March 22, 2023

Caregiving Obstacles When You Are Alone

Caregiving and its effect on a family generated some excellent comments and areas of discussion. This subject is one that causes anxiety or some trepidation in all of us. There was a general agreement that planning and cooperation among all parties are essential. Unfortunately, it was also clear that sometimes the person requiring the care does not make this an easy situation.

One regular reader, Rick, (I love alliteration) wondered if I would ask for your thoughts on a particularly vexing circumstance involving caregiving. One of his comments included this plea for feedback: 

 "The challenges and plans for those who are single, widowed, divorced, and/or childless and those with minimal, absent, or unwilling families to turn to."

Caregiving when the patient is agreeable and there is an available support system of family or friends is tough enough. 

Caregiving when the person needing help is alone multiplies the complications enormously. Without a willing partner, nearby family or friends available to do what must be done, living in an isolated situation places the individual in need of help in quite a bind. Medical complications, depression, and a decrease in function and mobility place that person at real risk.

I did find some websites on the Internet that I will share now. But, I bet Rick, and others in similar situations now or in the future, are looking forward to your stories, ideas, and support.

Resources for those who find themselves on their own:

* An excellent article on being an "Elder Orphan" is available here. Scroll down just a bit to get to the section that might help.

 * Long Distance Caregiving has suggestions and ideas for making this a viable option, at least for a time. 

* Maybe better communication about the situations with siblings will improve the availability of care.

Childless Elders navigating their future requires real preparation. This article deals with a particular informational event, but there is plenty of general information to make it worth reading.

OK, now your turn. What ideas, approaches, or warm hugs can you offer to those of us facing a future without obvious support.

March 18, 2023

The Sticky Question of Leaving An Inheritance


The last time I wrote about leaving an inheritance was six or seven years ago. I remember there were strong feelings expressed on all sides of the issue. The comments expressed powerful opinions like these:

*Yes, I feel I should leave my family enough to make their lives a bit easier. I have plenty, and I know others would benefit by what I can leave them. My parents left me an inheritance that was tremendously helpful. It's my turn."

*I  scrimped and saved for retirement, supporting others, and forgoing some of what I have always dreamed of. So, No, I will not shortchange this time of life so I can get gratitude after I am gone."

*My adult children have the same opportunities I did. I don't want them to depend on what I can leave them."

*I plan on leaving my grandkids as much as I can. The world is a tough place, and I want to make it easier for them."

For most of us, retirement requires some serious financial planning and often a fair amount of sacrifice and delayed gratification. One part of that financial planning that isn't talked about very often is the issue of leaving an inheritance to children, grandchildren, relatives, or an organization we feel strongly about. 

You have probably seen the bumper sticker, "I'm spending my kid's inheritance," on the back of a large RV. We may also know people who live a very restricted and limited retirement so money can be left for others after their passing.

I kept an email received from a reader not too long ago that asked what degree of sacrifice we are comfortable making in this regard. If your parents left you part of their estate, do you feel you should do the same?  Or, was their decision theirs to make and not necessarily yours to follow?

One thing about the place of inheritance in retirement planning is that there is no correct answer. I believe this is a very personal choice. Family dynamics, your own feeling of financial security, what relatives did, and your lifestyle choices all affect how you respond.
Basic Internet research refers to some studies that show somewhere around one-half of all retirees plan on leaving an inheritance. Of course, "leaving an inheritance" doesn't say if that means a large nest egg or enough to handle end-of-life expenses with some money left over.

But, that research makes it clear that maybe 50% of us do not actively plan on leaving an inheritance. If it happens, OK. If not, fine. So many retirees are worried about providing for themselves without being a burden on their adult children or relatives that the thought of leaving extra money is a non-starter.

I could find no historical data that indicates whether these percentages are affected by recessions or boom times. This decision seems to be driven more by emotion than economics.

So, Here are some key questions for you to mull over:

*Is it a "responsibility" of the parents to help their kids or relatives with a good-sized portfolio?

*Or, rather than a responsibility, is an inheritance a way we can show love?

*Or, have we decided to start distributing our projected inheritance now, over time, rather than waiting until we are gone?

*Or, do we live our retired life wisely yet fully, not scrimping to the point of discomfort or forgoing experiences,  but not trying to "die broke" by spending everything we have this side of the grass?

*Or, do we believe that we spent a tremendous amount raising our kids and now it is finally our turn to enjoy our retirement money? If there is something left over, great.

I readily admit this subject is a toughie. It was one raised when I asked for topics to write about a few weeks ago. You may feel strongly one way or the other. Or, maybe you are struggling to make a decision and are looking for feedback from others. 

