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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is It Worth Anything? Check the Web.

When you decide to start getting rid of your belongings, one factor is whether your old goods have any value. Fortunately, the Internet now has many sites that will provide some idea of what your possessions are worth.


Whether older adults are downsizing or just want to get start purging the belongings they have accumulated over a lifetime, many find themselves in a quandary: what to sell, what to give away and what to throw away. One factor in the decision is whether the goods have any value.

Are those delicate china teacups you inherited from your mother worth anything? What about that 1930s chair your aunt gave you? Or the Sandy Koufax baseball card that came with a pack of gum? How about your old Beatles vinyl albums?

Fortunately, the Internet now has many sites that will provide some idea of what your stuff is worth, if anything. People most commonly use
eBay because it lists just about anything that’s sellable. More specific websites deal with antiques and collectibles, and other sites deal with only one category, such as jewelry, stamps or vinyl records.

An antique is defined as an item from an earlier era, which shows some degree of craftsmanship and is valued because of its age, rarity, condition or other unique features. A collectible is typically a manufactured item designed to be collected, such as a baseball card, although the lines often blur between the two classes.

Many of these websites also offer a way to sell your item, or you can research the item online and then visit a local retail store, such as an antique or used book store, as an informed seller.

The Biggest: eBay

The largest and most general online source for prices is eBay. To quickly and easily find out what your item is selling for, go to
“Advanced Search” (from Type in the name of your item, and where it says “Search Including,” click the “Completed Listings” button. Look for the green prices, “Sold,” which will give you an idea of what others have received by selling what you want to sell.

The listing also shows the name of the seller/dealer, so you can contact them to see if they want to buy or sell your item (at a commission).

Another source of information is eBay’s discussion forums under “Community.” On these category-specific boards you can find people who collect just about anything. Please note that to access this section of the site, you’ll need to sign up for eBay first.

One expert points out that quality is more important than quantity. Your collectible or antique’s condition can greatly influence the price it will bring. For example a 1962 Sandy Koufax baseball card was priced between $1 and $700, depending on the condition.

Antique and Collectible Sites

The Internet has many sites that offer information and prices for antiques and collectibles. Some offer free estimates, while others charge a fee. If you decide to use one of these sites to sell an item, there’s usually a cost. Here are a few popular antique and collectibles websites:
Lofty has more than 60 appraisers and experts who provide free evaluations of fine art, antiques, collectibles and jewelry, as well as a marketplace where people can buy and sell. Sellers pay a 10 percent fee, and Lofty handles all shipping arrangements. Value My Stuff has a team of 68 former Sotheby’s and Christie’s experts who appraise items in over 48 collecting categories. Once you upload photographs and details of your item, Value My Stuff will email you a report detailing your item’s history and value. Kovels has been a respected name in the antique and collectibles business for over 30 years. Its yearly price guide lists more than 900,000 real prices rather than estimates for antiques and collectibles sold in the United States, Canada and Europe. Each entry gives a description, price and year of sale. Priceminer combines data from eBay, GoAntiques and the Internet Antique Shop to provide information that spans several years, in the form of graphs and charts, including average price, number of items included in the average, range of price from highest to lowest and a current estimate based on today’s market conditions. Collectors Weekly encompasses many collectibles, including books, postcards, movies, musical instruments, clothes and games. The site links to eBay auctions, so if you type in the name of the record you might want to sell—say the Beatles’ Revolver, you would find out that the auction price is anywhere from $15 to $150. Worth Point boasts that its “Worthopedia” has more than 200 million “sold for” prices with item details and images, plus a library of articles written by experts in different categories.

Specialty Sites

Almost anything you want to sell or at least find out the value of probably has its own website: vinyl records, bicycles, skis, baseball cards, dolls, books, even Beanie Babies. For example,
Beckett lists more than 22 million sports memorabilia items from nearly 1,200 hobby shops and auctions worldwide, while theNumisMedia Fair Market Value Price Guide provides the value of rare coins.

If you want to get rid of your old computer or camera,
Worth Monkey focuses on used electronics and more. It searches the Internet for the current asking and selling price of used goods, then provides the average low, middle and high price of the product and directs you to the site where you can find the highest and lowest average price.

