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

 

Funeral Planning: Sooner Rather than Later

A hard reality of getting older means we must face our mortality and that of our loved ones. November 2015 my father died and this week, my partner’s mother died. Both parents had been suffering from various illnesses and deterioration. While our families knew the end was coming, one family had planned far in advance and one had not. It’s a difficult time made tougher by lack of planning.

The unplanned family:

  • My father’s death occurred 8pm on a Monday evening. The hospice team contacted a funeral home recommended by my mother’s church since she had none pre-arranged. When asked why she didn’t arrange things ahead of time, she said, “I didn’t want to admit your father was dying. It was too hard to take.”
  • I contacted family members secretly since mom was not ready to talk.
  • Within minutes, calls of condolences began to arrive along with the funeral home requesting information.
  • My mother was too distraught and ‘needed time’ to process what had just happened. Prepping was deferred to Tuesday morning.
  • In the meantime, friends & family members were calling me from across the country needing details from the deceased’s last minutes to funeral arrangements. I became overwhelmed and deferred family calls to my uncle. Thank goodness for the firestorm of social media!
  • My father’s sister took charge on finding hotel arrangements for out of town visitors early Tuesday.
  • Very little sleep and eating occurred between Monday evening and Saturday morning, the time of the funeral. My uncle arrived a few days in advance to console my mother and assist. I got a decent meal midday Thursday.
  • Emotions slowed the planning process. The pastor and funeral director asked my mother questions about favorite music, favorite passages, themes, and more. Each question stirred memories and turned on the waterworks for my mother, further delaying the process.
  • My mother needed to transfer funds to cover funeral costs, with a resulting time delay that slowed the process and increased her stress.
  • My brother arrived Friday and began barking orders after things were already settled. Tension escalated as he found fault with details he felt he should have been consulted on.
  • The day of the funeral arrived and was a special, although emotional event. I slept 12 hours that night.

Does that give you the heebies? If you prefer a stress-free approach to funeral planning, address the topic now—for yourself as well as family members. Here are the benefits to pre-planning, as experienced by my partner’s family:

  • The parent decided the details of his/her funeral in advance, from clothing to be worn to the music chosen for the event. Services were paid in full at the time of planning.
  • Grieving family members are given time to grieve. Emotions were still high, but the pre-planning reduced the stress.
  • Contact people and phone trees were in place. A pre-designated family representative made the call that started the process. It also helped the funeral director and related services to have a primary contact.
  • Surviving family members managed friends, family, and minute details without an overload of stress. The family representative delegated tasks.
  • The day of the funeral arrived and was a special, although emotional event.

Attending any funeral gives us a hard reality check which has us considering our own arrangements. Start the process now with these additional tips:

  • Make sure everyone knows what you want.
  • Listen to family’s complaints but stick to your preferences.
  • Write your obituary. Update as needed.
  • Prepayment eliminates a rush for funds.
  • Update styles and preferences every 3 to 5 years.

End of life isn’t easy but the more you plan ahead, the more you are assured your last wishes are honored and the process is less stressful for our loved ones.

Kristen

Helping a Parent Downsize: Simplify the Process to Maintain Sanity

“The best things in life aren’t things.” – Art Buchwald

Downsizing is one of those life events you hear everyone else talking about, but when it suddenly enters your family circle, it often comes as a shock.

December 2009, my 72 year old father fell, suffering severe traumatic brain injury and paralysis. My mother, 70, was suddenly alone in a 3-level home, with 8 large rooms, 3 bathrooms, and 2 acres of land to care for. It became overwhelming in a matter of weeks which initiated phase one of her downsizing.

My family is among the growing population of those engaged in downsizing activity, whether due to health, financial, or other reasons. Whatever the situation, it’s an emotional, energy-draining time for all involved. If you are helping a parent downsize, here are several tips to make the process easier.

Start with goals

It’s a huge undertaking to weed out years of accumulating all those beloved things. Establish a plan before you begin.

  • How much time do you need?
  • Who is available to help?
  • Who can contribute labor, resources, or finances?
  • What services will you need to help?
  • Where will your parent go once downsizing is complete?

Family assistance

Family members are spread across the country (and further) and may not be readily available to help. Involve everyone in the planning process and request their feedback. When can each one visit? How much is everyone willing to contribute—physically and financially?

Before

Who gets what?

Before you donate, recycle, or throw away anything, begin with an inventory review. Every family has something of sentimental or monetary value and it is best to establish who wants what in advance to reduce or eliminate family friction. Once treasures have been claimed, move across the family tree. There may be a college student, a newlywed couple, a divorcee, or new parents that may need the items your parent is eliminating.

Hire experts

House cleaning crews, yard care providers, and handymen are experts that can help with various tasks. My mother hired a cleaning lady who helped pack boxes for donation

Find volunteer help

Community, church, or scouting groups may offer volunteers to pack or haul donated items. Make sure they are reputable service providers to avoid theft or other problems.

