I’m a person who has, for many years, been very goal oriented and believed 100% that I could make anything happen that I wanted to have happen, simply by thinking of it, and then putting my thoughts into action. The last five years have shown me that this isn’t always possible like I thought it was. I guess you could say that life has been smacking me around some lately. Life has it’s ups and downs, I know, but at times like this, I can’t help but think of Job, who was once living high on the hog and then lost everything, even though he hadn’t done anything to deserve such a fate. Life can be like that. I guess it doesn’t happen to everyone, but I’ve found that sometimes things happen that I wasn’t planning for from time to time. Sometimes these events can have larger effects on the outcome of our lives than we think they’re going to. Let me clear though, just because things don’t always go as planned, I don’t feel in the least like I’m somehow being punished by God. I do feel like sometimes various choices are presented in life, and there are some events that happen because of those choices we make. Not all of them are bad choices, like, for instance, going deep into debt, or finding ourselves dealing with substance abuse issues. Some people would say that, at least for the substance abuse issue, it’s not a choice. I don’t claim to have the answers for all these things, but I think sometimes we can make choices that seem ethically and morally right but have negative financial outcomes. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about here.
Five years ago, I retired from my HR career, with plans to move away from the big city and start a photography workshop and tour business. So, in my mind, I wasn’t necessarily retiring completely yet, I was still a little young to do so) I was retiring to do something else. I felt I had the financial wherewithal to do this, and that within a couple of years anyway, I would have this business up and running, and I would make at least as much as I had been making in my previous career, if not more. I sold my house in the city and moved to the western slope. So far, so good.
I downsized and bought a smaller house in my new, smaller town, and had it under contract when I was informed that my mom would need to return to Colorado because her sister had been diagnosed with dementia and would be moving to a nursing facility. My mom had been living with her sister and her sister’s family for the previous year or so. She lived in Michigan. So, about a month after moving into my home in Grand Junction, we drove back to Denver to pick Mom up from the airport and bring her home to live with us. She was 85 years old at the time. I realized quickly that Mom had become very frail and would need to stay with us for some period while we assessed whether she could even live alone, which is what she said she wanted. Turned out not to be possible. Mom had various health issues which precluded her being able to live on her own.
Mom lived with us then for about three years. The room I had planned to turn into an office for myself became Mom’s room. The bathroom I had planned to use for myself became me and Mom’s bathroom. Mom put her clothes in my dresser, and I put my clothes in the linen closet in the hall. I created an office for myself out in the garage where I could do my writing and business planning, but I could only work out there part of the year, since it was unbearably hot in the summer and equally freezing cold in the winter.
To Mom’s way of thinking, I wasn’t doing anything of value out there anyway, so she would come out and stand in the garage with me for a few minutes and then suggest I take her to Walmart, or The Dollar Store, or the thrift store, or to Denny’s, or wherever. She was bored. In the summer I would suggest we wait and do it in the afternoon, and in the winter, I’d take her out in the morning. Then, of course, there were the monthly, soon to become weekly, soon to become two or three times a week doctor’s appointments.
Also, during this time, Covid happened. So, during the year of 2020, we stayed indoors almost all the time. I refused to take her out at all because of her advanced age and other health conditions. There was, as of that time, no vaccine available, so she couldn’t go out in public, even with a mask. So, we stayed in. We also didn’t take visitors into our home, regardless of whether they were relatives or not. If someone didn’t live with us, we didn’t let them in. Sometimes Mom knew why we were doing this, and other times she forgot why, and just thought I was trying to hold her hostage for some reason.
It seemed to me like when Mom moved in some other doors of opportunity closed for me. I didn’t think they would at first. I thought I could take care of Mom and start a business at the same time. I was wrong. Maybe some people could do it, but I simply didn’t have the emotional or mental bandwidth for it. I became a full-time caretaker.
My desire to start a business had less to do with making loads of money, than it did just wanting to do something that made my heart sing, and to finish my working life doing that. At the time, I still had about 6 years to go before I hit my full retirement years. I soon realized that spending long weekends out of town without Mom wasn’t going to be part of my life at that time. I did leave town for short road trips at first, but it became increasingly apparent that I wouldn’t be able to do it regularly.
