Who Will Care For Me When I Am Old?

A few weekends ago, we visited my folks to celebrate my mom’s 79th birthday. She and dad are going strong and we had a wonderful celebration of their lives as we relived some exciting and humorous past events including viewing the DVD from their 50th wedding anniversary a few years back. During the course of our conversations, the topic came up of who would take care of a parent who outlived their spouse. My sister and I live within 100 miles and our brother about twice distance that so visiting is an easy option. But who will step up should mom or dad or both need more than an occasional visit? If they can no longer safely take care of themselves, what would they do?

As we grow older alongside our spouse, we hope to be together always. This person at my side who has become an extension of who I am, who under no duress understands and accepts my various shortcomings and quirks, with who I share my wishes and dreams, is an integral part of my life. Growing old together is our chosen path and as we encounter challenges, we face them together. It may be something as basic as regaining the independence of going up and down the stairs by taking advantage of home stair liftsBut unfortunately as we grow older, at some point that wonderful bond and strength that has served us so well for so long may just not be enough. We cannot make it just the two of us and we must search outside of us for assistance.

What can we do?

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ~ Jane Howard

The importance of family

No one is more concerned for our welfare than our family. We have been through this life together – ups and downs, good and bad family is forever. It is important to maintain ties with brothers and sisters and children and grandchildren. Though never easy to coordinate with everyone’s busy schedules, it is important to make the effort. Bringing various family members together to share and reminisce and build new memories is a must. Holidays and graduations, baptisms and weddings, anniversaries and just plain weekends all offer an opportunity to unite. The extended “family unit” is made up of many pieces that complement each other to make the whole stronger than the individual parts.

We would all like to remain independent for as long as we can. No one wants to be a burden. What can we do to remain independent as possible for as long as possible?

  • Long Term Care insurance – according to statistics, 2/3 of those over 65 will require extended care during their lifetimes with an average duration of three years. With nursing homes costing $70,000 per year for a shared room, these costs can literally break the bank. Long Term Care insurance can give you the assurance that should you need service your family will not have to pick up the bill.
  • Retirement communities – it is never too early to take a look at the possibility of retiring to a senior community. Facilities today offer a supportive community of fellow seniors along with a social event calendar that would tire many younger folks! Retirement communities are no longer a place where people go to die but instead a place where they go to live and enjoy. Many are set in beautiful surroundings away from the fast-paced-traffic-ridden areas yet close to amenities like shopping centers and movie theaters. In these communities, you can age in familiar surroundings with help close by should you require it. With baby boomers entering retirement, I believe that the next 10-20 years will show a big demand for retirement communities as people look for a safe and interesting place to settle down.
  • Moving in with a family member – sometimes for whatever reason the best option is for a parent to move in with one of their children. Extended family can provide food and shelter and love without bankrupting anyone in the process. Grandparents can spend time with grandchildren with both sides learning to appreciate the other a bit more. Everyone needs to be sensitive to the fact that a new member to the household can disrupt the status quo. Tolerance is a virtue, patience is a must, and mutual consideration is the go word. It makes sense to have discussions early on about which child would be the best option for the parent(s) to move in with. Knowing up front helps to remove anxiety that the aging family member may feel. And having a logical discussion between the children ahead of time can prepare everyone just in case this option needs to be taken.
  • In-home care – for some who just do not want to leave their home, the option for in-home professional care is a consideration. Having someone you trust stay with you to cook and clean and make sure you take your medications is preferred by some. The benefit is you stay in your home where you are comfortable. The challenge is finding a caregiver that you can trust and who has your best interests first and foremost. And not everyone will have this option should their health be to serious a concern. But for some, it is the way to go.

It is not an easy discussion to have but ignoring it will not make it go away.

If and when the time comes that a parent or other family member becomes too old or weak to live independently and take care of themselves, what will they do?

A little planning ahead of time can ease concerns and set the stage for action to be taken if needed.

Retirement planning with a purpose – chase what matters

Each day that we live and work and struggle and enjoy is experienced one time only. Whatever you do today cannot be changed tomorrow and time that you waste or spend uselessly cannot be recouped. As for your preparation for retirement, the clock is ticking. You better work every minute you have to save as much money as you can so you will be sure to have enough to guarantee a happy retired life. Or should you?

The reality is that many preparing to retire look only at financial security and how many possessions they can accumulate to make them happy in retirement, regardless of the sacrifices required to achieve this. Ernie Zelinski in his book ”How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free” says “Although most people don’t know what exactly they want from life, they are absolutely sure that money in large amounts will provide it for them. They fool themselves, however, about how much happier they would be with much more money.” What is it worth in you and your family’s blood, sweat and tears to generate an additional $X before you call it quits and exit the working world?

Beyond money

Happiness cannot be bought. If it could, the movie stars and millionaires and dotcom billionaires would be joyfully enjoying their amassed fortunes with not a care in the world. But then we would not read daily about their troubles, misfortunes, failed loves, various addictions, and general poor state of affairs. All that money but so few genuinely happy people.

Chasing money for the sake of money – or more money – is not the way to go. Thomas Merton said “Why do we waste our time doing things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we are made for?” What matters and give us true meaning and purpose in our life cannot be purchased  from a wallet. Can you put a price tag on a smile and a giggle from a grandchild? What is the going rate for the support offered by a friend at a time when you are at your wits end? And what about those wonders of nature – a sunset over the mountains, the full moon on a cold, clear evening, the hypnotic sound of the ocean waves breaking on the shoreline, a dove’s deep throat coo – pretty much priceless.

Your time and effort is better spent chasing what matters – those things that add value to your day and bring a smile when remembered at a later time, enhancing the quality of your retired life. In an earlier blog, I talked about living in the present moment, here and now, where you can experience and savor all that life has to offer. Some additional worthy pursuits beyond the almighty dollar include:

  • Exercise to keep yourself in shape mentally and physically to give you the independence in senior life that is so important to maintaining self worth.
  • Find your passion and chase that – write a book, learn a musical instrument, cycle around Australia, become fluent in a foreign language, you get the idea…
  • Get in touch with that good friend you have neglected due to your busy life and get them back into your life. Good friends are few and far between and a good relationship is always worthy of chasing.
  • Turn off the TV and do something else – ANYTHING else.
  • Sit still in a quiet place, alone, and get to know yourself a bit better. Let your thoughts come and go, breath evenly, dig a little into the person you are and will be for the rest of your life. Do you like that person?
  • Do that something that you have always wanted to do since you were a kid but never had the time or the guts. Guess what – you have the time now! Do you have the guts as well?

When it is all said and done and you look back over your life and ask yourself what you regret not having done, what are the chances that making more money will top the list? You are retired and free to do what you want when you want regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. What a great time indeed to chase what really matters to you personally and maybe – if you are lucky – even catch it.

Don’t forget to pick up a free copy of my Navigating the Retirement Jungle, available upon request by mailing to lovebeingretired@hotmail.com.