Guilt After Someone Dies: The What Ifs

My fourteen year old daughter’s friend died.   Fourteen year old kids are not supposed to die and when they do, it is hard to wrap your head around it.

I try hard not to judge people by their outside cover; reserving judgement on their character once I get to know them but I’m human and I fail at this more than I care to admit.  I had reservations about her being friends with my daughter.  She had blue hair!  Not just a little, but the whole head was blue and a shocking bright blue at that!   She had a facial piercing and striking confidence and bravado for a child her age.  There was no way she would be a good influence on my daughter.

Turns out I was wrong. 

She was also a kind loving soul who loved everyone around her and everyone loved her.  She accepted people for who they were and the personality gifts they each brought to her circle of friends.  She was the President of the Honor Society and a good student.   A student that teachers loved and admired.  She cared little what people thought of her except she found it fun to surprise them with a change of hair color.  In short, she was the person we should all strive to be as we slowly mature along this path called life.

Regrettably, she lost that shocking blue hair that scared me initially.  The ravages of medicines designed to cure pulled it from her head and left her head bald and her face swollen. I can’t stop crying.   It’s been days and a couple of crying jags in public places I wish had not occurred.   But I can’t stop.  Of course I am sad that she died but even more so, I am crying because of the ‘what ifs’.

Nothing I could have done would have stopped her death.   I know that.  But I wonder what I could have, should have done, to help ease her and her family’s way along the path.   I talk big about understanding this path and not being afraid to discuss it.  But when I dropped my daughter off to see her friend, I quickly slunk past her Mom, afraid of asking the big questions.  How was her daughter really doing?  Where could I help?   What did her and her daughter need?   And the big one – was it a curable illness or was she terminal?  I was afraid of the answers.  Hopeful that if I didn’t ask the questions, I wouldn’t get the answer that I didn’t want to hear.

So I cry over my guilt.  The what ifs. 

When my Mom died, some of my biggest crying sessions came over guilt as well.   I couldn’t get over two things that I wish I could go back in time and fix.   The first was washing her so thoroughly in her last hours.   I asked the Hospice nurse to come help me bathe her and as we moved her from side to side she cried in pain.  I should have realized that perfect cleanliness was not what she needed at that time.  She needed to feel secure and pain free and so a gentle partial bath would have been fine, even if she wasn’t perfectly clean.  The second was not attending a family event I knew was important to her shortly before her death.  It was the last time we’d have the opportunity to experience that holiday with her and I missed it over stupid petty stuff.

I am still not over the guilt on those two items but it has lessened some.   While I know that both hurt her – one physically and one mentally – I am her daughter and she is my mother.    As a mother, I know that I would feel no resentment at all towards my children if they were in the same situation and would be upset if I thought they felt the way I do over it.   Mothers love their children and my mother loved me deeply and unconditionally.

I can’t go back in time but hopefully I can learn and improve from each failure in my life.  What would I have done differently?  I am not sure.     Her mother did not seem to want to talk as I dropped my daughter off but maybe it was because each person that came by slunk guiltily by in the same way I did.  She was probably used to it.  Maybe if I had stepped outside my comfort zone and asked how her daughter was really doing and what they needed, she would have responded and I could have made a difference.  Or maybe she would have snapped at me and told me to mind my own business. The rejection is what we fear and as a result we are trapped by inaction.   I could have been rejected but I also could have made a difference in the life of a child who was suffering and had such a short time on Earth to feel the love of friends.  That should have been worth the risk.

Note: I wrote this blog in 2015 but this is the first it has been published here.

Government contracting: What is a Direct Labor Rate?

The direct labor rate is the cost of the labor of your employee per hour.  It’s the cost of paying the employee and does not include the Overhead and General & Administrative costs of running your business.

The cost is derived by taking the total number of hours paid in a year and dividing it into the total amount paid to the employee.  In most cases, the number of hours paid is 2080.

