Life Lessons from a High School Reunion

high school reunion nametag: life lessonsDid you enjoy high school? Were you one of the Jocks or the Brains or the Hotsy-Totsies? Or were you one of the Nerds or the Hoods or the Bums? Perhaps you were like me and didn’t fall into either category.

High school was not fun for me—and I had the undesirable experience of attending 2 high schools. It was difficult to be my own person with everyone attempting to place a label on me. As a result, I had no interest in attending reunions.

Until recently. I attended as my partner’s guest to his 40th high school reunion. As we drove to the reunion, I asked him how many true friends he had. His reply: very few. I asked: how many have you kept in touch with over the years? His reply: even fewer.

Upon attending the reunion, the crowded room of 100+ from a class of 320 now wrinkled, gray-haired, and slightly overweight men and women struggled more to recognize classmates than remembering which clique everyone belonged to. Back in the day, fraternizing with the wrong clique meant doom. Now the goal was to flashback to a perceived easier time of life.

Reunion Results–life lessons emerge

  • Graduates barely recognized each other—by face or by name. They relied more on where they lived in town, what grade school they attended, and what classes they possibly shared.
  • There were the occasional, “Oh, I remember you!” followed by, “Let’s connect on Facebook.”
  • Some admitted to avoiding those they hated in high school, but couldn’t remember why.
  • Most found high school to be highly stressful.
  • Upon graduation, everyone went their own way toward living their vision of the American Dream.
  • Many were happy with life. Those I spoke with admitted to be comfortable with who they were, preferring their current life with gray hair, wrinkles, and arthritis to puberty, acne, and peer pressure.
  • Cliques no longer mattered. We were all in our 50s, hoping to have enough money for retirement. None I spoke with were living or planning to live the dreamy retirement vision we were raised to strive for. What mattered most was to stay close to their roots and to enjoy their family.

Retirement Revelations

There were 3 types of current retirees:

  • Retired due to health issues, or
  • Age discrimination, or
  • Career limitations.

Given the choice, these graduates would have kept working. Because of where they find themselves now, many are uncertain what’s next for them. They all feel they are too young to ‘kick the bucket’. One graduate ‘fills his time’ restoring motorcycles and cars. Another graduate volunteers until she can find a job—in anything, she admits. My partner, disabled since 2015, enjoys tutoring, helping others organize their lives, and conducting administrative tasks, but doubts this is a viable money-making option for him.

Those that are working toward retirement want to ensure their future is secure in the midst of all the unknowns. Everyone I spoke with feared how long their health will hold up.

Quite a difference from our high school years!

While this reunion is one of thousands that occur across the country, we all share the same hopes, dreams, and fears. The peer pressure and cliques from the past no longer matter. What matters is that we are happy as we continue to live and to share our life with those we love.

How will you grow and live?

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

An Eye for Safety: Helping a Parent Age in Place

using stairlift The stairs in my childhood home had been a source of fun for my brothers and me. We enjoyed rushing down to breakfast bumping down the stairs on our bottoms then hopping up to join our parents. To my mother, however, the stairs were a constant state of stress. She daily warned us to be careful, don’t play around the stairs, and ALWAYS reminded us to hold the railing. Each night she would drape a flimsy net across the top of the stairway to protect us from falling to our deaths.

She should have continued that habit for her and Dad. I became concerned when I noticed her constantly climbing the stairs on hands and knees—while wearing her robe and carrying a glass of water! In June 2009, I secretly suggested to Dad to get a stair lift for her. He agreed but didn’t find it to be an immediate necessity. A few days later, Dad slipped down the last two steps and landed on his backside with a painful ‘ooph’! Doubly concerned, I reiterated the need for the stair lift for both of them. Dad immediately went on the defensive and harshly lectured me on respect, ageism, and minding my own damn business.

Then on December 8, 2009, at age 72, Dad fell down the stairs and suffered extreme brain damage and paralysis, eventually dying from his injuries six years later.

Needless to say, I am sensitive to the probability of falls. I rarely hesitate to act on a safety improvement for my mother or my loved ones, even if it must come from my own finances.