Going Local

For some items, such as skis, golf clubs or bicycles, it makes more sense to try to sell locally. One collectibles expert advises that your local Craigslist, for example, can garner better prices than national websites. Selling locally targets nearby interests (alpine skis will sell better in Colorado than Florida, for example) and helps you avoid the cost and hassle of shipping large items.

If you live in a large metropolitan area, chances are good that there is a local retailer buying and selling your item. Brick-and-mortar resale shops often specialize in antique jewelry, coins, used sports equipment, books, antiques and records. Before starting your local shopping trip, do some online research so that you know your item’s low, medium and high pricing options.

You can also sell your things at the local flea market or have a garage sale. You’re not likely to get top dollar, but you’ll quickly get rid of lots of items without too much expense.

Getting Help

If you don’t have the time or energy to do all the research yourself, there are other options. Professional organizers will sometimes find or suggest places to sell your unwanted items. If you are moving, a move manager (see
Don’t Make a Move Without Getting Help, July 2014 Senior Spirit) is often knowledgeable about venues to sell items. If you are making a large move or getting rid of someone’s estate, an estate sale can appraise the worth of the items and sell them. You’ll likely have to pay a large commission, but you won’t have to spend time figuring out details on your own.

You can also consign your items to an auction house, either online, locally or through a specialty house. Check its references, fees and the work required from you before deciding on the right auction. Or, hire an appraiser. To find an expert appraiser in your area, go to the
American Society of Appraisers.

If you can’t or don’t want to deal with selling your belongings, donate them to a thrift shop that supports your charity of choice. Many organizations will pick up items and provide a receipt for a tax deduction.

And if getting rid of your valuables is too difficult and you decide you’ll just leave it to your family, you should check with them first. It might be that your heirs are not interested and may just take your treasured china to the nearest dumpster.


“13 Ways to Sell Your Stuff!,”
About Home
“Antiques and Collectibles Appraisal”Appraise Your Own Junk
“How Do I Know What My Stuff Is Worth?,” eBay“Identify What You Have and What’s it Worth,”
“What’s This Worth? “ Crawford Direct

Passing on Your Passwords as Part of Your Estate was featured in the  September 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Passing on Your Passwords as Part of Your Estate

In an increasingly digital world, experts advise that your legacy should include your passwords, not just to your bank and financial accounts, but to Facebook, your website, frequent flier miles or anything else that might have value to your loved ones.

When contemplating wills and estates, it’s no longer enough to leave behind information about the location of your safe-deposit box or the name of your lawyer. In this increasingly digital world, what’s even more important is letting your next of kin know the user names and passwords to your online accounts.

Don’t just provide such information about your financial accounts, but to all crucial Internet sites—that is, places where you have the ability to access or post information. After all, many of us increasingly spend much of our lives online. All that work you did tracing your family’s history, which now resides on a genealogy website, could be lost, as well as the family photos you saved online in a cloud.

Household bills could go unpaid if the co-owner doesn’t know the password to the local utility’s site, or credit card bills could pile up. Just as crucial, automatically paid accounts may continue making payments unnecessarily because loved ones don’t have online access to your bank account. Your spouse or children might be able to use your frequent-purchaser rewards points—if they knew the websites, user names and passwords.

If something were to happen to you, your descendants may want access to your personal or professional websites and blogs. Loved ones may want to contact friends or associates on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

Where to Keep Your Passwords

What’s the best way of ensuring your survivors will be able to access your accounts and websites? There’s the old-fashioned way of writing them down—either keeping them on a piece of paper or creating an online document. Make sure your executor knows the location of your password storage system, whether in a file cabinet or the hard drive on your computer. Some lawyers recommend including instructions about accounts and passwords in your will.

Most web browsers will give you the option to save online passwords. For example, to see which passwords Safari has compiled, go to Safari’s Preferences and then click on Passwords. You’ll see a list of websites along with your corresponding usernames and passwords. To see the password, check “show passwords for selected websites.” Firefox and Chrome both have their own password management systems that track saved passwords and corresponding websites. See Firefox’s tutorial and Google’s instructions. Internet Explorer does not have a directly accessible password management system (from Gigaom).