I ask for your responses with one important restriction: please leave no comment that implies one way or another is selfish. As I have said, your thoughts about inheritance are very personal. Every decision and expression of that decision deserves our respect. We may disagree with the choice someone makes, but it is not up to us to tell them they are wrong.

So, what are your thoughts? What part does inheritance play in your financial planning? How can you help us all work through what is the best choice for us?

March 14, 2023

Small Sprinkles Gleam Brightly

The sky was beginning to cloud over, kids were playing, ducks were looking for bread crumbs, bikers rolled by while teens on skateboards defied gravity. Sitting in a folding chair and watching the scene, my eyes were drawn to the surface of the lake. 

The sun was at just the right angle to cover the water with sparkles. It was beautiful, I was enjoying a satisfying day. Within a few minutes, the sun's angle had changed, and the sparkles were gone. Or, were they? From someone else's viewpoint they probably were just as fabulous. They were simply gone from my view.

Isn't day-to-day life kind of like that? There are brief moments that sparkle and shimmer. We look upon them with awe. We remember them. We talk about them. Of course, real life takes place in between the sparkles. It is how we fill the space between them that matters.

Relationships are certainly made up of sparkles and spaces. There are the everyday moments in relationships that occupy most of your life. Those are the large spaces filled with chores and responsibilities, making tough decisions, cooking, cleaning, compromising, and shopping. These don't really sparkle. They are the mundane activities that fill your day whether you are alone or in any form of relationship. They are what we call living.

Then there are those times when you, your spouse or significant other,  your best friend, or simply you and your environment are exactly on the same page. Everything is going according to plan. You are communicating well and any disagreements are minor. If you have children or grandkids, there are times when things just sparkle: a vacation by the lake, a great day at the zoo, a family night watching a favorite movie. You fill several hours with your favorite pastime, barely noticing the passage of time.

As a retired person, you have control over most of your day. At least you think you do. But, when you must wait for a repair person, or your car is in the shop you are still at the mercy of others. When you spend a few hours waiting for an overworked doctor you are reminded you are not in control quite as much as you thought. Menus must be planned, food must be bought, bills must be paid, gardens must be tended, the bike should be ridden. The days and weeks pass by so quickly you wonder where the time went.

Then, there are those moments when you grab a little time and sit down to read that new novel you've been aching to open. Your hobby bench invites you to build that project or fix the broken lamp you want back in the living room. You find some time to write, and out flows everything you have bottled up while the spaces of life are filled with everyday stuff. 

You remember you have time with the school kids tomorrow night to tutor them in math or English. As they grasp the concepts you are explaining, their smiling faces come alive and shine. Maybe you sit in the sun at the coffee shop sipping you latte, reading a favorite blog, and people-watching the afternoon away. These precious times make you feel alive and vibrant. They are the sparkle , making a day special and memorable.

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans."  That is the human condition. We want a life that we control. We would like a day with nothing but sparkles. No chores, no irritations, to disappointments, no hassles.  A day that goes according to our plans.

But that isn't how things work. We can be much happier and much more satisfied when we learn to accept the large spaces into which we put our everyday life while being on the lookout for those sparkles of pure joy and beauty that brighten and enlighten. 

After all, if every meal was nothing but desserts, then desserts would not be so special. If all we saw were sparkles, they would begin to look rather ordinary and much less delightful.

March 10, 2023

The "American Dream:" Has It Changed?

In a post written almost nine years ago, I asked for your feedback on the validity of the so-called American Dream. That was a few years into the Tea Party movement and the economic recovery after the disastrous recession and financial meltdown of 2008-09. 

Obama was President, Trump was yet to storm into our lives, and a worldwide Covid-type infection was only the stuff of Outbreak, a 1995 Dustin Hoffman movie.

At that point, a CNN poll had shown more than half of the adults sampled believed hard work and perseverance could lead to personal economic stability and personal happiness. I remember the comments readers attached to that post were not as positive; the "dream" was not seen as a viable possibility for many of our fellow citizens.

The concentration of wealth among a smaller and smaller group of the top tier Americans and the decline or stagnation of middle and lower-class wages, financial stability, and upward mobility seemed to say, "this dream is really not for you." 

Fast forward to today, and I am surprised. Several studies over the last few years show more robust than expected support for the ability to achieve that status. 43% of those polled believe the traditional Dream is still possible. Yes, that number has slipped since the Covid shutdown experience, but more than four out of ten feeling positive startle me. 

Most surprising are the numbers that indicate a fair number of younger adults are more confident than their elders in their path to whatever they define as success.  From what I have been reading, these folks are the ones who have suffered the most in the aftermath of Covid. 

Owning a house anytime soon is a significant hurdle. The tech industry is shedding jobs like a herd of buffalo sluffing off their winter coats. The rental and living cost increases are outpacing any growth these young people may enjoy.