According to the World Health Organization:

  • Falls are the second leading cause of accidental or unintentional injury deaths worldwide.
  • Adults older than 65 years of age suffer the greatest number of fatal falls.

Further data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states:

  • Every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall; every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall.
  • Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults.

Soon after Dad’s fall, Mom and I ordered the stair lift, refraining from the ‘closing the barn door after the horse escaped’ reality. Mom still needed several safety measures and I planned to get them done! Other immediate activities included:

  • Removing trip hazards, especially loose rugs.
  • Purchasing slippers or socks that were anti-slip.
  • Hiring a handyman to repair loose floorboards or uneven treads.
  • Purchasing a Personal Emergency Response System such as Great Call or First Alert.
  • Moving most used items within reach.

While my mother still lives 500 miles away, I make frequent visits to help with general care, providing companionship, and to maintain the safety watch. During my latest visit, I installed grab bars in risky areas (bathtub, shower, toilet) and anti-slip strips on tub and shower floors after observing some unsteady habits. When I stated my concern to my mother, she attempted to comfort me by saying, “I’ll get to it soon. It’s been on my mind too”. Then a few sentences later she admitted, “I’m getting so forgetful.” I was at the store purchasing equipment lessinstalling shower handle for safety than an hour later!

If you are providing long-distant care for a parent or are close enough to visit on a daily basis, use these tips to maintain household safety as your parent ages in place:

  • Check established safety measures to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Replace, upgrade, or improve safety measures as needed.
  • Observe your parent’s activities: does she lean more? Is she unsteady? Is it tougher for her to accomplish tasks? Implement safety measures to accommodate these changes.
  • Listen to your parent! Comments like, “I’m unsteady when I get out of bed” or “I’m afraid I’ll slip getting out of the shower” are warning signs. Take swift action on these hints.
  • Keep an open communication with your parent. Request to attend occasional doctor visits to be part of the conversation but to also report observations and progress.

It’s tough to lose a parent to something so common, but it’s also harder to know that simple safety measures could have prevented these injuries. As your parent ages—in place or at a facility—be their guardian and take the action they are reluctant or forgetful to do themselves. If they fuss, tell them it’s because you love them and don’t want to lose them.

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

Is Your Second Act Stagnant? Examine Your Limiting Beliefs

Limiting beliefs keep large dog trapped behind small gateMy daughter recently purchased a pure-breed Newfoundland puppy. It was an adorable bundle of black fur, and now at 7 months old, it is a huge, energetic, and still-growing bundle of black fur. The dog rapidly outgrew the kitchen space it spends a portion of the day in, blocked only by toddler gates. The dog can easily leap up and drape its massive front legs over either gate, but never jumps the gate. Why? Because as a puppy, the gates prevented escape. Now, 7 months later, the dog still believes it cannot escape.

Do you have a business idea you’d like to pursue? Are you itching to try something new in your life? Are you bursting at the seams to break free of your boundaries but feel something isn’t right? Maybe it’s time to examine your mental gates. Just as my daughter’s puppy believes it cannot escape its kitchen confines, we are blocked by limiting beliefs. What’s worse is we may not be aware of these beliefs. Some imprint on us at an early age. Some are as easy to overcome as stepping over a barrier, but it’s our beliefs that keep us trapped. Here are a few exercises to help you explore your past to identify and remove the beliefs that are holding you back.

What challenges did you have as a child?

Did you struggle in school? Were you bullied? Did you have a learning disability? These situations can influence us early in life which leads to early limiting beliefs. As you explore your childhood, review your memories to discover events that may have contributed to your current beliefs.

What was home life like?

What elements of family life crept into your subconscious? Did your family struggle with money? Were you raised by a single-parent? Did your parents work long hours? How our parents or guardians handled these situations plus overheard conversations can impact our beliefs. For instance, I was the quiet child who preferred to stay home, read, and be by myself. Meanwhile, all my cousins excelled in school, sports, and extracurricular activities. I overheard my uncle ask my dad what activities I enjoyed. My dad’s answer: “Kristen marches to the beat of a different drummer.” There was no disappointment or animosity in his tone, however, I knew I was different and for a long time, believed I was too different to make a difference. Thirty years later, I was able to release that limiting belief and pursue my own interests.

