Letting Go of Our Possessions is Hard

Most of us enjoy hearing the words, “Till death do us part,” during a wedding ceremony, where the new couple is floating in bliss and envision being by each other’s side until death separates them.  From my perspective, I see people who have a very passionate relationship with their material possessions, sometimes more so than with each other.  It almost appears that they believe they can take their possessions with them when they leave earth.

For over two decades, I have tried to figure out why people have such a difficult time letting go.  Often it’s the Depression Era generation that has accumulated the most stuff.  Their parents did not have much and probably possessed mostly utilitarian items during that era.  The Depression Era generation absorbed what their parents owned.  The Boomers have much more stuff to deal with, but they have only so much space to keep things.

Here are some thoughts on why people hold on to so much.  Where do you see yourself in these thoughts?

  • You just never know when I’m going to need this.
  • There are so many uses for this possession.
  • If I hold onto it long enough, it will become valuable.
  • It is already old, so it must be valuable.
  • I did without as a child; I will not do without again.
  • It was a gift and I will honor the giver by keeping it.
  • The more I leave the kids, the more they will have.
  • I worked very hard for these things and I will pass them down.
  • The things bring comfort and familiarity.
  • All these things make me feel close to my parents.
  • My children will feel loved by me when I’m gone, because I left them all these things.
  • I’m too overwhelmed to let it go (emotional attachment).
  • I’ll let the kids deal with the stuff after I’m gone.

Here’s the part where I try to put my clients at ease.  When in doubt, always have the contents of an estate viewed by a true professional prior to distributing or selling contents.  Most times, the heirs are not surprised to learn that much of what mom and dad amassed doesn’t have much value.  Some children feel the stuff may be “junk” and are pleasantly surprised to find that some pieces have significant value.  Family stories through the years can add to the anticipation that grandfather’s chair is valuable because it is old.  Yet, we know age is not the only determining factor of true value.

For every reason listed above, there is a counter-reason to let it go.

  • Many of your heirs won’t take as much as you would like to give them.
  • Boomer children already have houses full of stuff; adding more will only fuel marital strife.
  • Your younger generations appear to want very little but cash assets.
  • Leaving a huge burden for your children should not be your legacy.
  • Much of your stuff will be out of style and not genuinely desired by your heirs.
  • Your heirs may have different lifestyles and your stuff won’t fit those styles.
  • Many are trying to simplify their own lives, not add more stuff to clean and hold.
  • If you sell your stuff now, you can purchase other things you would truly enjoy.
  • These items were treasured by someone else, but not you and not now.

Holding on to possessions, for the sake of not wanting to let them go, can leave a negative impact on those left behind.  Gifting valuable items now is a beautiful way to pass along your treasures and watch your heirs enjoy them.  Making plans for the distribution of your possessions, while you are still in control of these decisions, is the best plan of action.

©2015 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com.

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“I’ll Get to it One Day!”

While the sentiment is a good one, we all know human nature a little too well.  The trouble is, “one day” rarely comes.

  • Out of sight, out of mind.
  • I’ll get to that later.
  • I’ll look into that in the new year.
  • It’s not a priority right now.

It’s fascinating what we professionals notice in estates.  We see a distinct similarity in almost all of the estates we go into, especially if the estate belonged to an elderly loved one from the Depression Era.  The attics are usually full; interesting that 85% of them are full of things that really should have been disposed of 30+ years ago.

By the time we get into these attics to clear them out, the books are rotted and have been gnawed on, anything cardboard has pretty much disintegrated, clothing either smells like mildew or falls apart in our hands, or we find items that have long since been obsolete and no one has any use for them.  If items of value were stored in the attic, which is a big no-no, chances are good they have been damaged and the value greatly diminished.  This is not always the case, but generally what we find.  On very rare occasions, we find treasures hidden up there too, but they have been long forgotten and the family most likely was never told about them.

My assistant has a saying when we are working in the daunting attics, up to our elbows in stuff:

“They were young when they put this stuff up here.  By the time they finally figure out it has to be dealt with, they are elderly and can’t get up here anymore.  That’s how long this stuff has been sitting around and most of it is being discarded.  With all this paper up here, it’s a miracle the house didn’t go up like a match.”

