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Overcoming expectation bias

While there is much discussion of the impact of bias in our world today, it is most often in the context of gender, race, or religion.  As a society, we actively work to compensate for these cultural biases at the same time we overlook our personal biases that come from experience and expectation.  19th century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said, “People only see what they are prepared to see.”

Aging gracefully requires planning for both the expected and the unexpected, especially when it is all too easy to be blinded by expectation bias.  To demonstrate the importance of this idea, I share the following true story with you:

In September of 2001, a 61 year-old man named Jon Lee had a massive heart attack.  The doctors explained the devastating options to his wife Jacque and their two adult sons …  either undergo a risky octuple bypass surgery in hopes of extending his life by 5-10 years or begin putting his affairs in order with an expectation that he would likely die from heart failure in the next 3-6 months.  The family chose surgery, with the hope of getting at least a few more years.  

Jon Lee, Jacque and Grandson Mason before Jon Lee’s 2001 surgery.

Miraculously, Jon Lee survived the surgery and returned to his normal daily activities. Recognizing that Jon Lee and Jacque were going to need more support in the coming years, their adult son, Jonathan, relocated with his wife and 2-year-old son back to his hometown to be more available to assist his parents.  And, facing a declared life expectancy for Jon Lee, the family, pro-actively took the steps necessary to ensure that financial and household matters were attended to by other family members and advance directives were completed for Jon.  Jacque, a legal secretary by trade, led this effort and seamlessly assumed full responsibility for household management.

    • 5 years passed. Jon Lee and Jacque welcomed a new granddaughter to the family, and everyone was grateful that Jon Lee was defying the medical odds. 
    • 10 years passed. Jon Lee and Jacque had become an active part of their grandchildren’s lives.  But, the family knew that Jon Lee was living on borrowed time. 
    • Amazingly, 16 years after Jon Lee’s massive heart attack, both Jon Lee and Jacque attended their grandson’s high school graduation ceremony together. The silver lining of Jon’s 2001 medical emergency was the relocation that allowed the grandchildren to benefit from growing up with their grandparents nearby! 

Grandson Mason, Jacque and Jon Lee at Mason’s High School Graduation in 2017.

    • 6 months after the high school graduation, Jacque (now 74), caught the flu and unexpectedly died 5-days later.

The family was completely blind-sided by this unexpected turn of events.  They did not have copies of Jacque’s end of life healthcare preferences (advance directives), and they discovered that they did not have the information they needed to ensure a seamless transition of her financial and household management responsibilities.  In fact, it took the family 4 months of daily effort to manage her personal affairs and to organize household support for Jon Lee – now 16 years past his lifesaving open heart surgery and 6 years beyond his life expectancy. 

I know this story well, because Jon Lee is my father-in-law.  I am embarrassed to admit that even with my professional experience and training as a senior advisor, our family was caught by our own expectation bias!  We found that we were completely unprepared for Jacque to die first, because we had 16 years of a practiced and reinforced expectation that Jon Lee would be the first to pass.  Ironically, according to Agingcare.com, rough statistics show that 30% of caregivers die before those they are caring for.

Our family experience led to the creation of the My Data Diary family information management tool which is designed to capture, store, manage, and share the personal, household, financial, legal, and health information needed to manage the business of your life.  This secure, digital solution brings me peace of mind because it ensures that we have access to all the information we need for our family – whenever and wherever we need it. 

My goal in sharing our story is to encourage you to examine your own expectation biases.  Aging gracefully requires that you are prepared for the expected AND for the unexpected.  Find a family information management solution that works for you and your family and partner with your care companions (your close family members, friends and professionals who will assist you in managing your family affairs in a time of need) to gather, organize and share the information you need to take care of each other.

Darra Wray is a Care Consultant and Certified Senior Advisor with My Care Companions in Boise, Idaho, a company she founded to help family caregivers streamline and simplify the administrative side of care.  You can learn more about My Care Companions and their My Data Diary family information organization tool at www.mycarecompanions.com

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