Great Advice

March 8, 2010

Safety in Numbers – If You Understand Them

By Sandra Pesmen

I’m invited to many financial seminar/dinner meetings for seniors, but I didn’t start attending them until I became a widow.

That’s when I realized I must understand exactly how much money I have, what’s happening to it, and how I can make sure it lasts as long as I do.

One of the best ways to work through the grief of new widowhood is to gain control of your finances. In many cases that helps you feel “safe” again.

Daniel O. Fisher, Certified Senior Advisor, of Wilmette IL, (847-501-0279) shed light on that subject last week in Jimmy’s Charhouse in Riverwoods when he presented a talk about assuring a “Safe and Smart Retirement.”

If you thought there was a way to get rich quick, especially in today’s economy, Fisher reminded us to forget that. “Moderate gains that never experience a loss will outperform a volatile market,” he said. “If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

As widows we must be guardians of our estates and become our own best advisors.

“Don’t hesitate to take charge because you thought you never were good enough at math,” he stressed. You simply cannot put all your assets in someone’s hands and forget about it.

The only way to guarantee a comfortable and secure future is to take charge of it yourself. You must examine the monthly reports sent by your advisor. If you don’t understand them completely, meet with him or her and insist upon an explanation of whatever confuses you.

And when you do understand where your money is and what it’s doing, make sure you approve of that manager’s strategy for safguarding it. Change to comeone else if you don’t feel your money is “working while you sleep.”

You must find someone that understands and can explain to you:

  • Ways to avoid paying taxes on social security
  • If you are a good candidate for some kind of Roth IRA
  • If you should buy one of the many kinds of annuities
  • How to make sure your heirs are best protected from taxes.

Ask your accountant and/attorney to help find such a person, who also will appreciate your goals and help achieve them. Some of us are more comfortable with risk than others, and your advisor also must be sympathetic to that.


February 16, 2010

Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life

One recent morning I happened upon a PBS TV program featuring Motivational Speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer. I had whisked past him before, noticed he was a nice looking, energetic man who said sensible things. But this morning, he stopped me when he talked about “the Conscious Mind” and “The Habitual Mind.”

The latter is sometimes considered “The Subconscious Mind,” but Dr. Dyer explained that might mean you have no control over it. He (and now I) prefer thinking it’s the mind full of dumb, negative, or wrong thinking habits you’ve picked up over the years that stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do.

Quick examples might be to lose weight, stop smoking, stop drinking, trying for a career you’d really like to follow, or change personal relationships.

If you work at it, those stumbling blocks, or negative thought habits, should be called up, looked at clearly, scorned and tossed away. You can do it if you work at it.

Here are some of the silly arguments your habitual mind brings up when consider doing something wonderful:

  • It’s too difficult.
  • It’s too risky.
  • It takes too long.
  • I don’t deserve it.
  • No one will help me.
  • I’m not good enough, strong enough, smart enough to do it
  • The rules won’t let me do it.
  • I’m too tired.

All those are “mind viruses” claims Dr. Dyer. Identify them as the foolishness they are, then you can start to dismiss them. He also noted that “Love cancels out fear, and fear cancels out love.” Think about it. Also, check with your local Public TV station to discover when Dr. Dyer appears next on your local PBS station. His book, “Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life” in paperback is $16.97. Similar help for changing negative thoughts is found in “Feeling Good”, paperback, $7.99 by Dr. David Burns.


February 14, 2010

The Goes Sailing the Caribbean

We get ready:

We began planning our first Cruise in August. We wanted to sail the Caribbean Islands on the most luxurious ship we could find during Chicago’s coldest, snowiest season.

Our Travel Agent, Cary Travel Express, in Cary IL, suggested a seven-night-trip the first week in February, when the weather’s good and top season prices haven’t begun.

The first hitch was learning that lone travelers pay what travel professionals call the “Single Supplement” and I call “The Widow’s Penalty.” Because we use a double room, we pay for two.

I solved that problem by inviting my daughter Beth, co-host on this Web site and a professional photographer, to join me. My blog entries and Beth’s photos will appear on this Web site in the following days.

We chose to travel on Holland America Lines (HAL) because my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful trip to Alaska on it’s Noordam ship many years ago. Cary Travel booked us on HAL’s newest ship The Eurodam, and we we were stunned by its luxury and beauty.

I searched online myself for the cheapest American Airlines flight to and from Ft. Lauderdale, where the ship departed and returned. (I later learned from fellow sailors that Jet Blue also is a fine airline that offers excellent values if it flies to your destination.)

There was another setback with baggage. You MUST pack a case too big for carry-on if you’re going away for eight days, and that’s expensive. Beth’s bag was over the 50- pound limit–and on American Airlines those few pounds pushed the luggage price from $25 to $50. Mine slipped under the limit for $25. We brought snacks on the flight–but the Boston Market beef and chicken sandwiches others bought for $10 on board didn’t look bad.

I intervened again when our travel agent told us her preferred hotel. I called the reservations desk , explained that I am a senior widow, and a member of AARP, and they dropped the price our agent had quoted for one night before sailing by $45. The hotel also arranged very inexpensive pickup at the airport, delivery to the wharf, and a return to the airport at the end of the cruise.

