Death and Taxes

It’s often said the two certainties in life are death and taxes. So, as we approach April 15, Tax Day, I wanted to reflect on death, finances and organization. That’s right, not my usual topic for this blog. As many of you know, my husband passed away this summer. He had suffered a brain bleed and multiple complications starting the summer prior. During this experience I learned (the hard way) how unprepared we were for life’s complications and the inevitable – death and taxes. In the subsequent months, I’ve also learned I’m not alone in this experience. Many of my colleagues were intrigued to hear my responses to their queries and quips. Upon speaking with one colleague, she said she was fine if she needed to speak with the insurance company because she had a health care proxy designating her. Another said it would be fine because she’s a spouse. No, sorry that’s not correct. Sometimes you can get someone to talk to you if you sob and beg, but most of the time not. I needed to fill out a specific health care form (yearly) to have conversations about my husband’s bills (even though I hold the insurance).

I’ve been asked by numerous colleagues and friends to write or present about this topic. I’m flatter, but I am not an expert, nor qualified to impart estate planning advice, so please don’t use this information below as such. This post is not intended as a guide of what to do, but rather a guide to start asking questions. It’s not intended to ‘scare’ you, its goal is to make you think (and potentially act when necessary). I figure if I can make a difference in your life, then that’s all the difference in the world. Because my colleagues and readers, you are the world to me. 

The Will 

“I was planning on doing that this summer…” 

Be that as it may, life may have other plans for you. Get thee to an attorney as soon as possible. In New York, a spouse inherits without a will but there could be glitches so better safe than sorry. Other states may have other rules – so again, consult an attorney. The Will is what most of us focus on as ‘the’ necessary legal document. However, you’ll discover there are several other considerations as we continue with this list. 

Power of Attorney (POA) 

The often overlooked POA is critical when trying to get anything done on behalf of your spouse or loved one. No, the phone company, credit card nor bank does not have to talk to you if you’re not on the account. I didn’t realize how many bills and services were in my husband’s name. I had one person at Verzion help me suspend my husband’s phone line as he wasn’t able to use it and it was one more bill to pay. Other than that, I couldn’t get anything done. Over the course of the year I had to handle my husband’s medical practice, banking, transfer car titles and more. POA gives the receiver as much or as limited ‘power’ as you decide. This should be discussed with an attorney (and possibly a marriage counselor!). POA helps out in times when a person cannot handle their own affairs, as in the case of disability or unconsciousness. 

Who’s your Beneficiary? 

You know those life insurance forms you filled out over a decade ago when you were first hired? Who did you name as beneficiary? Don’t know? Think you know? Well, you should double check. It might be your ex! Start with your employer and/or union provided life insurance plans, then your own purchased plans and update your forms at your financial institution accounts (I.e. Morgan Stanley, e-Trade, etc.). These funds go directly to the named beneficiary, no will necessary. 

He/She died. Now what? 

Aside from curling up in a fetal position and crying, you’ll have plenty of things to do. 

Get a list of what to do when a spouse dies. There are many checklists online – I used a combination of two different ones. You will need all your legal documents, accounts and documents organized. Ask family members or friends to help. It’s too overwhelming to accomplish solo. Prioritize the list and tackle a little bit at a time. 

Practice self-care. You want to focus on your family and tackle items on the never-ending checklist but remember take care of yourself the best you can even though it is probably the hardest task you’ll face. Btw – it’s okay to flip out. Really. A week after my husband death I boarded a plane for Hawaii. I couldn’t stand being in our house, so I decided to visit my newest (one month old) niece on Oahu 12 hours away. Babies have a way of breathing new life in us. 

Oh, and by the way, you know all that stuff I mentioned above? The Will, the POA, your beneficiaries. Rinse and repeat. You’ll have to re-do all of them. 

PS – making a list of every account username and password cannot be stressed enough. Do it now! 

A New Arrival

My eyes misted over with tears of joy for you finally arrived. I held you in my arms, first in a warm maternal embrace, then up high for the world to get a glimpse at you…

While writing Maker with a Cause, I often likened the process to pregnancy.

Months 1-2: Waiting to confirm, “Am I really pregnant?” “Are they going to offer me a contract?”

Month 3: Yippee! I’m so excited. “What shall we name her?” There’s so many things to pick out.

Months 4-5:  Wow, I’m gaining quite a bit of weight… (Sitting at a computer day after day, noshing on pretzels and other goodies will do that to you.)

Month 6-7: Trying to convince myself this WILL be worth it.

Month 8: Ugh, I’ve got to go out and buy more clothes, nothing fits.

Month 9: When is this going to be over!!!!

Labor: Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Smell the flowers, blow out the candles. “Seriously, more copy edits???” “Get it OUT!”

Delivery: “Awww, isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve laid your eyes on?” “I’m so proud!” “Look what I created.”

Well, in honesty, I didn’t create this book on my own. There were so many encouraging family, friends and colleagues along the way. First, and most of all, my husband, Alan for whom the book is dedicated. He is the most supportive, awesome-est husband ever. He schlepped with me to Anaheim, CA to attend a service learning conference. Made me countless cups of tea – the only thing to calm me and keep me focused. And, even while a patient in the neurosurgical ICU with a cerebellar brain bleed/AVM, his first words to me were to encourage me to finish the book when my only thought was – I hope he makes it through the weekend.

