The Music of Family Relationships

It’s springtime somewhere, but definitely not in Denver this morning where the snow from Monday’s storm has melted only a little.  I got a blizzard alert on my iPhone at about 7:30 this morning!  It’s coming down right now.  We do need the moisture and I, for one, am not anxious to get started on the lawn mowing anytime soon. . . .  So here’s a picture of spring that I took last week in Ireland.

For all of you skeptics (or people who have been to Ireland before) the weather was beautiful and I took many pictures with visible blue sky! I took this picture on the grounds of Glenstal Abbey, where I was lucky enough to spend several days in a warm and welcoming Benedictine community.  I took this picture after walking back from a visit to Mass Rock.  There Irish soprano Noirin Ni Riain told our group about the history of the Mass Rock. She alo sang to us and finished by leading us in song.  She has an amazing voice and her music not only speaks to the soul, but moves it.  I purchased three of her CD’s when I was there and they are all available from Sounds True in Boulder.  Her songs are sung in Irish, but I find that the most moving music is not in my mother tongue of English.  I’m also thinking of Gorecki’s Third Symphony which you can listen to part of it (with beautiful visual accompaniment) here .  My favorite is the original million-seller with soprano Dawn Upshaw.

Music and spring and travel. . . .  That leads me also to an experience I had some years ago when I was visiting a local nursing home in my capacity as JFS para-chaplain.  I was there to lead a service and because I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a guitarist, I sang an old Yiddish song called Oif’n Prippitchik.  About midway into the song something very interesting happened.  One of the residents who attended was a woman with very advanced dementia who, it was reported to me later, had not spoken in over a year.  She started first to hum and then sing along with the song.  She spoke about her grandmother.  The song had transported her right back to a happy memory of childhood, when her grandmother had sung that song to her.  By the means of music, hearing that melody – she was moved in a sort of time travel.  I was most certainly moved witnessing that event.  Another story of music as a means of transport for the spirit comes to mind, it is from Megory Anderson’s book Sacred Dying.

So this post is about connections I suppose, and the beauty of writing blog posts is that I can incorporate things like . . . . a bumper sticker that I saw this morning on my way to work.  It read “love lasts longer than life.”  I nodded in agreement.  This post is also about new varieties of living arrangements in this country, which hearken back to some very old traditional arrangements.  I thought about the post after reading an article about it in the April 2013 AARP bulletin.

The title of the April Bulletin’s article is “Saving Money by Living Together,” and it is about money saving, but I suspect that the approximately 51 million Americans who live in a house with at least two generations in a single home, and many of these most likely have three generations, are enjoying more than just money savings from the arrangement.  The money savings factor in substantially for caring for an elder parent, and the arrangement also give an adult child or children the opportunity to give back to the aging parent some of the care they received from childhood.  This can be a beautiful way of modeling productive multigenerational relationships for young children.   I think it also can foster a productive stage of elderhood for many grandparents, a topic I’ve blogged about previously.

One of the biggest challenges that we face as a society is how to take care of the burgeoning number of elders, some of whom have meager savings and many whose savings have simply run out over the course of a long number of years of paying for health care not covered by Medicare and costs of living in retirement.  I sometimes hear the offhand lament “we don’t take care of our elders in this country,” to which I often quickly respond with the numbers of elders and the fact that the vast majority of those elders needing care receive some or all of their care from unpaid family members.  One of the side effects of longevity is reworking family relationships to support elders in their later years.  As an estate planning and elder law attorney, there are a number of legal arrangements that an individual and family can put in place to manage the legal aspects of these often complicated financial, medical and emotional considerations.  In a multigenerational housing arrangement, it is good to start with a plan.  I liked this article’s list of tips for making such an arrangement work which include:  discuss expectations and responsibilities like financial and privacy issues; talk about parental and filial (adult child to parent) responsibilities; check zoning restrictions about renovations for attached dwellings; and share the responsibilities.  I would also add that it might be wise to have a regular place for the family members to meet all together to ensure things are working and so any conflict can be managed productively and not allowed to proliferate.   Some of my clients have made such arrangements and they are usually mutually beneficial.  It is interesting to note the change in structure that economic and age-related considerations can have for families – for so many of us, it brings our dear ones closer to us.

©Barbara Cashman     www.DenverElderLaw.org

 

 

 

Law As A Healing Profession

For you detractors who scoff at the idea of law as a healing profession …

I was inspired to write this post after reading a recent article by Mark Glover, “A Therapeutic Jursiprudential Framework of Estate Planning,” in 35 Seattle Univ. L. Rev. 427 (2012).

