4 Replies Latest reply on Jul 30, 2010 7:58 PM by JackHansen

    Care Giving

      Care Giving

           In the past we have considered two unique opportunities afforded us as we move from full-time work to partial or full retirement. The first was retiring “to something” as well as “from something.” The second was spiritual or intellectual growth. This week we explore a third area of opportunity described by several of the retirees we interviewed for our book “Shaping a Life of Significance for Retirement” (Upper Room Books, 2010.) This third area of opportunity is giving care to a loved one during a time of illness or need. We call this as opportunity, rather than a challenge, because that is how it was consistently described to us.

      About one third of the retired men and women we interviewed have had significant care giving responsibilities for a loved one since they retired. In some cases these responsibilities were expected, particularly care for an aging parent. But many could not have been anticipated, including care for an adult child disabled by an accident or illness, for a spouse who becomes ill, and for a grandchild (not due to illness of the grandchild but because the parents have become unable to carry out this responsibility.) Both men and women whom we interviewed described such responsibilities.

      Giving care to an ill or injured parent, sibling, spouse, or adult child was not part of a retirement plan or vision; and neither was becoming a parent again for a grandchild. And in no case was carrying out these responsibilities easy. Yet, the experience of caring for a loved one was consistently described as a rich and rewarding experience, as a unique opportunity. Some pointed to the depth of relationship that resulted. Some described the unique sense of purpose that they felt in carrying out this responsibility. Still others derived a sense of fulfillment from being to express their love for the person they were caring for in such tangible ways.

      Given how common it is for us to have care giving responsibilities for a loved one at some point during retirement, it may be helpful to think through the following questions:

      1. At this point in life have you already had significant care giving responsibility for a loved one? What has it been like for you? Was there anything that someone else did for you that you found particularly helpful in carrying out this responsibility?

      2. As you look forward from today, are there family circumstances that suggest the need for you to become a caregiver in the future? If so, what steps might it be wise to take in preparation for this responsibility?

      3. As you think about the reality of becoming a care giver for a loved one, what do you envision as some steps you would need to take to make sure that you stay emotionally and physically healthy so as to be all you can be in this role?

        • Re: Care Giving
          I was a full-time caregiver for my mother during her final illness when I was in my 50's, took family leave for about six months to do so. I was also a significant caregiver to a friend and neighbor over a period of almost ten years until his death. In my neighbor's case, I spent a lot of time in emergency rooms, hospitals, dialysis centers, and, finally, a nursing home. To be honest, I don't know if I will have the energy for it if I am called upon to do it again during retirement (I am 66 and still working full-time but would like to start cutting back). It is exhausting work and leaves quite an emotional scar. It's not just the physical energy required; it's the mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual energy. I have never regretted the time I put in but if I'm called upon to do it again, I would be better about planning for respite, and also I would hope to cut myself a little more slack and not feel so guilty when my spirits and energy sagged. I have a much older sister and I fear that I just won't be able to pitch in and help her as I will feel I ought - I have given so much already. I would advise others to plan for respite, to share the duties when possible, hire outside help where you can (laundry, housecleaning, errands) and learn to forgive yourself for your imperfections! I truly feel it is an honor to help others through difficult times; my faith tells me that it is what we are called to do. But I would never tell anyone that it's easy. (I would also say that the best coping mechanism is to live in the moment - don't obsess about what the future holds - enjoy the moments you have with your parent, friend, or child. Let go of the past and let the future be whatever it will be - you can't control it, anyway.)
            • Re: Care Giving
              Thank you for your excellent insights. I think in a real sense you highlight a key point made by a number of people I interviewed who have had significant care giving responsibility. It is absolutely critical to both you as the care giver and for the person cared for that you be realistic about what you are capable of doing and what will enable you to do it. This point was made to me both by individuals who had cared for a parent, spouse, or other adult and those who found themselves "parents again" to their grandchildren. In this latter case one man, for example described the reality that he and his wife had the health and energy to do this for now, but the time would clearly come when they would not be able to continue. This self-assessment led them to work proactively with other parts of their extended family to locate a home which these children could transition to in the future.
                • Re: Care Giving

                  As a Boomer, my heart goes out to those peers who are struggling with the older generation that tends to view nursing homes as "where you go to die". They fear the thought of entering such a facility, but as a result are often placing a heavy burden on those Boomers who are strapped for time, energy, and money in their own day-to-day lives.

                  We chose not to have children, and as a result elder care scenarios were a very large part of our comprehensive financial and estate planning. We wanted to be sure that if something happened to one of us, the other spouse would not suffer unduly. We are not wealthy, but have a solid financial base. Nonetheless, if one of us needed a lot of care, those assets would disappear quickly, so LTC insurance was something we considered a necessity.

                  Fortunately we have only one elderly parent to take care of, my MIL. Having convinced her to sell her long-time home, she now has the liquid assets necessary for any scenario of good facility care or assisted living. Her retiree medical benefits cover licensed facility only, no home care, but with her gradual decline due to dementia I don't see home care as much of a need. She's far more likely to require assisted living or full facility care at some point.

                  We were able to take early retirement so having her live with us is not a burden. She is still physically healthy and able to function on a daily basis. We are very lucky in this, and hope that our planning will be adequate for whatever may happen to any of the three of us in the future.

                  Planning is truly the key here - not just for yourselves, but for your parents and children. It's one of the reasons I believe in using a good CFP if your asset situation warrants it. People need to plan for multiple scenarios, and that's one of the most useful advantages in having a professional to assist you.

                    • Re: Care Giving
                      I have thought a lot about your situation and suggestions. I fully agree that it is very wise to plan as well as possible, and as for you, a good Certified Financial Planner has been most helpful to us as well. The situation with my parents was rather different than the one you describe. They lived half way across the country from any of their children and wanted to stay in their community. They were able to do this with a very good arrangement with an assisted living facility. And my dad, who was the primary caregiver and lived a few years after my mom's death, was very mentally capable to the very end of his life.
                      What struck me about the people I interviewed was the number of caregiving circumstances that could not be realistically anticipated. One example was a retired woman whose adult daughter was in a serious auto accident. Another was a retired business executive whose wife had become very ill after their retirement. These examples reminded me that we plan the best we can, but there may well be completely unforeseen circumstance that we end up dealing with. And each of these people inspired me with their positive attitude toward their caregiving responsibilities. I sense from what you say that you have this wonderful attitude as well.