this gift. Instead of having to focus on everything brand new coming at me at once, I could focus on what was most important, and that was Mama: loving her, caring for her, being there for her as her advocate on all fronts, including in legal, medical, and financial affairs.

The last couple of months Mama was alive, we’d be sitting close, holding hands, and talking and suddenly she’d say “I don’t want be a burden on you,” with tears rolling down her cheeks. I’d squeeze her hands and pull her closer in a hug, kissing the tears away from her cheeks, saying, “Mama, you’re not a burden to me. I love you unconditionally. I wouldn’t be anywhere else doing anything else but right here doing this with you.”

Mama would relax in my embrace and I would hold her tighter as I said these words because they were true and we both recognized that they were true, but most of all, I recognized how easy Mama had made things for me by equipping me with what I needed to step in easily and take care of the routine things so that I could save my energy, my focus, and my love for taking care of her.