Family & Relationships


Can You Embrace Every Season Of Life?

by Christine

Pete Seeger adapted Ecclesiastes 3.1 for the lyrics to his song Turn! Turn! Turn! The song soulfully announces, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven-“ Each time I talk to my daughter I am reminded of the wisdom in those verses. Kathryn is the mother of a three-year old and twin eight month olds, a job and passion that require all of Kathryn's mental and physical strength. About a year ago, her oldest child Lucy was spending "naptime" quietly in her room.  When Kathryn opened her door to say that naptime was over, she discovered that Lucy had drawn on the wall over her bed. Not drawn exactly but created a mural size drawing on her freshly painted walls. Needless to say, Kathryn was not pleased. Of course when the grandmothers were shown a picture of Lucy's afternoon endeavor, we laughed and praised our grandchild for an extraordinary sense of balance, color and symmetry. Her parent did not respond to our comments and repainted the room in silence.  

We are in different seasons of our life. Now is Kathryn's time to be the parent, the one who sets the rules and enforces them, the one who strives to raise a healthy, educated, law abiding human being. It is my time to be the grandmother, the one who defers to the rules as set by her parents but will occasionally advocate for chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast and buy my granddaughter Dora the Explorer shoes when asked. I know my grandchildren are in good hands so I leave the worrying to their parents. 

I embrace this season of my life in a manner that I did not at other times. There is an advantage to aging. You learn along the way that the good times may not last but neither do the bad times. You recognize that working hard for a goal may be more rewarding than actually obtaining the goal. Today, I work to balance between being in the moment and planning for the future. I live in the knowledge that at this time of my life, it is not wise to procrastinate. I am not old. I know that. But I have witnessed the journey that took me from being a young mother to a young grandmother more quickly than I could have imagined when I started my family. I don't want to be lulled into believing that this next season of my life will move any more slowly.

I ask you, what lessons of life have you learned? What piece of wisdom would you share with your children or a younger you?



The Decision is Yours to Make

by Christine

When she put her head on the dinning room table, the entire family just stared at my mom. Finally, my son, Matthew said, “Grandmother are you okay?” No she wasn’t. My father had died three months earlier and this was her first holiday without him in over 50 years. She was struggling; we were all struggling. Dad’s funeral had been emotionally charged and strained my relationship with my brother and sister to the point of breaking. We all went home angry and unable to speak to one another for months. It was a sad and disappointing time.

I made the decision that when mom died it would be different. I know that sounds odd but it was absolutely necessary for me to think through what happened and consciously decide what my sister and brother meant to me. I guess that sounds even stranger. My father was the anchor of the family and held us together through sheer will. Even though we lived in different cities, lead different lives and at times didn’t have much in common, my father expected us to act as though we were still the same family unit we were growing.

I don’t agree with that philosophy. I believe family can have a special place but I also believe there has to be a mutual desire for a relationship and that relationship should be respectful. I have heard more than one of my friends long for a closer relationship with a sibling but just can’t get the other person to respond. That is unfortunate but both people need to be willing to engage.

With time I came to see that I did want a relationship with my sister and brother outside of my parents. I had to decide what I was willing to do to have the kind of relationship I wanted with them. I started with my sister. As adults, Julia and I have been closer than Ed and I. I shared with Julia my desire to maintain a positive relationship with her and my disappointment over what had happened at dad’s funeral. She too felt bad about the family breakdown and was eager to discuss some issues that could help us avoid another meltdown. It has been slower with my brother because we had a further distance to travel. But since mom’s death, I committed to calling him at least once a week and have been pleasantly surprised to receive chatty calls from him in return.

As we work to be intentional about our lives, our relationship with our family is a key element. We can craft unique and healthy relationships that bring out the best in one another. It is our choice. That is not say my sister is anymore organized than she was growing up or my brother will stick to the facts of a story just because he is an adult or that I will be any less bossy than I was when I was 10. It just means that we have chosen to honor our differences while finding common ground.



