by Rabbi Richard Address~
She sat across from me in a somewhat composed manner. Her hands were folded and she appeared, on the surface, calm. Yet, one look at her eyes gave away the fact that underneath that controlled exterior was a bundle of nerves. She had come to my office to discuss an issue of personal importance. The presenting issue was how to deal with her aging parent.
She was the designated care-giver. Her grown children were scattered across the country, her husband had died too soon and she had no siblings. The money was beginning to run out to care for her parent and she was concerned that, increasingly, the challenges of taking care of her parent would consume her. We sat and spoke for a while until we got to the real reason for the meeting.
Like so many boomers, this woman, who had worked her entire life, had recently retired. As she attempted to carve out what that would mean for her, she became increasingly aware that the issues surrounding caring for her mom were becoming too much for her to handle. All of a sudden this woman had to try and figure out her own finances as well as manage the care for her parent. Slowly it was dawning on her that, at some time in the not too distant future, she would be forced to have to make decisions regarding caring for her mom and having enough in retirement to care for herself. Both this woman and her mom, separated by two plus decades of life, were healthy and independent.
So, she was looking to try and find some answers; “I feel guilty”, she said, “ that I may not be able to take care of my mother. She has only a finite amount of money and I must be careful now of what I spend on me, as I do not have that much in retirement. I am torn, at times, with guilt, with the fact that at some time I may have to place my mom in a facility. If she falls or gets sick, what can I do? I am alone myself. And, to be truthful, I worked all my life and have now retired. I was looking forward to doing the things I have put off. I am afraid I will loose me!”
As a clergy person who works a lot with families dealing with aging issues, I can tell you that this scenario is not uncommon. Our parents are living longer, and, in many cases, in good health. Their financial resources may not be able to match their longevity.
As boomers retire and as we need to look at our resources over what may be decades of life, the challenges of care-giving in this not so unique situation are becoming more real. The psycho-spiritual concerns inherent in situations like this are all too real for all too many people. This situation helps focus on the need for boomers who are in the process of retiring and who are caring for a loved one, to take the time and sit with professionals in order to develop a comprehensive care-giving plan. This is a strategic plan that includes what financial resources a family may have, how long those resources may last, what would happen if people outlive their money, who would take care of this person or what facility placement options are possible. This plan would also include the updating (or creation) of an advanced medical directive and companion health care power of attorney.
Sadly, I have dealt with many families who have no such strategic plan. It is almost as if a family or individual says to themselves that they will deal with this when the time comes. Then, they retire from full time work and find themselves being pulled in several directions at once, including the direction of caring for an aging parent.
The necessity in our society to create a sound plan for retirement that includes scenarios for care-giving of a parent as well as our own self, is something that is of extreme value. I usually suggest to a congregation when speaking on this issue, that it is in their best interest to have an annual education program on what the values and beliefs of a tradition teach about this issue so that people can understand the importance of planning ahead, as much as possible.
There are wonderful adventures that await us as we exit full time work. If we are blessed to have our parents with us, is it not in all of our best interests to take some time to plan how best to honor them and insure our own security?
The value of that strategic care-plan for us as we retire can enable conversation and help reduce stresses and strains as situations with health and finances change. It just makes sense.