I grew up in Texas until my parents were divorced when I was in the fourth grade. A couple of years later, I moved to Kansas with my sister, mom and step-father. From that point forward, with the exception of four years of college, my life has been in Kansas.
My father continued to live on the coast of Texas. Because of the move and the distance, as well as all of the things that kids get into as they grow older (such as work, school activities, and the like), our time together was, many times, a week or two at Christmas, and a week or two in the summer.
One summer, my dad decided to spend most of his summer in Silverton, Colorado, commuting every couple of weeks back to Texas. That summer, I got a job in Silverton and lived with my dad.
My dad was really laid back that summer. He had some funky leather pants that he would wear while in Silverton.
His favorite activity was to get in his Jeep and go four-wheeling over some mountain passes. That summer, dad had many visitors from his hometown of Edna, Texas. Both friends and relatives would come to visit and stay for a period of time.
My dad would volunteer to take the visiting family and friends on a guided Jeep tour. My recollection is that the tour was over a pass called Engineer Pass, and you would come back on Cinnamon Pass.
This was not an easy jaunt. It was a “most of the day” trip. We would travel over one pass to Lake City, generally have lunch there, and then come back over the other pass back to Silverton.
I do not know how many times my dad did that trip that summer – many, many times. Most of the time, I would go with him, if I was not working.
What really amazed me later on in life was thinking about the enthusiasm that he showed each and every time that he made that trip. Though he had done it many times, he always showed enthusiasm to the family or friends that he was guiding over the mountain passes. His enthusiasm never diminished. He knew that for many of them this was the first time that they had been in the mountains and had this type of experience.
The climb over the passes was not easy. Not only was it rocky, it, many times, was on mountain edges. But my dad was always safe; he always calmed everyone down. Though there were a lot of gasps, he never exacerbated the situation. In all the times that I have done those passes with my dad, never was there a problem.
I know that when a family comes to me and they are facing long-term planning, or even dealing with a chronic illness, they are going on a journey that they have never been on before. The journey may be long, and certainly complex, and many times scary, if not heartbreaking.
It is important for me to let families know that they have a guide on their journey. It is important to me that families know that issues are going to come up, but we are here to take care of them.
Dealing with elder law, and helping people with long-term plan or chronic-illness issues, is very specialized. It ends up being more than a transaction. At least in my office, it becomes a life-long relationship. Elder law should deal with more than just estate planning; it should also address financial, health care and self-determination issues.
Sometimes I think that when people are looking at long-term planning, or if they are trying to deal with how to manage a chronic illness in their planning process, they get really overwhelmed. They just freeze rather than face what is going on.
I often tell families in my office that I know we are going to go on a long journey. Sometimes the journey may seem like a maze, but if they let me get them to the next corner, I will tell them where to turn.
I kind of felt like that with my dad. He was willing to bring his enthusiasm and knowledge in being a guide for people’s journey over the mountain passes. With him they felt safe.
My dad died two years ago. At his funeral, I had an interesting thought. I know that my dad was at peace with his passing, but I had this vision that in the afterlife, he would be meeting his friends and family. He would be wearing those funky leather pants, standing by his Jeep, probably with a little bit of beard growth, and ready to give them a tour of their new world.
Please do not be afraid addressing long-term care issues. With the proper guide, you will find great relief, and perhaps even peace of mind.