Getting the Answers Before It's Too Late

by Christine

Her response to my email was disappointing but not completely unexpected. In the oodles and oodles of photographs that I have been scanning, I found three 8 ½ by 11 black and white wedding photographs. It was not my parents wedding or anyone else in the family. Candidly, my family has a history of eloping so I was pretty certain these must have been friends of the family. My father was part of the wedding party and in one picture my mother is sitting in a pew. I had hoped my Aunt would have some answers. Unfortunately, she didn’t know either one of the two brides or bridegrooms in the photo or the dozen or so in attendance kneeling before the brides. It was a fancy wedding!

Of course, since my mom’s passing, there is no one to answer my questions. That is not to say mom was forthcoming with a lot of information before she died. She never was one to talk about her family or her life before she met my dad. But in retrospect I have come to understand that her lack of answers in the last few years of her life had more to do with the dementia that was overtaking her than her unwillingness to fill in the blanks. She would bark, “I don’t know why you want to talk about that” and we would all back off.

I am a political scientist/historian at heart so I want the facts- documented and correct. My brother on the other hand never let’s a fact get in the way of a good story. He just fills in the blanks to his satisfaction. I know he is less stressed than I am about getting the “right” answer. I have learned from others that what I am experiencing is not uncommon. It seems that questions bubble up after the death of a parent or even a spouse. The questions can be as mundane as “What happened to the little Christmas houses that we had as kids?” to the serious, “Is there any history of autism in the family?” to the scandalous, “Who is that women in these pictures of Granddaddy”? But all the questions go unanswered now.

My Aunt Carolyn shared with me that she had numerous questions for her parents after their death that went unanswered. So she is keeping an ever-expanding letter that answers questions she thinks her daughters may have after she is gone. I know that there will be questions that will go unanswered but my Aunt Carolyn’s time is well spent. Her daughters will appreciate her thoughtfulness.

I would love to read her letter today and it has made me think. I cannot spend my time documenting my past; I want to live in the present. But I want to be thoughtful of my children and grandchildren.  I was a hospice volunteer for many years and they have a document called The Time of My Life. It has hundreds of questions that start with “Did you know either of your Grandfathers” and ends with “Is there something you always wanted people to know about you”? It is a wonderful tool for sharing personal and family history particularly with children.

I am reminded of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. The play is popular with high school theater directors and seems to be performed continually. I assume that is because the performance rights are cheap and the main characters are young people. I also think the concepts are well beyond most high schoolers. Emily, the main character, comes back from the grave where she pleads with her mother to “look at me one minute as though you really saw me”. What she asks is impossible but a longing that all of us feel once those we love are gone. We want just one more minute to fill in the blanks. Today is the day to take just one minute to really look at the people you love. 


What’s on the Books for the Weekend: Letter Writing

by Christine

I am a words person. I even have favorite words such as arugula and bok choy. They are fun words; speaking them into existence always feels like a party. For the most part I prefer communicating important or emotional ideas through the written word instead of the spoken word. It gives me time to think through what I want to communicate without all the emotion of body language cluttering up the message. I relied on this tool throughout the highly emotional times of the last 6 months of my mother’s life.

As I have been working on the Somers Family History photo project, I have also come across letters and other documents covering the lives of multiple generations of my family. My mother was a bit of a pack rat and unorganized pack rat at that. I found my grandmothers marriage license in an old suit case stuffed with old photos, loose change, clothes, old newspaper clippings and other sorted odds and ends- a junk drawer in a suitcase.

But the letters, particularly between my grandmother and her sisters have been the most revealing and poignant. My grandmother and great aunts lived in a time before cell phones, email and text messaging.  They shared their lives with one another through a weekly letter. The letters were not profound; the sisters wrote about the dresses they were making, the success of their baking endeavors and whom they had “visited” with that week. The letters allowed me to see my grandmother as more than my grandmother. She was a friend, a sister and a proud mother.

Last night, my oldest grandson phoned me so that he could walk me through setting up FaceTime on our iPads. We stopped everything to talk about his day and mine; I treasure each moment of that call. I love the technology that allows me to see and hear my grandson when we are so far apart but I love the tactile feel of a letter that can be held and read over and over again.

I cling to the idea that letters can transcend time and that future generations will catch a glimpse of the era of those long gone. So this weekend I am going to write letters to my grandchildren and share a story from my week. Nothing profound, just a little something that gives them insight to what I do when we are not together. Maybe I will share with them my favorite words. 