Password Manager

Several websites will store your passwords, providing convenience for you and your beneficiaries, because you only need to remember and share one password.

The person you entrust with this information can be a personal representative, the executor you name in your will or a beneficiary. If you use a website that isn’t tailored to after-death situations, you’ll have to provide the executor with the password while you’re alive. Therefore, it’s important to find someone trustworthy who won’t try to cause harm by accessing your personal information before you die.

Password manager sites protect your information with data-encryption tools, and many sites store a limited number of passwords for free. LastPass states that your data is “never shared with LastPass. Your data stays accessible only to you. It works by prompting you to save your logins, generating new passwords.” (Mention of any website in this article should not be construed as an endorsement.)

Other password storage sites (from PC Mag, gigaom and Mocavo) include Dashlane, and PasswordBox. PasswordBox includes a “Legacy Vault to easily pass on your digital asset.” You provide PasswordBox with the name of your trusted beneficiary (and their email address), and when you die, the beneficiary notifies PasswordBox and supplies a death certificate before receiving the digital assets (in the form of passwords).

Similarly, Lifetime Vault provides a “vault key” that you give to your loved ones, which gives them access to your accounts and documents if you become disabled or die.

Social Media Accounts

On Facebook, many people never die. It’s not uncommon to see a reminder to wish someone a happy birthday after they have passed away. Until Facebook is notified of a death, a person’s page will not be deleted, although Facebook will leave the page up as a memorial, if requested.

Social media sites have different rules about how to handle such accounts. Twitter deletes the files of deceased users but will provide a copy of your public tweets to your heirs. Instagram, however, will delete all of your files upon receiving a death notification. Yahoo forbids transferring usernames and passwords, and upon submission of the death certificate, will delete your account. Gmail requires the name of the deceased person, along with email address and death certificate before deciding whether to give the account to the beneficiary.

Posting Your Bequests

Some websites go beyond password management. A few offer more comprehensive services such as storing your estate and legacy plans, insurance information, wills, POAs, living wills and funeral instructions., for example, has a LegacyVault that “helps you preserve and protect your will, insurance policies, account passwords, financial investments, keepsake photos and more with our patent-pending security processes and 256-bit AES encryption. Create private videos to provide clear and specific instructions for each family member.”

A few others are Afternote, AfterSteps, Estate Map, Eterniam, Everplans, PartingWishes, Perpetu and One site, WebCease, will even help executors, trustees and administrators find online accounts that are part of a deceased person’s digital assets.

If you would rather not store your information on the Internet, you can use a desktop program like Javont Vault. This Windows-based program lets you catalog everything—possessions, safe-deposit box information, passwords and even memberships—in one place on your computer.

For those who have a longer vision, Chronicle of Life promises to keep your data for all eternity after you pay a one-time sum. If you have an even greater vision, LifeNaut allows you to create interactive avatars, upload content and even store a DNA sample so that you can “create a free back-up of [your] mind and genetic code.”

“Assuming that revival could take as long as a hundred or hundreds of years to become feasible, it would not be reasonable to expect that one can leave records and material with friends or relatives and expect them to be continually guarded, maintained, and passed on through future generations,” states the website.


“Assets online? Plan your estate for the digital age,”

“Online accounts after death: Remember digital property when listing assets,” August 26, 2012, Chicago Tribune

“Protect online assets with a digital estate plan,” May 2014, CNBC

“For the afterlife, how to pass passwords onto heirs,” March 29, 2014, Oregon Live

“Digital Death and Afterlife Online Services List,” The Digital Beyond

“You shall not pass! Take control of your passwords in the new year,” Jan. 7, 2014, Gigaom

“Passing on Passwords,” Your Security Resource

“Passing On Your Passwords,” March 28, 2014,">CBS Philly

“Pass On Your Passwords,” March 31, 2014, Movaco

“Get Organized: Passing on Your Passwords,” October 8, 2012, PC Magazine

Passing on Your Passwords as Part of Your Estate was featured in the  August 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Twist Your Way to Better Health

Yoga is being touted as a way to ease a whole host of health conditions, including preventing osteoporosis, improving sleep and increasing immunity. Yoga classes are available almost everywhere these days, but you can also do a few simple poses at home.

