Elizabeth Emens JD, Ph.D.

Life Admin

Favorite Stories from Life Admin Talks: Aging-Parents Admin

When we see life admin, we begin to see our loved ones better.

Posted Jul 11, 2019

Shutterstock / Vector / Id 412086898
Source: Shutterstock / Vector / Id 412086898

Yesterday, after I gave a talk about life admin, I had the kind of conversation that makes me happy I wrote the book that led me to that event.

The conversation went something like this.

A man, we’ll call him George, said that he’d found my talk really helpful.

I nodded appreciatively. “I’m glad to hear it.”

George continued. “My sister and I take care of a lot of things for my mother. And my sister will say, ‘Can you make that call?’” 

To a doctor or caregiver, I surmised. Or a landlord or accountant or hospital or insurance company or retirement home administrator. Or some other character from the vast cast of personnel involved in aging-parents admin.

“And,” George went on, “I usually say, ‘can’t you just make the call?’”

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay
Source: Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

He paused here, thoughtful. Then he concluded with a sentence that sums up the way life admin brings together the minute and the existential.

“Now I realize: That’s 15 minutes of her life.”

His words made my day.

I don’t know what will happen next for George and his sister. Will he talk to her about this? Will he agree to make the call next time she asks? Will he start doing more of the shared admin for their mother, or offer to do some other caregiving, to balance out the now-visible admin his sister does? 

At the very least, I imagine he will say thanks. Gratitude, as we know from the studies, is good for the giver and the receiver.

And his “thank you” will mean something else: All that labor his sister is doing will no longer go unseen.


Emmons, Robert A., & McCullough, Michael E. (2003). "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 84(2): 377-389.

Barbara Frederickson, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life (New York: Three Rivers, 2009), 41–42, 92–93, 186–87.

Melanie Greenberg, “How Gratitude Leads to a Happier Life,” Psychology Today blog, Nov. 22, 2015.

Robert A. Emmons, The Little Book of Gratitude (Gaia, 2016).