These past two weeks have proven the words of John Lennon. Two weeks ago I was blissfully planning for two weeks of school holidays – granted, it’s in the middle of winter, but I was still dreaming of two weeks of unencumbered bliss… and then the phone rang.
I’ve blogged before about how my Mum’s health is not the best, particularly since she fell and broke her arm a couple of months ago. Two days before the holidays began, I got a call from my sister.
“Dad’s been taken to hospital with suspected internal bleeding. Mum can’t be left on her own, so I’m staying with her tonight. I can’t stay with her on Friday night, can you?”
I told her I’d pack a bag for the weekend and I’d be over there after work on Friday. Not the way I was visualising spending the start of my holidays, but how lucky that it happened when I had the time free to look after her for a couple of weeks, if needed!
I leapt into the shower at 6 AM the next morning and found, to my horror, that our hot water system had broken. Nooooooooooooo!!!!!
I’d always thought that when this happened I’d upgrade to a continuous gas system, which is far more expensive because you need to install a bigger gas line to the house, but on the plus side you never run out of hot water and you can program it to the exact temperature you want. We had this at the old house and I loved it. So I decided to go through with this, but it wasn’t exactly a convenient time.
But then again, when is your hot water suddenly cutting out ever going to happen at a convenient time?
I was lucky. I’d be at my parents’ place for at least over the weekend while Dad was in hospital, but the boys would have to bear the brunt of it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with getting plumbers out until the next week. So I trotted off to the last day of term and then went over to look after Mum.
It’s funny how you might intellectually know something, but when you actually live with it you realise the reality. I knew that Mum needed 24/7 care, but it’s not until I was walking her to the toilet and helping her with all of that, getting up in the middle of the night to take her to the commode, washing her in the mornings and walking beside her, supporting her with every single step she took that I realised just how much Dad was doing.
It was constant. She’s totally dependent. And if Dad was seriously ill or popped his clogs, we’d be in a seriously bad place with Mum’s care.
Long story short, Dad DID have internal bleeding from a small tear in his upper bowel, a condition that had obviously been going on for months and months without anyone picking it up. The doctors thought his breathlessness and dizziness was asthma. He just thought that he was eating too much liquorice!! 4 bags of blood to replenish all the blood he’d lost, a cauterisation and he was back home in a couple of days.
The Jones family dodged a bullet. If it hadn’t have been noticed by a different GP to the one he usually went to, we could quite easily have been planning a funeral and racing around trying to find a nursing home for Mum.
It brings home the fact that when people get elderly, their situation can meander along for years and then change in an instant. We have to set things in place now in case we’re not so lucky next time. This is turning out to be a huge learning curve.
So how did the holidays end up going for me?
The hot water system was an inconvenience, not a full-blown drama thanks to my Emergency Account. I got around $700 taken off the cost of the system because I work with someone whose husband works in a plumbing clearance centre. It still ended up costing just under 9K all up, but I had the cash. By Wednesday we were able to shower again. (Before that, I simply made sure I was standing up-wind from the boys… heh heh)
I haven’t had to tap the Emergency Fund for YEARS. But instead of getting complacent and spending it, I let it ride. Sooner or later, I knew I’d need it.
My situation with Mum and Dad is a little more tricky. Power of attorney, being put on their medical and “My Aged Care” accounts, attending medical appointments and dealing with people from their council who are supplying food, cleaning and showering services – this is a whole new ball game. Yes – see how out-of-the-ordinary it is? I, Frogdancer Jones, just used a sporting metaphor…!
I have a younger brother and sister. My sister is very practical and good with things like seeing a need and supplying the solution for it. Things like organising a walker and commode, going to medical appointments and keeping track of what’s going on… that sort of thing. Her schedule is a little more flexible than mine, so she’s going to carry on with these sorts of things. I, on the other hand, have put my hand up to be the ‘Admin person’, helping Dad with all the paperwork that’s piling up with all the new organisational things that need doing.
As you know, next year I’m dropping down from full-time teaching to working 3 days a week to be able to build in time to care for my parents a little more. I’ve pretty much reached FI and this has given me the flexibility to be able to make this choice. A small part of me is wishing that I brought that change forward to this term, but realistically, with teaching year 12s, suddenly changing to part-time just wouldn’t be fair to them.
The woman who came to assess my parents’ eligibility for Respite and Residential Care said to me, “So this is your part-time job on top of your full-time one!” I laughed and nodded, but that remark resonated with me. It’s taken a fair few days for me to think about and accept.
Here in the FI/RE movement we’re told to think about what we’ll do in retirement. We’re cautioned against racing full-tilt towards the goal of early retirement without working out what we’re going to do with ourselves when we get there. Plenty of people pull the pin on their jobs and then wander around aimlessly, unsure of how to fill the suddenly empty hours that head out in front of them.
I had it all planned out. I wasn’t going to make that mistake! Travel is big on my list – at least one overseas holiday a year, going to different places all over the globe (but especially the UK and Europe.) I have the food garden that I’ve set up, my knitting, quilting and writing. My dogs – how I’m looking forward to spending more time with them! In the fullness of time, perhaps my ugly boys will find some kind-hearted/short-sighted partners and reproduce, so I might be wrangling grandchildren.
I didn’t give any serious consideration that I would become a carer to my parents. It’s a stupid thing to admit, but again… intellectually I knew that they’d one day become frail, but emotionally?? That’s just crazy talk. They’ve always been around, looking after themselves and everyone else. Why would anything change?
I guess my over-arching goal in retirement was to engineer a life for myself where I have the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want. That’s the foundation of it and all of the other things I had in mind to do are just the detail. Things can be added and taken away without changing the basic idea of my retirement – the freedom to spend my days as I please.