If you were going to write a letter, whom would you write to and what would you write about to them? 


Feeling the Loss

by Christine

Sometimes I forget she is dead. Mainly it happens when I am driving and I involuntarily think, “I should call Mom”. Then I remember; then I feel sad. It is not an overwhelming sadness just a fleeting shadow that reminds me that I can no longer talk to her. At those times, I call my sister.

Julia’s experiences are similar and she understands. We chat long enough to share our reaction to the uninvited impulse and to share an antidote-involving Mom. Our calls usually end in laughter and surprise at the phantom impulse that ambushes us during the most mundane activities.

I recall that months after my father died, I walked into a Hallmark Store to purchase a birthday card for a friend. It was the week before Father’s Day and the entire storefront was covered in Father’s Day décor. Midway into the store I realized I was going to lose it and burst into tears. The emotion came over me so suddenly and violently; I put everything in my hands on the closest shelf, turned and left the store.  I sat in my car and just sobbed.

Working through the loss of my mother has rekindled the feelings of loss for my father. I guess in my heart they are packaged set. But I believe the grief I feel is not just for the loss of my parents but over the loss of an era, the loss of my childhood. I was unprepared for this feeling; to know the people who were with me since birth are now gone. They are fully in my past; we are no longer creating new memories.

It is not easy to feel the sorrow but I have learned from experience that the pain will lessen and the good memories will once again come to the forefront. My life is good and I hold fast to the knowledge I have my parents to thank for where I am today.

Who do you have to thank for where you are in your life? How do you handle your grief?


Connecting With The One I Love

by Christine

I have jokingly said that life is “all about me” but in reality when you love and care for another person what happens in your life touches them too. While it was grueling for me to travel back and forth to Florida to care for my mother in response to each one of her health emergencies, it was draining for Marty to be left behind to wait and care for our home alone. When he dropped me off at the airport he would ask me when I was going to return. My standard answer was “I will let you know once I get there and see what is going on”.

After Mom’s funeral, I realized that Marty and I needed to reconnect. We needed and wanted to be a couple again after spending so much time apart. I suggested we take a trip together so that we could navigate “reentry”. That is the actual term therapist use when describing the process couples go through when coming together again after being separated. The longer the separation the bumper reentry can be.

The idea captured Marty’s imagination and for the first time in our relationship, he planned the trip from start to finish. He chose a charming B&B a little north of Camden, Maine and even planned several activities, including a sunset sail on a schooner. One morning we took the ferry over to the Island of Islesboro to ride our bikes and have lunch at the only restaurant/lunch counter on the island. For the most part it was a lovely time.

But our holiday was not without some tension. I had been away or preparing to be away for a year; my attention had been diverted from my business and my home. Even though it was my idea to take a trip, I found that I was restless to be home. At the same time, Marty was attempting to do all those things that we had been unable to do together for the previous year in one week. From 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM we were on the go.  After 4 days in Maine, I asked Marty if we could go home. He understood and agreed but I do believe he was disappointed.

But a curious thing happened when we got home. Together we started to complete a long list of neglected repairs and tasks at the house. As our home was mended and restored we found that our relationship was mended and restored. We were able to relax, take in a movie or two and even find humor in our differences again. Finding our equilibrium took a couple of weeks but it was important to both of us to take the time to reconnect.

My relationships are important to me and I take care to cultivate and nurture them. It takes time and it takes focus but I know my life is better because of the effort I put into them. How do you reconnect with a loved one after spending time apart? What do you do to nurture and care for your relationship with those closest to you? I would be interested in hearing how you sustain the bonds with your loved ones.


Welcoming the Weekend: Tackling a Big Project

by Christine

As I mentioned last Friday, I have become the family historian who is responsible for sorting and organizing my parent’s family photos. My father was extremely organized and had meticulously labeled thousands of photos. My mother on the other hand was the yin to his yang and just tossed photos into the drawers of her nightstand along with receipts and other bits of paper.

I decided to tackle the contents of her nightstand first. I discovered that most people (and that includes my parents) aren’t discerning about the photographs they save. I found out of focus photos, poorly composed photos, faded photos and many photos of people that I don’t know. My advice is to let them go. It’s trash and it just obscures the good stuff.