This is accurate on many levels.  Time stops for no one.  We all have the best intentions of cleaning out the shed, garage, closets, cupboards.  But if you continue to procrastinate and something happens where you or your loved one is incapacitated, it truly leaves a burden for the ones you leave behind.  A bigger burden than you realize.

If you have had your sights on a project around the house which includes clearing out some stuff, make sure you know what it is worth before you sell it or give it away.  It is better to clear out the clutter now, so you can feel better and not worry later.  We all could probably come up with numerous excuses.  With spring coming, it’s time to just do it!

©2015 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com.

Our Addiction to Acquisition

The world seems to be much smaller than it used to be; the same is true of our living space.  I think we humans have a problem with buying and collecting too much.  Two questions baffle me, even after all these years of handling estates:

Why do we collect so much stuff?

What possesses us to continually buy things we don’t need, don’t use, and eventually become a monkey on our backs or a burden to loved ones?

In order to understand, we must go back into our long-ago and far-away to understand our ancient ancestors.  My very unscientific and unproven theory is that, as far back as caveman days, we were hardwired to hunt and gather.  Fast forward to the 21st century.  We don’t have to hunt any longer and it requires no effort or discipline to acquire things.  We’ve become extremely proficient at gathering too.

People have truly become anchored by spending and acquiring stuff.  For some, they become emotionally paralyzed in trying to let go of stuff.  Stuff weighs people down, as I see so often in my work.

Now we have so much stuff, many people are about out of money or in great debt.  When they sell some of what they acquired, they get upset when they can only regain a fraction of what they paid.  As we let go of some stuff (that on some level we equate with success), we go through a very real fear that we won’t be able to replace it one day.  What was once a comfort is now headed out the door.

To some people, acquiring things is a hobby.  For others, it is an obsession.  Yet our lifestyles are so different today; many are downsizing because they don’t want their possessions holding them back.

Here’s a history lesson on the acquisition of and attitude towards stuff:

We know the Depression Era folks rarely thew anything away.  This behavior is ingrained in them to never go without again, having survived such challenging times.  This generation has a tendency to go overboard on “stocking up,” a fear based response.  This is also a psychological decision which brings comfort, since everything is close if they need it.  As a sign of success, they are proud of their possessions, because during the Depression, they did without them.

This may explain why they keep leather straps, old shoelaces, myriad Cool Whip containers, mayonnaise jars, aluminum pie tins, pantyhose, pencil nibs, and enough rubber bands to stretch around the neighborhood.  They also collect canned foods because “you never know when you are going to need them.”

The older Boomers are so traditional and as loyal as their parents; they generally have a difficult time letting go of stuff.  They may feel a profound sadness in letting go of previous generations’ things, even as they realize the younger generation no longer wants these things.  They are in the middle of making tough decisions to keep or sell these items.

This generation is responsible for keeping storage companies in business.  But they don’t realize the items in storage lack the value of what they are paying for the storage costs.  They live with high hopes that their children will change their minds and keep these things, and even higher hopes that their grandchildren will want them.  If I was a betting woman, I would say, “NO, they will not change their minds.”

The younger boomers are still somewhat traditional, but generally do not feel the pressure to hold on to these things.  This generation can let go much easier.

Enter the young generations X and Y.  I can’t say much that would surprise you.  They have little sentimentality.  They seem to not have a desire for things of any kind, except what you can buy in IKEA.  This generation would never understand the concept of keeping furniture for decades, or covering every table surface with trinkets.  Theirs is a much simpler world.

They acquire virtually.

We acquire physically.

Do you see the huge division of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions causing problems in the market?  We have too much supply and not enough demand from the younger generations.

What do you think will become of our antiques and collectibles with the passage of time?

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com.

Ode to the Gardener – Important Life Lessons

Not so long ago, I stood by my father’s side witnessing the ever-advancing damage of dementia.  I knew deep inside that our time together was growing short from a cognitive perspective, but I never once took into consideration that he, himself, would be taken so quickly.  Dad was a Master Gardener who dedicated his life to understanding the soil, composting, plant diseases and cures, etc.