The thing I’ve realised over these holidays is that I’ve now chosen to spend a good proportion of my time looking after my folks. Time moves on and changes things and that’s what’s happened with us. I’ll still do all of the other things on my retirement list, but I’ve added another activity, that of Carer, to it.
It’s a big thing to wrap my head around. It’s a bit painful to have to adjust my view of my parents from them being the bullet-proof backstops between me and a cold, harsh world to a view where they’re the ones needing protecting. I know it comes to us all if we’re lucky, but I guess you always think that you’re going to have more time.
Still, things could be a lot worse. My advice to anyone reading this is to get your financial life sorted before any of this starts to happen. I’ll no doubt have stressors and strains that I have no idea about yet, but worrying about how I’ll be paying the bills while putting other things aside to care for my parents won’t be one of them.
Yet another reason why aiming for FI is a great idea!
So sorry to hear of your parents’ decline. Like you wrote, it is so hard to face the reality that our parents are now the fragile ones needing our protection. I too have been avoiding this reality – Dad is currently fine with caring for Mum but it can change in an instant.
All the best in caring for your parents in the future. Your part time schedule will help tremendously. And knowing you don’t have to worry about paying the bills is priceless.
Thanks. It’s a brave new world we’re entering into…
Very sorry to hear about all the issues with your parents Frogdancer, hopefully things start getting a bit better on this front. Have you considered getting one or both of them into an aged care facility so that they have a lot more help with their day to day stuff?
It’s great though that the financial side of things is all fine though and a 9 grand bill is easily dealt with instead of being a major issue on top of all the stuff you are going through with your parents. As you say you don’t want to be worrying about how to pay the bills at the same time as looking after family.
“Getting them into an aged-care facility” would involve tasering my father and dragging him there while he’s unconscious. He’ll be difficult to persuade to move.
Would he consider having her go into a facility while he stays at home perhaps? I realise from personal experience with my grandparents and in-law grandparents that they are very reluctant to move out of the family home, but having something like this happen may be what shows them that it’s not really sustainable to keep living at home?
I know that in my grandparents case having a medical emergency was what finally got them to realise/accept that help was needed and they couldn’t do it all on their own any more.
In any case I wish you and your family all the best in dealing with these issues.
Yes, that day is rapidly approaching when they’ll have to make a decision.
It’ll take just one more episode with Dad suddenly being out of the picture for Mum’s situation to be pretty grim unless we have things organised.
God bless you for taking on that role. But I noticed something in the paragraph you wrote about how you and your sister are divvying up tasks. **What is your brother going to do?**
Caregiving is an enormous task, so spreading it around among multiple caregivers is very important for everyone’s well-being. Make sure you don’t let gendered defaults drive the way everyone steps up!
I think the default is more personality-driven rather than gendered. My brother will step up when I ask him, or when an emergency hits (he was the one who took Dad to hospital), but I’m pretty sure he’ll wait for explicit directions rather than taking the initiative. I could be wrong…
this long term care stuff is so very complicated. the best advice i’ve heard in the u.s. is to anticipate the future need and get into an assisted place together in case one spouse needs acute care. my father in law was just in that nursing home and his wife left scrambling for them to try and be in the same facility so they were not separated. he sadly passed away last week and a new pile of paperwork appears and now it means life changes for one. all the best in working it out.
Ugh. It’s a can of worms, isn’t it?
Sorry to hear about your Mum and Dad….as my hubbie used to say “getting old is no fun”.
Sounds like your Mum is going to need to be in a permanent Aged Care facility sooner rather than later and these things can be horrendously expensive. If your Dad stays in the family home (for the time being at least) they’re going to have to find the huge financial bond or do it the other way via pension payments (I’m not sure how this works….we paid the bond when my husband went into a home and I still had to find just over 1k a month for ongoing fees), so it might be a good time to go into all that with a financial planner and see what the options are.
Also 9k sounds like a huge sum to replace a HWS . What was wrong, was it electric? I changed over my electric for instant gas for about 4k, but that was 3-4 years ago.
Wow, so glad things with your dad worked out as they did. Dealing with aging parents is a real challenge – we’re working through some of that with my in-laws right now.
You’ve illustrated so well how financial independence enables you to make this choice. I’m glad you’re there, and hope you take care of yourself through the process, too!
So sorry to hear this, Frogdancer. Realising our parents are declining is quite the shock. We had to put my dad into aged care three and a half years ago due to dementia. He had no assets either (he’d been living with his lady friend). It was quite stressful at the time as both my sister and I are single and work full time, so trying to get stuff done was difficult – I ended up taking some leave to deal with things. We actually ended up getting a broker to find him a place. It cost a couple of $K, but it took a lot of pressure off us. Because he’s a ‘government-funded resident’, he gets charged 85% of his pension for his residency (I think this is standard). Luckily for us, the home is happy for us to have a recurring direct payment to them each pension week to cover his bill.
Good on you FDJ for all that you are doing as an honourable loving human being. Also, for documenting this important life transition and its FI implications – you are unique in FI blogs for addressing these issues. How different this situation would be if your parents, and yourself were not financially stable.
Recently I read an excellent article that suggested that siblings should define their unique caregiving roles. It’s pretty rare to have multiple siblings take on exactly the same amount & type of work, so usually one ends up being the primary caregiver. BUT – having the secondary caregiver(s) specifically accept responsibility for ______ helps relieve the burden on the primary caregiver so it’s not such an overwhelming role. Secondaries could agree to do the online research, pay the bills, handle insurance paperwork, keep friends & relatives updated, call every other evening, visit for 1 weekend a month, pay for a housekeeper, etc. So, it could be worth talking with your brother to see what kinds of help he could commit to doing on an ongoing basis. And even if you still have to tell him every single time you need something, at least you’d have a clear idea what to ask for!