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View from The Hutten

Where life is simple but never boring

Suspicious indeed

My 91-year-old dad was home alone when he received “that phone call”. You know the one… “There’s been suspicious activity on your credit card.”

He thought it was legit. He believed it when the caller said there had been suspicious activity on his card. He believed she was calling to help.

In fact, when Dad called to tell me about it, his words were, “I just got the nicest call…”

He was wrong. So very wrong.

The “nice caller” asked for his credit card number “to verify the fraud”, and he gave it to her. Why wouldn’t he? She was so kind, so helpful! Then she asked if he’d like her to “check any other accounts”. Sure! Why not?!?! He gave her several more account  numbers. She thanked him, assured him they’d take care of it, and hung up.

Luckily he called right away to share his good news with me. I immediately sent the police to his house and, with their help, Dad was able to report the potential fraud before any transactions were charged to his accounts.

A tour of Dad’s wallet was an eye-opening experience. My dad didn’t just have one or two cards. Dad had a dozen cards — Grocery stores, gas stations, department stores and more. Mom was in a nursing home, but her wallet still had more than a dozen  cards. The opportunity for widespread credit card fraud was too horrifying to imagine.

We took steps right away to make sure nothing like this could ever happen again, and they’re something every family should consider. What can you do?

Several things, actually, but you will need to work together with your parent.

If you suspect fraudulent activity on your parent’s account, CALL THE POLICE AND REPORT IT IMMEDIATELY. A police report is your first line of defense.

Then, if there is no outstanding balance, close unused or unnecessary accounts. To do this, you and your parent must call each credit card company and speak to an actual person. Trust me when I say your elderly parent will probably not be able to do this alone. Those automated systems are designed to frustrate the caller and prevent any personal contact. Once you’re in the automated system, just keep hitting “0” until an actual person answers. I made the calls for Dad, got through to a person, explained why we were calling & handed Dad the phone. He told the customer service representative his password and gave permission for me to do the talking. Then I cancelled the card. If they needed confirmation for anything, I’d put him back on the phone.

Never assume. Close ALL unnecessary accounts.

Because we knew she wouldn’t be using them again we also called and cancelled all of Mom’s cards. Some people assume an account will be closed if it’s inactive, but they would be wrong. Many inactive accounts can sit “dormant” for years, and scammers will be happy to use them for internet shopping sprees or that trip they’ve always wanted to take to Paris.

We opted to keep only two of Dad’s accounts open, but we made a few changes in the way they were set up.

First of all, we added my name and phone number as the #1 contact for the active accounts. They were still in Dad’s name only, and I did not have any authorization to use them. I was just the first contact person in case there were any problems.

Next, we put flags on the accounts. For Dad’s two remaining accounts, I told the credit card representatives that Dad never traveled and he never shopped online. His activity was fairly predictable – groceries, gas, golf, medicine, restaurants. If any unusual activity popped up, it would trigger a flag and decline the transaction.

Did it work? Yes, indeed. We learned how the flags worked when we ordered a headstone for Mom’s grave and tried to charge the transaction. It “coded” in the system as “retail/other”, and the charge was declined until we called and approved it over the phone. The credit card rep was truly sorry for the trouble (since we were dealing with a sensitive purchase), but I told her the flag had done exactly what it was supposed to do. It declined a potentially fraudulent transaction until authorization was received from the card holder.

Finally, we lowered the limit on the open accounts. Did you know you can do that? You would be shocked if you add up the “available credit” limit on your parent’s (or your own) charge cards. Think about it. My dad had a dozen cards, and the limit on each of them was probably $8,000-10,000. The potential fraud could have totaled more than $100,000. We lowered both open accounts to a comfortable limit — one that would dramatically restrict anyone who attempted to defraud him.

The outcome of this episode could have been financial disaster.

Dad’s story had a happy ending, but only because he called to tell me about “the nice lady” who had called and because I insisted on notifying the police. If he hadn’t told me, or if he’d waited until the next day to tell me…. I can’t imagine how much damage would have been done.