Dad volunteered 20,000 hours of his senior years teaching children in elementary, middle, and high schools how to nurture and grow vegetables, how to be more self-sufficient, how to be responsible, how to be part of something bigger than yourself.  He also went into prisons, as he wanted to give them a sense of hope and accomplishment.  Dad was sent a gold lapel pin award from President Bush, honoring his 20,000 hours of volunteering, and he was so proud of that pin.

When dad and I were in the garden together, he used to say there was no therapy better than sticking your hands in the earth and being a part of nurturing a plant to maturity, taking a back seat to mother nature, of course.  Little did I know, I would inherit his love for gardening and his green thumb as well.

There are many life lessons to be learned from gardening.  Below are several listed from Adam McCane’s site, which I really like; I just tweaked them a bit for purposes of this blog.

  1. What you water grows.  This simply means that we need to pay attention to ensure we are watered throughout life.  It is the most basic need we have, for without it, we would perish.  So will our plants that feed us, if we don’t take care of them or the earth.
  2. Weed regularly.  Weeds are deceptive.  You won’t notice them starting, but before you know it, they are choking out your veggies, stealing water and nutrients from your plants, and reproducing.  The rule in the garden is simple: If you see a weed, pick it!  The same is true for life.  Weeds and other “undesirables” have a way of creeping in on us.  We need to be mindful that we do not need any weeds in our lives, literally or figuratively.  Get rid of them and don’t feel bad about it.  All of us are tired of dealing with the weeds!
  3. Sharing the harvest.  It’s all about abundance, whether you are sharing veggies, flowers, time, care, love, etc.  Share what you have an abundance of and pay it forward.  It always finds its way back.
  4. Plant in the right season.  For everything, there is a time and purpose.  Sometimes, it is beyond our understanding.  I believe we reap what we sow.  Maybe it’s time to plant better, more productive things in our lives.  Feed your spirit by allowing only good things into your life now.  If you see things rotting, infested, etc., you will need to tend to them by getting rid of them, or proactively healing them.  TIme and nature will tell you which one it will be.
  5. Space is required for growth.  It’s hard to imagine how much room a vegetable is going to need when you grow it from seed or buy a seedling that is in a 5-inch pot.  Sometimes they grow so fast and thick, they can choke out other plants.  Giving a plant plenty of space is important for the health of the plant, so it receives plenty of sunshine and nutrients.  Providing this space will ensure our plants will be healthy, productive, and have plenty of breathable space.  We need to do this for ourselves and give that gift to others too.
  6. Pruning is necessary for abundance.  Cutting, pinching, or picking off dead leaves, branches, poor or weak fruit is necessary for the growth of the healthy fruit.  Vineyard pruners do this every day.  They know exactly how to cut the vine to promote healthy grapes.  While it may look harsh to see so much being removed, it gives the healthy portions of the plant more nutrients to produce the best fruit.  Sometimes, we need to look at ourselves the same way and learn how to prune ourselves by letting go of things that no longer serve our well-being and our highest good.

WP_002044 (2)Dad’s old garden hat is still hanging next to mine on a hook in my laundry room.  Every time I head out to the garden, Dad accompanies me in spirit.  I kept his watering can,  his old worn leather gloves, his t-shirts.  Those things were my father and how I remember him best.  I can still hear his voice guiding me in the stillness of my own vegetable patch.  Much of his advice to me through life also applies to the lessons of raising a successful garden, whatever “garden” we may be cultivating at any given time.

 

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com

Things We Find Left Behind

Treasure is in the eye of the beholder.  What one person holds dear, another wants nothing to do with.  This is true between elderly parents and their middle-aged children, and even grandchildren.  The Depression Era generation doesn’t let go of much.  They take great pride in their possessions, especially the ladies with their ornate silver plate pieces, painted china, and etched crystal that they cherished in another time and place.

We find a ton of handwritten notes intended for those left behind.  We find them tucked inside vases, taped to the back of china or paintings, taped under sculptures and figurines.  We find loose notes in desk drawers.  Sometimes, we even find the notes laying right where the author left them before being struck with infirmity or death.