Before taking yoga classes, Bunny Grossinger, 87, had serious back problems that limited her mobility. But after the New York City resident started working with a yoga instructor, she found that her life was changed physically and mentally. Though doctors had told her she would need a walker soon, she can now walk again on her own, she told the New York Daily News.

After seeing Grossinger’s experience, the yoga instructor started a yoga studio aimed at those over 65. For older adults, yoga has many benefits, including increased bone density and increased flexibility at a time when we feel more stiff and creaky.

If you’re just starting out or haven’t done yoga for a while, don’t get turned away from yoga classes by the young athletic types wearing their skintight yoga pants and shirts, able to do Downward-facing Dog without thinking about it. Don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time doing the Warrior pose, because your body won’t bend over that far. It can take a while to limber up and stretch the muscles. Experts advise starting slowly and finding a beginner class, preferably one for older adults.
When we were younger, yoga was considered a strange esoteric practice done by people wearing white turbans. Now it’s become accepted, a regular fixture of recreation centers, health clubs, senior centers and assisted living residences. Some health plans offer to pay for yoga classes to keep their clients healthy and fit.

Multitude of Benefits

While ancient yoga practitioners promised a reversal of the aging process, research hasn’t yet been able to back up that claim. Still, studies have documented an amazing array of benefits from this 5,000-year-old form of exercise (see sidebar, “What Is Yoga?”).

Increases strength and flexibility. As we get older, our range of motion becomes limited, which makes us more vulnerable to bad falls. Yoga stretches all parts of the body, including the spine, which is often not affected by other exercises, such as walking. Yoga’s poses stretch muscles, ligaments and tendons and lubricates joints. By repeating the poses, we improve balance and increase strength.

Improves bone health. A gentle yoga practice may can be effective in increasing bone density.In one pilot study involving adults with an average age of 68, who practiced yoga for 10 minutes each day researchers found subjects gained bone density.
Aging women have an increased potential for developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become brittle and prone to breaking. Because yoga’s postures are weight-bearing and involve balance, they can help women reduce the possibility of bone fractures by maintaining bone strength and promoting joint agility.

Relieves stress. Numerous studies have shown that yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. Because you concentrate on the poses and breathing deeply, yoga centers you in ways that most exercise can’t. At the same time, yoga can enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.

Decreases migraines. Research shows that migraine sufferers have fewer and less painful migraines after three months of yoga practice. It’s not clear why but it could be that yoga works to relieve both mental stress and physical misalignment that cause migraines and other issues.

Improves sleep. Harvard researchers found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia who participated in this study. Another study found that twice-weekly yoga sessions are associated with better sleep and less fatigue for cancer survivors. These results may be due to exercise’s physical benefits plus yoga’s breathing and relaxation techniques, although the reasons have yet to be determined.

Lessens chronic pain. A Harbor-UCLA Medical Center study reported participants needed less pain medication after only four weeks of yoga. Other studies report a decrease in arthritis pain among the participants.

Manages chronic conditions. Yoga can reduce risk factors for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. According to a report to the National Institutes of Health, some evidence suggests yoga may be helpful when used with conventional medical treatment to help relieve some of the symptoms linked to cancer, asthma, diabetes, drug addiction, high blood pressure, heart disease and migraine headaches. In a study by the Yale University School of Medicine, researchers found that adding three days of yoga and meditation to your weekly routine may reduce your risk of heart disease.

Reduces blood pressure. Several studies have shown yoga can reduce high blood pressure because of its calming techniques and physical activity, which both help to lower blood pressure. In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, 58 men and women, aged 38 to 62, were divided into three groups: a diet and weight reduction and walking program; a yoga practice of two to three times per week for 24 weeks; and a combo program consisting of both yoga and dietary intervention. The research team found that only the yoga group experienced the biggest drop in their blood pressure (“Yoga Can Help Lower Blood Pressure,” June 2013, Medical News Today).
Eases depression: Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine found that yoga may be superior to other forms of exercise in its positive effect on mood and anxiety. The researchers contrasted GABA levels in the brain, which are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders, of yoga practitioners and walkers over a 12-week period. One group practiced yoga three times a week for one hour, while the remaining subjects walked for the same period of time. Not only did the yoga practitioners’ brains show higher levels of GABA, but they reported less anxiety and a better mood. (From “New Study Finds New Connection Between Yoga And Mood,” June 2013, Medical News Today).

