When it comes to caring for an aging parent, millions of American families have either walked that road or will be on it soon. Caring for an aging parent can trigger conflict with family members as financial and social pressures rise.
But issues surrounding caring for an aging parent can also trigger another, less acknowledged emotion: shame. That is the prevailing feeling we read about in this poignant first-person account published by NextAvenue. Author and consultant Elaine Soloway writes with piercing honesty, having just turned 85, that she feels ashamed as she realizes her retirement funds are fast disappearing and her adult children will be supporting her.
We share this article as a sober reminder that failing to plan for a longer-than-expected life span not only brings financial pain, but emotional pain as well.
Caring for an Aging Parent: “My Boat is Sinking”
Soloway begins her NextAvenue story with the recollection of her mother, who was left with debts and an empty bank account after the death of her husband. To keep from being a burden to her children, she married an older man who she thought was wealthy.
“Remarriage is not my goal,” Soloway writes, “but I’m in the same boat as Mom. And mine is sinking.”
Soloway is standing on the edge: her retirement funds will likely be completely gone in a little over a year, with her only remaining income coming from Social Security. She writes, “Fortunately, I have two adult children who have pledged to support me. But does that require them to sustain me in a posh high-rise? Do they have to pay the membership of my tony health club? But more important, how do I handle my shame?”
Though her children have never made her feel this way, and have only ever been proud of their ability to help her, Soloway is unable to shrug off the cloud of shame she feels.
Caring for an Aging Parent After a Lifetime of Work
It’s difficult for Soloway to wrap her mind around how this has happened. She has always worked, teaching grammar school before her marriage, then working for a major real-estate company. She was a press aide for Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne and School Superintendent Ruth Love.
“A big city mayor!” she marvels. “A system of 649 schools and 341,382 students.”
She adds, “I am not without credentials. But evidently, I am diminished by a severe planning deficit. And the solution selected by my late dear mother holds no appeal. My shame is linked to a résumé that included my own PR agency that represented nonprofit organizations. I can give you names for references.”
Caring for an Aging Parent: “I Was All Set”
Soloway felt, like so many do, that she was flush with funds. “When my first spouse and I divorced in 1996, we split the sale of our Chicago home. I was all set,” she writes. “I remarried in 1998. My second husband Tommy was a dream of a mate. He entered our union with his modest life savings, which he turned over to our joint bank account. Blissful in this fresh union, I suggested we retire. We were in our late 60s, both with Social Security, and my remaining funds.”
But this didn’t last. In 2008, the financial crisis hit. “My balance sheet was cut in half. Somehow, I was not worried,” she writes. But Tommy died in 2012, she sold their home and moved to her current neighborhood. The rent continued to rise, and her retirement funds started to shrink.
Caring for an Aging Parent: Not Planning for Longevity
Soloway makes what we think is an important admission: she failed to account for longevity.
“What I didn’t count on was living this long,” she admits. “I turned 85 in August. My father died at 45, mother at 67. How could I live to this old age? I’m currently heathy. If an accident or errant cell doesn’t intervene, I could live into my 90s.”
Soloway wonders, in her article, whether her situation is typical or an outlier. She realizes she is fortunate to have children who have promised to help her age in place.
“But then there’s the shame,” she writes. “How could a woman as competent as I, with an employment record so stellar, wind up a burden to her children, like my mom feared? Any changes in the steps I’ve outlined could’ve altered the outcome. I could have chosen a wealthy fella for my second spouse. Why didn’t I? My marriage to Tommy brought riches of love, respect, happiness. That was a worthy bargain.”
Caring for an Aging Parent: Taking Necessary Steps
While she is proud of her children, both of whom have their own families, careers, and responsibilities, she can’t help but wonder, “Why do they have to fund my old age?”
She has considered downsizing, writing, “I could move out of this classy neighborhood and find one more affordable. I could end my membership in my high-class health club. My children would still have to pay my rent, but it would be considerably less. There are many neighborhoods where I think I can be happy. All I need is access to a park so my dog Doris can romp.”
Caring for an Aging Parent: “I Don’t Want to be a Burden”
Soloway knows that some will read this article and be frustrated with her. She hears their voices as she writes: “What is she complaining about? She will never be on the street or worry about her next meal. She should shut up and count her blessings.”
She agrees with these voices. And yet her emotions are very real.
“Like my widowed mother, I don’t want to be a burden to my kids,” she writes. “But I will not replicate her route, which turned out tragic. Her husband was a cheapskate, suffered dementia, and outlived her by many years. While I’m more fortunate than my mother, that doesn’t shrink my shame. How could I have witnessed her last years and now have my hand out to my children?”
She concludes her article with these poignant thoughts. “I’m grateful my kids are stepping up. But how do I handle the disappointment I feel about myself?”
Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!
We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public. As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.
You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.
Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.
Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.
Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)