GAR 12 | Banister Advisors

 

Is there a better way to handle often overwhelming end-of-life challenges?  You will sigh with relief when you hear all the ways Vanessa and Banister Advisors provide a bridge to healing by helping with end-of-life needs for both the dying loved one and the family.  And they even help to “turn down the heat” on conflicted relationships at this difficult and sensitive time!

 

IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL HEAR ABOUT THINGS LIKE:

  • How Banister Advisors creates a plan for people’s needs while taking into consideration their financial constraints.
  • How “matchmaking” is the company’s secret sauce.
  • How Banister Advisors provides a balance of technology and psychotherapy/social work.
  • How the company “pulls the boulders off” when things get too overwhelming.

 

SOME QUESTIONS IRENE ASKS VANESSA:

  • What is your “classic sandwich generation” story that illustrates your services?
  • What is future mapping and how does it help survivors during the grief process?
  • How is this company “a Sherpa” carrying the load of loss and grief?

SHOW LINKS:

http://banisteradvisors.com

 

CONTACT INFORMATION:

vanessa@banisteradvisors.com

Listen to the podcast here

 

Vanessa Laughlin – Founder Of Banister Advisors, A Professional Services Firm That Helps Clients Gracefully Navigate Life’s Most Overwhelming Challenges, Including Bereavement After Major Loss

 

 

 

 

 

 

We have a very special guest, Vanessa Laughlin, and she is going to address this life-changing question, “Is there a better way to handle often overwhelming end-of-life challenges?” Vanessa, who is the Founder of Banister Advisors, has creative solutions for this complex dilemma. In early 2018, Vanessa, who holds an MBA with distinction from the Foster School of Business at the University of Washington and a BA in Economics from Tufts University, left a successful career in management consulting to focus full-time on developing Banister Advisors.

Vanessa was inspired to create and found Banister Advisors as a new Professional Services firm that helps clients gracefully navigate life’s most overwhelming challenges such as health crisis management, complex elder care situations, end-of-life circumstances, bereavement after major loss, and multi-dimensional estate settlement needs.

Vanessa, I’m delighted to welcome you to the show. I know you’re going to bring hope to many people about end-of-life care and plant seeds about how Banister Advisors can make a significant difference in the emotional weight of a family that often bears grieving a loved one while getting their affairs in order. Let’s begin what is going to be an enlightening and very interesting discussion with this question about you. What personal experience inspired you to found Banister Advisors?

Thank you Irene, and thank you so much for this opportunity to take part in your incredible show. To answer your question, the name Banister is in honor of my late father-in-law, Jay Banister Laughlin. We’re coming up on the third anniversary of his death at the end of May 2019. As anyone who’s grieving understands those anniversaries are a pretty big deal in our life and the life of our family. It was through the experience of Jay’s unexpected stage four cancer diagnosis, the journey and the fight as we think of it in our family to heal and get better, and the intensity of that experience over eighteen months. Also, his still unexpected death due to a bacterial infection in his body so we can do the intensive treatment.

It went from seeing him one day and being in his home to 36 hours later, he was gone. It was a very fast process, unfortunately, in the end. Also, the aftermath which frankly we’re still in. There’s something that we can share as a team with the folks we work with who are in the bereavement services that we provide where they’ll say, “My loved one died a year ago, 2 years ago, or 3 years ago,” and we’ll say. “That just happened.” They say, “Thank you for saying that,” because other people are asking me why I’m not over it yet or when I’m going to date again.

Also, if it’s still something that’s a part of my life. That’s the important thing because we walk this journey of end-of-life bereavement and the aftermath, the rest of the lives of the survivors. We have a different perspective not only from our own experiences but from a professional experience of that different view that it might be more culturally standard of what that looks like. To go back to your question about the inspiration and the continued, I would say the energy that comes into this new type of professional services offering is inspired not just by the experience of Jay’s death but by who he was as a man as well.

Tell us about him a little bit.

