A few years ago I lost my grandmother. Complications from diabetes and COPD caused her to fall ill, and she spent the last three months of her life between the hospital and the "rehab" center, while the family struggled to figure out how to get the care she needed and who would pay for it.
The death of my grandfather a few years before left her alone and unprepared - and at the time of his passing none of us knew her illness was waiting just around the corner. She sold their house and used the profit to pay cash for a small modular with the intention of traveling to see relatives that the long years of declining health and increasing signs of dementia in my grandfather had held at bay. She never got there.
She spent the next few years in and out of the hospital while the rising costs of co-pays, prescriptions, and home-care visits ate away any money she managed to cling to on her meager $216 per month of Social Security benefits. Meanwhile both of her remaining living children were battling health issues of their own, so my brother and I took turns trying to make the trip out to check on her and do the errands she needed. At the time by brother and his wife were working full-time and raising 4 kids, and my ex-husband and I were both working full-time (luckily from home), raising our 6 kids - whom we home-schooled - and serving full time in ministry at our church. To say it was sometimes difficult to manage it all would be an understatement.
Grandma's illness led her to a fall, which led to an injury, which led to an amputation, which led eventually to a government funded stay in a less than ideal nursing home. After several shocking revelations about the treatment she was receiving there, she was finally readmitted to the hospital, where hospice care became inevitable.
At that time a choice had to be made. We could send her back, or take our chances at another facility where none of us could get to often enough to be on top of her care - or we could bring her home. My mother and my uncle were in no position with their health problems to care for her, my brother's family lived more than an hour away from the hospital, so it was a no-brainer that she would come to stay with me. I had the room at my then-house, was closer to her doctors, and was healthy and motivated. It seemed far more reasonable to me to figure out how to work my life around her care than to try to trust her to someone else. She was my grandma. She had cared for me while my parents worked. I had lived with her as a young adult. The decision was made.
While the hospital and the hospice worked to make the arrangements to get her to me with everything she needed, I quickly re-assessed my entire existence to formulate a plan and set my priorities. We would be grateful for this time we would have with her - no matter how short - or long - that might be. I actually had a moment to imagine how I would get her out to the patio in the warm weather to see the sun rise and set, and how we could incorporate her care and needs into our home-school plan so that she was included and the kids could learn things about life it's meaning and caring for others that doesn't get taught in schools. By the time she arrived at my door I had it all figured out - including the sacrifices I would have to make financially and energetically to make this work. I owed this to her. She was my grandma.
When the ambulance pulled into the drive to deliver her, her morphine had already worn off and she was wracked with pain. They wheeled her in and went about setting her and her oxygen, etc. up in what was formerly my youngest son's room - right across the hall from mine so I could hear anything that might occur in the night (gotta love the mommy hearing). My ex-husband flew frantically to the pharmacy to fill the morphine prescription (I still will never know why they did not send some with her in the ambulance) so we could ease her discomfort. Within 90 minute she was settled, changed, dosed, and comfy - and we initiated our new life with grandma in our midst. The kids visited with her, my dad brought my mom to visit her, and she did her best to converse with us - and 'the others' she was seeing at the time, namely her mother, her sister, her son, all on the other side. It was a humbling, enlightening, and kind of spooky all at once - but here we were, and glad to be there. I would have tomorrow for the reality to set in, and for it to get complicated.
I have always been an early riser, and the night was calm and uneventful - not the chaos I expected at all! Around 5 am I went in to check on her and she stirred a bit. We had a fabulous view of the mountains from that house, and her window was positioned just right to see them. The sun was just beginning to come up, and when first light would hit it would reflect back off the windows of all the homes nestled in the hills like a stream of Christmas lights. It was SO beautiful and I asked her if she would like to see. She said yes, and I opened the blinds for her. The room filled with a soft pink glow as I checked her oxygen and pain levels, fluffed her pillow and asked her if she needed anything. "No," she said and grinned sleepily at me. I walked back across the hall and laid down on the bed, where I am sure I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. It seemed like moments later when I felt my ex sit down on the edge of the bed, jerking me awake poised for any action that might be needed; diaper change, morphine, water - whatever........
"I'm sorry" he said. And that was it. It was 20 minutes after I checked on her, and she was gone. Merciful and cruel all at once.
I realize now I could have never managed all that she was going to need. I look at my mom who has been confined to bed or home for the last 15 years and everything my dad does to take care of her while he works more than full time himself to run his 39 year old company where he is now the only employee. I look at them I pray to GOD that my dad outlives my mom because I could NOT do what he does for her. I look at my children, and then I look at all the things I am responsible for, and I look at what their lives could be if they actually get the chance to live them, and what they would become if burdened with my care, and I think please GOD keep me healthy and motivated so I never, EVER become the thing they have to figure out how to take care of, visit, or manage. I look at my dear friend who has to deal with these decisions today with a dad that has to be in a facility to keep him (and others) safe from his dementia, and her sweet mommy that has needed many surgeries and now lives with them so that she is safe and healthy, while my dear friend and her hubby - who haven't even gotten to enjoy being empty-nesters yet, do their best to take care of her parents and all their needs while they work to take care of themselves and the kids who still need them from time to time. I look at the heartbreak, the exhaustion, the financial nightmare, the red tape. I look at all the things no-one ever thought would happen to them. I look at the responsibility my family had to look after my grandma's affairs and the expenses my dad took on for her funeral because there was nothing left to work with at a time that he himself had nothing to spare. I see it all and I think "I am not doing this to my kids". Not when I have a choice, and can do something about it now so they don't have to later.
When my friend invited me to dinner, it was a no-brainer. I immediately asked my friend to join me. Then I asked Nancy if I could bring those of you who like me have considered the possibilities and want to do you part to learn how to provide for yourself so your family doesn't have to - and she said yes.
So here it is. My plea. Give me two hours of your time to learn how we can make a difference for our, and our family's future. PLEASE join me at this complimentary workshop.
*What long-term care is and how much it costs.
*How pro-active planning can help protect your INDEPENDENCE, your ASSETS, and your family's WELL-BEING.
*Why long-term care insurance makes sense now - while you are young and healthy.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
6:00pm - complimentary dinner
The Golden Hotel
800 11th Street
Golden, CO 80401
John Hancock Long Term Care Division
Nancy Buck, Financial Advisor
RSVP REQUIRED: (303) 216-0055