In an effort to reduce clutter, I made the decision to digitize my family photographs. But I am aware that not every photo is worth the expense of digitizing. I don’t want to keep poor quality photos…the rule is, “If it is not worth digitizing it is not worth keeping”. My advice is to use the same critical eye with your own photos. Your children will thank you.

My next hurtle was to identify all the people in the photos. Mom had tossed pictures of her family from when she was a young girl into the pile. They are great images from the 1930s and 1940s but candidly, I don’t know who these people are and I don’t know how to find out. Mom was an only child who did not keep in touch with her cousins. Candidly, they are great black and white period photos so I will keep them but it would be even better if I could identify the family members.

As you can tell, this job is not going to be quick or easy but already the time spent has been enjoyable. I found photos that were like little time machines of fashion and design while others that made me smile. To quote Rod Stewart, every picture tells a story and I am putting together the story of our family. 


There is a Season

by Christine

After three months of bouncing back and forth between hospitals and rehab centers, the decision has been made to call in hospice and allow mom to go home. She has been stroking continuously during the previous 12 weeks, losing a piece of herself each time. The only pain she has experienced during this period was from the daily blood tests, MRI’s with contrast and other invasive tests that left her black and blue and exhausted. Her strokes are painless. Actually, we only know they are happening when she becomes childlike and silly followed by more degradation of her speech. 

As a result of the loss of her speech, we are not always certain of her mental state. The repetitive questions that the doctors used to ascertain her mental clarity were now useless. She could no longer answer, “Do you know where you are? Do you know what year it is?”  The humor Mom and the rest of us found in her answering those questions 20 times a day gave way to sadness as the year became 1948 and the name of the hospital became unintelligible.  

I am personally relived that Mom is going home and that hospice will be involved. I wanted to do this two months ago but some in the family were not yet ready to admit that medicine and the people in the white coats did not have all the answers. Mom is dying and we as human beings can do nothing to change that fact.  Two months earlier, Mom, my sister and I were in her room at the rehab center. We had just helped her dress for bed and she was now settled into the bed ready to sleep. She looked up at me and said, “Me go home”. I was startled by the childlike structure of her sentence and a wave of emotion came over me at her request. I softly said, “I know”.  She then said, “E.T. go home “.  I caught my breath, “Yes, E.T. go home.” Finally before drifting off to sleep she said, “Does anybody get to go home from this place.”  I left the room in tears. 

We are fortunate to live in a country that has first class healthcare and services for the sick and injured. But many have come to believe that the medical profession can “cure” aging and dying.  That just isn’t possible. Additionally, doctors and other healthcare professional cannot unilaterally manage the healthcare of another. It is a team sport. If one is not willing to eat a healthy diet, exercise and follow basic health guidelines then the expectation that you will see your hundredth birthday is unrealistic. (Yes, yes…somebody always mentions the “guy” who drank scotch along with his cigars every day and lived to be a 100.  He is the exception to the rule.)

But the decision has been made and Mom is going home. Going home to the world that my father and mother created; to the place that houses her memories and to the place that she feels safe. Her home will not be the same as she left it. Twenty-four hour healthcare givers will be in and out to help her with the daily tasks of living. She appears to understand that this is a condition of her going home and she is still very excited to be going home. I don’t know if mom understand what it means to go home under these circumstance but for the first time in three months she is happy. 


Retirement: How Much Money Do You Need?

by Christine

How much money do you really need to retire? We see commercials on TV that bandy around figures like 1.2 or 1.5 million dollars. Is that reality or is that what the major financial houses need, to make your investment valuable to them? Over the next few weeks, Footsteps will take a look at what it takes to retire and you decide whether “retirement” is in your future.

First, as in pre-retirement, housing can be the largest budget expense. There are several types of housing available to consider during retirement. Footsteps will use the Ben Franklin decision method to weight the pros and cons of the different housing choices once we explore the cost and benefits surrounding a single-family home, rental apartments, cooperatives and condominiums, independent living communities, assisted living communities and nursing or care homes.  

