My dad: facing the end
I remember receiving the phone call from my dad in 2004. Test results had come in, and the cancer that we all believed to have been surgically removed once and for all had actually spread. It was a wretched call.
In the two and a half years that followed, Dad was stellar. He wasn’t upset about his life drawing to a close. He kept on doing what he loved for as long as he could: visits with family, cycling, tennis, bridge, reading, action for social justice and the environment . . . He kept on living.
And he was adamant about setting my mom up in a condo. The family home went up for sale within a couple of weeks of those test results. “I don’t want to be in my urn worrying about you in that big house!” he’d said to Mom when she tried to delay the move.
Two months before the end, when he decided that he would accept no more treatments, he took us all out to dinner. “The universe owes me nothing,” he said to his wife and five children. “This is not a tragedy. I’m the luckiest man who ever lived.”
At the restaurant: last family photo
My mom: facing decline alone
In the ten years since Dad died in 2007, Mom has continued to make her home in the condo. She was 82 years old then. She’s 92 years old now. Mom has lived very well on her own. She has kept up with church, bridge, volunteer work (yes – at 92!), and her love of reading. She visits with her children and grandchildren/great-grandchild often, and she has done some travel (next up – Italy).
Although she’s still healthy, she has become very frail. It’s always been understood that at some point, Mom would move into a seniors’ residence. (Note: My parents made it clear when we were all younger that they would move into a seniors home when the time came. They would not move in with one of their children.) The question was – when?
The thing about old age is that there isn’t necessarily a watershed moment when the time for living independently clearly comes to an end. Abilities and faculties give way gradually. And there’s the question of whether or not the person will realize it when the time really does come. We’ve had our moments of worrying and wondering.
Decision to move to a seniors home (and the financial freedom to make that choice)
This week, Mom made her decision. A flurry of emails passed among the five siblings. We’d meet with her; discuss options; consider timing . . . But there was nothing to discuss. “I’ve decided to stop driving, sell the condo, and move into a home,” Mom said. And she didn’t waver – even as we suggested alternatives. “Mom will know when it’s time,” my sister had said earlier. And she does.
The home Mom is planning to move to is nice but not fancy. She’ll be taking the 2nd smallest of several room options. And it will cost $4,000 per month.
I knew that living in a seniors home was expensive, but I was surprised at that number. Larger rooms at the home go for $5,000, $6,000, and $7,000 per month. The elderly who move into this home had to have set themselves up to do so years ago .
Prepare to age with dignity
Most people who are trying to practice good, proactive money-management have a vision of their financially independent selves – sleeping in, gardening, traveling, pursuing interests, developing talents . . . I don’t think that most of us consider what else we’re doing: We’re setting ourselves up to age through the closing chapter of our lives in comfort and with dignity.
I have seen the children of aging parents completely stress out over it. “Where will they live?” “How will they/we be able to afford it?” “When will they move?”
For us, it’s all turning out to be remarkably seamless. Where? Wherever she chooses. How? With the savings and investments they put aside for decades. “When?” When Mom decides. I realize right now how lucky we are that my parents set themselves up for this transition long ago.
Not everyone has the means to do so, and they were definitely fortunate. But there was more than luck involved. My parents’ household income was smack dab in the middle of middle-class – not poor, but not rich either. Things “worked out” well because they did not live a maxed-out lifestyle. Children of the Great Depression, they lived below their means, and frugal measures were the norm.
It’s an emotional time for all of us, but it’s not the gut-wrenching turbulence that I’ve seen it become for other children of elderly parents. Money can’t buy happiness. But good money-management serves as an oil that minimizes friction and allows the gears of life to change without upheaval. At this time, we five children are the beneficiaries of our parents’ financial wisdom – as is our mom.
My hope is that one day, when the time comes, my own children will be able to say the same.
Have you ever witnessed financial stress associated with aging? Can you even imagine yourself as an elderly person? Are you preparing to age with dignity? Your comments are welcome.
Image courtesy of Pixabay