These notes are meant to guide the loved ones after their death and they often include a myriad of information: the history behind the item, the name of the person they are leaving it to, and my personal favorite … what they think it is worth.  Many of these notes have yellowed with age and some are barely decipherable.  To complicate the matter, this particular generation has a tendency to change their minds frequently, often creating multiple notes with mixed messages (probably depending on who ticked them off most recently – according to the children who read the notes).  It is also possible they may forget and start all over.

Here is an example of one I just found:

Dated 1977

“In my antique chest, with the items I intend to give to Susan and Ralph.  Top shelf – “Boy and two goats” Royal Copenhagen figurine and female Hummel. – $2,000 value

Second shelf – Royal Doulton Toby mugs and Hummel plates – $1,800 value

Third shelf – Carlsbad, Austria dish and crystal duck and cat – $300 value

To Robert and Sylvia – In the hutch – the smaller Hummel figurines, Venetian glass fish, crystal candle holder and small Royal Doulton figurine. – $1,500 value”

The list is quite extensive and goes on for a long time.  Here’s what we need to know from this story:

  1. These items were never distributed.
  2. They were never distributed because no one wanted them.
  3. They ended up in my hands to sell for the family and they will split the proceeds.

Do notes help?  I think sometimes they do, especially when they offer personal history and IF you want to keep these items.  Notes can also be removed or taken by unscrupulous heirs-to-be, and often we find more than one version of their notes, which claim different people can have the same item.

How do you handle that one?  You write a formal addendum or document to place with your Will or Trust, and make sure there is only one copy, not multiples.  Ask your attorney how to do this.  Better yet, consider giving it away or selling these items, if the children don’t want them, before any of this takes place.

From my experience, many times the intentions of these notes are never carried out.

You can have the best intentions but if they are not carried through, it’s a moot point.

If you want someone to have somethings special of yours, give it to them while you are still able to do so.

Somewhere along the line, we have to break the habit of waiting until someone is “gone” to deal with all of this.  Granted some people prefer it that way, but more and more, we are seeing a trend of people giving away or selling their items before they pass, to make it easier on their loved ones left behind.

Personally, I think the best notes we can leave behind are thoughts of joy and love, and not necessarily who gets what and how much items are worth.  My favorite “possession” from my late mother is a letter she sent me stating how proud she is of me and how I have chosen to serve people, and may God bless me abundantly for doing so.  It is a deeply personal note and one that I will always cherish.  I would gladly let go of the material stuff I inherited from her, for this one note and memories of happy times.  That’s the REAL inheritance!

©2014 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com

A Spontaneous Invitation Changed My Outlook on Life

It was a spontaneous invitation from my 78-year-old mother to attend their senior holiday dance and party.  I was out-of-state visiting them and I obliged her request, knowing it would make her happy.  How much fun could it really be with everyone so advanced in years?

The club house was nothing fancy — reminiscent of a church basement or school gym, devoid of color, with few decorations.  In front of the small Bingo stage sat the collapsible sound system from the hired DJ, complete with a disco ball spinning crystal dots on the walls, and a lighted 3-foot Santa next to his unit.  The floor was exceptionally shiny, as if someone had spent hours buffing it to perfection for dancing.

The 40 seniors waited in line for cafeteria style dinner of roast beef, green beans, and a roll.  Dessert would be homemade cakes from the neighborhood ladies, served on styrofoam plates.

During our meal, the DJ came alive, obviously loving his job.  I understood he was a retired NYC cop who had found his true calling and was very good at it.  The beat from Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” was evident in my tapping feet, shoulder motions and bobbing head.  Was that ME actually having fun?  Dare I say, the fun was just beginning…

Mesmerized by the fantastic selection of 40’s and 50’s music and jazz beats, the seniors suddenly came alive.  Some with canes, others with oxygen, still others (like my mother) afflicted with heart disease — it didn’t matter to them — they got up and started dancing like they were young again.  Before my eyes, the music became their magic.  Transported  back to the 1940s, the hands of time literally spun backwards to return them to their prime in life.  This was their night and they proudly took ownership.