What experiences did you have that influenced your life?Large dog believes he can't jump gate

Did death touch your family unexpectedly? Or a natural disaster? Did you move a lot? If you were always the new kid at school, you may have a belief that you won’t fit in, which may translate to your business idea won’t fit in. Were you unemployed or laid-off? This may translate into the limiting belief that you are unemployable.

Give yourself time to review your memories and experiences, then list the ideas that stand out most. Next, reshape those thoughts through meditation, writing, and repetition. For instance, if you moved a lot, reshape a limiting belief to, “I have regional and cultural experience that will be helpful to my business.”

Make each mantra a new habit. Repetition and persistence—especially when you feel blocked by the thought—will help release that limiting belief.

I recently attended a series of webinars on career reinvention for Boomers and GenXers in which confidence was a top issue. The common thread was how to rebuild following our outdated beliefs:

Beliefs => thoughts => actions => results

How are your beliefs influencing your results? If you find your progress less than satisfactory and the results you seek are still out of reach, then you’re overdue to reexamine your beliefs. Some of them will be easy to overcome, like a dog jumping over a gate, while others will take longer to redirect. Explore the exercises above, weed them out, and then reframe them with newer, positive and productive beliefs.

And step over your gate!

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

Ditch the Job Boards! Build Your Second Act Brand Instead

Rejection stamp image signifying denied from job boardsFinding a job is always a difficult task. In my early job-hunt days (age 16 to 26), I would physically VISIT job agencies or the location I wished to work. Attempts to reach the manager often failed but resulted in an almost friendly invitation by an office manager to fill out an application onsite or to mail it in. Today, the process is hastened by the internet, which still results in a long wait…to NO.

I began freelancing in 2006 and took my business to full time in 2008. I scoured the online job boards with resolute determination, especially early days or when clients were few. Guess how many jobs I acquired through these boards.

NOT ONE!Kristen's job post rejection from online job boards

Unless you count the client that asked me to write a full 10-page website for $6. Yes, SIX DOLLARS!

After two primary clients ended their contracts earlier this year, I returned to the job boards with cautious hope. It didn’t take long, however, to walk the agonizing road to NO. Through the process, I discovered that only 7 to 15 percent of job openings are filled through online applications and that most job placement occurs through REFERRALS or my own ACTION. Even as a teenager, building awareness to MY EXISTENCE, AVAILABILITY, and ABILITY was more effective than filling out flat sheets of paper. Back then, as now, I built my brand.

While the job hunt hasn’t changed, what we bring to the world has. We have 30+ years of knowledge and experience and the determination to make something new. Therefore, it’s time to abandon the job boards and build your brand and your second act with these action steps.

  • Create a social media presence where your audience (B2C) AND your peers (B2B) are (these are often not the same).
  • Create bios suitable for both audiences
  • Create an elevator speech that is adaptable to your audience
  • Attend local events related to your industry and niche. Be visible to attendees and event organizers.
  • Volunteer at events
  • Find your people online. Connect, like, follow, comment.
  • Join social media groups related to your industry and niche—Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, and Twitter chats are top methods to build awareness, discover trends, identify needs.
  • Above all: FOLLOW UP! Keep in touch through social media, blogging, newsletters, events, and conversation.

Sound intimidating? Perhaps time-consuming? Nope. When weighed against the long wait to NO from an online job application, these methods keep you active and top of mind.

Put your time and talent in yourself and build the brand that gets things done: YOU!

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

What to Know as POA for Multiple Family Members

family members discuss POA wishesAre you prepared medically and financially if something unfortunate happens to you and you could not make a critical decision for yourself? What about a parent, spouse, or adult child? Why wait a moment longer? Get your POA (power of attorney) in order now!

I am not an attorney, a financial advisor, a wealth advisor, or an estate planner. What I am, however, is a mother, a daughter, a partner, a sister, and a grandmother. I’m also the power of attorney (POA) for 5 family members.

I recently attended a workshop entitled, Aging in America,  in which financial and legal issues for family members and caregivers were addressed. Individuals of all ages tend to wait until an unfortunate event to begin thinking about ‘what ifs’. Furthermore, many family members ignore reality and postpone taking action, as it happened with my family. Due to the cost and time-consuming options available after the fact, it is advised we obtain, at a minimum, a financial and medical durable power of attorney now.