So, in the case where someone is paid $50,000, it would be calculated as:

$50,000 ÷ 2080 = $24.04 per hour

A question I get asked often is what do you multiply by then to get the Direct Labor Cost to a contract?

Isn’t it 2080?

Not typically.

And here is why.

The Direct Labor Cost per hour is based on the number of hours PAID.  Once you know the Direct Labor cost per hour you then need to multiply by the total number of hours the employee will work on the contract and then add the associated Indirect Costs.

So, in this case, it is estimated the employee will work 1920 billable hours on the contract.

Hours Total in the Year                  2080

Vacation                                            –   80

Holiday                                              –   80

Total Hours Billed                           1920

The total hours (1920) is then multiplied by the Direct Labor Rate ($24.04) to get the Direct Labor Cost:

1920 x $24.04 = $46,156.80

So, while the employee is paid a total of $50,000 per year, the amount of his salary allocated to hours serving the customer actually only costs $46,156.80.  The rest is allocated to Vacation and Holiday which would be covered under Indirect Costs in the Fringe Pool.

For more information on how to calculate the total cost to charge the customer on a Cost Reimbursable Contract, see Developing Rates for Government Contracts.

5 Tips For when your parent starts dating after their spouse dies

My Dad started dating pretty quickly after my Mom died. It shocked some. It shocked me.

Friends and family worried about how my sisters and I would react or feel. Some were angry with my father. They wondered how he could move on so quickly after my mother’s death. Didn’t he love her?  Shouldn’t he mourn her longer?

Surprisingly, my sisters and I were the most comfortable with the idea. I can’t speak for them and their feelings, but for me, it was a sign my father did indeed love my mother deeply and he missed her terribly. It was a sign that he wanted to try to find the comfort and love he experienced during their marriage. Being with another was not a sign of disrespect for her but instead just the opposite. It was a visible declaration that he wanted to do what he could to find love again.

Let me be clear…. it still was not easy. I worked hard on not imagining what happened during more intimate moments with his dates. I sometimes had to look away when I saw him place a familiar arm around a woman’s waist or hold her hand. But seeing him experience the hug and touch of another woman was also comforting — I was glad to see him smile and feel happy again. Quite the mix of emotions!

The bottom line though was that I wanted my father to be happy. He had been a loving and faithful husband down to the last minute of their marriage and I, and everyone else, had to realize he was no longer married. We may not like the circumstances that made him a single man but that is what he was. I wasn’t the one having to go home to an empty house with all the memories of my mother around. I wasn’t the one sitting in church alone, in the pew he had sat with my mother for many years. I wasn’t the one eating dinner alone with only the cat for conversation. Who was I to tell him that he had to do a certain period of grieving before he could find happiness again?

What worked for me may not work for your and your family but here are some pointers that may help:

  1. Understand it is not your life: You may not like your parent dating again but it’s not your life. They are the one dealing with being alone and they have to make choices for themselves on what will make their life better.  Its their grieving process and each person deals with grief in a very personal and individual way.
  2. The alternative could be worse: As much as you may hate your parent dating, the alternative could be a depressed parent who withdraws from the world. Many surviving parents never get over their spouse “leaving” them and just bide their time until their death.  I want my father to be happy.  I don’t want him pining for a life with a woman who can no longer be with us.
  3. Older people date different than younger people:  We have time.  They don’t.   They have been recently reminded in a very stark way that life doesn’t last forever and they need to seize the day.     While not all parents jump quickly into the dating pool, its not uncommon.
  4. Stand up for them:  Not everyone will be as understanding of your parent dating.  You set the tone for everyone else.  Its up to you to show everyone else how they should react.   Although it may look easy, it can’t be simple for your parent to begin dating someone else with the memories and potential guilt so if you can remove the judging of others that’s one less thing they have to worry about.  I know it was difficult for some of my mother’s siblings to know my father was dating and while it didn’t make it “okay” in their eyes just because I said so, it did make it easier for them to accept when I said it was okay with me.
  5. Be Honest:  If it bothers you that your parent is dating it’s probably okay to express it as long as you also let them know that while it bothers you, you realize it’s still their life to lead.  Be specific on how they might help you — maybe it bothers you the most when you see them standing in a place that was special to your parents — let them know and maybe they can avoid that spot.  Be reasonable though.  Its not okay to tell them they can’t date at all or that they can’t be near you.  Some of this you just have to suck up and deal.