I could take the whole time to talk about Jay. Jay came into my life when I was in my early twenties and started dating his amazing son. We are also coming up on our tenth wedding anniversary in May 2019. He was an incredible person. He was a man who was deeply devoted to his family and his community. He was a lay minister in the local Buddhist community in Seattle. He was a man who would spend two nights a month doing domestic violence calls as a mediator with the Seattle Police Department. He never spoke about it, but it was just a thing that he did.

After a career working in the city to support his family, he went back to school in his 50s and got a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Washington, solely for the purpose of being able to become a licensed psychotherapist and providing pro bono therapy services for the low-income community in the Puget Sound region. He was hilarious, loving best grandfather you could ask for. A wonderful husband. He was absolutely like a father to me. It’s hard for you to not call him dad. We miss him every day. We feel his presence. It was a Saturday, my five-year-old son had his first T-ball practice, and we were on the same field in the neighborhood where Jay had been a coach for my husband’s little League T-ball. We felt him there that day. As I said, I could go on and on about Jay.

He was such a loving and giving man, and he was so compassionate to help other people. I feel like his spirit is probably so embedded in Banister Advisors. What I like about what you’re saying is that a lot of people would look at something that you’re doing as a business, but what you’re looking at is you have a lot of heart in it. You have a lot of compassion and heart you must have when dealing with the people you’re trying to help because his loving story is infused in your mission.

It is. It’s interesting the different audiences that I speak to as the founder of Banister share our story. I can tailor my message. It’s always the truth, but I try to talk to people where I can connect with them. It’s wonderful to be able to speak with people where I can talk about Jay as my Cofounder. The spirit of how he lived his life infuses everything we do. He found himself in these roles of that guiding role. If a woman has experienced a domestic abuse situation in the middle of the night, and she’s called the police, he was there to stand with her, comfort her, be there for her, not trying to force her in one direction or another, but purely there as a support, and then to follow up with her and do court appearances with her.

He did this without any desire to be recognized for it. You would ask him about it and he would be like, “Oh.” He was a humble man. It’s his role as a lay minister in the Buddhist community and in his role as coaching Little League. It is this pattern in his life that ultimately culminated in his final career, even when he was going through intensive cancer treatments. He was still making time to drive halfway across the state to meet his commitments for completely pro bono counseling services in low-income communities in Washington.

What a beautiful thing. You must have a lot of compassion also, and we’ll get to that question about financial arrangements and all of that thing with people. I also feel the spirit of my deceased husband in the show and all that I’m doing. It’s a very similar thing. This is an amazing legacy that each one of them has left through us. It fuels love and compassion, which is what it’s about. Let me ask you another question. Banister Advisors serves people in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Please tell us about the brief intake questionnaire, the initial consultation, and the way your company creates a plan for people’s needs while taking into consideration financial constraints. Also, how does Banister Advisors physically located in the Pacific Northwest help people located much further away?

With this line of work, there’s never any pressure. There’s nothing salesy about what we do. We try to help people understand that we’re there if and when they need us. It’s almost a little joke when I’m meeting people out and about for networking. They say, “What do you do?” and we have a conversation. At the end, I hand my card over and I say, “I sincerely hope you never need our services, but if and when you do, we’re ready.”

GAR 12 | Banister Advisors

Banister Advisors: “With this line of work, there’s never any pressure. There’s nothing salesy about what we do. We try to help people understand that we’re there if and when they need us.”

 

We just start with an initial conversation, no pressure, completely complimentary. Our initial question-and-answer period was usually about an hour-long phone call or in person. Sometimes we’re able to help people and say, “You don’t need our services. What we’re going to do is send you our eight-page bereavement checklist specific to your area. If you have questions, call us. What you need is a great therapist and we’ve got somebody in mind that’d be perfect for you. If things get more complicated, give us a ring.”

In terms of meeting people where they’re at, we don’t ever think Banister is the right service for everyone because of the experience we have and the content that we’ve created. Sometimes we can just share that with a person or a family, and that’s enough. That gets them where they need to go, even that hour of mainly listening. This is their opportunity to share with us where they’re at, what’s going on, and, honestly, what’s keeping them up at night. One of the things that we offer with our services is simply a better night’s sleep.