Over the course of the evening, I found myself looking closely at the weathered faces of the old men.  They didn’t look old to me anymore.  It was like watching an episode of Star Trek when they were brought back in time wearing their US military uniforms. The ladies had vibrant, shiny, hair curls and small waists, just like in the old black and white movies.

The most moving part of the evening was how they looked at each other.  Couples married for 50-60 years still gazed upon each other with love and affection.  I even caught a glimpse of an 80-year-old man stroking his wife’s face while they danced, and I had to hold back the tears because I knew she was fighting an illness.  This, I thought, was true commitment.

They had survived the Great Depression and a devastating world war; raising us was no easy matter either.  These were people who simply did what needed to be done.  They were fiercely loyal, still loved America, and always had a strong work ethic.

For one night, for a few hours, they didn’t care about their diseases, ailments, aches, and pains.  They only wanted to let their hair down and have a memorable time.  There I sat, in love with each of them for the way they treated each other with smiles galore, twirling about as if today were their last day on earth.

The thought crossed my mind, as it probably did theirs, that their time is indeed limited, for some more than others.  How could they dance and enjoy fellowship with such carefree smiles and attitudes?  Because they love life, and offered each other the best gift anyone could possibly receive … the gift of simple joy.  They gave the gift of each other.

I found myself deeply moved by what I saw that evening.  Ours has become a world of convenience, and often inconvenience.  A place where people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”  A place where we don’t see as much care and concern for each other as was in our parents’ generation.  I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge visiting a strange time and place, who saw the light and understood the meaning in the few hours they allowed me to share with them.  I somehow knew as I watched my parents dance that evening, that I was witnessing the last time they would do so.  Sadly, I was right, which makes this memory even more special.

Our seniors truly are our greatest asset and we have much to learn from them!  In this new year, spend time with a senior.  You won’t regret it, and your heart will grow.

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com.

No part of The Estate Lady® blogs, whole or partial, may be used without Julie Hall’s written consent.  Email her at Julie@TheEstateLady.com

‘Til Death Do Us Part

Most of us enjoy hearing those words during a wedding ceremony, where the new couple is floating in bliss and envision being by each other’s side until death separates them.  From my perspective, however, I see people who have a very passionate relationship with their material possessions, sometimes more so than each other!  If I didn’t know better, I would say they behave as if they can take their possessions with them when they leave this earth, but we know that we can’t take stuff with us.

I have seen it all.  In all those years of estate work, I have tried to figure out why people have such a hard time “letting go.”  Often, the Depression Era generation is the one that has accumulated the most, in my experience.  Their parents did not have much and probably possessed more utilitarian items because of the era in which they lived.  When their parents passed away, they did not distribute or sell those items … they absorbed them.  The boomers have multiple generations of stuff to deal with when their Depression Era parents pass away.

Here are a few thoughts on why people hold on to so much:

  • You just never know when I’m going to need this.
  • There are so many things I could use this for.
  • If I hold onto it long enough, it will become valuable.
  • It is already old, so it must be valuable.
  • I did without as a child and I will not do without again.
  • It was a gift and I will honor the giver by keeping it.
  • The more I leave the kids, the more they will have.
  • I worked very hard for these things and I will pass them down.
  • They bring comfort and familiarity.
  • Sentimental reasons.
  • Too overwhelmed to let it go — emotional attachment.
  • I’ll let my kids deal with this after I’m gone.

As an appraiser of residential contents, this is the part where I try to put my clients at ease.  When in doubt, always have the contents of an estate appraised prior to distributing or selling contents.  Most times, the heirs are not surprised to learn that much of what mom and dad amassed doesn’t have much value.  Some children feel that items might be “junk” and some pieces do turn out to have significant value, pleasantly surprising them.  Family stories through the years can add to the anticipation that great-grandfather’s chair is more valuable because it is so old, but age is not the only factor of value.  There are many more characteristics of value we look at to determine it’s worth.

Another important issue that the older generation should realize is that many of their heirs already have houses that are full of accumulation from 25+ years of marriage.  Adding more stuff will only fuel marital strife.  I’ve seen divorces happen over keeping too much stuff.