Moving on with our lives after a parent dies is not easy.  This is just one more hurdle to cross and while it sounds cliché, it does get easier with time.

I Should Have Worn the Bikini

Hindsight is easy. I wish I could go back to my teenage self and let me know that I was okay and that despite all my social insecurities, I was not alone in them. But what would I tell myself now at age 50 when I am one day 70 years old? In this video I sit at my high school alma mater athletic fields and share some stories about myself during the awkwardness of middle school and high school.


Haunted By A Book Idea? Hiring a ghostwriter can bring it to life

I have a bunch of book ideas and not enough time or talent to get them to paper. I have pondered hiring a ghostwriter but needed to know more so I interviewed Courtney Kelly, an experienced ghostwriter. We went through the entire process… when to hire one, how to hire the best one and what it costs.

A ghostwriter works with you, the expert, to be your voice and bring your ideas and experience to paper.

Courtney Kelly

When do you hire a ghostwriter? Courtney suggests you hire a ghostwriter very early in the process but each ghostwriter is going to have a different approach. They can step in when you just have the idea and help do research on the topic. Others prefer you do the research and will step in when the writing is ready to start. The wrong time to hire a ghostwriter is after you have written a book and need editing. That is when you hire a developmental editor or copy editor.

Should you hire a ghostwriter who specializes in your topic? Sometimes you should but Courtney suggested it is most important to hire someone you get along with and like since this can be a long process. They can learn your topic. They can’t learn to be someone you like!

Where do you find a ghostwriter? There is no single source but some good places to check are:

What are some questions you should ask when hiring a ghostwriter? Courtney stressed it is most important the ghostwriter asks YOU questions about your project. If they are agreeing with everything you are saying without asking questions that is a big red flag. Questions you should ask though are: what services do they offer, how many revisions do they include, what does their revision process look like, how will you be involved in the revision process, can they provide samples of their work, and do they help with book pitches and getting the book published. (There were more but you need to watch the video!)

The most important thing I learned in this interview was that every author and every ghostwriter is different and the key is to find a good match. We covered so much more including how long it takes to complete the process and how much it costs so you definitely need to watch the video to get all the great information Courtney shared.


Growing Food in Small Spaces: Patios, Yards & Containers

This was a jam packed interview and I learned so much. There is nothing like growing and eating the food your grow yourself and Woody DeLauder shared how to grow food whether you live on a farm, a suburban lot or a just have a city patio.

Woody suggested that if you are short on space, to think UP! Trellising plants up such at tomatoes, cucumbers and beans utilize your space more efficiently. Green leafy vegetables such as lettuce can also be grown in shallow flats very easily since they have shallow roots. Lettuce is also what is know as a “cut and come again” crop that can be harvested and it will regenerate for future harvesting.

Another important topic we discussed was how to create good soil via composting and adding other organic matter such as wood chips that are readily available from wood trimming companies. Utilizing a no-till method will also improve your soil by encouraging earthworms and decreasing weeds.

Anyone can grow food in whatever space they have.

Woody De Lauder

Woody highly suggested raised beds if you are first starting out and gave us some great suggestions on how to construct and start them including how to use cardboard to prevent weeds and what type of soil to use.

We covered so much more including how to trim tomatoes plants, how to trellis, the importance of shade cloths, and creating air flow for your plants. You need to watch this interview… Woody had so much knowledge to share!