Everyone should do the same and not totally depend on a travel agent to book everything without question.

We always use American Taxi (847-272-8000) to get us to and from O’Hare and they have never disappointed us. (They also accept senior discount chits.)

Beth and I were especially glad my old Journalism college chum, Barbara Madden Peterson, who was widowed nine months ago, decided to join us.

Our plane was on time, we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale early enough to have a riotous dinner with three men friends who live in Miami, and we were ready for sailing the next morning.

We get set:

We’re smoothly transported up the ramp and onto our floating palace, where we roam over soft carpets, gaze at crystal chandeliers and a multi-million-dollar-plus art collection along the walls. We are awed by two luxurious outdoor swimming pools, the Greenhouse Spa & Salon and Exercise room (where Beth and I will work out on the treadmill each morning). We peer into the two-tiered show lounge with its velvet seats and a cheery casino filled with music, and bright lights.

We have a few hours before our rooms will be ready with our luggage, so we check out the elegant main dining room, the intimate Pinnacle Grill and The Lido Restaurant, a casual dining buffet that seems to serve something all day and evening. In addition, we look over the room service menu–open 24-hours a day. Of course there’s too much food on board, but part of the fun is not having to prepare it–and that’s also why we schedule treadmill time.

At last our (upgraded) eighth-floor stateroom with a veranda is ready –and champagne sent by a friend is waiting on ice. We uncork it and unpack. As we slip into summer clothes, we remind ourselves that it’s 13 degrees at home.

We sail:

This is our first full day at sea. We sit in lounge chairs on our private balcony, sipping the bubbly and watching tiny foam-tipped waves ripple by as sea gulls hover overhead.

Dinner features every delicacy imaginable, and continues to do that in each dining spot throughout the journey. The service people, from top to bottom levels, strive for “excellence” on the final-day passenger survey. In our opinion, they achieve it.

Our first evening includes a swing through the Casino where we don’t spend much time or money, and to the on board shops sparking with jewelry and perfume bottles, then on to the piano bar. We stop to see our first show in the Show Lounge introducing the Eurodam dancers and singers.. (We saw several shows during the cruise, including and a heart-stopping magician who performed with his aerial ballerina wife.) Late that first evening we stop at the Internet Cafe, where we buy one hour of on-line use for $50. It seems expensive, but that gave us almost 10 minutes a day to check emails. Other choices included 75 cents a minute

Hello, Caribbean islands:

Day two of our Caribbean Cruise aboard The Holland America Lines’ Eurodam takes us to Grand Turk island, where we sign up for an excursion to snorkel in the ocean and rest on the island’s white-sand beach for $29 each.

It is a primitive trip at best. The islanders drive us to the beach (five minutes), lead us to a wooden bar where we pick up a snorkel mouthpiece and fins from a basket, and then they drive off. We find our way to the sea, look down at fish for a bit, then settle in lounge chairs for an hour. We go back to the wharf where a few shops are open in a small market selling very pedestrian souvenirs. We return quickly to our ship, where we swim in the turquoise pool, rest on soft, shaded lounge chairs, and are handed thick towels by the same people who offer drinks. It is far superior to that first island visit.

But the next day’s trip to San Juan is fascinating. We meet a darling young man from New York who quit his job and opened a shop called Piranha Joe just a few steps from the wharf. His helper, a 24-year-old business college grad from Cary Il, arrived here first on a tour. She later returned with a tent and slept on the beach while she worked in a bar and saved enough money to rent a room. Both seem to enjoy a life of complete freedom from responsibility that others dream about.

We also hike through Old San Juan, and the visit a day later at St. Thomas also is totally delightful. After a day of shopping through jewelry stores and a flea market, and enjoying the gorgeous views of hills and sea, we climb aboard our ship that slowly pulls away from shore. Looking back across the water, I muse that the little white wooden houses tumbling down this hillside look like an overturned cup of sugar cubes.

We spend our next days meeting people, making new friends from all across the country, and trying to forget that this delightful “spot of time” won’t go on forever.

Each evening as we watch the sun sink into the water we remember that Nancy Koran’s marvelous book, “Loving Frank” described the horizon as “The hem of heaven.”

This is the first trip. We ask our travel agent, Neelie Cruse at Cary Travel Express, 847-639-3300, to keep us informed about others, including resorts and land tours.

We’ll post her suggestions, but want to know if you have any ideas. Do comment. As we just learned, widows have great fun together meeting fellow travelers.


January 4, 2010

Goodbye to Bolder, the Wonder Lab

By Sandy Pesmen

He came to us when he was 2 1/2 years old, wiggling, wagging and licking his way into our hearts.

Our son, Curt, was his real master, but had to “lend” Bolder to us while he and wife Paula DuPre’ Pesmen went to London where Paula was Associate Producer on the first Harry Potter Film.

He was to stay with us one year. Who knew they would make HP 2, and 3 before Paula and Curt returned to the states with a new family? Since he’d been here five years, the decision was to leave Bolder here, where he was the constant and devoted companion (and playmate) of his adopted master, my husband Hal.

I told one dear friend that Bolder was the best-behaved dog anyone ever had, but we couldn’t take the credit for that because our son Curt had trained him. He answered, “But you’re the ones that trained the boy that trained the dog.” How proud we always were of that.

