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Meet the Pro: Vanessa Laughlin of Banister Advisors

Posted on The Fresh Chalk Blog • by Liz Pearce • Wednesday July 17th

Here’s a story about a professional service you might not even know existed. Several years ago, Vanessa Laughlin was living a peaceful life in Seattle, with a job in management consulting, a young  son, and a husband and family she dearly loved. Then tragedy struck when her beloved father-in-law, Jay Banister Laughlin, was diagnosed with late-stage bile duct cancer.

In the months that followed, Vanessa and her family dealt with a never-ending stream of challenges: supporting Jay and her mother-in-law with the emotional challenges of the cancer journey, navigating the logistics of medical care and other daily living priorities, while also trying to find the right ways to celebrate and give thanks for the life of someone who stood at the center of their family circle.

Sadly, Jay was struck with a bacterial infection eighteen months after his diagnosis, and his body was too weakened by his treatments to fight it. He succumbed to the illness suddenly, leaving his family devastated with grief. Vanessa recalls the particular emotional difficulty of explaining to her then 3-year old son that his beloved ‘Pop-pop’ was suddenly gone.

Jay with family

As Vanessa reflected on the experience, she was struck by what turned out to be a life-changing question: Is there a better way to handle end-of-life challenges?

By early 2018, Vanessa had left her management consulting job to focus full-time on building the solution: a new kind of professional services firm that helps families deal with health crises, end-of-life care, bereavement, and all of the overhead and business that goes with them. It’s called Banister Advisors, in Jay’s honor.

“The inspiration and energy we put into the business comes from not just from the experience of Jay’s death, but also from how he lived his life. He gave back to his community in incredible ways. For most of his career, he worked for the city to support his family. Then in his 50’s he went back to school to get his degree in social work in order to give back even further by providing free therapy to low income people in the Puget Sound. He never talked about it or drew attention to it, though. He just quietly changed many peoples’ lives for the better. ”

Vanessa in front of Banister Advisors HQ

Vanessa’s focus now is on reducing the emotional weight on family members during times of grief surrounding the care and loss of loved ones. Starting with a free hour-long phone consultation, she and her team design a plan of action, which might include anything from making funeral arrangements to navigating estate closings to finding the right counselor or therapist for a family member’s unique needs. Her team includes attorneys, therapists, social workers, and more.

That focus on emotional well-being becomes paramount in many cases, when the strains of bereavement or a health crisis cause tension among family members.

“Grief takes any normal emotion or relationships within a family and turns the heat up. Our presence just turns down the heat. The role of creative conflict resolution is really important in what we do.”  In Vanessa’s experience, a little bit of help from a third-party goes a long way.

Many adults in mid-life today are faced with the burden of caring for their aging parents as well as their own children and careers. According to research by AARP, “The estimated prevalence of caring for an adult is 16.6%” or about 40 million Americans. Knowing that there are resources available to help guide the way in a health crisis or simply at the end of a family member’s life may provide some reassurance to people facing those situations. Banister Advisors can do just that, for families in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.


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