In addition to these listed benefits, other reports state that yoga can increase hand-grip strength in rheumatoid arthritis patients, control or decrease weight, reduce breathing difficulties in bronchial asthmatics and relieve menopausal discomfort.

Simple Exercises

Although yoga is generally considered safe for most healthy people when practiced under the guidance of a trained instructor, see your health care provider before you begin yoga if you have any of the following conditions or situations (from “Yoga Precautions,” Mayo Clinic):

  • A herniated disk
  • A risk of blood clots
  • Eye conditions, including glaucoma
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Pregnancy
  • Severe balance problems
  • Severe osteoporosis
  • Uncontrolled blood pressure
Taking a yoga class can help beginners, especially, because trained instructors can work with their physical issues (bad knees, stiff back, etc.), and a class can provide the social benefit of interacting with others. You can also do some simple exercises at home (from “10 Yoga Exercises for Seniors,” How Stuff Works).

The One-legged Wind Releasing pose is a good, gentle stretch for the mid- to low-back and hips because it stretches all of the muscles in those areas, which helps resolve low back pain.

  1. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
  2. Hug your right thigh to your chest, using a strap or belt to assist you, if necessary.
  3. Straighten your left leg along the floor, keeping your foot flexed.
  4. Keep your pelvis and right buttock on the floor (or, if you're unable, keep your left leg slightly bent).
  5. Breathe deeply until you feel the muscles relax, and then stay a few breaths longer.
  6. Repeat on the other side.

The Staff pose helps strengthen the muscles in the mid-back, improving posture. It also strengthens the quadriceps to help stabilize the knees.

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. It may help to sit with your shoulder blades against a wall with a small rolled-up towel between the wall and your lower back.
  2. Pull in your belly and sit up tall.
  3. Place your hands on the floor next to your hips, fingers pointing toward your toes.
  4. Without hardening your abdomen, flex your thigh muscles while pressing them down toward the floor, rotating them inward and drawing your groin muscles toward your tailbone.
  5. Flex your ankles, pointing your toes toward your body.
  6. Imagine your spine is a staff pressing into the floor, and try to hold this position for two to 10 deep breaths.
  7. Relax.

The Seated Forward Bend pose can help reduce blood pressure. Use a chair to avoid overtaxing your back.

  1. Sit on a chair, keeping your knees together and your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Inhale.
  3. As you exhale, bend forward, rounding your shoulders and bending your back forward one vertebra at a time.
  4. Let your arms hang by your sides.
  5. Hold this pose for three breaths.

As you do this pose, your chest should make contact with your thighs, with your forehead near your knees.

For flexibility in your legs, try the Legs in V pose:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs comfortably spread apart in a V shape. It doesn't matter if the V isn't that wide to begin with; it's more important to stretch comfortably.
  2. Grab a bunch of firm pillows and place them in front of you.
  3. Lean forward, keeping your neck long, and use the pillows to support your upper body. Breathe six times, allowing yourself to hang and feel the stretch along your legs.


“5 Surprising Health Benefits Of Yoga,” Feb. 12, 2014, Huffington Post

“10 Yoga Exercises for Seniors,” How Stuff Works

“NYC Yoga Class Caters To Seniors,” June 26, 2012, Sunrise Senior Living

“Seniors Can Find Confidence and Flow in Yoga Practice,” Aging Care

“Yoga for the 50+,” Senior Fitness

Twist Your Way to Better Health was featured in the  September 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Finding the Right Words at a Bad Time

In difficult situations, where we encounter a friend who lost a spouse or the neighbor who has cancer, we often don’t know what to say. Experts and cancer patients provide advice and wisdom for those times when we want to offer comfort but aren’t sure exactly how to do so.

We’ve likely been in this situation, in one way or another. A friend’s husband has died or a family member just found out he has cancer. We don’t know what to say, so we blurt out the first thing that comes to our minds. When standing in front of an open casket, we exclaim, “Gosh, he looks great.”