Everyone that met Bolder in our home–or while we were marching down the street– helped make his life joyful. Never in his 12-1/2 years did he hear a discouraging word, or feel anything but soft, loving pats. His food and water bowls always were filled on time. He constantly heard us say, “Good boy, Good puppy” and “I love you.”

But he grew old, as we all must, with aching joints and failing organs. Yet he soldiered on, waiting at the door when we left, struggling to stand and give us wet kisses when we returned.

Then on Tuesday, Dec.29, he showed some alarming symptoms of severe illness. We thought it was gastritis and treated that for one day. Wednesday, Dec. 30, the symptoms grew worse. The vet diagnosed Cancer and, with Sandy, Beth, Sara and Jack in attendance, he put Bolder to sleep. He went peacefully and never suffered. He takes his place with other loved ones who are gone but remain always in our memories.


October 21, 2009

Moving to the Middle of the Bed

Last night I slept in the middle of our king-size bed. It took me two years to do that. For 55 years I shared that bed with my husband.

He never walked on water. Sometimes we broke that cardinal rule and went to sleep angry. But far more often we embraced that bed, and each other, with tremendous joy, grateful we found mates that showed love, kindness, consideration, and selflessness on an almost daily basis. How unusual is that?

So often people reach out their hand when they hear I’m a widow and say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“THank you,” I answer, “But I only had two years of loss. I had 55 years of gain.”

I know that not everyone has my risiliancy. I lead The Widows Web site ( as well as several widows clubs at local senior centers, and I give motivational talks to help people learn to “Strive and thrive alone.”

Too often these people are so grief stricken they find it hard to concentrate on anything except their sorrow. Their sadness has become the focus of their lives, and everything and everyone else is on the perifery.

I try and help them understand that life is not a dress rehersal. We don’t get to have a “do over.” And most of us don’t have finite time left.

Whatever time we do have left is meant to be spent enjoying, loving, helping and caring for ourselves as well as others.

No one can hurry your grief or mine. No one can tell anyone else when it’s time to pick up living and begin placing those loved ones who died into a beloved memory space. All day every day I think about my husband, silently telling him funny incidents, and asking myself what he would decide when a problem arises. His photos are on his desk in the den, on our dresser in the bedroom, and in the living room. When I talk to our grown children and grandchildren one of them usually says, “Oh, that’s just what Dad (or Papa) wouid say.”

He is with me always and lasts night, after two years spent sleeping on my side of the bed, my husband’s memory finally joined me in the middle.


August 13, 2009

What Hospice “Death Panel” Meant to Us

By Sandra Pesmen

When my husband was in the last stage of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, with no hope for a cure, we settled him in our den, next to the TV where he could watch his beloved Cubbies play ball, in the company of his loved ones and devoted Black Lab.

During those final weeks, as he became weaker and weaker, we faced each day as a gift and marveled at the sunshine, Fall flowers, changing leaves and the contentment we knew as a happy family.

We kept up the illusion that we still had more time. Then one day the visiting nurse, sent by Government sponsored Medicare, suggested we invite Hospice, paid by Government sponsored Medicare, to come in and help us.

I was terrified. “Does that mean its over??” I asked.

“Oh, no,” she answered. “Hospice can give comfort and care for several months, even a year or more if necessary.”

I couldn’t believe Medicare would provide that and we were very grateful. They gave me a red sign to place on the refrigerator that said, “Do Not Call 911.” That’s because any responding emergency crew must take the patient to a hospital. All of us, including my husband, had agreed not to do that since there was no hope of changing this end of life verdict.

Then one day when we needed to increase his oxygen tank to the highest level, we called our primary doctor and asked him to give that permission.

He said, “Don’t you want to bring him into the hospital so we can try and reverse this condition?” he asked gently.

“No, Doctor, I answered. “We all agreed that since there is no way to reverse this condition, we aren’t going put him through that.”

He signed the necessary papers to increase oxygen at home.

About a week later my husband died without fear, pain or suffering because he was surrounded by a very professional Hospice nurse and family members who held his hands, kissed him and assured him that there was nothing to fear and he was safe.

If that is the “Death Panel” so feared by Health Care Plan protestors, I hope I will appear before it too. I’ve given directions and signed a living will and power of attorney to help that happen.

See Widows List: Health


July 31, 2009

When Sudden Death Makes ‘Sudden Widows’

By Sandra Pesmen

Losing a mate suddenly is very different from caring for a loved one through long illness. While the grief and sorrow are no different, sometimes a sudden death leaves widows less prepared for the “work” they must do afterward. Often there are no funeral and burial arrangements. Some women don’t know how to file death certificates, change names on charge and bank accounts, or contact their insurance agencies. Some of these “sudden widows” also don’t know about managing financial portfolios, writing checks, balancing checkbooks, or, (don’t laugh) putting gas in the car, calling the plumber, changing lightbulbs and so much more.

(By the same token, men whose wives die unexpectedly may wonder how to turn on the washing machine, when to change sheets, and how to do anything in the kitchen beyond opening wine bottles.)

But when they have “warning time,” many couples make preparatory plans and changes.