To be certain you’ve caught all of the open accounts, you would be wise to run a free credit report online. There may be open accounts your parent has forgotten, or there may be unauthorized accounts opened in your parent’s name.

One more level of security. A friend told me that a stranger with the same name as hers had tried to withdraw money from her account at the bank. The stranger showed ID with the correct name, but the stranger didn’t know the security password my friend requires for every transaction. Fraud averted. Some banks will allow you to set up a security password on your accounts. This is a password required for transactions – even transactions in person at the bank. This is helpful if you have a common name or more than one person in your family with the same name, i.e., Jr. or Sr. This is especially helpful if there are untrustworthy people in your parent’s life – or yours.

I’m not normally a vengeful person, but I will say this:  If there’s any justice in this universe, there’s a special place in hell for people who run scams on the elderly. I envision the devil systematically destroying the scammer by taking away every single thing the she cares about and leaving her helpless, alone, insecure and terrified… with debt collectors hounding her for all eternity.

You’ll Thank Me Later

Okay, grads, listen up.  Back in the dark days before you were born, we used to have a thing called etiquette. It was a bunch of rules for a civilized society to follow. I won’t bore you with all of the details, but here’s a BIG ONE.  Are you ready?

Say “thank you”.

You invited a bunch of folks to come to your party, eat cake, look at adorable photos and, hopefully, bring a gift to commemorate your special day. Would it kill you to pick up a pen and paper and write a thank you note?

When my own daughters were growing up, I was known as a “mean mom”. There’s a story behind that, but I’ll save it for another day. When they graduated from high school, my daughters enjoyed the fruits of their graduation party – lots and lots of cards with dead presidents inside.

As they opened the cards, I told them this:  You can’t spend a penny of it until the thank-you notes are mailed.”  And I made sure they wrote a note to every gift-giver.

I told you I was a mean mom.

Writing thank you notes sounds like a daunting task, but it’s not. Remember, it’s one note at a time. They don’t all have to be unique, heartwarming, memorable notes. Trust me, if you hand-write a note, that in itself will be memorable.

My daughters and I came up with this plan. Well, okay, it was mostly me, but I wish someone had given me this advice when I had to write my own thank you notes. Ready? Here you go:

  1. Grandparents (usually the givers with the deepest pockets) and “Special People” get a special card. Go to the store and spend some time choosing a card that will make Grandma cry. Add a simple, heartfelt note, perhaps with a childhood memory of time spent with her. Trust me, it’s worth it. She’ll show it to her friends at the beauty parlor or church – and even to strangers in line at the grocery store – and she’ll get misty-eyed every time.
  2. Everyone else gets basically the same note. Write a “sample” note, and use it as your template. Dear _____, I’m so glad you were able to come to my party. Thanks for the gift of ___. I’m hoping to use it when I go to college this fall.” (OR) …I’ve been saving to buy a car, and your gift will help me reach my goal. (OR) …I’m backpacking around Europe this summer, and your gift will give me the chance to buy buckets of beer while I’m in Germany. I’m sure you get the idea. The template takes the work out of it.
  3. NO TECHNOLOGY ALLOWED. Do not use email, twitter, texting, chat, or any other form of electronics or social media to send thank you notes. You may be growing up in a paperless society, but I’d like paper, thank you very much.
  4. Don’t even try to tell me you’re too busy. That won’t fly. I wasn’t too busy go to the store and buy you a card or to write your check and bring it to your party. Suck it up, sit down & focus on one task until it’s done. Consider it preparation for a real job in the real world. A well crafted thank you note is never out of style and is always, always appreciated.

You may not want to take the time but, trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Perhaps with a well-crafted thank you note.