Even in that conversation, if it goes no further than that, we’re often in a position to help people by validating, normalizing what they’re going through, giving them some initial resources, and often connecting them with other professionals who are going to be able to take care of them. This also gives us to understand where we could be useful. Without being overly promotional, we might say to someone, “We’ve experienced your type of situation in the past, and we found that it’s often more complex than it might seem on the surface. Here’s what we would propose for our approach.”

Usually, we can at a high-level talk to them about what that might look like. We then go around and, after the conversation, we take our notes, consult as a team, and come up with a customized, completely bespoke engagement proposal for them. This is a step that most professionals are maybe not in a position to do, but it’s important to us to do it the right way before we engage with a family or an individual.

We create almost a 2 to 4-page document that outlines the context, what’s the story, the situation, and considerations that you have to keep top of mind as the priorities and the goals. We also call out risks, which is a really interesting piece where a lot of people might not realize that they might have a liability consideration or that they might be missing out on a time-sensitive opportunity. This is probably because the risk section has a bit more to do with end-of-life and leading up to health crisis areas where we work, less so in bereavement, but even then, it can get complex, particularly if you’re talking about complex estate settlement situations where there might be some family dynamics that have to be navigated the right way. Unfortunately, it can get pretty tricky for you.

I understand that and I’ve been privy to that. A company like yours would be wonderful for taking the charge out of that dynamic. You’re overseeing it. With all that infighting and everything, it loses its power.

It does. What’s hard about grief is that it takes any normal emotions, relationships, or situations within a family, and it just turns the heat up. It puts things to a boil. Sometimes what our presence does with our team is we can turn down the heat a bit. I never really thought of it this way, but since I’ve started doing this work and working with our team, the role of conflict resolution, specifically creative conflict resolution, is very important because you often have families that want to come together in these difficult times. They want to be doing the best for themselves, their health, for the memory of their loved one, and they get stuck.

What's hard about grief is that it takes any normal emotions, relationships, or situations within a family, and turns the heat up. It puts things to a boil. Share on X

Often, I would say a little bit of help goes a long way, especially from a third party who doesn’t come in with the history of what happened at Thanksgiving 35 years ago and doesn’t come in with the relationship of the brother-in-law who doesn’t get along with the cousin, and this and that. Sometimes we joke about diagnosis humans.

Also, because of our personal histories. I come from a really big Colombian family. My mom has eight brothers and sisters. I have 22 plus first cousins. There’s so much love, but it’s complicated. Because we are human professionals and because we take a very more traditional client services approach, we use technology as appropriate whenever we can have those in-person or over-the-phone, one-on-one connections. We think that’s a really important part of making this a therapeutic process. There is a lot of grief, even leading up to death, and it is layers of grief.

A successful engagement for us is when we can leave a family unit stronger and more resilient than when we came on board. One of our goals with every client engagement is to try to heal and rebuild some of these relationships that have been strained because we say to people, “This experience you’re going through isn’t where it ends. This is life. If you can come together at this difficult time with this loss, then you’ll be there for each other in ways that you can’t even imagine around the corner because it’s not a one-off.” That’s a big part of what we do.

For your audience, our logo is a bridge. We think about that a lot in many different ways, that metaphor, both a bridge from end of life into beyond, serving clients in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. It’s a little bit of a play on words. Also, a bridge to healing and a bridge to a different way of being with your family, with yourself, or with your community.

It’s also where we see our role as well. Some people have said, “You work with a family and then you work with them forever.” No, we have a clear and identified beginning, middle, and end because people need to take the resilience that hopefully we’ve been able to help them grow within themselves and take that forward on their own. We see our services, if we’ve done our job right, to be very empowering for people and part of their getting to their next chapter and what that might look like.

GAR 12 | Banister Advisors

Banister Advisors: People need to take the resilience that hopefully we’ve been able to help them grow within themselves and take that forward on their own.