Thriving In An Unsettled Business Environment

I know many of us are scared and worried about the current business environment. And it’s true — these are more tumultuous times than usual. But from adversity comes innovation and challenges can shake up our normal routines so we are able to see new opportunities. None of us know what the “new normal” will be but challenges can be an opportunity to shape the new normal.

As a business, you have two choices… hunker down and wait for it to pass and hopefully go back to your business as usual or you can look at it as an opportunity to adjust and gasp!… maybe even thrive and improve!

Let me give you an example:

Retail is a difficult market in the first place and during a recession it is even more hard hit. During the 2000 recession, many retail establishments understandably did massive layoffs and cost cutting measures so they would survive.

Target did things a bit differently – it increased its marketing budget by 20% and increased the number of stores from 947 to 1,107. It also made strategic partnerships with Amazon and high-end designers to establish its role as an inexpensive but stylish brand. They also took steps to reduce costs by improving the efficiency of its operations.

The result? Target grew sales by 40% and profits by 50% during the recession and its profit margin which was 9% in the three years before the recession, was increased to 10% after it.  (Harvard Business Review)

The key is not to just increase your product line and marketing. What set Target apart from their competitors was they took a hard look at HOW they delivered and made changes to reflect the needs of their customers. For example, it changed their store format to double the space devoted to food and differentiated themselves from Walmart with their designer lines.

The COVID-19 pandemic may be slowing your sales, or even stopping them entirely. Businesses that wait for things to go back to “normal” may not survive. The companies that will survive and may even do better than before the pandemic are ones that adjust and look for opportunities.

And there will be opportunities – and I’m not saying that you should take this as an opportunity to price gouge or take advantage of other’s misfortunes. What it DOES mean is that there are new needs that didn’t exist before and aren’t currently being met and with this “pause” in business, you have an opportunity to look at your business processes and improve and refine.

I know I’ve been doing lots more web-based meetings and my knowledge of technologies to help me with that have improved. I started doing web-based interviews with professionals that support my Retreat business (Retreat & Learn) and that would have never occurred if I wasn’t forced to stop and reevaluate my current methods of operation during the pandemic. I am continuing to explore other ways I can improve my businesses and I am sure these discoveries will be beneficial in the long term.

How are YOU making changes to YOUR business operations that will help your business thrive and grow?

Happy & Healthy WITHOUT Giving up Favorite Food and Drinks

I’ve been struggling with how to make eating well a long-term lifestyle. I feel great when I’m eating more vegetables, less carbs and exercising but it is hard to keep it going week after week so I reached out to Nirit Roddy, certified trainer and nutritionist from Fit With Nirit who gave me some great tips on how to see long-term results — but still enjoy the food I love.

Some of her top tips were:

  1. Change one thing every couple weeks. For example, start by focusing on 8-10 cups a water a day. Then the next week focus on increasing your exercise.
  2. Every person is different. Some need to do everything at once (but not perfectly) and some need to add a little each week so they can get psychological wins.
  3. Get a coach to learn what works for you and have accountability .. and they are a great cheerleader!
  4. Be honest about what you are eating.
  5. Frozen vegetables are an easy way to have vegetables on hand so you eat more of them.
  6. Make one big meal where leftovers can be used for future meals.

Perfection is the killer of progress. It’s not about doing an hour of exercise 7 days a week and eating perfectly every day because that is not a lifestyle. It’s about changing one thing every couple weeks.


Nirit also had some great tips for how to deal with picky eaters in your family. How many of you are creating a separate meal for your family members when you are trying to eat healthy? For these and so many great tips on getting healthy without stress watch the video!


What Do You Say to Someone Grieving?

