Saturday, January 27, 2018

Another Year. Another Birthday. More Decisions.

1/17/1018    Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

At my age, birthdays aren’t as much fun as they used to be. In fact, they can be downright depressing. This process of getting older and aging gracefully is serious business. My recent birthday was particularly sobering. I’m not 80 years old yet but I’m sure looking at it. Instead of a fancy dinner, cake, ice cream and balloons celebration, I find myself saying, “Let’s just go to a late lunch so we can be home before dark!”

I am, however, still looking at the future but it looks a whole lot different than when I was 12, 24, 36, or even 66 years old. Instead of singing “Happy days are here again,” I look in the mirror and somewhat incredulously say, “What happened?”  Some say that age is only a number. The mirror disagrees.

The following quote reminds me that time marches on but I still have work to do: “No one gets out of this world alive, so the time to live, learn, care, share, celebrate and love is now.” To those words, I would add…it’s also time to plan for the inevitable end of life changes because these years are more complicated the beginning!

A “normal” Biblical life span was about 70 years. Today, an average life expectancy in the 21st century, ranges from 76.4 years for a man to 81.2 years for a woman (subject to change). That means that some of us will miss the target and others will be over-achievers. (It’s also a reminder to tell our loved ones often that we love and appreciate them.)

One of the ways we can do that is by letting our families know how we want to be remembered. There is so much stress at the time of a loved one’s passing that the least we can do is to put together a packet of information about ourselves that will spare them a world of grief: Birthdate, birthplace, places we lived, marriages, children, jobs, etc. You may think that everyone knows these things but you would be surprised at what a mystery your early life is to most of your family.

 Finn John, my long-time editor, mentor and friend asked me several times to write a column on obituaries but I procrastinated. Then, my mother died and I was tasked with writing her obit. How does one sum up a lifetime of living in a few words? It was no easy task. She was an only child and died at the age of 94. She had also outlived most of her peers and relatives.

Clearly, neither I nor my siblings knew as much as we thought about this woman we called mother. Fortunately, my Aunt Kathryn was still alive and able to direct me to the correct information. i.e. I thought that mother was born in Butterfield, Missouri. No, she was born in Duenweg, MO. Oops! Putting in the wrong birthplace could have confused generations to come.

Putting together mother’s obituary inspired me to write the requested do-it-yourself obit columns. My husband and I followed the advice and wrote our own obits. They are now safely filed on my computer. Then we had to bite the bullet and let the family know how we wanted our “stuff” distributed—A Will or a Trust? We decided to go with a revocable living trust, a will, advanced directives and powers of attorney. Ugh. There are lots of do-it-yourself kits for this process but we went to our attorney and said, “Help!”

It was hard for us to wrap our brains around some decisions —how do you chose one person over another to be “in charge”? Carefully.  But now that it’s done, no one should worry and wonder about our wishes. Although they are subject to change. Our process consisted of decisions on such things as:
1.    A Trust, a Will or both?
2.    Appointing someone(s) to be alternate, successor trustee.
3.    Appropriate document information.
4.    How property will be dispersed.
5.    Health Care Directives.
6.    Anything else that is important to you.
7.    Signing the documents and getting them notarized.
8.    Storing the trust document safely.
9.    Reviewing the documents periodically.

Our decisions were all made many years ago. Now we’re re-thinking some of the things that seemed crystal clear then. As we have aged and our needs have changed, old decisions need to be re-evaluated and prior decisions updated. People move. Life changes. That’s why periodic review is necessary.

So how to sum this all up? Well, I know that getting this legal stuff done is a pain in the tush. But it is important. But if you are over 65 years of age and haven’t gotten your thoughts down on paper don’t delay any longer. Begin today. You’ll be glad that you did and you can get on with living the rest of your life in joy and peace. Can I get an Amen?

P.S. Be sure and tell someone where all the important stuff can be found!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Marvel Stephen's Christmas story

12/20/17 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

It’s tradition! For nearly 20 years it has been my pleasure to tell an old-fashioned Christmas story in the month of December. It brings joy to my heart to share how generations past celebrated this sacred holiday. Money was usually scarce, gifts were homemade and there were no glitzy shopping centers to buy “stuff.” It was all about family and church—and the birth of Jesus was the reason for the celebration.

I vividly remember the inspiration for one of those first columns. Her name was Marvel Stephen. She wrote me a note asking if I would be interested in one of her stories that had just been published in a Christmas edition of Country Woman magazine. Of course, I was interested and an appointment was made.

 Sitting quietly in her tidy living room, Marvel Stephen, then 82 years old, exuded a serene peace and dignity that is often absent in today’s world. She was born in Montana, but grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho. She married Sandy Stephen and they moved to the Cottage Grove area in 1943.

 Her voice reflected a past that had seen both joy and pain. She had fond childhood memories of riding into town on her bicycle to get groceries in the 1920s.  She loved being a mother but later she suffered through years of being treated for lymphoma with massive doses of chemo and prednisone. Sandy then began a downward slide into what she described as “a nightmare disease—Alzheimer’s.” He passed on and she was living alone but said, “This is a nice time.”

So how did she get to be a writer? Well, as an only child living way out in the country, Marvel loved to read, and hoped to be a writer. But when a high school teacher asked her to be editor of the school paper, she “couldn’t be bothered.” She was too busy. Later, as a wife and mother of two she was still too busy.

She was the leader of her daughter’s Brownie Troop when she learned that the mother of her daughter’s best friend had won $5,000 in a cake-naming contest. “So,” she said, “I called her and she told me how she did it.”  It turns out that there was money to be made in contests that extolled the attributes of a name brand product in 25 words or less.

Marvel thought it sounded easy, and she started entering contests.  “It was a long time before I won anything. Local contests were the easiest. A group of us got together and encouraged one another. It was a lot of fun. The biggest prize that I ever won was a statement about a mattress. I won a trip for two to Miami Beach!”

When we met, she was long retired as a weekly columnist for the Dead Mountain Echo newspaper in Oakridge. Farm Life News had published her first story and she was still writing for magazines. Here’s one of her favorite heartfelt Christmas stories that happened about 90 years ago: 

"The year Papa decided I should learn to ski, deep snows covered the land, the buildings, even the towering trees on our small farm.
Our rustic house was bursting with excitement and activity. Christmas was only a few weeks away.

 "December's early sunsets urged us to finish our chores and supper fast so we could get to work on our Christmas gifts. Having recently mastered the art of making French knots, I chose to embroider dish towels cut from flour sacks. Mother was tatting lovely lace to trim her presents and Papa was creating a pair of skis for me. Working close together in our cozy kitchen made it impossible not to be aware of what each other was making — but we were clever at pretending we didn't know what they were doing.

 "No one mentioned anything about Papa crafting skis for me, but I knew what he was doing."

Her story goes on to describe the excitement of Christmas morning. New skis! She was so excited. Sadly, the homemade skis were a failure! Somehow, the tips of the skis had straightened out and instead of gliding down the slopes Marvel tumbled down the slopes. Her Papa was embarrassed and he apologized profusely,

Marvel remembered sighing, "Oh, Papa. This is the best Christmas I've ever had. I wanted to say more as I put my small mittened hand in his large gloved one, but I couldn't find the words to tell him he'd already given the greatest gift of all...his love."

After all these years, love, gratitude and understanding are the best gifts of the season. May they bless your heart, mind and soul.

Merry Christmas to one and all! 

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.