I have one friend whose husband was a successful businessman until retirement. Later he managed their financial portfolio and rental properties, played cards and attended men’s club meetings. But that wasn’t enough for his wife. She decided to prepare both of them for widowhood. After she learned to manage their home improvements and to understand their finances, she decided to teach her husband to survive without her.

“I take him into the kitchen every evening and make him help me prepare dinner,” she said. “He chops salad, broils meat, cooks vegetables. When we order in, he sets the table. He can feed himself.”

He also puts his own laundry into his own laundry bag and washes it himself every Sunday.”

I have two other friends, who, unfortunately, became widows suddenly and had made no preparations for that. Ten years ago both moved to Florida, leaving family and friends in Illinois. After their spouses deaths, both stayed with their children, trying to make up their minds about their futures. No one ever taught them to make important decisions or to live alone.

As a result, they feel bereft and anxious to the point of panic. Neither one can decide if she should sell or rent her Florida Condo and move back to the Midwest. On one hand they would like their children to vacation in the condos. On the other hand, they could use the money now. Their children, who are sensible and know their mothers’ financial situations, are able to offer good advice but they don’t want to interfere. They feel their mothers should decide by themselves.

After the three of us lunched last week, and talked about their dilemmas, we agreed they, and most “sudden widows,” should do a few things.

These include:

Go over all your finances with a knowledgeable, licensed accountant, attorney, or financial adviser–or all three. You can’t make appropriate decisions about where and how well you can live unless you know exactly how much money you have–and owe.Take a friend or relative you trust with you to make sure someone understands the details. You can’t decide how you will live until you understand what you can spend each month.

Talk with a trained therapist, counselor or clergyman to help you address your shock, fears and new decisions. The third person can help you consider choices with an objectivity few close friends and family members have.

When the major decisions are made, return to the accountant and write a personal budget to follow in your new life.

Then give yourself permission to feel sad and cry sometimes–but remind yourself that life goes on and you’re going to go with it.


July 4, 2009

Rethinking Hospice at Home

By Sandy

When my husband was near the end of his terminal illness, our Medicare nurse, who dropped in twice a week to check his vital signs, suggested we call our local Hospice center to set up Home Hospice.

I balked. I was afraid to face the reality that we were so close to the end.

“That doesn’t mean it will happen right away,” she assured me. “They will just come in and make everyone comfortable for as long as necessary. Sometimes it’s six months, sometimes even a year, and they can even get an extension on that…”

I was surprised, but comforted, and agreed to make the call and talk with the Hospice social worker. The whole team did come into our home, bringing great comfort, mainly because they knew what they were doing in that situation and the family did not. I will forever feel grateful for and blessed by their presence.

The team, headed by Nurse Mary Scott, of North Shore University HealthSystem Hospice, set up a Home Hospice hospital bed and equipment. It worked so well that I told the family that when my time comes I would like the same treatment, with CNA home care workers attending me in addition to the Hospice team.

Lately I began to have another view. I realized that the Home Hospice program worked so well for my husband because I was there to orchestrate the workers and do much of the day-to-day care-giving. I know my family would have to do all the work of managing caregivers for me and do day-to-day care-giving, and that won’t do at all.

After rethinking my options, I’ve changed my plan. When I reach the end of my days, I want to remain at home as long as it’s possible and convenient for the family. After that, I want them to send me to a nursing care center, and then on to Hospice in a hospital.

In addition to relieving my family of the 24/7 watch at home, I will probably get better care from professionals in the hospital. They have more appropriate equipment to handle my needs than we have at home. I hope conditions allow us to do that.

Perhaps you want to rethink you plans for your last days too.


May 20, 2009

Financial Advisor Helps Other Women ‘Survive and Thrive’

By Sandy

When your husband walks out after 32 years of marriage, you have the same two choices as many widows.

You can spend the rest of your life sitting around feeling sorry for yourself, or you can get up and start making a worthwhile future.

Caryl Loevy, now a financial advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc., in Northbrook IL, chose the latter.

She was 52 and mother of three grown children when she suddenly found herself discarded and replaced by her husband’s twenty-something secretary.

She had married three weeks after graudating from college with a degree in sociology/psychology, but never worked at a job, though she had done volunteer work, and also managed the family checkbook, as well as the financial books for her husband’s business. She even had begun to make some small investments.

But now things were different. Caryl had to earn a living, and, at the same time, start to pick up her life.

She decided to try Financial Planning as a career. “I made cold calls from the Yellow Pages to gain interviews and was hired and then trained by American Express,” she recalls.

After one year, she became an independent contractor, and began to earn an excellent salary.

She also enjoyed the best revenge of all: living well. She bought a new home, went snorkeling, hot air ballooning, mountain hiking, and traveled the world.

Meanwhile, Caryl’s ex-husband, who was very wealthy when he left her, became ill His young wife divorced him, taking most of his fortune. He later died penniless.

In addition to tending to her regular clients, Caryl worked pro bono to help other women who were alone to develop profitable portfolios. She became a volunteer consultant to Lilac Tree organization in Evanston IL, that supports pre/post divorced women and she continues to work with its members.

“I’m especially aware of women’s roles in enlightening and educating other women,” she says.

Her message to divorced and widowed women? Believe in yourself.


