A good friend of mine, Jan, and her husband Wil, had a perfect retirement planned. They worked hard, raised their kids, put them through college and had kept up on their retirement financial planning. Their marriage was strong. They weren't wealthy, but they had plans to retire in their late 50s, get an RV and travel "while they could still enjoy it."
Just as Jan and Wil were coming up on their last years of work, Wil's dad, in his mid 80s, had a stroke. After some recovery, his dad was able to go home, where Wil's mom, also in her mid 80s, took care of him. Then Wil's mom started acting strange. Forgetting things. Forgetting people. One day she got lost coming home from the neighborhood grocery store. They had her evaluated, and - you guessed it - she had early stage Alzheimer's.
Meanwhile, Jan's dad's diabetes was getting out of control. He'd never taken care of it well, and now he had heart problems and trouble with his feet. Her mom was physically healthy, but an emotional wreck, which wasn't exactly new, as she'd never been very stable.
The new reality of people living longer, but often not in good health, was hitting this family hard. At one time, Wil's dad likely wouldn't have survived the stroke. His mom wouldn't have lived long enough to develop Alzheimer's. And Jan's dad? He'd never have survived without the newer diabetes drugs. Is this good or bad? That's not really the question. It's far too individual and complex for any one answer, especially in this context.
But that is the reality that Jan and Wil were faced with. Their dream of a relatively carefree retirement took a major hit. They started looking around to see what siblings could do to help, but both were from small families and neither had siblings close by. To complicate that, Jan's sister couldn't stand to be around Jan's mother, considering the mother's constant emotional turmoil too difficult to handle. It seemed that Jan and Wil were "it."
Jan ended up retiring earlier than she had planned, because someone had to be around to juggle the doctors appointments, do the paperwork, and coordinate the few in-home caregivers their parents could afford. Wil scrapped his idea of early retirement because Jan was no longer able to contribute to the household finances or the retirement fund. He found, also that he was often needed evenings and weekends to help out with parents.
This saga continues, but this is enough for you to get the message. Wil and Jan started out as the poster children of the new era of boomers who would retire with good income and enjoy themselves for several years, before settling down. Now, they have become poster children of a different sort - the boomers who fight with guilt over resentment toward their parents' situation or just life in general. The dream of a few years of freedom after long years of being tied down seemed perfectly reasonable. Now, it's basically a dead dream. It's no one's fault. It's just life.
Jan and Wil aren't naive. They know life is often unfair. And they aren't ungrateful to their parents, nor are they selfish people who resent going out of their way to help loved ones. They are simply human.
Jan and Wil had had big dreams and worked hard toward a goal. They wanted to enjoy, together, the fruits of their hard work. Now they have become nearly full-time caregivers. Even with in-home care, assisted living and eventual nursing homes to help care for the elders, they know they are needed. They will travel some, when they can, and they will work on letting go of their resentment. They are human enough, however, to feel pain over the death of their dream.
Published On: September 27, 2007