This seems easy enough but the challenge is to get everyone onboard. According to AARP, the following age groups lack a will or other estate planning documents:

  • 19% of those 72+
  • 42% of Boomers (ages 53 to 71)
  • 64% of Gen Xers (ages 37 to 52)
  • 78% of Millennials (ages 18 to 36)

Regardless of where you or your loved ones fit into the family tree, it is vital to initiate the conversation to spare cost, delay, and emotional stress. Use these prompts to start the conversation.

The family talk

First of all, let your family know that it’s important to establish their powers of attorney. Ask them how theyman in therapy after debilitating injury want their decisions handled should they become incapacitated. Use current events, a terminal illness, death, or this article to start the discussion. Providing free POA forms (see Where to Find Documents) can help move the process forward. Your goal isn’t to frighten them, but to ensure they are protected financially and medically. As a result, you may have more success taking this approach.

Address the facts

Because each of us must choose an agent to handle our requests, it’s important this person is:

  • Up to the task
  • Readily available
  • Willing to meet the needs of the individual
  • Trustworthy and reliable
  • Able to make decisions while dealing with their own emotions

Choosing an Agent

  • If the medical POA and financial POA are different people, ensure that they will work well together.
  • Review the POA with the family member every 3 to 5 years. Sometimes a listed agent becomes unwilling, unable, or estranged from the family member. Furthermore, a periodic review will ensure that the documents are up to date and the agent(s) wish to continue their duties.

Where to Find Documents

The documents are easy to create, but requires each individual to make their wishes known and to name their agents. Contact an estate planning attorney or search online for medical or financial POA forms within your state. There are many free and paying sites available, or you can contact a local attorney to create the forms for you.

The Agent

  • As the agent, keep the documents (preferably 2 original copies) in a safe, readily available location.
  • Additionally, if you are the agent for several people, keep all records in the same safe place. Let your principles (the people who named you as POA) know where you have their documents but also let your agents know the location.
  • Be the one to follow up every 3 to 5 years with each principal. People forget, life changes fast, and people come and go. You may wish to be removed as the agent for unknown reasons.

While we all want to live a long, healthy life, things happen. Be the proactive family member and start the process. Taking the extra measure to protect the desires of your loved ones and your own will help make the tough decisions easier.

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

Opportunity or Despair: How Do You Respond to Change?

One moment, I’m doing F.A.I.R. with business and then the next moment, my two biggest clients lose funding and cannot extend my contract.

These things happen, I tell myself. It’s a normal cycle as a freelancer. Just buckle down, regroup, and reach out. I’m good at what I do and there are plenty of opportunities out there.

That’s what I told myself—repeatedly—as the weeks flew by and no new clients accepted my proposals.

By July, half my client income was missing. The bills were more painful to pay. I reexamined my expenses and cut the fat from a budget that was already anorexic. The fears and doubts seeped into my brain, but I believed in myself.

Besides, what else was there to do? Cuss? Cry? Quit? I’m 53 and seeking employment elsewhere is more challenging.

Then on July 26th, I got the word that a third client had to postpone our contract until further notice.

“As soon as things change, Kris, I’ll get right back to you.”

As those words flowed from his lips, I wondered if it was as painful for him to say them as it was for me to hear them. The call ended on a pleasant note, but I’m certain neither of us were in a pleasant mood.

Winners never quit and quitters never win. –Vince Lombardi

While the desire to cuss and cry intensified, I clung to a thin thread of positivity. I KNEW there was light at the other end. I just couldn’t see it. That night, I stepped into the darkness to consult the Universe:

“It’s time for a change. Where am I going next?”

I failed to recognize that change had already occurred.

I stubbornly pursued the status quo. I had two strong leads that were ready to start in August. The time frame was tight, but I reminded myself that I will be fine.

Then within 20 minutes of each other on July 31, I received emails from both leads. The first said their business direction has changed and they needed time to reevaluate their goals. The second said they wanted to shop for similar services.

Funny how that happened on the eve of August. Except I wasn’t laughing. I cussed. I cried. I considered quitting.