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As a mom, I am habitually proud of my children. This past year the roles were reversed as our children, Joseph, Joshua, Jacob and Hannah, were my cheer squad. My sisters managed my husband’s office while I focused on him and finishing edits. (Hint: never trust hospital Wi-Fi.) My niece, Kelly, was my go-to proofreader. Even though she has a full-time job with a commute and a 3-year-old, she managed to find time to help me.

Early on when I had no clue how to read a book contract, Heather Moorefield-Lang and Diana Rendina both came to my rescue patiently answering the most generic questions. Thank you! I am grateful for public libraries for that is where I wrote most of the book. Grateful for the peace and quiet and no eating rules. (Gained too much weight snacking at home!) And grateful for countless librarians and educators across the country who shared stories with me, kept me focused and most of all encouraged me.

At work I am grateful to Heidi Stevens, our FACS teacher, who helped me with many of the sewing projects. Rita Dockswell, who reminded me I know how to crochet. Most of all, it was my principal, Mike Mosca, who let me ‘do my thing’ day in and day out. This level of support allowed me to collaborate with so many to empower our teens to make a world of difference through our MakerCare program.

I hope you’ll love my new arrival as much as I do.

Gina

Good Grief! A Librarian’s Reaction to Grief and Bereavement

I started off the school year with the death of former student. Unfortunately, I’m ending the school year with the death of a staff member. The death, another car accident, occurred over the weekend and I dreaded going to work on Monday. Senseless tragedies depriving us of vibrant lives lived.

It is said that when grieving we need to do something physical as it gives us power over the situation in which we feel powerless.

When a former high school student, Anil, died students came to the library to make memorial buttons to be worn at Homecoming and throughout the numerous memorial events that occurred during the year. It was a very cathartic experience. I still see buttons on staff lanyards and on student backpacks. It’s oddly comforting.

Recently while still feeling sad and contemplating ideas for a new end of year bulletin board, I thought this would be my opportunity to express myself. But why stop there? Why not invite others to participate. So a simple activity to provide a colorful distraction in honor of a colorful woman thus became an interactive art display.

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These experiences got me thinking about grief and bereavement and the librarian’s role. When my children were young and their first dog died the very first thing I did was to run to the public library for bibliotherapy. We needed a copy of The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (Viorst), Dog Heaven (Rylant),  and stack of other related titles.  Libraries comfort us, they heal us. Psyches iatreion is roughly translated as “Healing Place for the Soul”; this phrase was found inscribed on an ancient Greek library. I  read aloud to three distraught little boys, we made our ‘Good Thing’ lists and decorated them. We grieved through doing, through making something.

Working in a school setting we are fortunate to have social workers, psychologists and counselors. However, librarians should never overlook their usefulness in this area.

In typical librarian fashion I love to curate. I also love to make and create. And unfortunately I’m not immune to grief.  I’ve gathered sources and ideas so that I could direct students and others to help themselves. Please feel free to use this list: http://hslibguides.islipufsd.org/grief and look for my upcoming article in Teacher-Librarian regarding this topic (Seymour, G. (2016, May/June). The Compassionate Makerspace: Grief and Healing in a High School Library Makerspace. Teacher Librarian.)

¿Dónde está la biblioteca? Where is the Library?

My school library has been under construction for several weeks now. Old windows, replaced by new ones – the 900s on book-carts, manga and anime stored on bookshelf counters and a makerspace packed up. This past week I, too, needed to relocate. First to our community board room and then to a computer lab ‘206’ where I kept up with email, MARC records, and other assorted duties. After two days in exile I had an interesting conversation with a teacher. She said, “…when I was talking to you in the library earlier.” Hmm…I haven’t been in the library, what are you talking about? “Oh, come on Gina you know the library is wherever you are!”Wow, did she just say that?  Other staff members in the room smiled and nodded in a agreement. This got me thinking…where is the library?

While displaced, I collaborated with several teachers on upcoming projects, scheduled time in our computer lab, cataloged books, and updated our social media pages. I even processed and circulated books; titles for our upcoming staff book club meeting. I dropped off the books to participants or they found me. Having given out my mobile phone number to staff in an email, I was accessible by email, phone or text and of course, in person. The texting worked out really well. All in all, I was able to function as a librarian and accomplish numerous professional duties. So, where is the library? Is the library a person or is it the ‘stuff’? Don’t get me wrong, I like, no I need, the stuff – books, magazines, newspapers, supplies and our awesome den of creativity, our makerspace. Students have my email address and use it as needed. Our eBooks, digital audiobooks and databases are always accessible, so no worries there.

I was fortunate that this relocation occurred during testing week and the only students in the building were the ones who had a test to take. If this situation had happened at a different time (I shudder at the thought) things would have been different. I think staff needs and student needs differ. Yes, some staff members sought out the relocated ‘library’ to use our laptops, read our newspapers and just gather and collaborate. It felt the same, but also felt different. We all like our ‘space’. We have our favorite spot – the table by the window, favorite computer workstation or just reading the NY Times in the over-sized armchairs. And what about our students? Our students also need the space the library provides – a safe place, a helpful and nurturing place, a place for tinkering and self-discovery, as well as, study. Could I have provided that ‘on the fly’? Probably. Maybe?

So…Where is YOUR Library?