Guilt, Grief and Caregiving of an Independent Dying Parent

This blog is not just about my journey.  I want to share other peoples stories.  It is remarkable how many commonalities there are in our experiences.  However,  each person has a different perspective and something they can teach the rest of us.  This story is from an interview I did with Casey (I have changed all names for interviews mainly to protect anyone that were involved in their story).

Do you have any tips for working with medical staff?

I found that if you act intelligent you get better care.   What I mean is that if you show them that you have good records and understand their lingo then they treat you differently and you get more direct answers.   I felt better and more prepared too when I had good records with me.    I’d also recommend that you work with the nurses rather than the doctor when you can.    Oh, and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion and go to the best doctor you can.

How about your family? 

I was the rock for my mother but my brother was the rock for me.   Every time I asked for help he stepped up.  We had a constant communication line and talked everyday to compare notes and what needed to be done.

What about your immediate family?

I think I had unreasonable expectations for them.   I got irritated with them at times because the house wasn’t clean or the laundry wasn’t done to my expectations.   But their expectations were different – they didn’t care that the house wasn’t immaculate.  They didn’t expect me to clean it but I felt guilty that it wasn’t done and snapped at them about it.  I appreciate though that they never resented the time I spent with Mom even though it took time away from them.

How did you deal with talking to your Mom about her funeral and plans for burial?

I didn’t really.   I knew it had to be done but my Mom is not a touchy feely kind of person.  But I knew what she would want so I wrote up the will and came to her and told her that I had written it up and that we needed to go have it notarized.   She just said “ok” and we went.

Eventually I asked her about how she wanted to be buried.  I told her, “Mom, you need to tell me what you want done.  I would like to be cremated.  Would you want that?”   In her typical ‘don’t bother me with the details’ fashion, she said just replied, “Whatever you want is fine.”

A couple of days later though she came to me and said, “that seems kind of rough to me… what if I am not totally dead.”  So I knew she had been thinking of our conversation.  We didn’t talk much more about it then but after a few more days she told me that if she was cremated she would want her ashes spread in the river.   So I wasn’t really sure what she wanted when she actually died.  That made it tough.

I remember sitting around with my siblings, husband and kids the day after she died and they were all looking to me to make a decision on how she should be buried.  I wanted to do what SHE wanted but I just wasn’t sure what that was.    Finally I settled on the cremation.   It was what I would want and it was the least expensive option.   But I still wasn’t sure so I said out loud, “Mom, give me a sign that you want the cremation.”  Just then something fell loudly in the kitchen.  I took it as a sign that I had made the right decision.

What triggered the tears after her death?

I was numb for the first three months.  I think I was afraid of feeling the pain and for so long I had been the rock.. not allowing feelings to enter … I had to be strong for my mother.  At the time of her death I didn’t feel as sad as I thought I would because I was happy for her that she was no longer in pain.   It took about three months to believe it was real and then it really hurt.  By then it was too late.  Friends thought I should have been over it by now but I was just starting to really feel the pain.

It started with a phone call.  My cell phone rang one day and I looked down to see my Mom’s face and number on the screen.  Shocked, I didn’t know what to think.  I turns out my brother, who had loaned the phone to my Mom, hadn’t changed the contact numbers after her death.  But that started the tears.

Other things were triggers too.  Buying flowers in the spring was tough.  It was something we had always done together and I wasn’t sure how to do it without her.  I bought all the flowers she would have liked and planted them the way that she wanted.  I’m not sure if that was a tribute to her or just because I could hear her in my head telling me what to do.  Shopping is the same way.  My mother and I always shopped together.  Its been over seven months and I haven’t been shopping for clothes since she died.  I’m saving a lot of money!

If you could go back and change anything about the time when you were caring for her what it would be?

Not much.   I guess the one thing would be to spend more time sitting and talking with my Mom.   Instead of talking to her I spent time cleaning her house and taking care of things.   Part of it was I was afraid of talking about the hard things but also I felt like I was accomplishing something.   If I could give anyone going through this some advice it would be to be tender and caring and loving because you can’t get those moments back.  And forgiving because they can be difficult at the end.