Whether someone has lost a parent, a child, or a friend, we want to console and bring comfort but its hard to know what to say.  I think every situation is different and what works for one person may not work for another but here are my suggestions based on my experience as someone grieving:

1) Just be there.   Its not necessarily what you say (or don’t say).   A person grieving just wants to know that people care.  Its one of the main reasons we have funerals.   Besides letting family and friends say goodbye and come to terms that the person is in fact dead, its also a time to come together and console one another.  Don’t worry too much about what you are going to say.  Just show up and be there.  The simple phrase, “I care and I am here when you need me” is good enough.  Too often people distance themselves from grieving people because they are afraid they will say the wrong thing.   Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing – not being there is much worse.

2) Listen.   Being nervous about saying the wrong thing means that sometimes people start running their mouth and don’t let the grieving person get a word in edgewise.    Let us talk about whatever we want.  It might be about how sad we are or the funeral arrangements or even something unrelated like the weather.  We may laugh or we may cry or just sit there quietly but whatever we do, its okay.

3) You don’t need to fix the situation.  In fact you can’t. We have to walk through the fire of grief to get to the other side and if we don’t deal with it today, we will deal with it later.   Don’t try to defuse the grief by changing the subject away from the person who died.  If we start talking about the person who died, that’s okay.  It is also okay if we are crying.  It is not your job, nor can you stop us from crying or feeling sad.   Just be there and listen.

4) Don’t pretend it didn’t happen or the person who died never existed.  Because people are afraid of making us cry, they stop talking about the person who died.   We WANT to talk about our loved one and hear how they made a difference in your life.  We want to hear your memories and we want to talk about our memories.  Yes.. we might cry… but that is okay.

5) It is all normal.   Each person is different and whatever works for them is what is normal.    Some people want to sit at home and cry.  Some people may want to actually go out to a party and try to forget for a bit about their grief.   Whatever the response it is normal and fine.

6) Offer specific help.   Grieving people frequently hear, “Let me know what we can do to help.”   It is good intentioned and I’m sure the person offering really means it.  The problem is that the grieving person doesn’t know what they need or if they do, they don’t want to ask for it.   Instead, offer something specific — “My family would like to come clean your house before the funeral.  Is Monday good?”  Or “I make a great lasagna.  Can I bring some tonight for your family?”  With that said, the word OFFER specific help is important.  Give us the option of saying no as well.  We may be sick of eating our fourth pan of lasagna in as many days or the fear of someone seeing my bathroom that has been sorely neglected while caring for my dying loved one is not worth having it cleaned.

6) There is no timeline.   For me, the first few months weren’t too bad.  I was busy planning a funeral and cleaning up a life that had been neglected in the month’s leading up to my mother’s death.  Plus it just didn’t seem real.  There was no possible way she was REALLY dead.  It felt like she was just at her house waiting for me to show up.  It wasn’t until three months or so after her death that it suddenly felt real and crushing grief set in.  By then, I’m sure my friends thought I was handling it well and had moved on to my new reality.  So don’t be surprised if three months or even three years later something sets us off and the grief suddenly become fresh again.

And truly…. just the fact that you are reading this post wondering what you can do to help your friend means that you will do just fine.   You care.  And that is enough.

Finding the Hero in Dying

There are many moments in my life that defined and changed me. The death and dying process of my Mom ranks high. My Mom died in 2012 after 3 1/2 years of having pancreatic cancer. You notice I didn’t say fighting pancreatic cancer – she had pancreatic cancer. Sometimes she did fight it. And sometimes she did not. But always she was a warrior and my hero.

We congratulate people fighting cancer for being warriors and being strong — we call them heroes for fighting the good fight. Being a warrior and hero is not a bad thing as it gives the cancer patient hope and encouragement.

What happens though when the patient decides they are done fighting and want to discontinue treatment? Are they no longer a hero? If they aren’t a warrior or fighter or hero, what are they?  Are they a loser?  Someone who has given up and lost the fight?

The patient may feel as if they are letting down their family by stopping the fight.   They may feel their family and friends do not want them to quit fighting and they owe them because they has given so much of their time to care for them.   The patient’s family and friends feel as if they need to make excuses to others about why the patient has “given up.”

