Monday, December 1, 2014

The Conversation No One Wants to Have

There are palm trees swaying gently outside my folk's kitchen window. The temperature is about 80, both inside and outside the house. I think there is some kind of rule about the temperature approaching your age...which means it's still 10 degrees cooler in here than it should be. 

Truth is, the temperature outside has little impact on the folks these days, and as we were celebrating Mom's 92nd birthday today, we were also facing the reality that their days of independent living are drawing to a close. Dad is so thin despite his high-in-chocolate diet. We tried to get him some new clothes, but men's sizes are too big and boys sizes are not quite right. We did manage to get him a couple of belts to at least hold up the pants he does have. Mom's eyesight has declined and it's harder and harder for her to prepare meals, wash up, and manage the house. She gave up driving a while ago, and she is completely reliant on others for getting around...both hired and family/friends. Which is hard on her because she feels she's always asking, unable to reciprocate, and that's hard for a woman as consistently independent as my mom. 

With FIL, the choices had been easier. He was widowed (again.) Steve was an only child, and we all lived in the Twin Cities. He came to live with us because he was functionally blind, but he could go up and down stairs, manage his own laundry (something he insisted on) and take care of himself in most things. After Steve died and the oomph seemed to dissipate from his being, his living with me was never in question (okay...once...but we worked through it) and we added assistance as we needed it.

But my own folks are a different bunch of bananas. I cannot just pick up and move to Flah-rida to do what I did for FIL. And, there's that tiny bumble of joy in Minnesota who needs to know all her great-grandparents ...and there are four of them. So there is only one sensible choice and it looks like we're going to make it: we are going to try to bring the folks to Minnesota for assisted living near me. 

It's not like I'm commandeering this process. My brother is actively involved in caring for the 'rents.  The truth is, while I was taking care of FIL, he was doing everything that needed to be done for our folks because I was just plain unavailable. And now, we are both in agreement that whatever decisions are made must ultimately made by our parents because they are both perfectly sentient and pretty much on top on things. Yes, we do get to voice opinions, but my bro and I know they have the final word. 

And we are so lucky in that regard. 

Lots of my contemporaries are going through the same thing. Our parents are living longer, and when things begin to unravel, they are less willing to ask for help, much less admit they can't do it on their own. The very essence of family support has changed radically in the last 50 years or so. Families are spread across the country. More seniors opt for sunnier climes while the kids stay up north or wherever raising their own families. Hopping planes, the norm for so many years, is suddenly not so easy. When the time comes for hard decisions, long distance is a common concern. 

There is no national plan for seniors other than Social Security and Medicare, and neither of those provide for long term assisted living. Whether you're living on Social Security alone or the IRA's and the 401k's are running low because you've lived longer than anyone expected, where do you go? How do you live? Or are you just expected to expire in a corner someplace and wait for the neighbors to notice the smell?

Lots of ads on Google tell you they have the answers when, in fact, they don't. Some places are legit...and are usually dot-gov kinda places. Others look at the elderly as un-fracked shale just waiting to be harvested. Older adults unfamiliar with the net and the fraud and the shills, lacking someone to guide them through the labyrinth, are easy victims...and can end up destitute. And that can even happen to those who step up to take care for their elder-relatives. Too many people are faced with the painful prospect of having to decide between jobs and their own future security and the desperate need to care for aging relatives.

How is that okay? How is that not an immediate issue in any government debate? How is that not a plank in anyone's platform? How is this not worthy of pitchforks at the gate and protests on the Mall?

As we begin this exploration of the next phase, my bro and I are hoping that reality will sync up with the 'rents' wishes. Having them in close physical proximity to me....and that baby....will solve many problems... and spawn a few new ones, but we're a unified front to take them on. We'll all figure it out together. And we have each other's hands to hold in the process.  

I just can't stop thinking about the ones who aren't as lucky as FIL or my folks. 

The Wifely Person Tip o'the Week

Hug a senior today ...
especially the ones who are responsible for your very existence on this planet.


  1. (((HUGS))) The job of a caregiver never ends. I am so lucky that my sister did most of the heavy lifting (mostly emotional) with dealing with our mother, and that Mom decided to check out before it got too bad. My father is 89, battling lymphoma (next scans are December 12; he feels good and hopefully his latest chemo knocked it back for a while) and has a somewhat younger wife and stepdaughter right nearby.

    This means I have the luxury to think about my own future, and while yes, I anticipate having enough to take care of my needs (including long-term care insurance), the spectre of dying alone haunts me.

  2. I sympathize with your personal situation. My parents passed away in their 70's. With the nursing home and independent living home 3 hours drive, when their time came to leave this earth, it was a very difficult situation. I was in my late 40's and I immediately bought LTC insurance. I may never use it or I might outlive it, but I am happy I made that decision to purchase 3 years of long term care when the cost was affordable ($47/month). The insurance company did increase it once to $91/month and I'm sure it will not be the last time that they raise the premium. The very modest effort by the ACA to provide voluntary purchase of LTC was scrapped almost immediately and the Tea Party/GOP all-out war on any government plan to decrease the financial burden of our aging population on their families will make it very difficult for any politician to raise the issue on the national level anytime soon.

  3. Susan ... my heart goes out to you .. you will do just fine ... and you are the better person for it... you are in my heart and prayers... S

  4. Susan, There are so many people who are/were lucky to have you look out for them. You take 'Honor your father and mother' to heart and set a fine example for others. Good luck with the big move.