The author is an assistant professor at Louisiana State University.  The article begins with a reference to Moby Dick – specifically when Ishmael’s brush with mortality in the attack on the longboat in which he was riding was attacked.  Having survived the “jaws of death,” Ishmael subsequently puts his affairs in order and makes a will, and feels as if a stone was rolled away from his heart.  Glover’s article looks at therapeutic jurisprudence, the aim of which he describes as “to shape the law in a way that maximizes its therapeutic potential without undermining the law’s fundamental purposes.” at 429 (citation omitted).  Why did I read this article and describe it here?  Glover’s stated aim is to spread the word about therapeutic jurisprudence in the estate planning and administration context.  I was interested!

I liked his point about one of the “antitherapeutic”  aspects of making and finalizing a will – that the experience is essentially “taboo-defying,” and as such, tends to be upsetting to many people.  In my experience I think this is a stretch.  I work with many people who have been thinking about estate planning for a long time, and it takes them a while to come in and get started or to complete the process.  I can also say from my own experience of updating my will and POA just several weeks back, that a couple folks in my office looked at me as if I was not telling them something important about my life (or death).  Therein lies the taboo.  It is insidious!  Next he identifies seven concerns that psychologists have identified that lead to a fear of death:

  1. They can no longer have any life experiences;
  2. They may be uncertain as to what will happen to them if there is a life after death;
  3. They may be afraid of what will happen to their bodies after death;
  4. They realize they will no longer be able to care for their dependents;
  5. They realize that their death will cause grief to their relatives and friends;
  6. They realize that all their plans and projects will come to an end; and
  7. They may be afraid that the process of dying will be painful. (citation omitted)

Avoiding estate planning helps some people avoid thoughts of their own mortality. I must ask the practical question – and how is this a good thing? It is about perpetuating death-denial that pervades our culture.  The crazy thing is that busting the “taboo” of thinking about death by making an estate plan is – I believe – an invaluable way to think about what is important to us in our lives right now, and are we living the kind of life for which we want to be remembered?  I already broached this topic in an earlier post, about writing your obituary now. [link to post]  From this article I learned of a study that (more than thirty years ago) that referred to the professional estate planner’s anxiety about raising the issue of mortality with clients?!  I don’t think I know of colleagues with that type of skin.

Glover also looks at estate disputes and familial conflict and the tangled web of concern over who gets what when there are children and assets involved and everyone may not get along.  I liked his footnote citing an article by M. Begleiter entitled “Anti-Contest Clauses: When You Care Enough to Send the Final Threat.”  This is a primary reason that I advocate mediation clauses in wills. The mediation clause cannot, under present law, force disputing parties to go first to mediation prior to a challenge in court, but a testator can certainly express herself about how she intends her children to get along and resolve any disputes they may have. A good article by Lela Porter Love about mediating probate matters to preserve and promote family harmony can be found here.

In the second half of the article, Glover finally gets to looking at the “therapeutic consequences” of estate planning.  He seems to start with the premise that only sailors on whaling ships (like Ishmael) should be entitled to feel good about getting their affairs in order.  I would tend to disagree!  One of the first benefits he discusses is that of self-determination, namely that deciding in advance who will be your beneficiaries knocks out the possibility of others determining the distribution (even “the government” meaning state laws of intestacy).  He also cites a helpful article about the “Power Tools” of estate conflict management by Paul Fisher, available here.

Finally, I liked what Glover had to say about the will execution ceremony.  It is and ought to be recognized as an important achievement, one which should provide the testator an amount of satisfaction.  The typical will ceremony in Colorado involves two witnesses, and can provide a certain amount of relief in that the anxiety remaining about mortality will often be replaced by a feeling that a person has put his or her affairs in order.  The last bit of fascinating information in this article concerns the origins of the Nobel prizes.  Grover points out that Alfred Nobel was the reader of a premature and highly critical obituary, as it was erroneously originally reported that Alfred, not his brother Ludvig, had died of a heart attack.  As a result of the “merchant of death” description in the obituary, Alfred Nobel bequeathed the bulk of his family fortune and his family name to the prizes that rewards persons making contributions for the benefit of humanity.  I recommend this article for reading by anyone who questions the therapeutic benefits of making a will, writing a testament, or executing durable powers of attorney.