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Successful Aging: How to handle household finances and more if your spouse is hospitalized

Q. My husband and I have a traditional marriage of 52 years. He has taken care of the usual tasks of the household typical of my generation. I have taken care of all of the family needs for decades. My husband will soon be having surgery, a hospitalization and recovery most likely at home. I realize I know almost nothing of what he does. Can you provide a checklist of what I need to know? Many thanks. D.K.

Dear D.K.

Kudos to you for thinking ahead. Consider having a conversation with your husband to learn about the tasks and intricacies of what he does to keep the home front running smoothly.

Here are some categories with lots of particulars.

Finances: This is a big one. How do you pay your bills? Do you pay online or with your checkbook? Know when your bills are due and make sure you have adequate funds in your accounts to cover them. Do you usually pay the balance or do you spread the payments over time? Know your sources of income such as pensions, Social Security and investments and when they are deposited in your checking account. Don’t be surprised when you suddenly get a large bill. It might be a quarterly tax bill or one for home or car insurance. And then for some, there are routine bills: gardener, house help, pool maintenance if applicable and the possible handyman, electrician, plumber and computer tech person. Let’s not forget health insurance bills including Medigap and possibly dental insurance.

The home: This is emergency information. Know where and how to turn off the gas and water if a leak should occur. Have a flashlight handy next to your bed in case of a blackout. Check if you have an earthquake preparedness kit with directions for a “what if this happens?” Have a set of emergency numbers for electricity, gas and water. Phone numbers typically are on their bills. If you have a gas stove-top and oven, periodically check that the pilots are lit. In the bathroom near the commode, know where the switch is to turn off the water. Also, it’s always useful to have a plunger on hand.

The pool: Keep everyone safe. Have the mandated protections of gates and fences. If you have a pool service, ask the pool service person your questions regarding timing of the filter, chemical balance, whether the pool should be covered in the winter months and more.

Passwords: This is tricky. Interview your husband and write down all passwords that he uses and yours, assuming you know them. That includes the bank, grocery stores, Amazon, credit cards, entertainment centers and more. Make a copy of that list for you and your husband.

Tools: The toolkit may not have your name on it. Yet for a limited amount of time, it’s yours. When my husband passed away a number of years ago, a colleague and friend who recently had been widowed sent me a hammer with a purple floral handle. When you turned the handle, there were a series of four screwdrivers in different sizes. Her condolence note was heartfelt with the addition, “Here’s something that I think you will need.” When your husband recovers, you can return the tools to him and let him know that now you both are tool-savvy.

Keeping everyone informed: There is a wonderful onsite tool called Caringbridge, a personal health journal that lets friends and family know the loved one’s health progress as well as rallying those friends and family to respond with good wishes.

The most important task: This one can be the most difficult. That is, taking care of yourself. Stay focused, preoccupied and busy. That means eating well and not skipping meals, managing stress with a walk, yoga or meditation, reaching out to others just to talk, getting as much sleep a possible, staying reasonably fit and taking a break from the hospital. That’s a large to-do list which becomes even more important during stressful times.

At some point, many women in a traditional marriage of the 1960s will need to assume more responsibility, even for a short period of time.

D.K. Thank you for your important question. Best wishes for your husband’s complete and quick recovery. Above all…take good care.

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