Don’t Stop Believing…

Don't stop believin'One of my favorite scenes in “The African Queen” is just after Rose (Katharine Hepburn) and Charlie (Humphrey Bogart) navigate through a series of huge rapids in the heart of Africa. Once they reach a calm stretch, they realize their boat is dead in the water. Charlie swims underneath to inspect the damage.

Rose: Could you see anything, dear?

Charlie:  Yeah. The shaft’s twisted like a corkscrew and there’s a blade gone off the prop.

Rose: We’ll have to mend it, then.

The year is 1914. They’re in the middle of the African continent. There is not another soul for hundreds of miles. No other boats. No stores. No repair shops. Just Rose & Charlie and the meager supplies on their broken boat.

And yet, her response is “We’ll have to mend it, then”. Charlie thinks it’s impossible, but Rose never doubts for a moment that Charlie has the skills necessary to make the repairs. They evaluate what they have to work with, and then they make a plan. In the end, they work together to repair the boat and continue on their journey. Rose believed in Charlie when Charlie didn’t believe in himself. Her belief made all the difference.

Relationships can be like that broken boat. Everything looks good on the surface, but we’re twisted and broken under the water where no one can see it. Life happens, disasters happen, misunderstandings happen — or we speak or act thoughtlessly — and our relationship screeches to a halt.

And then what happens? Nothing. We’re scared. We’re frustrated. We’re angry. We’re dejected. Basically we’re dead in the water, and there’s not a repair shop in sight. Sometimes we’re afraid to try to fix it. We might be rejected. We might be laughed at. We might fail. So we don’t try. We sit on a broken life, doing little more than the same things we’ve done every day, the same way we’ve always done them. It’s not much of a life, but you’re used to it.

What if you could improve the dynamics of your relationship?

It all comes down to this one question:  Do you believe in your partner? More importantly, does your partner know – without a shadow of a doubt – that you believe in him and the potential within him? Let’s face it – if you don’t believe in him, in his goodness, in his love, in the opportunities within your relationship and your future together —  you’re wasting everyone’s time. And if he doesn’t believe in you, he’s wasting your time.

It’s a funny thing, but I was the one in our relationship who listened to that little voice. I was afraid to try. I might be rejected. I might be laughed at. I might fail.

I came into our relationship with no clue of who I was or what I could become. But I was lucky enough to marry a man who believed in me — who could see past my doubts and find the potential inside me. Because of him, I am confident. Because of him, I have my dream job – running a bed & breakfast. Because of him, I feel loved and cherished every day.

And because he saw potential in me, I began seeing potential in him. He was confident in his job, so I started pointing out the little things about him that made him wonderful on a personal level. His kindness. His compassion. His strength of character. His absolute devotion to his family. His sense of humor. The simple joy he brought to my life every day.

Because Jim believed in me, I began believing in myself. Because Jim believed in me, I began to focus on what made him special. Because Jim believed in me, I could appreciate what a treasure my husband was, what a treasure my husband is, and I value every day with him.

The devil will always try to find ways to keep you from making your relationship work. He’ll break something between you and your partner, and then he’ll be that tiny voice in your head that tells you it can’t be fixed. That’s the devil’s job – to create unrest in our world – and he’s pretty good at it. Too many people simply surrender to that “you can’t fix it” voice, and they give up on a perfectly good partner… all because they don’t know how to uncover the potential in the other person.

Is your relationship broken? You don’t need money or a fancy house or a new car or an expensive vacation to make your relationship work. Sometimes the best relationships come from working together to fix whatever is broken – as happened between Rose and Charlie. Try making one positive change in how you interact with your partner. Open your eyes – and your heart – to find the best person hidden deep inside your partner. Along the way, you might just find the best person hidden deep inside you, too.

Be the one who makes a positive difference in the person your partner becomes. Believe in your partner, but don’t keep it to yourself. Tell your partner you believe in him – and why.  Believe in your partner’s goodness. Believe in your partner’s potential. And believe in your relationship and the potential within it.

Change has to begin somewhere. Let it begin with you. It’s time to start believing.