Some kids keep items to sell, others for sentimental reasons. others because they feel guilt because “mother would kill me if I didn’t keep this.”  The younger generation appear to want nothing but cash assets.  Even if your children do take a few items, their children definitely don’t want them now, and most likely will feel the same in the future.  They are not interested in antiques or traditional possessions when they could take the cash and go to IKEA or Pottery Barn.  This is the trend.

Holding on to possessions because you don’t want to let them go will leave a massive burden on your children.  Gifting now and making plans for the distribution of your possessions while you are still here (and in control of those decisions) is the best plan of action.  Take it from one who knows!

©2013 The Estate Lady®

Julie Hall, The Estate Lady®, is the foremost national expert on personal property in estates, including liquidating, advising, and appraising. http://www.TheEstateLady.com  She is also the Director of American Society of Estate Liquidators®, the national educational and resource organization for estate liquidation. http://www.aselonline.com

How A Senior Party Changed Me Forever

I’d like to share a special memory from two years ago as we prepare for the new year ahead.

It was a spur-of-the-moment invitation from my 78 yr. old mother.   While visiting my parents out-of-state, Mom announced she bought me a ticket to their senior holiday dinner and dance party at the local clubhouse.  Knowing it would make them happy, I obliged, but wasn’t exactly ready to kick up my heels just yet.  How much fun could it really be?

The clubhouse was nothing fancy — it was reminiscent of a church basement or school gym, devoid of color though there were a few decorations on the wall.   In front of the small bingo stage was the collapsible black sound system from the hired DJ, complete with a disco ball spinning crystal-like dots on the walls and a lighted 3 ft. Santa next to his unit.   The floor was exceptionally shiny, as if someone had spent hours buffing and polishing it to perfection, meant just for dancing.

With roughly 40 seniors present, dinner was served.  We all waited in line, cafeteria style, to be served our food – a very simple meal of roast beef, green beans and a roll with coffee or water.   Dessert would be homemade cakes from some of the neighborhood ladies.   Styrofoam plates in hand, we waited patiently as everyone got the same amount of food.

During our meal, the DJ came alive and it was obvious he loved his job.  The beat from Glen Miller’s  “In the Mood” was evident in my tapping feet, shoulder motions and bobbing head – was that me actually having fun?  Dare I say the fun was just beginning…

Mesmerized by the fantastic selection of 40’s and 50’s music and jazz beats that made you want to get up and bounce all over the dance floor, the seniors suddenly came alive, as if their simple meal had fueled their fire.  Some with canes, others with oxygen, still others like my mother afflicted with heart disease – it didn’t matter to them – they got up and started dancing like they were young again!!

Before my very eyes, the music became their magic. Transported back to the 1940’s, the hands of time literally spun backwards to return them to their prime in life.  No longer weak or frail, they would have easily danced their boomer children into a state of exhaustion.   This was their night and they proudly took ownership of it.

Over the course of the evening, I found myself looking closely at the old men’s weathered faces.  They didn’t look old to me anymore.   It was like watching an episode of Star Trek when they were brought back in time wearing their U.S. military uniforms and the ladies’ vibrant and shiny hair had curls and they had small waists, just like in the old movies.

But the most moving part of the evening was how they looked at each other.  Couples who had been married for 50-60 years still gazed upon each other with love and affection – I even caught a glimpse of an elderly man stroking his wife’s face while they danced. I had to fight the tears back because mom told me that lady was fighting an illness.  This, I thought, was true commitment.

They had survived the Great Depression and one of the world’s most devastating wars, and raising us!  These were people who simply did what needed to be done.  They are fiercely loyal, still loved America, and always had a strong work ethic.

For one night, for a few hours, they didn’t care about their diseases, ailments, aches and pains.  They only wanted to let their hair down and have a memorable time.  There I sat, a 48-year-old daughter, who found herself in love with each of them – for the way they laughed, for the way they did the “Twist,” for the way they treated each other with smiles galore and twirling about as if today were their last day on earth.

The thought crossed my mind, as it probably did theirs, that our time is indeed limited, for some more than others.  How is it they could dance and enjoy fellowship with such carefree smiles and attitude?  Because they love life and offered each other the best gift anyone could possible receive.  They gave the gift of simple joy.  The gave the gift of each other.