The Single Family Home: 

Home ownership is regarded by many as an outward sign of success in the United States, a fulfillment of the American Dream. It is not just a place to live but it symbolizes freedom and achievement. Government leaders, family and friends and our financial advisers encourage us to start saving for a house the moment we take our first full time job. An emotional component exists in home ownership that does not exist in other types of housing. 

But what is the financial cost of a single-family home? For this discussion, we are going assert we are talking about a home that is paid for in preparation for retirement. The first non-discretionary cost in owning a home is taxes. Property taxes are the biggest source of revenue for local governments. When budgeting property taxes, the homeowner must remember that these are not fixed costs. The increases may be as little as one or two percent in poor economic times or six to seven percent in boom times but it is not in the DNA of government to decrease its budget.  

To learn more about taxes in your area, click  Additionally, to see the 10 States with the worst property taxes, click

The next budget item is home maintenance. This is an area that retirees tend to defer action in an effort to manage their overall budget. Many of us are related to or friends with someone who last updated their kitchen in the 1970’s or started using their dishwasher as a drying rack when it stopped functioning.  

The other challenge in budgeting maintenance cost is they are not necessarily fixed. If you retire at 65 in good health, caring for your own lawn and making small repairs yourself maybe very manageable but at 75 or 85 this may no longer be the case. Additionally, as you age, you may need your home to be retrofitted to accommodate walkers, wheel chairs and assistance in the bathroom. 

The recommendation of various housing and retirement experts is 1% of your home’s value. On a $200,000 home that would be $2,000 per year or $167 a month. When on a fixed or limited income, this may seem to be high but the average cost of replacing a roof is between $11,000 and $17,000. The cost of a new heating and air conditioning system can run between $3,500 and $4,000. As you can see, it quickly adds up with major purchases. 

Utilities are another major component of retiring in a single family home. Depending on the age of your home and lifestyle, cost of fuel and water can be the second costliest budget item. According to the EIA, the average residential monthly bill is $110.55 but if you live in Florida, you know that your electric bills may be well above the national average.

To calculate your budget for retirement, average the last two years of your electric, water, natural gas and heating oil bills. Keep in mind that these are not fixed cost. Heating oil costs are determined by marketplace pressures and can vary wildly based on political influences and natural disasters. For many water is the new gold and we may see its cost continue to rise. To avoid stress in the future factor in a percent or two increase yearly. 

Homeowners insurance is a must at any stage of ones life but particularly after retirement. Once you have fulfilled your loan obligation to your mortgage company and are no longer contractually bound to maintain homeowners insurance, you may be tempted to let it go. You need to think twice. The insurance not only covers the home’s structure and your belongings, it provides you with liability coverage. Lets say your home health nurse comes to monitor you blood sugar and trips on your front steps and breaks her ankle. The liability portion covers injuries sustained by others while on your property. Without it you could find yourself in serious financial trouble.  

The costs vary by state but the average national yearly premium is $1.004. Before retiring we encourage you to review your policy with your insurance agent to learn if your coverage is still appropriate for you current situation.

For those living in New York, your monthly nut for living in a single-family home valued at $200,000 would look something like this:

Taxes (Putnam County Property Tax Rate) 1.65% or $3,300 a year/$275 a month 

Maintenance $2,000 yearly or $167 a monthly*

Utilities  $1326.60 yearly or 110.55 monthly* 

Insurance $1,004 yearly or $84 a monthly*

The total cost:

Yearly- $7630.60

Monthly-$ 635.00

*This is the national average and may not be a true reflection of the real cost in Putnam County, NY 

For those living in Florida, the initial budget looks something like this on a $200,000 single-family home:

Taxes $1,940 yearly or $162.00 monthly

Maintenance $2,000 yearly or $167 monthly

Utilities 1326.60 yearly or 110.55 monthly

Insurance $1,004 yearly or $84 monthly

The total cost:

Yearly- $ 6270.60

Monthly- $ 522.55

*This is the national average and may not be a true reflection of the real cost in Florida

Footsteps will be the first to acknowledge that these are rough estimates and that before deciding upon your final budget, you need to do more research. If you are currently living in a single-family home that you would like to make your retirement home, start keeping records. You will have first hand knowledge of what it has cost you to live in the home. Just remember, if you are going to err in your numbers, you want to err on the high side, not the other way around. 