Yet, their hope for the future, their abilities, and the power of perseverance remain potent forces. Maybe what the "dream" means has changed. Maybe their sights are set on different ways of confirming success than their elders.

The effects of climate change and all that might mean, the realization that buying stuff doesn't equal happiness or a personal path that defines success differently than older generations, is in play. Is it likely "The American Dream" of these people is a reboot of an old idea, more in tune with our place and time?

As a retired person, sometimes I feel I no longer have much "skin in the game." I am not in the same place, mentally and economically, as those striving for a better future. I don't want to move up the ladder, increase my financial clout, buy and spend more, or work harder to achieve that elusive dream.

What I just said doesn't mean I don't care, just the opposite. Not being directly involved in the day-to-day struggles gives me more time to think about where we are heading. It allows me to see the growing inequity creating a yawning gap between those at the top of the ladder and those on the rungs below them (and those who can't even get on the ladder).

If the American Dream I was raised believing was possible for all is now dead or no longer attainable by the majority, what does that mean for all of us? How will that perception change our daily life and our future? If that specific hope is no longer alive, what is taking its place?

Retirement is when many of us become more involved with our community, volunteerism, and family or see a wrong and try to do something about it. What we may be facing is the rules of the game are changing. The fundamental glue that holds us together may be a new formula we haven't fully grasped.

What brought this subject back to mind was a book I just finished: "The Day The World Stopped Shopping," by J.B. MacKinnon. The author argues that a culture built on constantly increasing consumption has no future. While this post is not the place to debate his conclusions, his thoughts made me wonder whether younger generations are adapting some of their "dreams" based on his points.

So, my ultimate question is whether the dream of an upward path for many and an economy that expands in a way that benefits us all remains valid. 

Maybe even more important is if that path to success and happiness morphs into something different, something better suited to the world's condition today.

And, if so, should the American Dream be a phrase relegated to the history books while we attempt to find a new way to define a path forward that is built on a different foundation, a different measure of success?

March 6, 2023

Caregiving and Its Effect On a Family

When I asked for ideas for subjects you would like me to tackle, you offered enough to keep me busy for the rest of the year! I genuinely appreciate the input and will be attempting to address all of them.

Several comments asked for posts involving various aspects of managing family and couple relationships:

*How much support to provide for siblings or grown children?

*How do I deal with my aging parents who don't live nearby?

*What are my responsibilities regarding inheritances?

*How do I deal with a just-retired partner who insists on changing how things are handled at home?

How do I manage full-time care for a loved one while caring for my family? How do I find the proper balance?

What follows is a story I received almost twelve years ago from a woman with hands-on experience with the difficult task of managing full-time caregiving while also caring for her own family and preparing for retirement. Any one of those responsibilities would tax us; she took on all three at once. Her name is Sarah Jennings,' and this was her story. I will add some thoughts after she tells us what her life is like.

My husband and I have been caring for my parents in some capacity for almost ten years. When I look back on the past decade, my instincts are to mark the time in relation to those around me. For instance, at that time, our two sons have gone from adolescents to young adults, my father had died and my mother moved in with us.

Rarely do I think about the passage of time from my own perspective; I have been so focused on the maturation that my sons were undergoing, and that of my parents, that I sometimes lose sight of an inevitable and timeless truth.

I am aging, too.

This reality has crept in from time to time over the years, but it is quickly dismissed as there are too many other things to focus on. Does mother need to have her prescriptions picked up? How are the boys doing in college? What's for dinner tonight?

But recently, it has become increasingly difficult to ignore the unavoidable. As I approach 60, and my husband becomes eligible for social security benefits, I realize that I probably haven't been giving our own future enough consideration over the years.

My situation is all too common for caregivers who tend to their elderly parents, particularly those that are also in the midst of rearing their own children into adulthood. Over the years, I have devoured literature related to aging, scoured the Internet for tips and advice on managing a household that includes an older parent, and shared my knowledge and expertise on coping with the stress and difficulties of caregiving.

Yet, I've seldom devoted much thought and energy toward planning for my own future.

Upon reflection, I do feel very fortunate that this issue comes up for me in a positive light – my husband has been offered an early retirement package – as opposed to a devastating medical diagnosis or something of that nature.

But I do admit to feeling somewhat blindsided by the thoughts of having to deal with change in my husband's and my life. For so long, my concerns have been on helping my close loved ones adapt to the changes in their lives, that it makes me feel that I've become ill-prepared to deal with them in my own life.