The need to be needed

My husband and I used to joke that women only keep men around for 2 things:  killing spiders and opening jars. Truth is, we need them for much more than that. Changing tires comes to mind. Carrying those 40-lb. bags of salt for the water softener… emptying mouse traps… moving furniture…

Relationships come and relationships go. That’s what many people believe today. They  don’t try to make a relationship work, because they don’t see the point. For them, nothing is permanent. Marriage doesn’t last. Give up. Pack up. Move on. Rinse and repeat.

It IS possible to have a lasting relationship. It IS possible to have a lasting marriage. But you need to understand one thing — marriage is hard work. Healthy relationships are hard work. And anyone who tells you differently is full of sh*t.

Today’s lesson is all about need. Not being needy. Being needed.

Men want to be strong partners. They want us to see them as Superman. Men of steel. Men who can do anything. Men who don’t need a thing. They can do it all.

Women want to be strong partners, too. We want folks to see us as independent, able to do anything a man can do. We’re ready to kick ass & take names and then organize the hostile takeover of a major corporation. We don’t need a thing. We can do it all.

He’s strong. We’re strong. Strong. Strong. Strong. Don’t need a thing. We can do it all.

No one ever wants to admit that they need anything, do they? We all want to be self-sufficient, all-powerful, emotionally and physically strong. We don’t want to be vulnerable or weak.

A relationship built solely on strength and accomplishment and independence is superficial at best. When we’re willing to be vulnerable with our partner, that’s when our relationship deepens. And a deep relationship is more likely to last when life throws rotten lemons at you.

Here’s something you’ll never read in Cosmo:

Ladies, your partner needs to be needed. He needs you to value his opinion. He needs to know that your life wouldn’t be the same without him. He needs to know you appreciate his presence. You appreciate his contributions to your life. You appreciate the fact that he loads the dishwasher, even if it’s not the way you would do it. You appreciate HIM, just because of who he is. He needs you to smile more, to laugh  more, to love more.

Men, your partner needs to be needed – outside the bedroom, thank-you-very-much. She needs you to value her opinion. She needs to know that your life wouldn’t be the same without her. She needs to know you appreciate her presence. You appreciate her contributions to your life. You appreciate the fact that she mows the lawn, even if it’s not the way you would do it. You appreciate HER, just because of who she is. She needs you to smile more, to laugh  more, to love more.

jim-cathy-in-vienna

Jim and I have been together for more than 40 years, and we still delight in spending time with each other. I appreciate him, and I remind him of that. I need him,  he needs me, and the simple little moments in our everyday life help us appreciate that mutual need. I can’t imagine life without him, and that makes each moment together so very precious. I treasure every smile, every laugh, and every “I love you”.

Relationships come and relationships go. What about yours? Is your need to be strong and independent blinding you to the fact that your partner can’t find a way to fit into your life and your heart? Be careful… independence can be a lonely existence. And superheroes are always lonely in their secret hideaways.

The simple truth is this: You have value. You are worthy of love. You deserve a lasting relationship. And so does your partner. Let your partner know how much you need him, how much you appreciate him, and how enriched your life is because he’s a part of it. Work hard. Love hard. Build a relationship that lasts.

Lessons from parenting my father

My mom died in 2009 after 68 years of marriage to my dad. Dad was left to pick up the pieces of his heart and try to soldier on alone – at the age of 91. But after a few months, Dad’s doctors and I realized he couldn’t manage on his own. I gave my husband the news, and then I brought Dad home to be with us. We were blessed with Dad in our lives for three years before he died, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Along the way I learned a few things about caring for an elderly parent. It wasn’t always easy – and I made plenty of mistakes – but it was so worth it.

Lesson #1. Let it go. Check your past hurts, failures, selfishness, anger, resentment and frustrations at the door. Start a new chapter on the day your parent moves into your home. If you can do that, your time with your parent will be easier.

