Who is Your Alpha Child?

images-1The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.” This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents.

Take a look at your relationship with your own siblings. Who is the Alpha Child in your family? It may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.

It is valuable for you to identify who your Alpha Child is. Who is the child your other children respect? Who is the child that you ask for feedback? Who is the child that acts as a leader in the family?

Once you have identified your Alpha Child its important to have a conversation with him or her, preferably face to face. Share with her what your plans are and the preparations you have made for your retirement years. Discuss your long term care planning. What happens if you or your spouse need care? Will you stay in your home? Will you move? Who will take care of you?

Share your end of life planning with her. I suggest strongly that you fill out “The Five Wishes: available from www.agingwithdignity.org before you do that. It is an extremely valuable tool to clarify your end of life wishes. I call it a living will with soul.

Ask you Alpha Child if he or she will help you organize a family meeting to discuss all of your retirement plans and concerns with the whole family. This meeting will have a life changing impact on your relationship with your children. It is most likely that you have never discussed these issues with your family before. Send me an email at:  (bob@giftofcommunication.com )and I will forward to you “The Seven Steps to Have a Successful Family Meeting”

Preserving Your Legacy

Dad and StephThe last six months of my father’s life, I visited him every week in his rehab facility. He was desperately trying to get well enough to return home. Because of his Parkinson’s disease he could no longer swallow and as a result couldn’t eat normally. But he could talk. And we would talk for hours every time I visited him.

But most of our conversations were about insignificant things like sports teams, my job or the weather. We very rarely got into a real conversation. On one occasion I asked him what it was like growing up as the son of a minister. He told me that he had never gone to a department store to buy clothes. All his new clothes came from the barrel, where members of the congregation would toss clothes they didn’t want.

He shared that in the first eighteen years of his life, he had moved eleven times as my grandfather was transferred from church to church. But we never talked about his childhood again. And I never asked him about his experience as an Army engineer, landing at Omaha Beach on D Day.

Six months after my father passed away, my mother asked me a question. “Did you ever look at Dad’s scrapbook?” And she handed me a leather bound scrapbook filled with pictures, maps, newspaper stories, insignia and a letter signed by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. I was shocked. I had never known that this scrapbook existed.

For the last fifteen years I have leafed through that scrapbook hundreds of times, wishing that I had the opportunity to learn from him what his experience was like. But I will never get the chance. I share this with you because I want to emphasize the importance of sharing your stories and experiences with your children.

How did you and your spouse meet? What was it like growing up? What were your parents like? Where did you go to school? What was it like? Our children want to hear about these things. And we need to share them.

There are several ways to share your experiences and your life with your family. You can create an audio or video recording for them. You can write your personal biography. There is a national organization that can help you with this project. It is the Association of Personal Historians (www.personalhistorians.org). Through them you can find a professional in your area to help you. They will create a professional audio, video recording or book of your life with your input. 

In addition, Storycorps ( storycorps.org) has created a smartphone app. which provides you with a series of questions to create an interview. A family member can ask you the questions and the answers will be recorded on your smart phone. If you desire this recording can be saved to a national archive at the Library of Congress. Storycorps started interviewing individuals in 2003. It was created to provide all Americans with the opportunity to record, share and preserve the stories of their lives. Over 40,000 people have conducted recorded interviews at their kiosks around the country. These are now saved to the Library of Congress.

                                                                         The Legacy Letter

But let’s assume you are not ready to go to those lengths yet to record your life. The best way to start is to write a Legacy Letter. It is as simple as answering a series of questions in a letter format.

In her very informative book The Wealth of Your Life, A Step-By-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will, Susan Turnbull suggests that creating the Legacy Letter is a five-step process. Here are her suggested steps:

  1. Identify whom you want to send the letter to. Do you want to send an intimate letter to just family or a more public document to be read by many people?
  2. Consider your intentions and opening lines. Start the letter with the brief statement of why you want to write the letter. “I am hoping to share many more wonderful years with you but I wanted to make sure that you know…..”
  3. Reflect and make notes. What is your theme? Is it an opportunity to express your love to those close to you? Do you want to share the values that have been important to you that you want to be remembered for? Do you want to pass on the wisdom that your experience has taught you? Do you want to pass on the family history to the next generation? Jot down your thoughts. You may choose to include some or all of these themes in your letter.
  4. Create an outline to structure the order in which you wish to make your points. Keep in mind your audience, your goals and the most important things you want to say.
  5. Create your letter (or record it). I strongly suggest that you create a video of your words as well as a written document. In the video your words will come to life if you share them with enthusiasm and conviction. In this era of smartphones and sophisticated technology it will be very simple to create a video record. You can even post it on Youtube or Facebook if you so desire.