I slept poorly. I had bizarre dreams. Then I woke up exhausted yet with a new realization: change pursued me. It was time for me to act rather than react.

Although my emails and calls were expertly crafted, using optimistic words like ‘rebrand opportunity’ and ‘a new direction’, I could read between my own lines. I was still ashamed. And now I’m asking parents, my partner, and my network for help—at my age!

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent. –John Donne

Lesson (reluctantly) learned: accept and be grateful! I had several friends and family remind me of what I had already done for them and they were grateful to return the generosity to me.

Additional lessons learned:

Coping mechanisms

  • Remain positive. This is not the end; it’s a new beginning!
  • Seek the opportunities that arise during the storm.
  • Don’t let the storm stall you—lean in and surge forward.
  • Vent your frustrations. A little cussing and crying is acceptable; avoid letting it deprive you of sleep, nourishment, or self-care.
  • Call on your support team for help, love, & assistance.

Next steps

  • Determine what can be condensed or put on hold. As with the client that had to delay our working together, I had to pass on the same sentiments to my virtual assistant. The trickle-down effect touched at least 3 households.

Results

Although the recent events APPEARED dark, I now have renewed enthusiasm and a positive outlook as I continue to evolve. My support group and recent discoveries helped create a better, stronger plan.

Insights

Change changed me. While I fought for the status quo, I emerged with the knowledge that I have the creative power and energy to generate something better for myself.

I willingly accept!

How will you emerge on the other side of change?

Kristen Edens

Tempted to Co-Sign a Student Loan? Offer these Options Instead

I’m always unsure how to respond when my daughter calls or texts me. Sometimes she vents about her work, her boyfriend, or her daughter. Sometimes it’s about the unfairness of life. Often times, it’s about money—and if I can “lend” her a couple hundred. The most recent call was to ask if I would co-sign on a student loan.

Following my shocked silence, she continued to tug my heartstrings about her limited budget, costs of school supplies, clothing, day care, and for additional oomph—“and I’m not scheduled enough hours this week” into her plight. It’s no good to toss in my own anorexic budget because it falls on deaf ears. Besides, I want to help!

However, it just isn’t possible. According to a 2014 study by the United States Government Accountability Office, nearly 40% of federal student loan debt belongs to those over 65, whether their own debt or that of an adult child. Adding to the complications are our own struggles with eliminating debt, lowered income, caregiving for parents or a partner, and perhaps that same adult child living at home.

So how can we avoid additional debt and/or risk while becoming the hero? Consider one or a combination of these ideas:

Buy books: text books are a huge expense for college students and, once tuition is paid, the sticker shock of books and supplies strikes. You can offer to cover these costs and take on the hassle of ordering, renting, shipping, and more. There are several text book rental sites available for some significant discounts.

Pay for a tutor: once your adult child has plunked down hundreds of dollars for a single course, it’s critical she passes! If your student starts to express concerns, suggest a tutor immediately and offer to pay. You don’t want your child to have to pay—or repeat—any class, especially with today’s tuition costs.

Offer to tutor: some coursework is basic (intro to math, English, science, history, etc,) so if your student needs help, offer to tutor. This can be done in person (if local to your child and her school), or virtually. Either option saves time, money, and highlights you as the lifesaver.

Become a student’s helper: offer to care for grandchildren in the evening, clean house, fix meals, handle sick children, walk the dog, and so forth. Offer the stressed student time off and gift your child with a gift certificate for a dinner and movie. Maybe offer a birthday gift certificate to a baseball game, a massage, or something special.

If you live out of town: many of the ideas and services above can be handled long-distance. If you are unable to help locally, search online for mother’s helpers, dog walkers, house keepers, and other needed tasks. These services are available at a reasonable fee and offer a win-win for you, your adult child, and the business owner.

An added bonus: with entrepreneurialism a hot activity for Boomers and GenXers, you can offer similar services to out of state students.

We love and want to help our children through their life journey, but co-signing loans adds an element of debt and risk few want to encounter. Implement these tips to help your adult child avoid deep debt with these ideas and be the lifesaver!