 

It would be so wonderful, considering all the stress that people are under when they go through this, just to have a more neutral, loving, healing entity-like umbrella over the process.

We love metaphors, analogies, and figurative language. It’s impossible to avoid it in this line of work. One of the things we talk about is, particularly with bereavement, that we’re like the Sherpa to help you climb Mount Everest because no one would climb Mount Everest without a Sherpa. What does a Sherpa do? A Sherpa helps carry the load and identify the best path. The Sherpa will say, “Some clouds are building over that part of the mountain range now, and that worries me because of an experience I had.” They can help you avoid heading down the wrong way at the wrong time.

Hopefully, they are also there to boost your spirits and help you find small joys along the way. We have walked that journey so many times with so many others. Every single engagement teaches us both as individuals. The team of navigators, as we call them, are the main individuals who work with clients. Our navigators learn not only from their own life experience, but we learn from our clients, and then we can take that collective knowledge and wisdom and provide it to the next family that comes along. That, to me, is like having access to a time machine.

We can say to someone this is what people say three years after losing their loved one and what made a difference on their deathbed. We can share those as options and suggestions with individuals. I’ll give you a quick example. We’ve had clients that we’ve been able to bring in personal historians. For the last weeks of life, that can be a wonderful, meaningful activity for a family, to sit down and help interview their mother, father, and loved one, and capture those stories in a way that this artist or the writer can turn into a little book that can be shared for generations.

Here is one other quick example. This is where the creative aspect of what we do comes into play. We have a landscape designer who will sit with a family and they’ll co-design a legacy garden that is to be planted after the individual’s death. It becomes a bridge of meaning because they design it together. Even if that garden is never planted, it’s still the process that means so much. A watercolor design can be created and could be hung in each of the homes of the family members. That’s the important stuff. That’s the things 3, 5, 10, or 20 years out that people will remember what was done in that last chapter. It doesn’t just have to be waiting for the end. You can make it a meaningful experience in and of itself, a bridge to the legacy of that person, even when they’ve left this earth.

If somebody is not in the Pacific Northwest and they say, “This is great,” can you serve people who are anywhere?

I’m glad you asked that question. Initially, when we started the business, the assumption was, “Let’s see what we can create and build in the Northwest,” thinking it would be regionally focused, not just from our team members’ perspective and with our clients but also from the teams of individuals that we bring in to create a circle of support around the individual and families. What happened is that pretty early on, we started to learn that our services could be helpful even remotely. One of our very first stories involved a family that was from the Northwest but was traveling in Mexico. We ended up being able to help them remotely. I can provide more details about that.

To share a couple of others, we had an individual based in Seattle, and he had been injured. His mother was in New Hampshire and about to undergo a major downsizing and move. We’re talking busy working professional with two young kids and managing a severe back problem. It was his wife that called me saying, “Our family needed help.” After a conversation with him separately, a conversation with his mother who was a widow, she was dealing with her grief, which was also the reason behind her needing to downsize and move was the circumstances related to her husband’s death a year earlier. This is a very loving family, but they were in a tricky spot because they were overwhelmed. All he wanted to do was be with her son and fly out and help her.

He could barely go to his job and couldn’t pick up his small children. It was a really tough time. It ended up being quite a small engagement that involved me interviewing each one of them, understanding the situation, coming up with a proposal, going back and forth, and then jumping in and helping. We were able to find many wonderful local resources in rural New Hampshire. It was all about finding the right people remotely, vetting them, getting them engaged, and doing the administrative help to create a calendar.

Before you knew it, a two-week period had gone by and she was settled in her new apartment. The things had been not only handled, but she’d found a way to sell items that were another source of income for her that she hadn’t been aware of. She’d found treasures in her home that, if she’d done it too quickly, might’ve been thrown out.

You identified those treasures. You were able to help her know.