High Tech Health Care for Boomers

images-1As I stated in my book “Passing the Torch, Critical Conversations with Your Adult Children” care for seniors will change dramatically as more and more baby boomers join the retiree ranks. Most boomers never want to go near a nursing home and are very adverse to ultimately living in a traditional assisted living residence.

Research has shown the boomers who will need long term care want to stay in their own homes. They don’t want to be shipped off to some institution. But the problem will be finding the people to provide the care for them at home. The pool of available family caregivers is decreasing as more families require two full time incomes to meet expenses. The daughter or daughter in law that you traditionally relied on to take care of mom or dad just can’t do it anymore. She is working full time as as well as taking care of her own family.

The alternative is to seek home care aides who work independently or through a home care agency. But these people are generally underpaid, not respected and aren’t rewarded for outstanding performance.

But now the high tech industry is stepping in to provide a better solution. Seth Sternberg, with the help of Marc Andreessen, Apple stores creator Ron Johnson, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppleman, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer, PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and a long, long list of notable Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors has created a firm called “Honor”.

Honor will create an online marketplace. Caregivers will be able to list their qualifications, skills, hours they’re able to work and distances they’re willing travel. Seniors will specify the type of help they need, the hours they want and important personal details — that they only speak Mandarin, or that they have cats, or that they live in a multi-story unit. Honor will match caregivers and seniors accordingly, with final approval of the match in the hands of the seniors and their families.

Honor will also give seniors a custom-built, easy-to-use touchscreen appliance where they will be able to update caregivers on any changes in their needs or condition, so the caregivers will be better prepared when they walk in the door. The devices will also be used to record what services seniors received and for how long, and to allow them to rate the quality of care. Authorized relatives will have access to the information, so they’ll be able to monitor the situation.

The difficulty for Honor will be to recruit the right people to provide home care services and pay them a reasonable wage. Let’s face it, taking care of elderly, incapacitated people is not an easy job. Honor has brought in Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, a respected former labor organizer from the South Bay and CEO of an anti-poverty organization to begin recruiting workers in the San Francisco area. We will keep an eye on this program to see how it develops.

Will Hospice Shorten Your Life?

images-1Many of us might believe that when we choose to accept hospice care at the end of our lives, our lives will be shortened as a result. After all, hospice patients often stop painful chemotherapy or other interventions that are expected to prolong their lives.

But a number of studies have proven this not to be true. A landmark study from the Massachusetts General Hospital in 2010 made some startling findings. Researchers randomly assigned 151 patients with Stage IV lung cancer to two possible approaches to treatment. Half received the usual oncological care. The other half received the same oncological care with additional visits from a palliative care specialist. These specialists focus on preventing and relieving the suffering of patients.

Those who saw a palliative care specialist chose to stop chemotherapy sooner, entered hospice far earlier and experienced much less suffering at the end of their lives. And they lived 25% longer that those who did not receive palliative care!

Atul Gawande, M.D. ,in his groundbreaking book, “Being Mortal”, states that “Like many other people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forego hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But multiple studies show otherwise.”

He adds, “For some conditions, hospice care seemed to extend survival. Those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer when you stop trying to live longer.”

Gawande, a practicing physican in Boston, reports that most terminally ill cancer patients have had no discussion with their doctors about their goals for end of life care despite being within months of death. But those patients who enrolled in hospice, suffered less and were better able to interact with others forlonger period of time. “People who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end of life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.”

Thank You, Hospice!

hands of old and youngIn my last post I mentioned a conversation the medical director of my mom’s assisted living residence had with me. She suggested we enter mom into the hospice program. With some trepidation I agreed and met with the hospice nurse who very gently described to me the program that would follow.

She informed me that a hospice aide would visit with my mom several days a week to help her in any way needed. She, as the assigned hospice nurse, would check in with mom weekly and give me an update. In addition Medicare would provide her with a much more comfortable wheelchair and mattress for her hospital bed.

I stopped in to see my mother one day when the hospice aide was with her. The aide had gently combed her hair, put cream on her dry skin and dressed her in a lovely dress with matching scarf and earrings. She looked beautiful. The aide commented on what a lovely woman she was.

