Sunday, July 28, 2013

Estate Planning Workshop

The 3rd workshop at the TCF conference I want to mention for this Sunday dealt with the Now Childless bereaved parents. This workshop broke up into 6 smaller group to discuss the following topics: step-children, widowed or single, seasoned grievers, newly bereaved, the child’s possessions and scholarships and estate planning. After each leader discussed their topic within their group, an informational report was given to the entire group.

I did the “scholarships and estate planning.” Because childless parents have no one to leave anything to, that presents problems for the bereaved. What will happen to all your money and your possessions? I don’t claim to know all the details, but I will give you a brief overview of what I said and what was discussed by the group.

Most bereaved parents want to honor and remember their child in some way. By doing some of the following, you will find that you will be able to accomplish this.

We talked about setting up scholarships in your child’s name for financially strapped students and many parents do that, but the main part of this discussion was dedicated to trusts and setting up an endowment fund.

Everyone should at least have a will. If you don’t, your estate will go to the state and no relatives can claim anything. If you have a substantial amount of money, meaning over $500,000, you should set up a trust and be able to leave whatever you want to relatives, friends and organizations. By having a lawyer help you do this, your estate will not go through probate, if you have less than $6 million (this can change, but I think that is what it is now) and you won’t have to pay any taxes. Paying taxes is the biggest reason trusts are done. Of course, if you are extremely wealthy, anything over the government limit of $6 million, you will get slammed!

You can also designate who will get what from your estate in a written trust prepared by your lawyer. The best way to set this up is to specify “percentages” for each person rather than a set amount of money. You don’t know when you are going to die and therefore, may not have the same amount you thought you might at the time you set up your trust. By doing percentage, it will be based on the total amount of the estate at your death. Your trust can also set up funds for grandchildren and designate an executor to take care of that money, if the child is not old enough, until, say age 25, or any age you want.

I did all types of memorials to honor my daughter, but until I set up an endowment fund for my daughter in her memory, I was not satisfied. Now I am. The fund is run by a foundation (every state has them) and each year from my fund, two or three scholarships for a designated amount (there is a limit of using only 5% of the fund) is given to deserving students who fill out forms and write an essay. I get to read the essays written and comment on which one I like the most. In some cases I even get to meet the recipients, giving me great pleasure. All recipients are given information about Marcy so they are aware of where the money comes from. When the monies grow and are available, I will eventually give to something like a touring summer drama camp, something Marcy was involved in and loved. This is all written in the fund papers I filled out and will be carried out in perpetuity.

The money in the fund is invested, and by doing so, will always be there for others to benefit. I do pay a very small amount of money per quarter for that service. I also get a quarterly statement telling me how the funds are doing in the market. I have designated in my trust that half of what I have will go to Marcy’s endowment fund to help others when I am gone. It is a great feeling knowing everything will be taken care of.

For any additional information, see your lawyer. They will also probably know how to get in touch with the people who run these endowment funds in the state you live.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Loss of an Adopted Child

A new workshop never given before at Compassionate Friends National Conference but always requested was “Loss of an Adopted Child.” Peggi Johnson gave this for the first time. Parents who adopt a child have often typically experienced loss of biologic children or the dream for a biologic child, as well as infertility treatments. They have endured the often difficult and expensive adoption process. They are fervently invested in raising their children. When such a child dies, the grief experienced is complicated, cumulative and intensified.

Peggi had an ectopic pregnancy two years after she married. It was a life-threatening experience, but she pulled through. She and her husband then went through infertility treatment which was complicated, expensive and took a long time. Some of those treatments included temperature charts, hormone treatments, sonograms, injections, surgeries, biopsies, blood tests and loss of dignity and privacy.

Nothing worked. They grieved the loss of a biological child because they knew they were never going to have one.

At this point they went through the adoption process of which there are three kinds: open adoption, closed adoption, and partially opened. Peggi said that there was a tremendous investment with money, financial disclosure, and complicated legal procedures. “You have to be flexible,” she said. They hired an adoption attorney.

On Feb. 27, 1990, their son was born to a teenager. There were health complications and Peggi wasn’t able to bring him home until sometime in March. The birth mother insisted that there be no spanking of the child and the birth father wouldn’t sign the final papers until six months later, so not everything went smoothly

When son Jordan was a year old, they looked into and second adoption and 20 months later brought home their daughter, Claire. Peggi became a full-time mother and couldn’t have been happier. She was always there for them, she helped out at school with field trips and parties. They were healthy, smart, happy children. However, Jordan’s sister, as she grew up didn’t fare well. She was emotionally challenged and was in and out of treatment centers.

Peggi and her husband, Jeff, found that adopted children have more emotional problems as they grow up. Where they were concerned about their daughter, it was Jordan who was having problems and they had no idea. Jordan committed suicide at 19. Both parents and Claire were shattered.