We were able to get the right people in place with the right networks. It’s wonderful when you can do that work on behalf of someone else. People often expect the emotional impacts of grief and being overwhelmed by life crises. They talk about maybe the behavioral health impacts. If you manage anxiety or depression, the symptoms are going to spike when you’re under stress. We don’t talk enough about the cognitive impacts of grief. People will say things like, “My mind is a fog. I feel like I’m moving through maple syrup. I don’t understand why I keep losing my keys.” Those are all very normal, even healthy reactions to grief.

We have a great person on the team who says, “I’ll just lend you my prefrontal cortex.” You’ll have these accomplished, intelligent people who say, “When I talk about my mom’s end-of-life situation, my brain shuts down.” This is like a surgeon you’re talking to. You have to help them understand how incredibly normal what they’re going through is and we’re there to help. The sooner they can get through the overwhelming piece, the more they can go back to being the new version of themselves and adjusting to the new normal. Our primary role is to serve that function.

Tell us about the innovations in the professional field, serving clients, facing a health crisis, end-of-life issues, and bereavement after loss.

There are quite a few innovations. A large part of what we do is to try to keep on top of what’s going on. It is a general expansion and awareness as the demographic shifts of the Baby Boomers aging and people live longer. There’s the volume of families that are being touched by this is incredible. From the healthcare field, financial services, legal, and mental health, it almost touches everything if you think about it. There are a lot of technology solutions coming on board. I find that both heartening and disheartening in some ways.

What I love is that with Banister and with the innovation that we’re bringing to the field, we can combine it with appropriate technology. What we do is an older form of client services. It’s based on human relationship concepts like unconditional positive regard, which come from the field of psychotherapy and social work. Because everyone on our team has a client-facing navigator role, they’re all not only deeply experienced in health crisis navigation and end-of-life and bereavement, but they’re all Master’s level social workers and licensed psychotherapists. They bring a set of tools to this practice that you’d be hard-pressed to find in just any other profession.

We’re creating something new as well. They come in as social workers, but to become a Banister navigator, they’re also getting training in legal matters and conflict resolution. They go through a business certificate program. They learn skills and techniques from project management consulting and strategy consulting. We’re creating a new type of professional that is needed in these difficult times.

We also have a director of spiritual guidance, a hospice chaplain with decades of experience who is there not only to be a support for different client engagements, but she’s also an internal support function for our navigators. Our innovation comes with a human lens and an understanding of the importance of the human-to-human connection in these very difficult times.

GAR 12 | Banister Advisors

Banister Advisors: Our innovation comes with a human lens and an understanding of the importance of the human-to-human connection in these very difficult times.

 

That is so important. To me, that’s what would make you stand out. That’s really what people need at this time. You were starting to talk about your classic sandwich generation story. Is there anything else you want to add to that?

There are a lot of people out there who are stuck between a very busy and demanding career, often involving travel that is also experiencing the ups and downs, the joys and trials of having small children. As a mother, I am no stranger to that. They usually have a spouse that’s also busy and working. At the same time, the roles in their families are starting to change. They’re starting to become the person in the family that their parents look to when they’re feeling overwhelmed, need support, or at the end of their life.

A lot of people can feel very isolated and lonely. They think that they’re the only ones going through it, but the statistics don’t bear that out. At any given work situation, you have between 1/4 and 1/3 of the individuals dealing with either in their own immediate family or with their parents a health crisis, an end of life, or a bereavement-related issue.

The tricky thing within our culture is that we don’t talk about it. It’s a private matter, and you’re forced to hide it from your team, from your boss, from your organization, and do it discreetly. The one thing that we can tell people right away is you are not alone. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by people going through these types of struggles. By being a bit more open about it, and even just what we can even share the types of stories of the people that we are working with, the patterns we see, that’s very comforting to professionals who feel like how they can possibly go one more day given all of the constraints on their time and all the responsibilities. That is crushing the way people feel.

You take tremendous pressure off people. Thank you. It’s like a relief.

People feel like they’re being crushed by boulders, and if we can just remove a few of the boulders, then they can shake off the rest of the rocks and stones. They are highly capable people.