Kristen Edens
Making Midlife Better

Entrepreneurship Studies through ‘The Field of Dreams’

“Until I heard the voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”
– Ray Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams

What’s it like to be an entrepreneur? What drives us to transform our lives so drastically that it fills our every moment? Our lives seem to be running pretty normal, maybe even a little stagnant, when we’re driven to do something completely different. Out of character. Maybe even crazy.

For lead character, Ray Kinsella, in the movie Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, it was to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn field.

If you build it, he will come

Is it the desire to build something we can call our own? Is it to solve a problem? To fill an emptiness? We may not know the reason behind it, yet we know it’s something we must do. It keeps us up at night, pulling us into unknown territory. Doubts, fear, and uncertainties battle with the drive to pursue this vision. For Ray, he feared turning into his father, getting stagnant, and becoming non-spontaneous.

What is your reason for choosing entrepreneurship?

And so the journey begins. The first obstacle is overcoming the ridicule from friends and family. Just as Ray encountered, we have our nay-sayers, yet we believe and continue on.

Next comes the financial reality. Ray and Annie knew it would be tough, but they pursued the dream. And depleted their savings account.

Many of us depleted our savings account and our retirement funds. The vision was new, exciting, and worth it, despite the risks.

Now we wait. Seasons pass and doubt takes hold. We struggle to remain optimistic, but the financial burden grips us tighter. Do we continue on or return to the way things were?

Then that first client appears! Just as Ray felt when Shoeless Joe first appeared on the field, we are excited, nervous, and awkward. We make mistakes, but we work through it. We take this opportunity to further study our client and refine our services.

Ease his pain.

As business owners, it is our responsibility to ease the pain of our audience and clients. We are driven to find others who else will benefit from your crazy idea.

Go the distance.

What must you do to find others who need you? What are you doing to reach out to them?

The pieces are starting to fitting into place. We’re excited. We’re motivated. It feels like heaven, but there are still obstacles and we seek guidance from those we know and trust.

“What do we do next?” asks Ray.

“How the hell do I know?” replies Terence.

Yet the discoveries continue and they nudge us along despite the roadblocks. We soon understand that it’s more than just what our clients need; it touches on an internal need that we can’t yet quite define.

“It would kill some men to get that close to a dream and not touch it.”

Now we’re faced with the toughest decision of all: do we quit or continue? We’re frustrated. Tired. Near desperate. The uncertainties return.

“I’ve done everything I was asked and never asked…what’s in it for me?”

Then we understand. We discover the reason the journey began: the need to give back. The need to right a wrong. Solving a problem. The puzzle is solved and our soul is whole.

“It was you.”

We realize the pursuit made us better, solved our pain, and in the meantime, solved the needs of others. We are transformed.

“Is there a heaven?”
“Oh yea. It’s a place where dreams come true.”

We reach that heaven when we go after our dream—no matter how crazy.

If you build it, they will come has become a clichéd mantra on how not to build a business, particularly a website. However, dig deeper into the meaning of Field of Dreams, and you’ll understand it defines what it takes to find our purpose. It’s a story of the persistence and dedication needed to build a business.

What does your field of dreams look like? Where are you in the process of transforming?

Kristen

Photographs & Memories: Reviving Family History

“A photograph taken today is a lifetime of yesterdays preserved for all the tomorrows.” – Author Unknown

Life moves fast and we capture it as we can. Weddings. New baby. Kindergarten. Graduation. Family reunions. For many generations, the family photo album or shoebox was the way to collect these memories. Now the trend is for selfies and cell phone photos.

How many photo albums or shoe boxes do you have? I have many! As the daughter of a genealogist, I was trained to document and date every picture. As a story teller, I told each picture’s story through a series of clever captions. (I never pursued ‘scrapbooking’, however, because that was just too time consuming. Does scrapbooking even exist anymore?)

How often do you revisit your photographic treasures?

It wasn’t until illness hit my previous father-in-law (I don’t like the prefix ‘ex’) that my daughter was overcome with grief. He was recently diagnosed with bone cancer following a series of TIAs and recent falls. Although her relationship with her father is strained, she wanted to remember. She wanted to smile. She wanted to release the sorrow. The solution: digging out the family photo albums.