May 16, 2009

Live Like There IS a Tomorrow

By Beth Preis

During stronger economic times many of us “lived like there was no tomorrow,” to borrow one of my mother’s favorite clichés. There were trips to plan, cultural events to attend and always wonderful restaurants to visit. However, since the recession, spending money freely has caught up with even the best of financial managers. Most people, including many widows have found themselves with less savings and are more conscious of cutting costs than ever before.

Here are some things I have learned this past six months:

  1. The first is that I can live with a lot less more easily than I thought I could. How many pairs of silver earrings do I really need?
  2. The second is that I am improving my math skills. Although the four-pack of Cheerios selling at Costco is a good deal per box, will my family of four really be able to finish those boxes before we get sick of them or they go stale? And, where does one put four boxes of Cheerios?
  3. The third is make sure a sale is really a sale. Educate yourself about an object’s price, then compare, and don’t be afraid to barter a bit, especially when it comes to big ticket items like televisions. Although, that is one thing I would put on the “don’t need” list right now.
  4. The fourth is that there are no miracle face creams; the only “miracle” cure for a middle age face is plastic surgery. I have bought expensive department store face creams in the past. Now I buy the cheaper, drug store brands. Guess what? My wrinkles and brown spots are still there. I am not sure that is the greatest news for my face, but it does wonders for my wallet!

While I find those reality shows about the everyday lives of huge families a bit unrealistic and borderline fanatical, there are things a person can learn from them when it comes to economizing. The first thing would be to have less than 10 children! On a more serious note, one of these families shops for clothes at thrift stores, buys food in bulk, and even makes their own laundry soap and fabric softeners. Although I am NOT making my own soap or fabric softener, I have found these items and many food products at Wal-Mart for a lot less money than the grocery store. I also buy less junk food. Instead of buying baked goods, I am baking my own granola bars and cookies for school functions and social events. During the holidays, instead of purchased gifts, I made sugared pecans and handed them out in decorative baggies I had found at the local dollar store. Dollar stores and Wal-mart are doing very well during the recession, which is helping to drive some prices down at the grocery stores as well. Look for specials. I find that if an item isn’t on sale, I usually don’t really need or want it as much as I thought I did.

At work, I have noticed that people are more conscious of conspicuous consumption. Nowadays, when someone compliments another person on a purse or accessory and asks if it is new, that person is more apt to say, “No, I bought it last year,” or “It’s OLD. “

I know that I am more defensive. I don’t want to appear as if I am spending money foolishly during these trying times, because I am not! Instead, I find myself reverse bragging to co-workers that I have had a pair of pants five or six years, and added a $3 scarf (that I found at Target) to a three year-old blouse.

Now that summer is around the corner, entertainment is also available for less. Pack a picnic lunch and go to the park.

Enjoy the local park district-sponsored concerts, summer festivals, an/or religious organization events! Go to a 5K or related charity event. You don’t even have to participate. Cheer the runners on, and enjoy the camaraderie and snacks afterwards. This year, to help out its residents during the recession, the Glenview Park District reduced the price of its swimming pool pass. Find out what your local park district, library and chamber of commerce have to offer residents this summer.

What are some ways you have reduced your spending this year?


May 4, 2009

Welcome to the Widow ‘hood

By Sandra Pesmen

When my husband Hal died after 55 years of marriage, I thought my happy life was over.

“Life changes in the instant.” Joan Didion writes in “The Year of Magical Thinking” after the sudden death of her husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne. “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

I knew exactly what she meant as I sat at the shiva after Hal’s funeral, remembering and talking about him and the wonderful life we shared. How puzzled I was when one friend, who had been widowed just one year before, took my hand, and gushed happily, “Guess what? I have a boyfriend.”

My bewilderment grew when I went out to lunch with a group of women some weeks later. (That’s what widows do.) One especially perky diner whom I didn’t know was introduced as, “This is Trudy. She just married her third husband.”

I guess they don’t last as long now as they used to.

I wondered what these women do with these old men, since most have been through a myriad of illnesses that have taken their toll. Do the women count out their pills? Do their laundry? Cook delicious meals? And what do the women get in return?

Those answers, I found, all are pretty simple. The women happily do those chores so they have someone to sit with in the afternoon movies and share their Early Bird dinners with. All said their most treasured reward is companionship.

No wonder The Merck Manual of Geriatrics reports that while no one knows the exact nature and frequency of sexual activity among the elderly, sexuality remains important to many elderly people.

Could that be because we’re no longer our grandparents’ 70, and good medical care and healthy lifestyles have turned 70 into the new 60 for many of us?

I learned something about all that myself when my phone rang one evening about six months after Hal’s funeral.

“Are you Sandy Zuckerman Pesmen who lived on Rockwell Street in Chicago?” the caller asked.

“I am, who’s this?”

“Bob Horwitz.* Do you remember me?”

“Sure. You lived on the next block, and we walked to school together.”

How did Bob find me? He had moved to another state, but got an e-mail notice of our high school class’ 60th reunion. In the middle of it, a balloon popped up announcing that his classmate, Sandra Zuckerman Pesmen was having a birthday.

“It listed your name and phone number, so I thought I’d call and see if that was you,” he explained.

Bob and I had been real pals. We ran around the neighborhood soaping storefront windows on Halloween, and sent each other Valentines.