People feel like they're being crushed by boulders, and if we can just remove a few of the boulders, then they can shake off the rest of the rocks and stones. They are highly capable people. Share on X

I see that you have what you call future mapping for acutely impacted survivors. Please explain what future mapping is and how it helps survivors during the grief process.

I’m glad that you brought that up. Future mapping is a term that we coined within our team to describe a range of services that can help people who lost a loved one past the period of lasagnas. At first, everyone brings you lasagnas, and then they start to trickle off and people aren’t stopping by as often. The next time you run into them, they ask you a question like, “Have you gotten on any of the dating apps?” Particularly for widows and widowers, they’re not anywhere close to even having a sense of what their future should look like. We get questions, “Am I single now? What does that mean? Do I stop wearing my wedding ring? What should I do?”

We don’t come in with a prescribed answer, like, “You are eighteen months out. That means per this chart that you should be feeling X, Y, Z and should be doing these other things.” No. We start, as we do with every engagement, trying to understand where people are at, who they are, what are their values, their goals, their vision, and where they see themselves. The answer, simply put for some people, is they don’t have any idea.

Creating a space and understanding the processes that we bring to have them explore what that might look like is helpful. For some people, it’s often presenting them with stories of other individuals in the past they’ve taken until something resonates and sparks a feeling of recognition of, “That’s what my life’s going to look like.” Our role as professionals isn’t to come in with some predefined notion of what someone should or shouldn’t do. That’s where it gets hard with well-meaning friends and family members who either say, “You have to change everything and become a completely new person,” or, “You have to just go back to who you were. Why aren’t you a friend that I had before?”

Let’s say your husband died. It quickly becomes about other people in the community and your family. They have opinions and feelings, sometimes even agendas of what they think is right. It is to have a truly neutral group as our team, our navigators, and that relationship built where there’s no judgment, forcing anyone into one direction, but creating a space for that exploration. That’s where we might say people are telling you should go see a therapist, but why don’t you consider this life coach? Have a coffee with them.

Have a complimentary conversation where they might say like, “I’ve been meeting with this life coach, but they’re not getting to the spiritual element.” We say, “Maybe this chaplain, an intuitive counselor, or a medium might be more appropriate for you.” Helping people understand and be educated on what their options are is critical. Doing it in a non-judgmental, very supportive way is what can get people to the point where they say, “I’m starting to have a glimmer of a vision of what my life could be, and I want to explore it in this way.” It’s harder for people to find spaces for that. That’s important for what we try to create for them.

It’s so interesting because your mission and the mission of this show are very similar, where we’re offering people all these options. We’re helping them to know that there are choices out there for them, but the decisions are up to them. One size does not fit all.

It has to be completely bespoke.

I was also happy to hear that you also guide people to holistic approaches if that would resonate with them. I was also happy to hear that you chose grief therapists who have Master’s in Social Work, are very experienced, and educated. You screen who you recommend and suggest.

I might have been, and many of my team might have been matchmakers in their former life because we get no greater joy than convincing a client with the right professionals. We give them a short list effectively. You go on to psychology now. The website’s a great resource, but you’re going to come back with hundreds of options. Instead, have someone say, “I’ve gotten to know you and I want to give you these two people to meet with again without any pressure. Have a meeting in their office or over coffee. Take a walk with them and see how you feel afterward. Give us some time.”

That relationship might long outlast our Banister engagement with the client. We need to create the right channels for them to get the support that they need. Sometimes it can be a lot of individuals. We might find them that handyman who’s going to listen to them and have a conversation, not just be rushed. We’re going to find them a doctor that has an approach that maybe they make house calls. We’re going to find them the gardener that’s going to come in and take care of their lawn the way that their wife used to and create a level of beauty and wonderful memories.

It can come through the service providers and the other professionals through the resources we share with them, whether it’s books, podcasts, or even if it’s apps. It’s all about options and helping people explore in a safe, non-judgmental way on their timelines without any hidden agenda in what we offer. That matchmaking after we get to know them is what ends up being part of our secret sauce.