I found myself deeply moved by what I saw that evening.   Ours has become a world of convenience, and often inconvenience.  A place where people are always saying “What’s in it for me?” and a place where we don’t see as much care and concern for each other, as there was in our parents’ generation.

I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge visiting a strange place and time, who saw the light and got the meaning in just the few hours they allowed me to share with them. I feel so very honored to have witnessed such a gift.  Our seniors truly are our greatest asset, and we have much to learn from them.  All we need to do is open our eyes, ears and hearts.

© 2011 Julie Hall

Know the Plan

Knowledge is power.  The more facts you know about your parents’ estate plans, the less you will have to decide on your own later.  Make sure everyone in the family has talked with them about their estate planning and their final wishes.  It is imperative that you know the following:

  • Is there a will?
  • Where is the will?
  • Where is a copy of the will?
  • Is the will updated?  A will should be reviewed every 10 years or sooner.  If there is no will, enlist the help of an estate planning attorney; discuss health care issues and trusts as well.
  • Do you know who the executor is?
  • Do you know who your parents’ attorney is?
  • Do you know who your parents’ financial planner is?
  • Do you know what to do if your parents have to move to assisted living?
  • Do you know your parents’ end-of-life wishes?

Ask these questions now, and have the vital conversations as a family now, before you have to make decisions and locate valuable information in the midst of a crisis.

© 2010 Julie Hall

Published in: on March 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A Spontaneous Invitation Changed My Outlook on Life

It was a spontaneous invitation from my mother to attend their senior holiday dance and party.  I was out of state visiting them and I obliged her request.  How much fun could it really be with everyone so advanced in years?

The club house was nothing fancy — reminiscent of a church basement or school gym, devoid of color, with few decorations.  In front of the small Bingo stage sat the collapsible sound system from the hired DJ, complete with a disco ball spinning crystal dots on the walls, and a lighted 3-foot Santa next to his unit.  The floor was exceptionally shiny, as if someone had spent hours buffing it to perfection for dancing.

The 40 seniors waited in line for cafeteria style dinner of roast beef, green beans, and a roll.  Dessert would be homemade cakes from the neighborhood ladies, served on styrofoam plates.

During our meal, the DJ came alive, obviously loving his job.  The beat from Glen Miller’s “In the Mood” was evident in my tapping feet, shoulder motions and bobbing head.  Was that ME actually having fun?  The fun was just beginning.

Mesmerized by the fantastic selection of 40’s and 50’s music and jazz beats, the seniors suddenly came alive.  Some with canes, others with oxygen, still others afflicted with heart disease — it didn’t matter to them — they got up and started dancing like they were young again.  Before my eyes, the music became their magic.  Transported from 2009 back to the 1940s, the hands of time literally spun backwards to return them to their prime in life.  This was their night and they proudly took ownership.

The most moving part of the evening was how they looked at each other.  Couples married for 50-60 years still gazed upon each other with love and affection.  I even caught a glimpse of an 80 year old man stroking his wife’s face while they danced, and I had to hold back the tears because I knew she was fighting an illness.  This, I thought, was true commitment. 

They had survived the Great Depression and a devastating world war.  They were fiercely loyal, still loved America, and always had a strong work ethic.

For one night, for a few hours, they didn’t care about their diseases, ailments, aches, and pains.  They only wanted to let their hair down and have a memorable time.  There I sat, in love with each of them for the way they treated each other with smiles galore, twirling about as if today were their last day on earth.

The thought crossed my mind, as it probably did theirs, that their time is indeed limited, for some more than others.  How could they dance and enjoy fellowship with such carefree smiles and attitudes?  Because they love life, and offered each other the best gift anyone could possibly receive … the gift of simple joy. 

I found myself deeply moved by what I saw that evening.  Ours has become a world of convenience, and often inconvenience.  A place where people are always asking, “What’s in it for me?”  A place where we don’t see as much care and concern for each other as was in our parents’ generation.  I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge visiting a strange time and place, who saw the light and understood the meaning in the few hours they allowed me to share with them.

Our seniors truly are our greatest asset and we have much to learn from them!

© 2009 Julie Hall