Lesson #2. Be kind. Practice patience. Lots and lots of patience. You’ll be tempted to focus on how inconvenienced you are, but remember — this isn’t easy for your parent, either. We uprooted Dad from his home with literally no notice. On the day the doctor said to me, “Do you live nearby? He shouldn’t be on his own”, I helped Dad pack a bag and brought him home with me. He had no time to think about moving, no time to prepare his heart to leave the house he’d shared with mom for more than 40 years. It was inconvenient for us. It was traumatic for Dad. A bit of kindness every day can make a difference.

Lesson #3. Be an advocate. Get to know your parent’s physicians, and make sure they know you’re looking out for your parent’s interests. The best time to start laying the groundwork for all of this is while your parent is still able to make decisions on his own. I started going to doctors visits with my parents several years before Mom died. By the time Dad was on his own the doctors all knew me, and they knew I was doing my best to take care of Dad. Dad wouldn’t always hear what the doctor was saying, and he wouldn’t always ask questions. He definitely wouldn’t remember what the doctor said. I was there as his advocate to fill out paperwork, to take notes, to ask questions, and to explain it all to Dad on the trip home. I was also there to make sure the doctor’s office had correct information on Dad’s chart. Before each appointment I printed a list of Dad’s current medications, including dosages and which doctor prescribed each one, and gave it to the nurse who was updating Dad’s chart. In spite my best efforts, the information was never correct in his chart after the office transitioned to electronic record keeping. I made a point of checking each time – even if there were no changes from the previous visit – and it was never, ever correct. Not one single time. If Dad didn’t have an advocate, the errors would have gone unchecked.

Lesson #4. In case of emergency. As I mentioned above, I printed a list of Dad’s meds for each doctor’s appointment. In fact, the paper included everything I would need in case of emergency: Dad’s full name, his birth date, his insurance providers, his medical history/allergies, his list of meds, his list of doctors (including phone # and specialty), his health care POA & contact information – including where the document was on file, and whether he had a living will. I would update this list regularly and put the date at the top, and then print it on a half sheet of paper. I carried a copy in my purse. My husband kept a copy in his wallet. I gave a copy to my brother when Dad would stay with him. I also carried a copy of Dad’s health care POA in my car in case he was admitted to a new facility. It made emergencies much less stressful to have everything at hand.

Lesson #5. Be respectful, especially when you don’t want to. It’s important that you don’t boss your parent around as if he is an idiot. No matter what’s going on in your household, your parent is still a person who needs to feel like he’s loved and respected. It was hard to remember that sometimes, especially when Dad’s dementia led to an inability to track the passage of time. He moved at his own pace, and we were always running late. Instead of getting upset with Dad for something he couldn’t control, I had to learn to start getting him ready earlier if I wanted to be on time.

Lesson #6. Be honest, even when you don’t want to. I remember sitting next to Dad on the couch and ripping off the bandage of his life. He’d been with us for about ten months by that point. In one conversation I had to tell him that the doctors said he couldn’t drive any more, that he wouldn’t ever be moving back home, and that it was time to put his house on the market. To be perfectly honest, I think the conversation was harder on me than it was on him. We talked about his two cars, and he said he wanted to give one away and sell the other one. We talked about the house, and he suggested a realtor he trusted. I told him that we were happy to have him stay with us. I think he was relieved that he wouldn’t have to be alone again. Our honest conversation allowed him to help make the decisions we needed to make. By being honest with him, I showed him respect.

Lesson #7. Monitor the danger zone. The most dangerous room in the house for an older adult is the bathroom, and a baby monitor in the bathroom is invaluable. With the baby monitor we could hear Dad when he got up at night. It’s also the room where he occasionally fell and needed help immediately. Be sure to let your parent know the monitor is there — in case they ever need to call for help.

Lesson #8. Never Assume. Keep all medicines hidden away. Always. With his dementia, Dad wouldn’t remember whether he’d taken his meds. We learned to dispense them directly to him and keep them hidden the rest of the time. This goes for over-the-counter meds such as aspirin, laxatives and cough syrup, too. Better to keep them locked away than pay a trip to the ER.

