During my “day gig” as a digital marketer, I have a variety of clients that I love. One of our new clients in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, and so I am learning a lot about aging and aging gracefully from a community of people who I really admire.
While this means I am confronting retirement and mortality realities much sooner than I’m comfortable with, the bottom line is ignoring the fact that we will all eventually pass away isn’t a good option for any of us, personally, or for our families.
I’ve been spending some time interviewing seniors- mostly older baby boomers, and like myself, they are kind of surprised they’re getting old. Many of them have also struggled with the needs of their parents as they have aged, and are deciding to take a different path, one where they have control, rather than letting- or making- other people make the decisions for them.
I get this, because my husband and I have three aging parents, all in various states of health, and each one is in a different state of acceptance/denial about this. One thinks with the right planning, they will live to be well over 100, no matter what actuarial tables or doctors might say. One is starting to have mobility problems, and there’s no telling how much of this might be permanent rather than transient. And the third is getting, well, vague is the best way to put it. Not quite on the dementia spectrum, but starting to slowly fade, might be the best way to phrase it.
My husband has two siblings, as do I. We live far away from all of the aging parents, so our siblings are doing a lot of the hands-on maintenance. While it might look like that would be easy, after all, the daily burden isn’t in our laps,- it makes us sad, guilty, and wanting to be able to help more, but not sure how, especially from a distance. I can gather information, make calls, and listen, but all the day to day hard work is really hands on, and we’re just not there.
For the relatives that need less direct help, but might need a longer term plan, having conversations about this is not easy. One one hand, we’re talking about our parents here- people who have been the adults in control in our lives for our entire lives. The thought that they may no longer be that shining, guiding light on how to do things still takes me by surprise from time to time. Plus, if my husband thinks I’m stubborn, guess what? My stubborn skills pale next to the tree from which I came. And I’m still vaguely afraid of my mom when she gets angry, even if I think I could take her in a fair fight if it came down to that.
Welcome to the Sandwich generation. We are trying to make sure our kids get launched into life successfully, while simultaneously worrying about aging parents and making sure they get the care they need and have earned. It’s stressful. There aren’t any clear answers. There could be impending doom around the corner, but the best thing we can hope for is that they have a decent power of attorney and estate plan in place, to be honest.
And I get it. No one wants to get old. No one like facing their mortality. But answering questions, not only about care choices, but about disposition of assets, where to find the important stuff, a list of primary contacts, where you hide the safe deposit key, etc. just seems to me to be a minimum amount of planning that will make your kid’s lives less stressful later on.
All I can say is that I know a little planning goes a long way, and I hope my husband and I are getting the message of how to plan, to help our kids so they don’t have to make choices for us. As someone said to me last week, it is so much better to be five years too early than 5 minutes too late. In that regard, I hope all of us learn the lessons we are being taught now and don’t put our kids in the same situation, because it’s easier to ignore the inevitable than face it.