After

Recycle, donate, and throw away

Recycling: many cities and states offer a wide range of recycling services. Earth Day events (occurring in April) offer opportunities to recycle and donate a vast assortment of items. Search your area to find local recycling resources.

Donation Centers: schools, churches, homeless shelters, animal shelters, nursing homes, non-profit organizations, and civic organizations have an ongoing need for donated items. Contact these for their latest requests. My mother donated her baby grand piano to a local nursing home. The nursing home was ecstatic to receive such a gift and Mom was thrilled to find a happy home for the piano.

General Advice to help parents downsize:

  • Gentle, steady pressure is best. Getting angry or demanding will cause harm, create tension, and slow progress.
  • Work within a parent’s physical ability: the process is emotionally & physically draining. Help set goals and offer to help as often as possible.
  • Let parents make as many decisions as possible. They’re already emotionally involved; giving them the lead will lessen the heartache.
  • Get out of the acquisition phase and into the thinning phase sooner rather than later. Discuss with parents will acquire their stuff or what they would like done with it once they are no longer around. This is a good exercise for all of us.

Downsizing a household will stir up a lot of emotions for everyone involved, but the sooner you discuss the process and plan, the easier it will be when it occurs.

Are you or a parent downsizing? What were your experiences? Do you have suggestions to add?

Kristen

Seeking Work/Life Balance? The Family Phone Tree May be the Place to Start

“Balance is not something you find, it’s something you create” ― Jana Kingsford

You are a busy person: you juggle client calls, appointments, and projects on a daily basis, sometimes simultaneously. Similarly, you field random calls and requests from family members that range from rants, venting, or general (unimportant) information. Yes, there is the occasional emergency, but the likelihood of a true emergency tends to be low.

Most often, family calls are predictable, based on plentiful past experience so when their call arrives in the middle of the work day, we’re faced with a few options:

  • Answer immediately because it’s always a joy to speak to this person.
  • Answer immediately because this particular family member rarely calls and it could be critical.
  • Cringe and decide: do we answer knowing the call is a false alarm?
  • Let the call go to voice mail because we’re working in our business.

When was the last time you pressed your way through a company’s phone tree system? These automated recordings are designed to efficiently direct us to the most knowledgeable or helpful person to handle our need. While they are an annoyance, and I’m not convinced this is efficient for us as the caller, there must be some time savings for the business. Following a recent series of distracting calls from various family members, I wondered how this system would work with the family. Would this feature simplify the work/life balance for a business owner wedged in the Sandwich Generation? Here’s how mine would sound:

Hello my dear Family Members. I’m sorry I cannot answer your urgent call at this moment, but I’m involved with clients at this time. Listen to the following options to best serve your needs. Please listen to the full menu as our options change frequently.

  • Mom/Dad, press 1
  • Spouse/partner, press 2
  • Son/Daughter, press 3
  • Sibling, press 4
  • All other family members, press 5

(You will need to personalize your family phone tree for best results.)

Beyond the first level of categories, there would be some similarities. Here is how I would define level 2:

  • Press 1 if you are calling because someone won’t eat their dinner.
  • Press 2 if the family member won’t complete their chores.
  • Press 3 if another family member is annoying you.

You’ll also need to include additional categories for each group:

For your parents (in my case, my mother), I need to include:

  • Press 4 if this is a news flash about April the Giraffe
  • Press 5 if this is regarding the latest political gossip
  • Press 6 if you are worried about something

For your partner/spouse, include:

  • Press 4 if you want to discuss what to have for dinner
  • Press 5 to compare the latest story from our children
  • Press 6 if you want to tell me details about your latest World of Warship battle

For Son/Daughter, include:

  • Press 4 if you are complaining about work
  • Press 5 if you are venting about life in general
  • Press 6 if this is a request for money
  • Press 7 if you are seeking advice which you plan to ignore

For those that receive the rare call from extended family members (cousin, aunt, estranged family member), this signifies something potentially critical, so it’s wise to answer immediately.

Regardless of which direction the person-in-question blunders through the family phone tree, they must record their message, which will then be queued in order of pre-determined urgency. Then on a break, you can address the issues in order of importance.

There are many joys to being a business owner and working from home, but dealing with family members is one of the darker sides of business ownership. It’s best to treat with love, patience, a bit of humor, and the family phone tree. Would such a system improve your quest for work/life balance?

Perhaps there’s an entrepreneur out there who recognizes this need and is building a prototype now!

Kristen Edens

Family First, But…It’s a Fine Line with Work-Life Balance

equilibrist-1831016_1280That’s the problem with putting others first; you’ve taught them you come second–Unknown

Earlier this week, I was on the phone with a client discussing the details about a current project. Near the end of the conversation, she asked when I thought I could get the drafts to her.

My reply, “I’m driving to Ohio tomorrow to accompany my mother to her eye surgery. She’ll need some assistance over the next several days, but I should be able to get you a draft by the end of the week.”

“Oh dear. Thanks for sharing your schedule with me. If you need a few extra days just let me know; family comes first,” she said.