Charles Puchta, founder of Care Ministry in Loveland, Ohio, recalls the story of one woman who had cancer. While walking through her small town, she saw a friend who was approaching her on the sidewalk cross the street to avoid her and then cross back after she passed by.

Puchta, a Certified Senior Advisor®, emphasizes treating someone who’s been marked by some kind of illness or tragedy as another human being. “Oftentimes, we don’t see them as people. If we don’t see them by their personhood, we define by their disease.” For example, because the idea of cancer may be threatening and make us want to turn away, Puchta suggests “renaming” the cancer something less upsetting, such as a broken leg.

In that way, the disease becomes less threatening, and, in turn, we become more comfortable approaching the person who has the disease. Puchta advises: “Ask, ‘How you are you doing?’ Don’t ignore it. Say what you would normally say. See them for who they are.”

Experts remind us to remember that the situation is not about us. Instead of worrying about ourselves, we should focus on the one who is grieving or suffering. Most of the time, the situation simply calls for an expression of compassion, even just a hug or a hand on the shoulder.

Offering Support

When we hear about friends who are suffering, either from the loss of a loved one or from a serious illness, we want to fix the situation. Or perhaps our friend’s situation brings up our own concerns about illness or death, and we react out of fear.

Sometimes, we try to say something profound, some bit of wisdom gleaned from a book or website, but such forced words often drop with a thud. Other times, we fall back on commonly used words of sympathy, many of which may sound insensitive to the suffering individual. The following sentiments mean well but may cause more pain than comfort:

“You're So Strong"

The recipient of these words might not feel strong at all. In fact, they may be experiencing feelings of helplessness, despair and fear about the future. Telling them how brave they are could make them feel worse, because they think you’re implying they’re not coping as well as they should or that they are taking too long to get over a loved one’s death.

Ann Silberman, who has breast cancer, writes on her blog about someone telling her that she’s so brave: “You are referring to me showing up on time for doctor’s appointments? . . . It’s nice to be called brave, but we cancer patients all know we aren’t. Brave is a word best reserved for people who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. Trust me, if I could get out of this, I would. . . . The truth is, I have no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and do what my doctors say” ( Instead, give your friend permission to feel sad, scared and a little needy. Just hearing those words might be enough for her to feel she doesn’t have to shoulder the loss on her own or put on a brave face.

“She Lived a Full Life”

Phrases like “He is in a better place” or “God wanted her to be with him” may trivialize the person’s pain. Other unhelpful remarks include: "Time heals all wounds" and "Things always work out for the best." Unless you know and share the other person's religious beliefs, statements like "It was God's will" could be offensive or, at the very least, meaningless.

In a column entitled “What Can I Say That's Actually Helpful in Times of Grief?,” one commenter stated, ”If I believed what a lot of people say about the deceased, that God had His reasons, etc., then my only sane reaction if the people I love most died would be commit suicide and go try to kill God. Obviously that's not sane, so I ignore those oafs” (Lifehacker).

More than anything, the bereaved want to have their loss and pain recognized. A simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” acknowledges their pain rather than aims to make them feel better, which is probably not going to happen for a while.

Mourners may find comfort when you celebrate a deceased person’s life with your memories. “Share a brief story,” advises Puchta. “Connect with a person’s heart: ‘Barb your dad was so amazing‘ or ‘Your parents were our neighbors; they were always so friendly.’”

“I Know How You Feel”

Every person experiences grief and pain differently. Just because your aunt had liver cancer doesn’t mean you know how your friend feels after learning she has breast cancer. It’s better to acknowledge the person’s pain, without trying to make it similar to yours or minimizing it. Experts advise stepping out of our own shoes and imagining someone else’s turmoil and sadness.

The process of grief is complicated and involves many feelings: sadness, anger, anxiety and guilt, just to name a few. So, while you may be experiencing sadness over a loved one’s death, someone else may be feeling anger.