During the next few weeks, while I was still pretty much alone, we talked a lot by phone about those days.

He explained that his wife had died the year before after a loving 56-year marriage. I told him I was still stunned over my husband’s death.

That somehow made it ok for Bob to ask if I’d meet him when he came through Chicago on business. It was strange to see this friend after 60 years. Despite the shock of white hair and some wrinkles, his smile, the laugh, the kind eyes, all remained the same.

“Hey, wanna go to the reunion with me?” he asked.

It was the start of something good. We each had a trusted friend who shared our history that we could confide in on the phone. We both understood from the start that this wasn’t going to be serious. We agreed, “No marriage, no moving. You don’t do that unless you need a ‘purse or a nurse’.” And, fortunately, neither of us did.

But I was sometimes surprised at the way the rest of the world viewed us.

One of my close friends, a widow whose loyalty I never before questioned, said snidely, “How can you go out with a man? I couldn’t do that. I never was with another man and I loved my husband too much to even think of it.” (Hmm, sounds like dialogue out of Lindsay Lohan’s “Mean Girls,” doesn’t it?)

Another, kinder friend, who lives in Miami, said, “You’re so lucky to find someone who has a car, hair, and walks without a cane. Down here we just look for someone who’s clean.”

But despite all their opinions, I decided we aging romantics have to grab whatever happiness we can for as long as we can. The National Center for Health Statistics says men live to 78 and women to 80. So any time we have left is so precious it’s our responsibility-not that of our friends or our Baby Boomer children-to make sure it is well spent.

Bob returned to Chicago for the class reunion and we had a great time. But it was clear that a long-distance romance wasn’t in our future.

“You know, I don’t think you’re ready for a long-term relationship,” Bob said.

“You’re right,” I agreed. “I don’t want a long-term relationship. I want long-term care.”

I’m also learning that humor is the real turn-on for seniors.

*Not his real name


January 28, 2009

Tax Time Doesn’t Have to be Taxing

By David E. Gordon, CPA, JD

As tax time rolls around, there are a number of things you can do to simplify your reporting. Planning ahead can save you aggravation and money. Here are some simple tips to consider.

Chose how you will repair your return – There are a variety of solutions that depend on your personal situation. Manual tax preparation can be difficult for all but the simplest returns. For those comfortable with computers, tax preparation software is available to walk you through the tax laws and transfer your information into the appropriate IRS forms. For those wanting human guidance, find a good accountant. You should review your options and decide what you are comfortable with. Depending on your confidence, you must decide what works for you.

Organization! Whether you prepare your return yourself or seek professional assistance, you need to keep organized. Tax related documents start coming in shortly after the New Year. Keep all of your important documents in one place. Add any documents relating to an investments purchased or sold during the year. Add receipts for charitable contributions and other expenses you intend to deduct. You will need this information later to prepare an accurate return. If you misplace any of these documents, you may have to request duplicates. Further, you may potentially lose deductions if you lack the paperwork to support your position.

Start now – The longer you wait to file your tax return, the busier you will find your accountant. You may not have a chance to get all of your questions answered and you may make mistakes. Starting early enhances your chances of getting your return prepared quickly and accurately. If information is found to be missing, you will have time to track it down before the deadline. Better yet, if you are entitled to a refund, it will be processed faster.

Double and triple check your return – The tax return is a fact intensive document. Make sure that everything is entered correctly and that nothing is missing. Whether you input the information yourself, or an accountant does, it is incumbent upon you to read your return carefully. Take last year’s return as well to make sure that you haven’t missed anything. It can be very difficult to correct a return once it is filed.

Have your questions answered – If you have any questions about your return, get answers before you file. Check with someone knowledgeable about the tax laws. Ignorance of the tax rules is not an excuse. Don’t guess!

Be honest – Tell the truth whether you prepare your return yourself or retain a professional. The amount of money you might think you’re saving yourself if you “fudge” your taxes a little, is definitely not worth the heightened fines you may end up paying and damage to your reputation should the IRS come knocking. According to the IRS, you are ultimately responsible for everything on you return even when it’s prepared by someone else.

David E. Gordon, CPA, J.D. performs tax preparation and legal services as a sole practitioner in the North Suburbs of Chicago. Please visit him at www.GordonLegalServices.


January 8, 2009

Handling Money During a Recession

By Sandra Pesmen, Widows List Host

(We attended several financial seminars given by different money management firms to gather the following information.)

One of the most important things we learned by attending Financial Seminar/Dinners presented by a variety of well-respected financial security firms is that there are two kinds of investment modes: FEAR and GREED.

And most widows who depend on fixed incomes are definitely in FEAR mode right now.

You’re forgiven if you want to rush to your broker, sell everything and bury the cash in your backyard. But don’t do it.

“Remember, the dog can dig it all up and scatter it,” warns one of these experts. “Instead you should think ‘Long Term Investing.’ ”

To begin, sit down and re-examine your portfolio with a qualified financial advisor or planner and make sure your portfolio is well-diversified. (They call that “asset allocation.”) At this stage you probably want more securities (bonds) than equities (stocks).

One of the first rules is never have more than 25 percent of your holdings in one industry, and never hold more than 20 percent of one stock. “Even if a stock has a great record, and you’ve watched it go up, up, up over the years, remember that if it can take the staircase up slowly, it can ride the escalator down swiftly–think Enron,” said another of the speakers.