Peggi has come to believe that the loss of an adopted child produces grief that is cumulative, complicated and intensified. “It is definitely a hard journey,” she said.

They do everything they can to honor Jordan: donate to animal shelters, speak to groups and Peggi has served as TCF newsletter editor for her chapter.

She says that what helps the pain management of their loss is to
  1. Be with other bereaved parents
  2. Read about parents who have lost a child
  3. Going to counseling and support groups
  4. Actively seek out distractions (travel, or anything that takes your mind off the death like playing the piano, knitting, gardening)
  5. Take care of your health
  6. Get a dog or cat
  7. Solace of service- Peggi is at peace helping others like Alzheimer patients. "I need tough challenges like this so I volunteer at hospice," Her husband continues to be supportive of whatever she decides to do.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Time for Weeping, A Time for Laughter

This past weekend was the 36th annual conference of the Compassionate Friends. This year it was held in Boston, Massachusetts July 5-7. Many keynote speakers and over 100 workshops were held to help all bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings, one of which I did on Dealing With Difficult Situations As a Bereaved Parent. In between all that was going on, I was determined to get to some of the newer workshops that I had never been to before. In the following month each Sunday I will detail some of them for you if you could not attend.

This first one was called “…A Time for Weeping and a Time for Laughter.” Doug and BJ Jensen firmly believe that laughter can be a healer and that you can find joy again after losing a child. It was designed for those further down the grief journey road who are ready to smile and laugh again. They demonstrated this belief through song, sketches, videos and words of wisdom, they conveyed how they got through the death of their 30 year old son, whose depression subsequently led to suicide.

The couple started the now internationally renowned Love In Motion, a 100 hand sign language choir who travel to inspire audiences with their presentations.

With good memories of fun times and extraordinary love they had for their son, they told funny stories of Jay and the family’s life together. The audience roared with laughter at some of Jay’s antics as a young boy, and BJ invited the audience to think of funny stories about their child and share. It was amazing how many stood up and without hesitation told beautiful stories of children who never got to do many of the things they wanted to. One of BJ's stories I enjoyed was the one about Jay at a baseball game wanted a players autograph. The player was signing and Jay stood in line; the signing was cut off right at Jay. His parents were furious. Jay, in his young innocence said to his mom, "What is an autograph?" When BJ told him, he said, "Oh, that's okay. I already know his name."

The couple also did a sketch about being joyful in spite of the circumstances of the death of Jay, who jumped off a bridge to his death. They emphasized that, of course, there were always sad moments but they said, “We choose to remember our loved one’s legacy with laughter.”

Members of the Love In Motion choir then sang the song “Before the Morning” in sign language, expressing that there can be a brighter tomorrow after grief. The couple learned to focus on what they had and what they could do for others.

In addition to all this, they wrote a book, “Finding Hope…After the Devastating loss of Beloved Children.”

In another sketch they showed the difference between how men and women grieve and that they couldn’t agree on anything during much of their grief journey. For example, BJ would camp anywhere there was a condo, while Doug loved camping outdoors. There were also differences in parenting issues. And BJ wanted to talk about Jay after his death, but Doug did not.

In a video BJ went through exercises as Jay silently looked on, hands folded on his chest as his mother did the exercises all wrong; a cute funny video.

BJ also told a story that one night she woke up and heard her son's voice saying he hoped she was happy and wanted her to buy some earings she saw the day before. "The money is in the closet in an old briefcase," Jay said to her. Sure enough, the money was in the old briefcase; the exact amount she needed.

The last song done in sign language expressed the optimism that the Jensens feel. “As long as we have music in our life, our spirit will set us free, ending with their mantra—less weeping, more laughter in your life.”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Enjoying Being a Grandma

I am visiting my grandson who lives in Europe with his mom and enjoying every minute of it. Even though in truth he is my step-grandson from my step-daughter, I love him just the same as though he was my blood.
He is named after my daughter (his middle name), and I appreciated it so much when I was told that was what my step-daughter decided to do. Although I realize he is not of my blood, I don't really think it matters. I will be called Grandma when he begins speaking, and I really feel like one.
He is so much fun to be with, but, of course like all babies has his good moments and crying moments. He can have a temper when he doesn't get his way and he can look at me with loving, smiling eyes that just melts my heart. I believe his personality reflects what he will become: a sweet, honest, loving man, who will one day make someone very happy.
This is the best it can be for me, since Marcy was my only child, but I am fortunate to have this. I know that many are not as fortunate, but I want you all to know that if an opportunity ever arises where you are put in this situation, make the best of it, enjoy what you now have, and treasure each moment you can spend with the child. It won't heal your broken heart, but it will definitely do a lot to mend it.