Her concern and offer flattered me. That’s the sort of flexibility, understanding, and appreciation I sought when I went into business for myself. However, health and emergencies are one consideration, but it’s sometimes a fine line between true family first needs and when family wants to come first.

Here are a few of my real-life examples:

  • My mother calls to give me every detail about the Brangelina Divorce—in the middle of a work day.
  • My daughter calls me at 9:34am Monday morning to work on a 24,000 piece puzzle with her.
  • My aunt is going out of town and wants me to house- and cat-sit the entire week. She wants me there all day and night, but my schedule does not permit it.
  • My partner needs assistance with activities of daily living. There are tools that can help him accomplish his needs, but he doesn’t like the being old image it conveys.

The work-arounds have been to remind my significant others that I have specific work hours and their particular request must be postponed until I’m on break or done with my activities. This also requires reminding them (mostly my daughter) when my availability hours are, with certain exceptions ex: emergency daycare if the school is under a lice scare.

Examples of when family does and SHOULD come first, and the work-arounds for business:

  • My daughter, granddaughter and I ended up with the 72-hour bug December 26, 2014. Although it was a holiday, entrepreneurs and business owners have the flexibility to step aside for these cases. The problem: we don’t LIKE to. We want to maintain a connection with our business and our clients. See Entrepreneurs NEVER Get Sick!
  • My granddaughter ended up being admitted to the children’s hospital with a severe infection a few weeks ago. I was there to support my daughter and my granddaughter, and the availability of owning my business made me more readily available and flexible for this emergency.
  • My dad suffered a fall that left him with severe brain damage December 8, 2009. Until his death in 2015, my mother spent all her days in the ICU with him, uncertain he would live or die. She fell into depression, but I was able to visit her monthly to provide comfort, reassurance, and to handle the onslaught of bills, doctor appointments, and pesky neighbors and relatives. I discovered that this was ideal work time for me because focusing on a project deadline helped me to cope with everything going on around me.

Yet as business owners, we struggle to find a balance. When we’re sick, we have difficulties giving in to the requirement to put everything on hold until we get better. Family has their own needs that push us one way or the other. Teaching them and ourselves where our boundaries are helps to define when family does come first verses when family wants to come first. Your definition will be different from mine, but we need to remind them and ourselves that we come first too.

That’s where true balance begins.

PS: I turned in the client’s project the day after mom’s surgery.

Kristen Edens
Kris the Scribbler
A grandparent in business

Play Time for Entrepreneurs: Taking Time Off for Self, Sanity, & Success

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Live and work but do not forget to play, to have fun in life and really enjoy it -Eileen Caddy

Even though most of us who used to work for someone else gave up a regular paycheck of that other job, we are happier building and developing our own business.

Even if that means we work 50, 60, or 70 hours per week to make our vision a reality.

However, in our pursuit of that vision, we tend to forgo play time. In order to prevent burn out and to recharge our entrepreneurial batteries, we must take time off for ourselves.

Here are 2 examples of my own:

  1. While presenting a Blog Development Workshop at Venture Café, I became friends with Mary Scott, founder of Make Believe TV, the video production company hired to record the sessions. Mary eventually suggested we get together for a girls’ night out. A year later, we still hadn’t fulfilled that promise. It wasn’t until Nancy Zurbuchen of Motional Multimedia suggested girls’ night out (actually it was a Saturday afternoon) at Pinot’s Palette in Chesterfield, MO. Without hesitation (it was time!), that became our first girl’s night out. It was fun. It was new. And we participated in a business that got its entrepreneurial start in 2009.

Benefits: new friendships, new connections, and play time.

Added bonus: inspiration for this blog.resized

  1. Stan Jechura, owner of All Safe Inspections in Toledo, Ohio has been a long-time family friend since the 80s and my business accountability partner since 2011. We check in regularly for inspiration, ideas, and the occasional venting about business ownership. The 3rd quarter had been full of obstacles for both of us and we decided a getaway was needed. As a last minute idea, we decided to visit Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio to attend their Haunted Campground events. It was a risk: the campground was booked solid and the remaining non-reserveable sites were filling fast. We wanted to arrive early but I was obligated to be the designated driver for my mother’s colonoscopy and the soonest we could arrive was Thursday afternoon on October 27th. We accepted the challenge, took care of mom, and arrived in time to claim a last-minute cancellation, with other campers breathing down our necks.

Benefits: we had 3 ½ days of spooky camping fun! We decorated our trailer with random items we grabbed from our homes and tossed together a few odds & ends for costumes. The weather was ideal, the fall colors were plentiful.

Added bonus: I won the scariest costume contest!

Discoveries: we work hard for what we love and built from nothing. We often forget to take time to enjoy our progress and celebrate our successes, whatever they may be.

It’s revitalizing to take time off.
It’s healthy to goof off—regardless of age!
There is no need to be serious all the time.
Most of all: remember to have fun!
What have you done lately to play?

Kristen Edens
Kris the Scribbler
Grandparents in Business