All these specialists advised being very careful about buying annuities because there are so many different kinds. While some can be beneficial to widows, others are not. Be sure to get the approval of your accountant and/or lawyer before buying any.

There’s no good place to hide in tough times to be completely safe, all the speakers concede. But they agree some investments, such as some CDs, Treasury and Municipal bonds can be less risky than others.

One step some people may safety take to increase current income is to stop reinvesting stock dividends to buy more stock, and transfer that money into your portfolio for income.

“Most people don’t realize when its time to change that reinvestment strategy to income,” noted one of the planners. “But when you do that, make sure you don’t take more out of your account each month than you really need because you’ll be taxed on that. The portion you leave in your IRA or trust gathers interest without taxes.”


November 16, 2008

Let’s Outsmart Those Holiday Blues

By Keith Levick, Ph. D.

Traditionally, the holiday time represents fun, festivities, and family togetherness. This is the time when we find decorative lights hanging from lamp posts and trees, the sounds of “Deck The Halls” reverberating through the shopping malls, and the extra unwanted pounds on our stomachs and hips. Yet, for many it’s a time for suicide, depression and isolation. They are suffering from the “Holiday Blues.”

This period usually begins at Halloween and proceeds through New Years. The typical family shops, plans, and prepares for the festivities. It’s a time when most people reflect over the past months and sometimes years. For people who were recently divorced, widowed, or experienced a loss/change, this can be a very difficult time.

Since the holiday period declares itself on TV, radio, newspapers, etc., it is difficult to avoid. The “unconnected” person is thrown into a passage of events, which can accentuate their loneliness or create a stigma for being alone. Unfortunately, many are forced into believing that not being with other people during these times sentences you to a life of misery.

So, what can you do to beat the holiday blues? First, it is important to understand that just because you’re alone doesn’t mean something is “wrong” with you, or that loneliness has to be suffered. It is a shame, that in our society, solitude is regarded as a symptom of inadequacy or even of indifference. Being alone is no more a function of weakness as is being surrounded by people a sign of confidence and popularity. Furthermore, loneliness is only a state of mind resulting from negative thinking. And it can be eliminated by those who learn how to control their thoughts.

Learning to reframe one’s thoughts is a relatively simple process, once you learn the basic skills involved. Let’s briefly examine how this may be done. New Year’s Eve is upon us and Jim doesn’t have a date. He is dreading the night, feels like a social outcast, and sees himself as a miserable failure. Here is how Jim can reframe his negative thoughts. “New Year’s Eve is only one day of the year, and it’s not realistic to be judged a failure or a success because of one day. I can use this time to catch up on the reading I’ve been putting off.” Essentially it is the way we perceive the holidays which causes our dissonance and frustration. Your world will respond with unhappiness, if you see it as a time of “musts,” “shoulds,” “obligations,” and other such cognitive traps. Dealing realistically with the social pressures and other holiday illusions, however, will help you overcome the doldrums.

If you have been feeling down and disconnected during these few weeks, the following are some suggestion that might help you through these tough times: Volunteer your services to the needy. Helping others can really enhance one’s self-esteem. (Local children’s hospitals or senior centers always welcome mature volunteers.)

Update your roles. The “old you” may not fit who you are today. For example, the transition from being married to being single requires a different self-concept. Surround yourself with friends or take that long over due vacation. Be good to yourself. Buy some new clothes, decorate the bedroom, or do anything that can help feel worthy.

Reframe your negative thoughts to realistic thoughts. So, as the new millennium continues to unfold, allow this upcoming new year to be a another beginning for you – a year of new and exciting visions and letting go of all the old resentment and “baggage” which has held you back from experiencing life to its fullest!

From –reprinted with permission from Dr. Levick


November 3, 2008

New Resume Helps New Job Hunt

By Sandra Pesmen, Widowslist Host, plus author of the syndicated careers column, “Dr. Job”

It’s possible that as a widow—or as a victim of this economic downturn—you suddenly need to find a job, or upgrade the one you have for more pay and benefits. In either case, remember that your old resume probably won’t work in today’s world. If you haven’t updated it lately, it probably lacks power and punch and isn’t even suited to the “new workplace” that’s dominated by youth, computer wizards, and the Internet information.

One guide to updating it is the new book, 30-Minute Resume Makeover: Rev Up Your Old Resume in Half an Hour, by Louise Kursmark (Jist Works $9.95). Kursmark’s most important point is that we used to write resumes that emphasized “What I have done, what I want to do and what I do best.”

All that’s changed, she says. Today’s resume must focus on the employers’ perspective, and his first question is “Who are you?”

Kursmark notes that within split seconds of glancing at your resume, the employer wants to find out who you are, what functions you perform and what level you achieved in your career, and what areas of the company they can sort you into.

“Your job then is to be hit-them-over-the-head-obvious, about who you are, beginning with the summary at the very top of your resume,” she writes. She also advises that while you have been vague and non-specific in your past resume, today you mut be clear, specific and sharply focused when presenting that information.

The second question an employer asks is “What can you do for me?” And the best way to show your future value is to show what you’ve done in the past, she explains.

