The Last Years – Without Financial Worry

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

22 comments on “The Last Years – Without Financial Worry

  1. I saw this play out with both my grandparents, and I hope I’m in a similar financial position as them when I retire so I can also pass on with dignity. My grandfather had dementia and Parkinsons, and spent the last six months of his life in a nursing home once my grandmother couldn’t care for him. Seven years later, my grandmother got diagnosed with mesothelioma (cancer) and underwent a rapid decline, passing away at home only four months after she was diagnosed. In both cases, they had plenty of money set aside to pay for long-term nursing home care and in-home care. Since money wasn’t a worry, our family could instead focus on getting them the best care, and on spending time with them before they passed away.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Liz. It’s not an easy thing for any family to lose elderly loved ones, but as you say, when money isn’t an issue, it can be all about care and time. Your grandparents were fortunate to have a family that wanted to give them both.

  2. It’s difficult to watch those who were once the strongest people in the world to you become fragile and vulnerable. I think it’s great that both of your parents had the foresight to make sure that when the inevitable passage of time caught up with them, that it was not in your hands to try to figure out what they wanted. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck to your mom and your family.

    1. Thank you, Money Beagle. They really did have foresight. There was no denial about what the passage of time would eventually bring.

  3. What a great story 🙂 My grandparents were similar in their early acceptance of knowing they’d transition to smaller housing, a retirement village, then CCRC (continued care/life care community). What a gift to give you and your siblings, too, taking those stressful decisions off your shoulders.

    1. It’s a great story because it’s so quiet and simple. I’ve heard several stories on this topic that are much longer and more dramatic. I feel very grateful to my parents for their very intentional planning. You’re right in saying “What a gift” : )

  4. Dad was up and around and bowling and whatnot, went to sleep when he was 72 and passed away without warning. Mom was up and around and shopping and whatnot, and within a few days of us finding out she’d been passing out and falling, she was gone. She always said she would never leave her house, that she wanted to die in it. Words are powerful things. It looks like your mom is getting to live out her days on her own terms too. I am so happy for her and your family Ruth. Your points about planning, particularly financially, are powerful lessons indeed.

    1. I think that the way your parents passed – especially your dad – is what most people would choose. No lingering illness – a full life right up to the point of a quick death. You make a good point in saying my mom is getting to live out her days on her own terms. There is great comfort in that fact (as you have probably found yourself). Thank you, Kay:)

  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Ruth! It’s great your parents made the life transitions easier by making plans, financially and otherwise. I hope your mom is comfortable and happy in her new home! 🙂

    My 88 y.o. grandmother is’t independent at all, but still lives in her own home. It’s become a stressful situation for my parents, as they do everything for her. It’s really a difficult situation. I’ve learned so much from this too. I don’t want my aging to be a burden or stressful time for my kids and will take all steps, financially and otherwise, to make sure it’s not.

    1. Ah! I can just imagine the situation with your parents and your grandmother. I’m sure there is guilt, frustration, and poor communication all blended into a mess. (Correct me if I’m wrong though!) You might have to have a few proactive discussions with your parents – letting them know not to expect you to follow in their footsteps. Of course you will be there to support them as they age. It’s just good to specify the terms of that support in advance. Thanks for sharing that, Amanda. So hard.

  6. 92, wow! Sounds like you mom has had a wonderful second half. So great to know that as a couple, your mom and dad had a plan. Such a gift. There was a bit of stress and anxiety after my dad passed for my mom. I helped her sort out their finances. My dad had done a wonderful job to make sure she would be provided for with several life long pensions. My mom in her late 70’s today lives in a retirement community, and is involved in various activities. But no matter when I ask her what she is up to her reply is always “nothing” and then she proceeds to tell me about her busy week. We have tried to have the discussion about her future if and when, but it’s a topic she’s been putting off. So important to have the entire plan in place.

    1. “it’s a topic she’s been putting off” – That’s tough, Brian. No matter how proactive you are prepared to be in your support of her, things will take their own course until she joins you in those discussions. I suspect, like many people, she is reluctant to face the prospect of aging and decline. I wish you well in making that plan. It will help your mother so much.

  7. “I’m the luckiest man who ever lived.”

    What a beautiful thing to say from a beautiful person.

    I think your parents handled aging with a lot of grace. I think I would prefer in-home assisted living myself, but again, it depends on your health and level of independence. Elder care is extremely expensive and I’m not sure many people understand that. This is why it’s so important to me to achieve FIRE so we have more options once our health declines.

    1. Thank you, Mrs. PP : ) It really was a blessing for us to know that Dad didn’t suffer any dread of passing on. In-home assisted living sounds appealing to a certain point, but I think my mom would become isolated and possibly lonely if she continued to live alone (even with assistance). The home she is going to has a fun atmosphere, and she’ll like that : ) As you say, the best we can do is set ourselves up to have options.

    1. It’s a great idea to talk about it in advance, Mackenzie. Hopefully, your parents will be open to that discussion.

  8. Thank you for sharing this important story! Having worked in a Retirement Community, I have seen residents ( and their families) struggle with huge financial decisions. It is expensive to live independently in a senior support community, and the costs sky rocket when services are needed to help them with daily tasks, especially hygiene and toilet services.

    I am not yet 50, but aging in place is something that I am investigating for me and Mr. Money Tree. Being exposed to the choices that will have to be made has encouraged me to “think old” in some areas of our financial decisions.

    Great post! Glad to hear that it was a smooth transition. That speaks well of your family and mostly, your parents foresight.

    1. I bet you’ve seen all sorts of scenarios, having worked in a retirement community. It must give you a very strong idea of what you don’t want as well as what you do want. I’d like to know more about what you mean by “thinking old”. Perhaps that’s future post material for you?

  9. I am so, so thankful for you guys that you don’t have to deal with financial worries on top of the stress of having your mom move. Your parents’ lesson is one to all of us: Don’t let money – or more specifically the lack of it – become a burden. The things so many waste money on are just not worth the peace of financial security. God bless you, my friend.

    1. Thank you, Laurie. Sometimes, you get a glimpse at how stark a difference finances can make. This is one of those times, and I’m very grateful.

  10. What a beautiful example of how both your parents have dealt with aging and the transitions that come with it. What a blessing for them and their children. Thank you for sharing this example of a life well-lived and good planning for the later years.

    At my age it is hard to imagine what this will be like, but I’ve seen our grandparents go through some of this process. Neil’s grandfather just moved into assisted living at the age of 99 after the passing of his wife. He didn’t want to live with his children, either, though they offered–he just told them all to come visit him. I’m not sure what our future will look like in this regard but I know I want to be prepared! For now that just means investing wisely.

    1. 99! There are some seriously good genes happening there. I’m glad you two are investing wisely for your future. It could be a very long-lasting one : )
      Thank you for your kind words about my parents, Kalie.

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