This week we moved my 89 year old father in law into a “Continuing Care” community. It is a fancy name for a retirement center where he will live in an independent apartment, but where there are facilities available for assisted living and nursing care if and when needed. We have been working towards this goal for at least 3 months, and after 30 years at the same home, it is a change that is taking its toll on both him and my wife.

In many ways my father in law is very fortunate. He retired in his late 50’s from his position as Corporate Treasurer for one of the oldest and largest consumer finance companies in the nation. His was not a career fashioned of today’s Chief Financial Officers, where fancy ideas, stock options, mergers and IPO’s make overnight millionaires; rather he was a company man who spent more than 30 years climbing the corporate ladder, with a life of saving and prudent investments that left him comfortable in his later years. It is because of this that he can afford the very expensive move into such a community, and the one he selected is viewed as the finest in our area.

Still, this was not a change that came easily to anyone.

At 89, even he would admit that his mind is not as sharp or his memory not as strong as it once was. My wife, his only daughter and the only child in near proximity, has been his rock in this process, as he is forced to manage big financial transactions, weigh options and face decisions about life ending care that he would rather not ever have to tackle. Moving from a home he likely thought his last has been disruptive and unsettling in many ways, even though it has been planned and in the works for some time. It has been a difficult and straining process for both he and his daughter.

Change is hard, even when expected. It is even harder when you never see it coming.

The industry has been reeling the last two weeks with the unexpected death of David Depaolo, founder of WorkCompCentral and well known industry blogger. A popular speaker for the workers’ compensation industry, the 56 year old’s untimely death has left numerous holes in conference schedules around the nation. I’ve been in discussions with more than one conference organizer this week as they scramble to fill the void his unfortunate demise has created. I’ve provided suggestions for speakers to fill his (brightly colored) shoes, and in one instance have been asked to take his place behind the podium. Going forward, I recognize some of the panels we used to participate on together will never be the same. 

This weekend many people will gather at his memorial in southern California. I know several people who are making the trek cross country to pay their final respects. I regret that I will not be one of them, as we just have this single weekend left to prepare my father in laws home before its closing sale. 

Change is not only hard, it is inconvenient. This is especially true when change runs afoul of other changes in your life.

The true reality is that nothing is constant, and nothing is forever. The phenomenon we call change is the one consistent reality in our lives on this earth. Change is inevitable, yet we resist it with a passion reserved for only the greatest of emotional battles. This is true even despite the fact that all change is not bad; it may, in some cases be for the better. I think it is the fact that change represents something different and unknown that puts most of us on edge. 

This is relevant to the workers’ comp industry as we seem poised for significant change over the next several years. You can feel it in the air; technological, demographic and societal upheavals are driving potentially massive shifts in the way we operate. Those changes do not have to be bad. They simply need to be well thought out and embraced for the positive impact they can have. 

I certainly would not suggest the change brought by the unexpected loss of David Depaolo is good in any form, but I offer one thought towards that concept. My wife lost her mother to a heart attack when she was 18 years old. Her mother was just 51. As a consequence of that loss, my wife’s only memories of her mother are those of a vibrant, active and happy adult, full of life and not suffering the pitfalls and illnesses of the aged. With her father, she has seen what many of us see in aging parents; the slowing down, forgetfulness and frailty that are all too common with the aging process. David Depaolo will not suffer that fate in the collective memories of those who knew him. He will now and forever be the young, energetic and robust person we knew, full of life and living on the edge. He lives on in our minds, but at an age and persona that will now never change.

Whether it is an industry embroiled in challenging issues, a senior citizen securing a home in a vibrant community, or a lost loved one whose age and memory is now forever frozen in time, change can be difficult. But it cannot be ignored. It must be embraced, influenced and championed.

After all, change may be hard, but it is the only single thing we can actually count on.

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