Lesson #9. Ask your parent to help around the house. Just because Dad had dementia it didn’t mean he was useless. He wanted things to do, and it was good for him to have tasks – especially tasks involving fine motor skills (grasping and manipulating items). I had Dad peel potatoes or snap fresh green beans. I asked him to fold towels and his own clothes. It took a long time for him to do things, but he felt as if he was able to contribute around the house.

Lesson #10. A simple touch can make the difference. My parents were always affectionate toward each other, so it was a big change for Dad when Mom died. Many widowed seniors go days without a hug or a kiss – or any form of physical contact. I began doing little things to connect with Dad. If we were watching TV, I’d just sit next to him and hold his hand. It’s amazing how he’d brighten up with just that one small gesture. When Dad would get out of the shower, I’d put lotion on his feet, his legs, his back & his arms. It was always the high point of his day – like a mini-massage for him –  and his tissue-paper-thin skin became supple and healthy again.

Lesson #11. It’s lonely out there. When Dad came to live with us we brought him to a new town. He was surrounded by strangers. His familiar social circle disappeared in an instant, and all of his old friends lived an hour away. The one place where he was welcomed with open arms (literally) was at our church. He could find fellowship and acceptance in each trip to church, and everyone was great about greeting him with hugs and handshakes. Those people who had been our church family became Dad’s church family, too. They connected with Dad at a time when he needed that connection, and helped to ease his loneliness. If your parent is still close enough for his friends to visit, encourage them to stop by. One visit from an old friend will brighten his heart for days.

Lesson #12. Get your siblings involved. Ouch. This is a hard one. Caring for a parent often falls to one child, and it’s easy to become resentful that your siblings aren’t stepping in to help. After a year of having Dad with us nearly every day, I told my brother that we needed to make a change. We swapped Dad back and forth every couple of months. It gave Dad a change of scenery – and company – and it gave us the break we needed.

Lesson #13. Be realistic. Many children make the emotional promise that they’ll never put the parent in a nursing home. Let’s be realistic. We don’t always have that choice. The reality of caring 24/7 for a parent is much more physically and emotionally exhausting than anyone ever imagines. And most of us have no medical training. How will you handle your parent’s failing health? I promised my father that I would care for him in my home as long as I could take care of his physical and medical needs. I told him that, if the day ever came, I’d put him in the best facility I could find. He had a number of short-term stays in nursing homes for rehab after hospital stays, and this gave us a chance to see what kind of care he would receive at each one. We talked about it together, even while we hoped we’d never have to make that decision, and we agreed on the nursing home we would choose.

Lesson #14. Saying good-bye. It’s strange, but I knew I had to be there when Mom died. I knew she wouldn’t want to be alone, and I was at her side when she drew her last breath. Nearly four years later I was at home in bed when Dad died in a nearby hospital. I could spend my life beating myself up because he was alone when he died, or I could let it go and realize the three years we had together while he was in my home were more important to him than that final breath. So many adult children carry a burden of disappointing their parents in the final moments, defining their lives with what-ifs and should-haves instead of cherishing good times together. Mourn your parent’s passing, but don’t let your perceived mistakes define the rest of your life. Odds are, you’re the only one who’s mad at you. Get over yourself and get on with your life. You’ve got living people who need you.

Lesson #15. Your kids are watching you. They’re watching how yovalentine-dadu deal with your aging parents. They will remember what you say and what you do. Yes, you’re inconvenienced by caring for your parent. But if every moment of your time with your parent is a cause for complaint, that’s what your kids will expect if you ever need help from them. We had some tough days with Dad, but my daughters don’t hear about that. I choose to focus on the treasured memories of our time together. Memories I would never have had if he hadn’t lived with us. I was a daughter to my dad, and I was blessed beyond measure to have him in my life and in my home.

 

 

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