I think we need to change our feeling towards stopping the fight. We need to find the hero in stopping aggressive treatment and starting palliative or hospice care.  We need to ensure that the person who is living their life, well aware they are dying, know they are just as much a hero as when they were fighting their cancer.

What is courage? It is defined as the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.

“Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.”
– Karl Van Clausewitz

I can’t think of anything that takes more courage than embracing your last days on earth and confronting the fact you are dying and dying soon.   Being able to say “no thank you” to additional invasive treatments and instead focusing on LIVING the last days of your life with your family and friends, doing the things you want, hopefully outside the confines of the hospital.  That is courage and we need to celebrate that courage.

The courage of someone embracing their last days does not negate the courage of someone fighting their disease.  One patient’s path is not right and one is not wrong.  Both patients are heroes and warriors and courageous.

One of the most difficult things I had to do as a caregiver of my mother, and probably will remain one of the most difficult things I will EVER have to do as human, was to say to her that it was okay to stop the treatment… that I had called Hospice to see what her options were and maybe she should talk to them as well.   That maybe it was time to leave the hospital and come home.  I felt as if I was letting her down and giving up on her.   That I WANTED her to die.

Of course, me wanting her to die was the furthest thing from my mind.  I wanted her to stop hurting.  I didn’t want to see her lying in a hospital bed, struggling to breathe.  I didn’t want to see her shrinking away with tubes and beeping monitors surrounding her.  I wanted to see her at home surrounded by her grandchildren, snuggling and reading them stories.

What made it hard was that I knew giving up on the treatments meant we were accepting that she was going to die.    It was what we all knew.. the proverbial “elephant in the room” but no one wanted to recognize the elephant.  Dammit, if we kept at the treatments, surely something would work.  There was always one more study or one more clinical trial.  Or maybe we just hadn’t seen the right doctor.  By calling Hospice I was declaring to the world, and to her, that I wanted my mother to die.

If we kept at the treatments, surely something would work. By calling Hospice I was declaring to the world, and to her, I wanted my mother to die.

There were not many times I cried when caring for my mother — mostly because I had to be strong in caring for her and there just wasn’t time for a pity party.   This was not one of those times where I was strong.  After the conversation, I cried with wracking, gut wrenching, nearly vomiting sobs.  It was admitting to her and to me and to everyone I knew that she was going to die.    Its been years since she passed, and thinking about that moment in order to get it to paper brings the tears again.

The most amazing thing happened though.   She was happy.   After the conversation, I remember her sitting up straighter and looking determined.  The doctors looked relieved and glad the decision had been made.  Not everyone was on board immediately — it took my mother some time to convince everyone that she was ready to stop the treatments.  But she was sure and I felt good that I had broached the subject.

She came home and grew stronger without the poisoning of the treatments.  Hospice came by regularly and provided counseling and medical advice and treatments designed to make her feel better day to day. Not treatments that would cure her but make it so she could live her life until her death.

She lived for three months after that decision and was able to attend her grandchildren’s soccer games and birthday parties and go out to dinner with her family.  She had streams of visitors and she was able to enjoy their visits in the comfort of a home environment, rather than ill in a hospital bed.   She sat in the sunshine and enjoyed the warmth of upcoming Spring.

She is my hero.  My warrior.  And I know no one more courageous.    She confronted the fear of death head on with a smile and embraced the life she had left.

I wish the same for you and your loved ones.   Stopping treatments and embracing the time you have left makes you no less a hero.   You are a warrior of life and the courage it takes to take that step back from treatments to live that life needs to be celebrated.   Bravo for you!

My Mom and I shortly after my oldest son was born. He was her first grandchild and she was so excited to be a grandma. I’m glad she got to meet all her grandchildren before she passed. (Photo credit: Rebecca Sperry)
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