Another would be to “Listen and listen well.”   Listen to the things they really care about and then do them even if it is against what you would want.  When it became difficult for Mom to care for herself, I asked her to come live with me.  She refused and it hurt my feelings.  Why wouldn’t she want to come live with my family?  The people who really cared about her?

Eventually, she wasn’t able to be alone and her neighbor and good friend was coming to check in on her.  Hospice was involved at that point and I called Hospice and told them I was coming to get her.  I was putting my foot down and she was coming to live with me.   I arrived at her house to get her and started to gather the things that she would need.  After a bit, her friend asked to speak to me outside.

I know it was difficult for her but I appreciate what she reminded me of that day.   “Casey, this is not about you.   I know you want her with you but she wants this control and independence.  She wants to be able to change the thermostat to what she wants, walk at night without bothering you, eat what she wants and when she wants.   She loves you dearly and appreciates what you do but she needs this independence.   When she told Hospice that you were coming to get her to take her to your house, she cried.”

It hurt me to do it, but I left her at home that day.  It wasn’t about me.  My Mom may have been ill, but her mind was not and she needed this last bit of control over her life.

I also wish I had asked Mom about her past, her childhood and things I didn’t know.  I assumed I would be able to ask her brother after her death and avoid asking her about her past as she was dying but turns out her brother doesn’t remember.   Now it’s lost heritage that I can’t get back.

Speaking to Medical Staff for Your Loved One

My Mom died of pancreatic cancer. In her last few years, I helped care for her (along with my sisters and my Dad). As she became weaker, it was exhausting for her to communicate with medical staff. Different doctors would ask the same things over and over. Trying to be polite and also attempting to make sure each doctor had the information they needed to effectively treat her, she tried to answer the best she could. But it was difficult and exasperating. Breathing and living were difficult some days. Adding repeating yourself over and over was beyond difficult and it seemed a waste of energy.

Because I spent so much time with her I had a decent idea of what the answers were but I didn’t want to speak for her and get it wrong. Eventually, a system evolved though.

Doctors would ask questions and I would answer for her but let them know if I got it wrong, she would correct me. I paused occasionally and turned to her to ask if she agreed. At that point, all it took was a quick nod to confirm. It was much less taxing of her energy and because I had the energy to expand, the doctors got a much more comprehensive answer.

Other tactics to ensure doctors got the answers they needed were:

  • Carry our own copy of her medical history for reference
  • Have a quick reference sheet to hand to the doctors they could keep that included current drugs, brief history, and latest status
  • Always ask for a copy of the medical records when we left so we could keep a complete history (did you know that you can ask for a cd for yourself each time you get an MRI or CAT scan?)
  • Utilize the help of nursing staff as they sometimes have more time and are more willing to give info than physicians — make friends with them!
  • Be nice. This seems like such a common sense thing but medical staff are frequently verbally abused because they are facing frustrated caregivers and patients. Being nice will get you much further than screaming.

My Mom called me her bulldog and meant it in the most complimentary way. I spoke for her and made sure that she got the care she needed. Its true that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and when you are sick its hard to be squeaky.

Executors Guide to a Stress Free Administration

A couple of years ago I got a phone call while I was on vacation from the grandson of a family friend. He had bad news… his grandmother … and my friend… had passed away.  I had never met her grandson and I suddenly realized why he was calling… a promise I had made years before to his grandmother to handle her estate. 

I was suddenly thrown into a role I didn’t understand or have experience – a manager of assets, real estate and financials with the responsibility of dissolving and distributing.  It was a tough job and there wasn’t an easy checklist to follow.  In many cases I was a detective trying to figure out where assets were or if they even existed.

I wish I had this interview with Leah Del Percio from Trustate before that phone call. She answered so many questions about what I should have done from the beginning to make my job much easier.

Don’t make any big decisions on the first few days. In the coming days your job is to discover the assets and liabilities so you can administer the estate but you have some time.


Topics we covered:

  • What is an administrator and/or executor of an estate?
  • First steps (and second steps)
  • Pitfalls to avoid
  • Medical power of attorney
  • What you can do in advance to help your family administer your estate

(There were more but you need to watch the video!)


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?

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