If you are looking to relocate to another part of the country, you can rely on averages for the region. But you may also talk to a local real estate agent or ask the current owner to share with you utility bills and maintenance records. The goals here is to go into your retirement home with a workable budget so that you can spend your energy and time on activities that are fulfilling not spending your time stressing over money.  



When to Call Hospice

by Christine

Ours is not the only family to find it difficult to navigate the end of life journey of a family member.  A friend of mine tells the story of her own family’s response to her grandmother dying. Her 93 year-old grandmother was taken to the hospital because her body appeared to be shutting down. After a thorough examination, it was discovered that she had a blockage in her intestines. The surgeon was quick to declare that he could repair the blockage by removing a small section of her intestines. 

The immediate response of the family was to allow the surgery with only one daughter, asking about mom’s quality of life after the surgery. The surgeon’s response was that he could not speak to that but he knew he could repair the blocked intestine. When the daughter asked again about the wisdom of operating on a fully demented 93 year-old whose body was failing, she was met with the highly emotional comment from a sibling that “we must give Mom a chance.”  Everyone was silenced fearing they would be viewed as turning their back on Mom.

After the surgery, the surgeon announced that the blockage was more severe than originally believed and he had to perform a colostomy. The family was stunned. Their mom/grandmother was living with one of her daughters who was barely managing as mom’s full time caregiver. How was she going to handling this additional physical reality? If mom needed more care, how were they going to pay for it?  

Sadly, my friend’s grandmother died three days later never regaining consciousness. The family’s last days with their beloved mother and grandmother were spent in the artificial environment of a hospital with her tethered to beeping and flashing machines on a time schedule dictated by the nursing staff. 

We have worked from the beginning to avoid this scenario with our mom. We have diligently tried to educate ourselves about the medical alternative presented to us and to learn about the intricacies of health insurance. We had discussions with mom about her end of life wishes.  We updated DNR’s and living wills. We worked to be prepared. But the decision to call in hospice is never easy or clear cut. 

For a couple of years, I volunteered for our local hospice team. I witnessed first hand the program in action as they helped individuals and families on this journey. I am a supporter and yet, it was still a difficult decision for me, for our family. Calling in Hospice makes a statement; it requires one to say out loud, we believe this is the end. 

Additionally, it can be a lonely decision because the medical profession is reluctant to call in Hospice. In many, I might even say in most cases, they resist calling in Hospice because it goes against all their training. They are in the business of saving lives, of fighting disease and healing the injured. They are not in the business of letting go. (And who would want a doctor that doesn’t give it his or her all each and every time one has a serious health crisis?)

The decision to call in Hospice can also cause tension within the family. Family members experience this journey differently, working though their own feelings and beliefs on their own time schedule.  It may be a struggle to get everyone on the same page at the same time. 

We were able to make the decision to call when it became clear that the medical profession could no longer offer corrective remedies to mom’s stokes. They could test and tell us that she had HAD a stroke but they could not prevent them or correct them. Mom was also more adamant in her declaration that she wanted to go home. Candidly, the only hold out to bringing mom home sooner was her family’s response. The medical profession had months before stopped offering solutions and mom had been saying she wanted to go home for weeks; we were the ones trying to “give mom a chance”.

National Hospice groups have assembled a list of signs for the pre-active phase of dying.  I recognized that Mom was experiencing some of the signs. She became agitated and confused in between long periods of sleep and lethargy.  She did not want to eat or drink and when she did at the behest of her family the food was unappealing to her.  At times her breathing was labored.  

Hospice is not in the dying business; they are in the living business. Their goal is to offer care and support to individuals on the end of life journey so that they may live as fully as possible until the very end.  They want to ease the burden of family members wherever possible.  But still there is resistance. Somehow we believe that if we don’t declare that mom is dying, than she won’t be dying. Unfortunately, too many of us wait too long to make the call. The national average for length of stay in a hospice program is 14 to 20 days.  But in reality, when families look back over the last few months of life for their loved ones, they acknowledge the process started a lot sooner.  

My mother is home; her family and friends can visit as they please. She is sleeping more and communicating less.  People who love her now surround her. I continue to pray that my family will love and support one another through this process but I rest easier knowing Hospice will be on hand to guide us on our journey.