GAR 12 | Banister Advisors

Banister Advisors: It’s all about options and helping people explore in a safe, non-judgmental way on their timelines without any hidden agenda in what we offer. That matchmaking after we get to know them is what ends up being part of our secret sauce.

 

I love that. I want to also ask you. You have a story called Finding Meaning when Hope is Fading. Tell us about that.

I spoke to it briefly about one of our first opportunities to serve a family that wasn’t physically located in the Pacific Northwest. This was a Seattle family that had traveled to Mexico to get a last-chance treatment for their adult son who’d been battling brain cancer. It was an incredibly sad story and an amazing family with so much love you can’t even imagine. The mother in particular had never left her son’s side in the 5 years from his mid-20s to his early 30s that he’d been battling this aggressive cancer. They had stopped treatment.

We live in the Seattle area and we have some of the most incredible worldwide resources for cancer. He had reached the end of his road for treatment in the Northwest, and there was a treatment available at a clinic in Mexico just South of the border that showed some promise. It was quite risky. It had not been approved in the US, but it’s not uncommon for families to seek out treatment in places like Mexico, Switzerland, France, and Germany. The parents had accompanied their son.

This is not uncommon where Banister will get called by a family member. In this situation, an aunt had called us and said, “Here’s the situation. I’m worried about my brother, my sister-in-law, and my nephew. They’re traveling to Mexico, and I feel like there’s some risk involved in this.” We were able to validate that and say that late-stage cancer treatment can be very aggressive. There are some stories of miracles, but they can also lead to a health crisis. We helped inform them mainly by sharing resources that were out there at the US State Department.

It’s kind of, “Don’t take our word for it,” but we outlined, “Here’s what would happen if something were to happen in Mexico and you were to face the death of a US citizen all abroad.” We are helping them understand what that might mean for the stress levels, the complexity, the cost, and the inability of other family members to be there for his end of life. We were able to outline that. Because we were in a position to alert them to the potential risks, when we spoke a week later, it was an early morning on a Saturday. Unfortunately, that worst-case scenario had occurred the night before, where, all of a sudden, the body was weakened with pneumonia. This took me right back to my father-in-law’s experience of the bacterial infection.

His body was so weakened from treatment that he succumbed to pneumonia. They conducted an emergency surgery. He had a stroke during surgery. It was so terrifying. Since the family had been alerted to the risks, they had already started to think of that possibility and made arrangements. They had about a 45-minute window where he came across the US border into San Diego in an ambulance and made their way to Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

Was he already gone at this point?

He was alive. He was stable enough with a 45-minute window stability to get into the ambulance and zoom across the border with all the arrangements that needed to be made very quickly. He ended up in Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. We got to work exploring different options over that long weekend. Is it a medical ICU flight that could be transporting him back into the Seattle area? Was he stable enough for that? Those were conversations with the family about what their options were, what their choices were, and laying it out in a really clear way because their cognition’s going to be completely impacted at this point.

Also, being there as an emotional support in another way. All of this was over the phone. Also, coordination with the local hospital, and the social worker that was assigned there, and being support to them so they could be a better support. It was being with them along the journey they learned that he was not going to be stable enough again to travel, they then had the hard news that the doctors recommended taking him off life support, which he was on at that point. It was being alongside them and being a resource and support for them when they took him off life support. It was several hours and then he died.

It was being able to pull those boulders off of them wherever we could. They’re saying, “We don’t know what we’re going to do about finding a funeral home.” We said, “You go back to your hometown room and rest. We’ll handle it.” I called different funeral homes in the area, had conversations, and found the right person. The funeral director gave me her cell phone and offered to go to the hospital and meet with the family. Also, helping them understand their options on how to handle their son’s remains in the most respectful and meaningful way. Was it in San Diego or Seattle?

We helped them when they decided to transport their son’s remains up to Seattle so that there could be a viewing that was appropriate within their Catholic faith. He had a huge extended, not just family, but a community of friends and supporters. We were able to make that a possibility with all of the permitting and the conversations with the two different funeral directors, then getting the flight arranged and making sure that the flight crew had the notes so that they wouldn’t say something insensitive to the family, etc.