Did pulling out the photo albums help?

YES!

We laughed. We cried. We laughed even more. We recalled favorite stories. We put together different viewpoints from the same event and scraped together vague memories from almost-forgotten family stories.

It was refreshing. It was cleansing.

And I highly recommend it!

Do you want a similar experience? Create your own opportunity with these suggestions.

Gather family around. Typically, a holiday or event such as a wedding brings the generations together, but why wait? If family is geographically close, create your own event. Invite them to bring their photo albums and their brain. It doesn’t matter if the brain is young or old; everyone will have something to contribute. If the family is scattered geographically, there are plenty of online conferencing and screen sharing options that conquer the distance. Use them!

Bring a box of tissues. You’ll need them for tears of sorrow as well as tears of mirth. As my daughter and I discovered, there were more mirthful tears.

Bring your cameras. With everything digital, the process is faster and easier. If you are gathering digitally, screen shots will suffice. The younger generations can conquer the technology easily.

Record the stories. In-person or online, document the stories. Keep the memories alive. Tie them in with the photos.

Get ready! You’ll make new discoveries about yourself and your family. Something that puzzled you for years will now make sense. Those things that were shameful or embarrassing ‘back then’ can now air out. It will be liberating and relieving at the same time, plus will clarify the whys and the reasons of the time.

Forgiveness will be easier. With discoveries and clearing the air, strained relationships may have a chance to recover. Family ties that were frayed can heal and become strong again.

Following our mother-daughter walk down memory lane, my daughter thanked me with a swipe at her eyes. “This is the best gift ever. I needed this.” She confessed that she has nothing of her daughter’s early life to share and photos on Facebook are soon lost forever. She wished she took the time to create photo albums.

My advice to her: it’s never too late.

Advice for the rest of us: rally the gang around and get ready for discovery.

Kristen

Why Do Our Elders Hold onto Paper?

“One Man’s Trash is another Man’s Treasure.” – English Proverb

Last month, I spent a busy weekend helping my mother clean out her garage. Of the ‘treasures’ we sorted through, there were several boxes labeled ‘important papers’. Dipping into these boxes revealed something amazing: nearly 6 decades of bank statements, check registers, cancelled checks, and receipts.

While my mother was reluctant to recycle, donate, or pitch physical items, she refused to relinquish her ‘important papers’ to the same fate. While I grumbled about some of the forgotten documents (great-grandmother Rebecca’s laundry clients), Mom insisted she needed to go through things in her own time. I grumbled, but agreed.

Yesterday she called with good news, “Krissy, honey, I just found our tax returns from 1959!” That was the year she and dad married. She also found every tax record since.

While we discussed the reason for keeping these records, she admits that keeping them for so long was not necessary, but at the time, it’s what she and dad thought was expected of good, hard-working citizens.

Secondly, my mother is a genealogist. All of this represented family history and carried emotional ties to the past. Although saved, forgotten, and dragged through 10 moves, she recently shredded most of it…without my input or influence.

If you find yourself helping a parent or other elderly relative with a paper hoard, here are suggestions to manage the heap.

  1. Be patient. Discuss, reminisce, and understand the significance of the papers. My father grew up poor so it was critical to keep track of every penny.
  2. The papers represent proof. Tax returns provide proof of employment. Receipts provide proof that a young couple could afford a new car. Because of that value, a 50 year old car receipt has great significance.
  3. Realize it is more than numbers for our elders; it is history unique to their era. We do not understand how life was back then. The best we can do is understand their motivation. While they may not understand our lifestyle and beliefs, we do want them to respect ours and offer them the same courtesy.

When faced with the need to thin the mountains of paper memories, ask your elder these questions:

  • Why is this important to you?
  • Why do you want to hold on to this? (Avoid mentioning that it has been buried in the basement for 40 years; it won’t matter).
  • Who would be interested in these items?

Following these exercises, the older adult may gain a little more perspective and can make thinning decisions more wisely. If the collector still refuses to reduce or eliminate the stash, avoid the argument. Instead, make an attempt to organize. It’s easy enough to toss when they pass on.

Enjoy the history lesson and let it pass. Someday we will have the same conversation with our children or grandchildren!

Kristen