After a number of visits in the following three weeks,I could see that my mother was failing. She had a hard time speaking a full sentence, was asleep most of the day and was becoming increasing unresponsive.

On Sunday morning, November 30th I received a call from the residence that mom was totally unresponsive and was taking rapid short breaths. I called the hospice nurse, picked up my daughter, who was visiting with us, ( my wife was away at a conference) and rushed to the residence.

The hospice nurse on call arrived before we did. He had given mom medication to ease her pain and make her more comfortable. He assured me that he would be available all day to help in any way needed. It was clear to me that the end was near.

My daughter and I spent my mom’s last hours with her. She passed away in comfort, in her own bed, holding my hand. I could not have asked for better circumstances for my mother to leave this life.

A few days later, I though about what would have happened if mom was not in hospice. She would have been transported to the emergency room in an ambulance. A number of nurses and doctors would probably go into action trying to keep her alive. She would die in strange circumstances amidst all the noise and activity of the emergency room, with my daughter and I witnessing her demise from the background.

Thank you, Broad Reach Hospice for making the end of my mother’s life, gentle, loving and peaceful.

Is A Hospice Program Right For Your Mom Or Dad?

Mom's 90th BirthdayWhen the medical director of my mother’s assisted living residence called me I was curious to know what she wanted to talk to me about. After informing me how much everyone at the facility loved my mom she then made a statement that took me by surprise. “I think you mom would benefit greatly by going into a hospice program.”

My thoughts immediately jumped to “Oh my God, she’s about to die. The end is very near.” The next day a hospice nurse visited me and explained to me what hospice was and whom it could benefit. She did state that in order to qualify for hospice an individual is expected to die in 6 months or less. But she added that some patients have been in hospice for a year or more. And in some cases they have improved so much they are taken off of the program.

I learned that Medicare would pay for an upgrade to her wheelchair that would make her much more comfortable and provide for any other medical equipment she needed. A nurse would be assigned to her who would monitor her condition weekly, review her medications and report back to us if any changes in her condition occurred. In addition a home health aid would visit her three to four times a week to bathe her or provide any other personal care that would benefit her.

She would be assigned a social worker that could assist her and our family with any emotional support that was needed. An experienced physician would participate in the development of her care plan and oversee her medical regimen. And all of these services would be fully covered by Medicare.

Within two days the nurse had visited her, made specific recommendations to changes in her meds and brought in a new mattress and a more comfortable wheelchair for her. I was amazed at how quickly she went into action and how knowledgeable she was about the aging process.

I had noticed for a few months that my mother had deteriorated significantly but I wasn’t sure how to deal with this and who to talk to. The hospice nurse made it clear to me she was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week if I had any questions or concerns. I immediately felt much more comfortable knowing that someone was watching her situation closely and would be available whenever we needed her.

If you have a family member who is beginning to show signs of slipping away I would recommend strongly that you find out more about the hospice program and have a hospice nurse visit you to answer your questions. In most cases she will do an evaluation of your loved one at no cost. The website for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (www.nhpco.org) will help you find a hospice organization in your area.

Share Your Wisdom With Your Children

Dad and StephDid your parents share their wisdom with you? Did they make you aware of anything they learned from their own successes and failures? Was it helpful to you? Have you thought about sharing your wisdom with your own children?

Susan Turnbull in her book, “The Wealth of Your Life” reminds us that “What you have learned is as valuable as what you have earned.” If you haven’t taken the time to share the important lessons you learned in life with your children, it’s important to do so now.

Richard Lieder, a highly respected executive coach, wrote in his book, “Life Reimagined, Discovering Your New Life Possibilities”, “As we move through middle age, the uncertainty of the world moves us to focus on what matters; our own purpose and our connection to others”

So where do you start? How do you pass on your legacy to the next generation? By writing them a “Legacy Letter”. It is a letter to your family that defines what has been important to you in your life and what you want to pass on.

First decide whom you want to send the letter to; your children, your spouse, your brothers and sisters

Second make some notes in the following areas:

• Your values and the things you did in your life to act on your values
• Something you learned from your grandparents/ parents/spouse/children
• Something you learned from experience
• A mistake that you made that you learned from.
• Something you learned that you’re grateful for
• Your hopes for the future

Now take these notes and weave them into a letter that is addressed to the audience you want to letter to go to. Don’t forget to add stories from your personal life that expand the points you’re trying to make. And just like that you have created a Legacy Letter.

Share it with your loved ones the next time you get together with them. And always remember, “The gift of communication is the greatest gift you can give your family.”