Describe the experiences in which you added value to your company, and also in your life, such as in classroom projects, volunteer activities and non-work-related roles.

And these examples must be very specific.

Summing up the five resume makeover strategies, Kursmark suggests:

  • Fashion a Strong Framework: It’s still one page, but should present clearly organized material
  • readers can skim to find key information.
  • Start with a Superlative Summary: Provide a solid-quick take of capabilities and qualifications.
  • Emphasize experience, accomplishments: Present these so readers can see their relevance
  • to the job you want.
  • Enhance with Education and “Extras”: Present those extras that enhance your qualifications.
  • Proofread and Polish to Perfection


October 22, 2008

Grieving Alone? Do it YOUR Way

By Stacy Gordon, RN, MS

The question here is how does one truly cope with the loss of a loved one. How do you cope with coming home to an empty house? Do you even want to live in that house? How do you deal with the bed that now feels way too big for one? Friends, neighbors, and relatives may tell you how you should grieve. Do not listen to them. Grief is very individual. Take the time that you need. Invest in yourself. Do something that you’ve wanted to do for a long time. Do not worry that you will forget your spouse. Let the people around you know what you need.

The process of mourning takes time, much longer than anyone expects. The feelings of grief continue for years, even though the intensity of the grief may lessen. This pain is often exacerbated on birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries.

Grief for the older adult may be longer than others might anticipate. Confusion, depression, or preoccupation with thoughts of the deceased may be mistaken for dementia or deterioration. An attempt to get the older person into routine activities too soon after a significant loss may complicate the grieving process rather than help it.

Many older adults may experience multiple losses simultaneously. These might be loss of a spouse in addition to a loss of a friend or another relative. These losses can lead to relocation, a shrinking support network, economic changes, as well as role changes. There is little mystery why the older person may be in continual state of grieving. No sooner has the individual begun to grieve for one loss than another occurs, and so forth.

(Stacy is Manager of Regulatory Training and Staff Development for CJE SeniorLife. She has worked extensively in the fields of Gerontology and Nursing Education. The content in the article is a reflection of Stacy’s personal views and professional experience.)


September 22, 2008

Protect Yourself– with Health Care Power of Attorney

by: Stacy Powell-Bennett, JD

There are so many radical lifestyle changes that a new widow faces – emotional, social, financial – it’s possible to ignore one serious legal issue: the Health Care Power of Attorney.

Now that you’re a widow, you must make it clear who has the legal authority to make health care decisions for you if you can’t make them for yourself. You need an official “durable power of attorney for health care.” That’s a legally enforceable, written designation of another person who has the authority to make such decisions when you no longer can do so for yourself.

Most state laws provide that husbands and wives have the right to make such health care decisions for each other, whether there is written authority or not. When a woman loses her husband, she also loses her foremost ally in health care matters. A widow should be concerned that her children may disagree about medical decisions required for her care, or there may not be children who are able to make such decisions. Such disagreements may mean that the widow’s health care wishes are not observed.

The time to sign a health care power of attorney is while you are still in relatively good mental and physical health. Dr. Raj C. Shah, an expert in Alzheimer’s disease, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Clinic at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, notes, for example, that a person who is in the very early stages of dementia may still have the legal capability to sign an enforceable power of attorney giving another person, whether a relative or not, the authority to make health care decisions on her behalf once she can no longer do so. State law varies in determining when a person is legally incapable, or “incompetent,” to make enforceable agreements and powers of attorney, but, generally, a person is able to make enforceable agreements until a judge says that she is not.

So it’s very important that you make it very clear in a legally enforceable document that you want to have the authority to make health care decisions on your behalf once you can’t. Powers of attorney are not complex – many states have published a sample form on their legislative websites, and it is a simple matter to “fill in the blanks.”

Dr. Shah adds, “In addition to designating a power of attorney for health care, an older person should discuss her health care wishes with the selected family member or friend. The transfer of this important information helps the power of attorney make decisions with the medical team when the older person is not able.”

Be sure and give copies to all your doctors and your children, and take one along if you have to go to the hospital.

While your children may still quarrel over your diamond earrings, you’ll know your health care decisions are in the right hands.


August 20, 2008

Time to Separate Personal, Work Lives

Many widows work full time, some are retired and work part time or from your homes. In any event, you still have to learn to blend your careers and personal lives. You had to do it while rearing families, and now you must do it again in a new way. The most important step is to preserve your sense of self and treat yourself well.

Good advice about how to do it comes from Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.

In it he explains that today’s frenetic pace, even for widows, calls for a One-Life Solution—a strategy for integrating life and work to achieve better performance on the job as well as greater sense of happiness and balance personally.

“The integration I prefer is not about balancing the space and time boundaries of work and life themselves, but the integration of the person who is doing both of those—you,” Dr. Cloud writes. Then you won’t feel torn between many lives and many different people, and you will be one person, one life, with none of the parts able to pull you apart from the others.

He suggests you start by identifying the boundaries of each life and build “mental fences” between them. “No matter what potential someone has, or the talents, brains or opportunities they possess, if they don’t have the personal makeup to bring it all to fruition, success rarely happens.”

For more information:

Dr. Henry Cloud, author of The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success (Collins Business $24.95) Order at any bookstore or or