With all that coordination, we were able to take that not only off the immediate family, but we were also able to take out of the hands of the aunt who could go back to being a grieving aunt and a loving sister to her family at that time instead of having to be this almost an administrative role or a coordination project management role.

We were in a position, too, to do some really practical things. We knew that the family had some cost constraints. It had been very costly for that last trip to Mexico. We were able to do things like negotiate costs with the two different funeral homes that needed to be engaged, both in San Diego and Seattle. We were able to find ways to cut costs related to the services once they arrived back in Seattle, etc. We were able to keep them in mind.

I’ll never forget the mother and the family at one point. She was so grateful in the middle of all this. She said, “We’ve never even met you, and you’re just treating us with such love. We don’t understand it, but we’re so grateful.” I jokingly said to her, “This is what I and my team were here to do. I want you to think of us as like a distant relative you’ve never met before.” That’s the role that we see ourselves playing. Even as professionals, you can bring humanity, caring, compassion, and love to professional services so that those two things can come together and be offered together. They don’t have to be independent.

Even as professionals, you can bring humanity, caring, compassion, and love to your services. Share on X

I would like to think that what you do with Banister Advisors is a model for other companies, and we wish more companies did things with heart.

I would argue that the best ones already do. It’s a very traditional form of being a professional. Think about the best doctor, the best lawyer, the best financial services provider, consultant, or colleague. They all do it with humility.

They add heart and compassion.

It’s a heart-forward role.

That’s wonderful. Do you have a message about the importance of healing that you would like to share with our readers?

I will pass on a message that’s been shared with me from incredible healers, so I won’t take credit for it. The body, the soul, and the mind want to heal so that even when we feel that we are in our darkest, most overwhelming times, is knowing that all those different parts of us work together as who we are, as one wants to heal. Sometimes it’s less about trying to force it but figuring out ways to become unstuck and allow for that healing to occur.

Sometimes, it's less about trying to force it but figuring out ways to become unstuck and allow for that healing to occur. Share on X

That’s wonderful. Thank you. How do our customers contact you? Are your initial consultations complimentary?

Thank you for asking that. Our initial consultations are always complimentary. As I said earlier, even if they don’t turn into a client engagement of some scale, we are often able to share completely free-of-charge resources and connections. We do not seek out nor accept third-party referral fees. That’s not part of our model. We can do that completely free of charge. If individuals are low-income, on a fixed income, or resource-constrained, we’re also able to connect them with often free resources in the community. We always try to give something away no matter what and make sure that that conversation is valuable. It is always complimentary consultations.

That’s great. Vanessa, what is your tip for finding joy in life aside from what you’re doing to help so many people which gives you tremendous joy?

I’ll pull on a piece of advice that I have received, which is about finding what’s meaningful for you and that you can find meaning in often non-intellectual or non-verbal ways. If, for example, you find joy in dance, food, or being in nature, ask yourself, “How does this feel? Does this make me feel joy?” Go seek that out. Find it over and over again. The other piece would be around relationships.

At the end of life, the two things people talk about are, “I wish I’d been more true to myself and the things that brought me joy in my life and not lived by the expectations of others.” The other is, “I wish I’d invested more time in relationships.” I always use a little bit of a thing when people say, “We should go out.” “I’m tired. Will I regret this when I’m 85? No, I’m going to do this tonight.”

I have to say that I am finding joy in having this conversation with you because it’s going to be so helpful to so many people, and it’s such a pleasure to get to know you.

Thank you so much for your support of our company and our mission at Banister Advisors.

It’s wonderful. Thank you for this invaluable discussion, which will get many of our audience thinking in new ways about end-of-life plans they’ve been reluctant to even think about. Your company delivers stability, relief, and improved outcomes when a crisis strikes. What a blessing for those you and Banister Advisors serve. Vanessa, a total pleasure chatting with you on the show. As I like to say, to be continued. Bye for now.

 

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