Cancer patient Silberman, reacting to someone saying “I know how you feel,” writes sarcastically, “Oh fantastic, let’s talk about the best way to relieve chemo-induced constipation without bringing on diarrhea! What’s your tip?” (

Instead, ask “How are you feeling?” or "I can't imagine what you're going through." This allows the person to talk about her anger, sadness or despair, rather than turning the conversation to your own feelings.

Maybe someone who is suffering is not ready to talk. In trying to comfort a loved one, “Follow their lead,” says Puchta. “Either they want to avoid or delve into it.”

“Have You Tried This Treatment?”

When trying to help others, we have an innate desire to fix the problem. It’s especially tempting to tell someone who is seriously ill about a new miracle or non-traditional cure you read about on a website: “Have you tried yoga? Shots of Vitamin K? Meditation?”

Chances are good that your friend has already read or thought about alternative treatments, and doctors warn that cancer is complicated and what works for one type won’t work for another. Just as important, your friend likely doesn’t need to be burdened with more options and information when she already has a lot on her mind.

Similarly, trying to tell someone to think positively can be offensive.

Says Silberman: “Don’t worry, I’m so busy concentrating on controlling the rivers of diarrhea without needing a diaper, my blood levels being so low I can get infected if my dog sneezes and vacuuming up the peeling skin on my hands and feet that I’m too busy to think negatively.

“It’s awful to tell somebody to think positively. Do you think all those cancer patients who are now dead thought negatively? It’s not a good thing to put the burden of our disease on us” (

“Let Me Know if I Can Do Anything”

Few people undergoing extreme grief or turmoil are going to take the time and energy to figure out what they need done. Or they may think that you are just being polite and saying something that makes you feel better. This passive expression of sympathy actually puts the burden on the person who is suffering to figure out what to ask you to do.

“Having to think of something I or we may need immediately sends my sleep-deprived and emotionally drained brain into the blankest of modes,” writes Silberman (

It’s much better, experts say, to offer to do a specific task. For example, call an ill friend and ask what you can pick them up at the grocery store. Bring a widow some prepared food, take them out for coffee, treat them to a movie or invite them to go on a walk. Stop by to check on an ill family member or find a chore that needs doing and do it.

“Pick up the phone and order a day of housecleaning service,” suggests Silberman. “Send over a fruit basket. Knock on the door and drop off a casserole. Come over and scrub the tub. . . . Bring a DVD of a funny movie and some chocolate. Stay with her in the hospital so she will get good nursing care. . . . Do something, don’t just talk about it. Just help, and don’t ask permission first.”

Doing Nothing

One of the worst things you can do is ignore someone who is suffering. People who have cancer or a terminal disease or who have just lost a loved one often feel very alone. Ignoring them just compounds the feelings of isolation.

“Yes, cancer is scary and yes, it’s hard to know what to say,” writes another cancer patient. “But when a loved one responds to ‘I have cancer’ with silence, that conjures up a special kind of pain. Overwhelmed by a friend or family member’s diagnosis? Don’t focus on the cancer; focus instead on the person you love and what you can do for them” (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center).

You don’t even have to say anything. Many times people just want to be heard. Writes a parent: “My son died about four years ago. The worst part for me was/is that people are afraid to talk about him, like they'll reopen an old wound or something. I'm sure it's different for everyone, but my wife and I want to talk about him and remember the good times with him. . . . But you will probably see some tears, and that makes people feel like they're hurting you” (from Lifehacker).


“8 Things NOT To Say When Your Friend Is Grieving,” September 2012, Prevention

“10 Best Things to Say to Someone in Grief,” Heal Your Life

“Say what? 8 things you shouldn’t – and should – say to a cancer patient,” Oct. 30, 2013, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

“Timely insight on cancer topics from the experts of the American Cancer Society,” American Cancer Society

“Cancer caregiver advice on what to say and how to help,” April 11, 2013, MD Anderson Cancer Center

“What Can I Say That's Actually Helpful in Times of Grief?,” Lifehacker

“What do you say to a person who has cancer?” Dec. 6, 2011,

“What to say to someone with cancer/thoughts on how to be a friend to someone with a serious illness,” April 5, 2013 Lisa Boncheck Adams website

Finding the Right Words at a Bad Time was featured in the  August 2014 Senior Spirit newsletter.

Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors