Category Archives: the unexpected event

John Lennon Got it Right

John Lennon sang “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

I know another John. Last week, one of his lunch meetings was cancelled. Because he keeps his bicycle and helmet in the office, John is always ready for an exercise break. A leisurely ride and he’d be back in time for his 2 o’clock meeting. What he didn’t plan on was meeting Robert that day.

Not far away from John’s office, Robert had a doctor’s appointment. His wife was insisting on driving him. Irritated at how she and their children were ganging up on him about giving up the car keys, Robert, 85 years old, wouldn’t listen to them.

“Stop badgering me. I’m just going two miles,” he said, slamming the front door as he left. Climbing into his car, he backed out of the driveway.

Ten minutes later, along the tree-lined road that cast confusing shadows, John was killed when Robert’s car hit him. John’s cell phone was ringing. His daughter was reminding him that they had a date to go Christmas shopping that evening.

John’s family will spend the holidays grieving John’s death. There is no life insurance. John had not paid the premium on time. His wife, as busy with her company as he was with his, didn’t check if he’d paid it. Both their wills needed to be updated; neither could find the time to consult their attorney.

Robert’s family is in shock. Angry, frightened and remorseful, they’re consulting with their attorney about the legal actions they will face as a result of not being insistent enough with Robert.

We can’t see our own life unfolding. But our families will live with the consequences.

Are your insurance premiums paid?

Are you being too soft on someone who shouldn’t be driving anymore?

Or, as John Lennon sang, are you busy making other plans?

 

 

 

 

“Normal” Life can Change in a Second

We take “normal” life  for granted.

The oncoming car will stay in its lane. The driver behind us won’t ride our rear fender.

The grazing deer won’t run out on the road .

The driver in the weaving car can handle his tire blowout.

The security details at the concert area will prevent a terrorist attack.

“We’ll talk about the details later” Bob had said. “Let’s just enjoy the concert and our Las Vegas weekend. I promise we’ll talk with the attorney next week. ”

Bob had finally taken the time to update his will and estate plan so that it reflected his current marriage to Sheila, his second wife. The updated draft documents  from the attorney were on the living room table. That’s what they needed to discuss, to make sure she understood what was in the plan.

For this couple, next week never happened. Bob is in the hospital on life support, fighting for his life after trying to save Sheila from the savage assault of bullets that rained down on them at the music festival.

The conversation he promised they would have didn’t happen. Bob had delayed for months reviewing the updated will and estate documents.   His first will was still in effect; his first wife and their son had powers of attorney for health care and financial decisions.

At the hospital, the doctors were talking with Bob’s son and first wife. Sheila was not in the loop. If Bob lived, her husband might remain on life support and his first wife would be making decisions about him.  If he died, the current will distributed his assets to his first wife and son. 

“Normal’ life can change in a minute. We have no control except to plan for the things we hope will never happen. Making sure a will is current is one way to do that.

We postpone at our peril and put people we love at risk . Too often, it’s too late.

Regretting the Things We Didn’t Say

The mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight MH370 in 2014 with 239 people on board may finally yield some answers. Experts are analyzing a wing piece that washed up on the shores of an island thousands of miles from where the plane is thought to have crashed into the ocean.

To most of us, the people who died are just names. Yet, for each of the victims, a family is grieving. Loved ones are angry; they want an explanation. An ordinary flight to a vacation destination – what went wrong, how could this happen? An explanation of why the plane crashed may satisfy the survivor’s mind. For the heart, there is no comfort.

I remember watching the search for the missing plane last year and thinking of  how suddenly life can change. People we love die, and the things we meant to say to them can no longer be said. We never told them how much we love them, how grateful we are for all they teach and give us, how much we admire them and how lucky we are that they share our life.

We waited, thinking we had all the time in the world. We’d tell them at the right time, when we weren’t so busy, when we could figure out what we want to say. We didn’t give much thought to the reality that all we have is this moment.

Dr. Ira Byock wrote a book called “The Four Things That Matter Most ” about what’s important to people at the end of life. Don’t wait for the end of life. Say them now:

“Forgive me”, “I forgive you”, “Thank you”, “I love you”.

Simple statements, yet they tap into the deep layers of relationship between us and the people we love. They can’t read our mind. We have to let them know how much they mean to us.

If yoiu knew you had 24 hours left to live, what would you want to say to the people you love?

 

No Chance to Say Goodbye

“See you later”. Millions of us say it as we go about our daily lives.

“Enjoy your workout” is so ordinary that, when Sheryl Sandberg said it to her husband before his sudden death, she couldn’t have imagined that she wouldn’t see him alive again.

“Have a great time” we say to family members as they leave the cruise ship on one of the regular excursions by plane for a flight over Alaska. Last week, the plane crashed and we never saw them again.

A beach vacation in Tunis? A movie at the cineplex? A visit to your children on the college campus? These are are ordinary events of everyday life.

We expect to return, to resume the ordinary daily activities we take for granted. We rarely think that we may not see these people we love again. That there’s always time to tell people we love them.

Last week was an object lesson in not waiting to say”I love you” as random events took over the lives of millions of people. Some we know; others we don’t know. Terrorists, malfunctioning engines, unforeseen health issues, a deranged teenager with a gun – and the myriad of things that happen even when they’re not supposed to show us how little control we have over our life. As John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans”.

“See you later.” Maybe…

In Your 90s? Hand Over Your Keys

A driver in his mid-nineties was trying to parallel park on a busy street in Palo Alto during the height of the lunchtime hour this week. The driver hit the accelerator instead of the brake and slammed into a pedestrian and four people seated at tables outside of a restaurant. Two of them needed surgery, the others had cuts and bruises. The driver could just as easily have killed them all. The police are calling this a tragic accident and, pending further investigation, don’t plan to file criminal charges.

The DMV requires that the driver take an ’emergency retest’ to see if his license should be taken away. Really? If he passes his retest, will they let him out on the road again? He wasn’t drinking. He could have been doing drugs, perfectly legal drugs that impair his ability to respond quickly, to coordinate his eye, hand and foot movements, to judge distances and inhibit his responses.

Actually, what he was doing is criminal. He shouldn’t have been driving in the first place.  The people he injured may suffer permanent health problems or be disfigured. Our collective insurance rates will rise because his insurance company will have to reimburse the people he injured. If he had killed the five people he injured, their families would have suffered serious consequences.

The Department of Motor Vehicles should draw a line in the sand. No matter how well a 90- year-old sees or how many questions he answers correctly, he’s too old to drive. No matter how sharp his memory or what a good dancer he still is, behind the wheel of a car, he is a potential menace. If he hands in his keys voluntarily, let’s give him a medal. If not, let’s deny him a license.

Ninety is not the new 70. The body and brain that worked well two decades ago isn’t doing so well.   Don’t endanger the rest of us in the name of beating the aging game. If you’re in your 90s, hand in your keys. If your parents are in their 90s, for your sake and theirs, take the keys.It’s time to draw a line in the sand.

Married to an Optimist

If you’re married to an optimistic man who is also a procrastinator, beware. He’ll postpone taking action about things he doesn’t like to think about, often until it’s too late. I think of my friend Carol and her husband Ted.

The storm wasn’t supposed to hit until evening. “I’ll only be gone a few hours,” her husband had said. “ I have to meet this client before the weekend. We’ll review the papers when I come back.”

The storm hit early. The bridge held; her husband’s heart didn’t. When she got to the hospital, he was hooked up to life support. His eyes were closed; he couldn’t talk. His sons consulted with the doctor. They ignored her.  Even after ten years, the boys still resented their father’s remarriage after their mother died.

Feeling invisible and helpless, his wife sobbed. If her husband survived, he would need heart surgery and extensive rehabilitation. His outdated estate plan, with provisions tailored for his first marriage, appointed his sons as holding durable powers of attorney.  She would have no say in the matter. She knew the sons would not include her in their decisions. If her husband died, his previous will, still in effect, would benefit the adult sons from his first marriage.

A few weeks before his heart attack, they had consulted an estate attorney to bring the plan up to date and reflect their ten years of marriage. She had been so relieved when her husband finally acknowledged how frightened she was not to have financial protection in case something happened to him.

He was the optimist in the family, always expecting the best, looking for the silver lining around every dark cloud. She loved that about him; it balanced her own tendency to brood and worry about things she couldn’t control.

You have a choice – Create an estate plan, make sure you’ve signed the durable powers of attorney and know that you’ve done what you need to do about things you can’t control.

The other choice? Hope for the best.

 

 

 

 

The Ripple Effect


I was walking my dog a few days ago when I saw a tall blonde woman walking towards me with small slow steps. Holding a cane in one hand, and the leash of her large dog in the other, she seemed to be a paradox – a image of fashion, beauty, youth and vigor, yet she was taking small steps with a cane. 

“He’s friendly”, she called out reassuringly. I loosened the hold on my dog’s leash. The dogs began their get acquainted ritual and we chatted a bit. Her name is Lois. I learned that she was recovering from a broken back injury, sustained when she fell down a flight of hardwood stairs. I asked how it happened. “There was some mud on my husband’s shoe after he walked the dog. It blended into the dark wood. He didn’t see it, I didn’t see it, and I slipped,” she explained.

“It’s no one’s fault. It just happened. I feel so lucky that it wasn’t worse,” Lois continued with a wide smile. “I used to run with the dog, but he’s learned to walk slowly with me. After two years of surgeries and rehab, I’m walking again. How great is that?”

We exchanged names and I said I’d look forward to seeing her again on the walking path. I haven’t seen her again, but I hope I do. I want to thank her for reminding me of something I know, but to which I pay too little attention. 

It’s not what happens to us, but what we tell ourselves about what happens to us, that makes all the difference. I’ll try to remember that the next time I get irritated about something that wouldn’t even register on Lois’ scale.