In truth, we're in a better position than many others dealing with similar issues. For instance,· I'm fortunate to have a husband that is a bit more prudent with forethought than I am, so our retirement investments appear to be relatively secure.
We're also fortunate to not have to take a financial hit with the caregiving, as my parents were financially secure enough that they have been able to contribute to the costs of the care we provide.

I have a loving relationship with my mother and have (for the most part) been able to control the feelings of resentment that overcome many caregivers who choose to put their own lives on hold to care for aging loved ones. It took some time to learn how to effectively communicate with my mother, but once I did, it made a world of difference. And as I said before, my husband and I (as well as our two boys), have been fortunate to be healthy and happy as we progress toward the latter stages of our lives.

But just because our situation is more stable than some, it doesn't mean it isn't fraught with challenges and difficulties. I have to force myself to think of our future and ensure that my caregiving remains committed and loving, without turning into full-blown martyrdom. The truth is that my husband and I have always had ideas about what we would want to do with our lives once we were ready to retire. Initially, those plans did not include my 84-year-old mother.

I'm learning that I have to plan for all eventualities, even if those plans have to be scrapped by circumstances nobody could have reasonably foreseen. For instance, I've recently had a discussion with my mother about the possibility that at some point in the future (let's say five years from now), if she is still – God willing – with us, we may have to look into a senior living community. Maybe that will happen, or perhaps it won't, but we want to be as flexible in our retirement as possible.

I still have a lot of work to do mentally to get my mind around the idea that I am also getting older and will soon be dealing with the same issues my parents went through just 20 or so years ago. In the meantime, I'll continue to practice effective communication with my mother, husband, and children, so we can all be prepared to tackle whatever the future throws at us together.

This story has several elements that touch on some of the concerns that many of us face: aging, caregiving, dealing with our own concerns, and developing skills that benefit all. I was most impacted by her awareness that caring for her mother has, and will continue to have, a direct bearing on her family's present and future.  The sense of obligation toward her mom's needs is entirely understandable. 

Her awareness of how that one decision affects everything else is my key takeaway from her story.

For more, here is a link to an excellent resource on how to manage caregiving without putting you in financial difficulty.

March 2, 2023

A Natural Follow-Up


Last week's post about our upcoming trip to France to trace my wife's extensive roots and history prompted me to find this article written almost seven years ago. Suddenly, it seems to have fresh relevancy.

I am not terribly interested in my family's history. I come from a small family. For reasons never explained, my dad had zero interest in involving his two brothers, their families, and their families offspring in our lives. 

I only knew my maternal grandparents and my mom's brother. I know our roots are in England and Scotland, but I have never been terribly excited about tracing my family tree back through many generations. I wasn't moved even when we lived in Salt Lake City, home of one of the most extensive genealogical research libraries in the country.

Obviously, my wife is more involved than I. Her family is large, with lots of branches on her family tree. Besides a permanent link to, she has journals and photo albums crammed with family memorabilia.  A few notebooks are overflowing with the kinds of details that serious seekers of family history love. 

At one point, I remember a distant relative did visit us to share letters, birth certificates, and other official-looking pieces of paper with Betty. That visit prompted her to start a more serious look into her past. Hence, our fall trip to castles and World War II sites.

In doing a little research for this post, I ran across Genealogy In Time Magazine. One of its articles presented answers as to why someone would find all of this interesting or important. In summary, some reasons include validating family stories, tracing medical conditions or land ownership, locating birth parents, and linking to famous people or historical events.   

If you want to read the full article, click this link.  Because the piece is several years old, the site might trigger a warning that it is not secure because it hasn't upgraded to the more secure https://  URL. I have revisited it several times and believe it to be fine, but if you are concerned, skip the link.

Frankly, I had not considered some of the reasons noted for engaging in family research. Since I like exploring on the Internet and am naturally somewhat curious about things I don't understand, I see this whole area in a slightly different light. I have been told there is a connection in my family to Daniel Boone, but I have never validated it. 

I remember reading that Barack Obama is related to Dick Cheney. Now, there is an odd couple. That same article said Mr. Obama is also linked with George Washington and Rush Limbaugh. See, it gets stranger by the minute!  The PBS show, Finding Your Roots does fascinate me. And no, not everyone is 6 degrees or less away from Kevin Bacon.

All this could trigger people to get hooked on family history research. Besides Daniel Boone, I could share some blood with Abe Lincoln or Al Capone. Maybe I don't want to know that.

What about you? Are you interested in all your family's past twists and turns? Do you have old documents that trace your ancestors to some historical event? Or, like me, do you prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. You aren't particularly motivated to learn about all that?

I am interested in what you have to say. The challenge of using the Internet to trace my side of the family back a few hundred years might be fun, particularly after Betty's experiences. What you have to say may inspire me.

Frankly, I will be paying very close attention to your ancestral thoughts.