So, just before Covid hit, I got the idea that I would do something else, and that was to start an at-home travel agency. I had done this previously and enjoyed it. Once again, this was not a huge money maker (commissions for travel agents are notoriously low and getting lower) but I wanted to do something and working from home was really the best option for me at that time. So, I took the travel agent course, passed the test, and found a host agency. I had just gotten things up and running and booked my first trip for someone, when Covid hit and shut the travel business down for what turned out to be about 18 months. At the time, I had no idea how long it would be shut down, but I certainly didn’t want to continue to feed that business financially for some unknown period. I closed shop in March of 2020 after just starting it at the end of January that year. Another door closed. We waited out 2020.
By the end of 2020, they were saying there would be a vaccine available right away and life with Mom was getting more difficult for various reasons. She was reaching a point where she needed more professional care. She ended up moving to an assisted living center, which was better for her and for us, although during the last 6 months of her life, we spent quite a bit of time transporting her to various doctors’ appointments. She did pass away in June of this year after suffering a major stroke.
I took the summer off from almost all activities, including even going to church. I felt tired and sad. I had family issues I was also dealing with and didn’t feel I could be social at all. I rested up and went through the grieving process as best I could. Towards the end of the summer, I felt like I was ready to dip my toe into the ocean of sociability again, and perhaps do something like find a part time job I could do 3 days a week. I even applied for a couple of jobs, some of which were for the holiday season only, which would be fine for now.
Then, on September 13th, my husband suffered a complete cardiac arrest. He is still recovering from that, although he is back at home now, after being in the hospital for 30 days. His recovery is nothing short of a miracle and I’m so glad to have him home. However, I won’t be able to take any jobs right now, whether they be temporary, part time, or anything else. Sometimes we hope and pray for something, and the answer is just no. Sometimes we make choices that we don’t realize the possible ramifications of at the time. For instance, having Mom move in with me. Should I have made a different choice? No. Sometimes the best choices we make out of love, are not necessarily the best choices financially or in other ways. We still must live with those consequences because we live in a cause-and-effect world.
It makes us all feel better if we believe that a person is suffering because of bad choices they have made or because of evil things they have done to others. That is not always the case and sometimes bad things do happen to good people. At this point, I think it’s more important to keep a positive attitude during the bad times than it is to try to avoid every bad thing that might possibly happen, because that’s nearly impossible to do. Not everyone feels positive all the time either. I don’t. But I do think that part of recovering from bad experiences, is learning to see the silver lining in every situation. Some situations are extremely difficult to see any silver lining for, such as wars or natural disasters and some silver linings can only be seen from the safe distance of the rear-view mirror. (Objects in mirror are larger than they appear.)
So, all that said, is there anything I could have done during those early years of post-retirement life that might have made a difference? I would say that overall, it’s always better to live beneath your means, put money in savings, and stay out of debt. I would say that I could have been more diligent about these things, but part of the reason I wasn’t, was because I thought I would be starting a business and I decided it wouldn’t be that long until my cash started flowing from there. At the time I started, I had no income, not even social security. I was able to do this because I had no debt at the time I started. Having no debt does help you to do things you might not be able to do otherwise. Unfortunately, my business plans never got off the ground, in part because of the reasons listed above.
I will say, I still don’t have any credit card debt, but it’s entirely possible that I will end up with catastrophic levels of medical debt. I haven’t received all the bills yet, but my husband recently was hospitalized for 30 days, and underwent heart surgery, so it doesn’t take the brain of a rocket scientist to figure out what the possibilities are there. Turns out, the leading cause of bankruptcy in this country is medical debt. Medicare and Medicare Supplement plans don’t cover everything. I don’t know if it’s even possible for people living on social security to put away enough money to save themselves from that kind catastrophe.
I’ve lived a financially conscientious kind of a life for the last 3 decades or so, but it’s unlikely that even during that time, I would have been able to save up enough to keep from total financial devastation in the event of a major illness. I have some friends who are angry at their parents for not planning for the possibilities that they will end up in a long-term care facility, such as Assisted Living, or a nursing home, and now their parents have dementia or something. All I can say is, it’s unlikely that most people would be able to do that, and most people don’t even try because honestly, they don’t think anything like that will ever happen to them. Bad things are what happen to other people. Nobody wants to spend the best years of their lives preparing for the worst years of their lives.
So, all in all, I feel I’ve done the best I could, all things considered, and I don’t want to beat myself up too badly over whatever my financial failings may have been up until now. I like this saying I’ve been hearing for awhile now: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I find it true that achieving absolute perfection in all action is likely impossible at any rate. The economist George Stigler once quipped, “if you never miss a plane, you may be spending too much time at the airport.”