Category Archives: Aging

Feeling Annoyed

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

For the past two years I have played ping pong for exercise. The club
has about 100 members and at the time I play, 9:00 am, many retired
folks, some of whom are completely out of my league excellent and
others welcoming and helpful. I was a newbie for a while, but got
pretty good, certainly mid tier. One of the very regulars is a man in his
80s, who had eye surgery that seems to have failed utterly. He used
to be mid-pack but now couldn’t hit the ball if it were the size of a
basketball. In addition he tells long stories and jokes to cover up his
frustration, which just slows down the game even more. I like him,
and I feel sorry for him, and I know this will happen to us all. But for
me this is exercise time, and I cannot give it all over to kindness, even
though I feel guilty saying that. Is there a gentle way to convey my
need to rotate with other players without offending someone who was
kind to me when I needed it?

Feeling Annoyed

 
Dear Annoyed:

There’s a certain amount of kindness and grace that’s required from us
all, in every situation. Here’s your chance to step up. When you play
with him, gently suggest that stories are great and interesting, but
they slow down your need to keep in motion, something your own
doctor has said is essential. Say you’re happy to hear them but could
he please keep playing while he talks. If he complies, hooray. If not,
try to rotate to a different table after a politely appropriate amount of
time.

 

Most clubs have some kind of manager or facilitator. Quietly take that
person aside and ask if s/he has noticed to decline in this person’s
play. Say that you like him and are happy to keep playing with him a
little while each time you come. But that given the large number of
players, there should be a rotating pool of people to help care for the
elders. Ask him if he would be willing to speak to the man directly,
suggesting that he schedule a follow-up with his eye surgeon. The
difficulties might be temporary, or they may presage something that
requires more medical attention. No matter what, stress your
willingness to be a good person. You’ll need the same grace someday,
as will we all.

Buddy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

When is the right time to stage an intervention for a friend? It’s food,
not alcohol or drugs but her bad habit is going to kill her just the
same? She’s in her 60s and weighs well over 300 pounds. She has for
a long time, except for the year she lost almost 100 lbs by living on a
very strict anti-inflammatory regimen. She glowed from good health
and compliments, but then various issues in her family life resulted in
her taking in a very embittered relative who made her life a living hell
for more than a year, until she finally told her husband he had to
choose which of them was going to move out. The regained all the
weight and hasn’t looked back.

 

Now she is rapidly losing many forms of self-mobility and care as her aging
body copes with what’s simply too much for it to handle. The docs cannot figure
out a diagnosis or cure for her various ailments, and all of her friends are
concerned that she’s going to keel over, which would be a loss to us all. We
think bariatric surgery could be a great help, if her body could sustain it.
How can we say this to her without making her angry? She is fierce
when she feels cornered.

Buddy

 
Dear Buddy:

Once things involve doctors it is very difficult for what friends might
consider rational advice to hold sway. The person in question can
always say, My doctor says… as a defense. And while I cannot imagine
a doctor who would say 300+ pounds is a healthy weight, it sounds
like there are enough complications since the original weight loss that
the time for bariatric surgery may in fact have passed.

 
Rather than a formal intervention of several or many people, I’d
counsel one or two of you sitting down to have a heart-to- heart.
Explain how terribly concerned you are, and ask how you can be
supportive of her becoming healthier. You can offer to connect her
with nutritionists, health coaches, or even go on the same diet plan
that was once successful. Then listen very well, because she is the
woman who raises a fork to her lips, not you. And no intervention
short of incarceration will work if she is not as committed as you are.

In Recovery

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m the single woman in her sixties who wrote you about preparing for
knee replacement surgery. I live alone, assuming you don’t count my
cat, who has been reluctant to do a lot of the heavy lifting during my
recuperation. My wide circle of loving friends has stepped up to help
me walk the slow road to recovery. I know every case is its own
unique world, but your advice was helpful to me, so I wanted to give
some tips to other readers, based on my experience.

 
Things that make recovery easier: Buy or borrow a good electrically
powered recliner. (Emphasis on electric to save stress on your back,
and twisting or leaning over hard to operate it.) In addition to a place
to sit, the recliner will become your haven especially in the wee hours
when you cannot sleep comfortably on your back in bed. Sleep
opportunistically every chance you get. Don’t be afraid to unplug the
phone and take naps, from catnaps to deep, long ones. If insurance
and/or Medicare will not cover it, invest in one of the continuous flow,
cold water pumps that when filled with ice and water will bathe your
aching knee in a velcroed wrap of soothing comfort. Ask your friends
to text or email rather than phone. Post or email group updates of
your condition. Be realistic and optimistic, but don’t candy coat the
tough stuff. Allow your friends to set up a food supply. Your appetite
will be diminished and your taste buds may be altered. A few servings
of homemade soup every other day, and simple foods like applesauce
and muffins will feel like gourmet fare. Stockpile chicken broth in your
freezer. Encourage visitors to bring a book and sit with you or in
another room, rather than draining your energy with chatter. Wear PJs
or a nightie when you are home to remind yourself you are a patient.
Know that everything will take twice as long as you expect it to, and
will tire you out more than you think it should. Set up all your physical
therapy appointments well before surgery and have a friend coordinate
transport for you. Don’t be shy about acknowledging your limitations.
Say Please and Thank you often, with true sincerity. This is a humbling
and humanizing experience. Be kind to everyone who helps you, and
do the same for others when you recover. We’re all going to need
more of this kind of community support.

In Recovery

 
Dear In Recovery:

Thank you for the helpful specifics! I hope you are out walking soon
and dancing not long after that.

Eeeek

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m terrified. I’m headed to Detroit tomorrow to have The Talk with my
82-year- old mother. She’s lived independently or semi-independently
her entire life. My father died when she was 50. For the last 10 years
my youngest sister has been living with her, but she’s ready to move
out and make her own life. My sister’s been a safety net for all of us,
making sure her mom took her meds, driving her to appointments
(Mom turned in her own license when she felt unsafe!) and generally
being around so none of us had to fear every ring of the phone. Mom
is intelligent, spry, and relatively healthy. Other than the fact that she
can’t drive she is very self-sufficient. But I know that could change in a
minute, and I live two thousand miles away, as does everyone except
my sister. How can I have The Talk, which every child dreads having
to have, to prepare for the inevitable living-in- a-group- setting, so we
don’t have to make rushed or bad decisions in a time of crisis?

Eeeek

 
Dear Eeek:

There’s no easy way for this one. Everyone dreads it, no matter which
side of the conversation equation they are on. And if she knows your
sister is planning on moving out, you know she knows that The Talk is
part of your visit. So she will likely be apprehensive and afraid, even if
she does her maternal best to hide it. Start out having as good and
casual a visit as you can, at least for the first day or two. Come from
the airport with flowers and plan to take her out for a special one-on-
one dinner. Try to assess how she’s doing without making her feel like
she’s under the microscope. Even if she knows the conversation is
inevitable and looming, she will be on her best behavior. But don’t be
surprised if tears follow. It is going to be hard, but it is important and
necessary to do.

 
Take the role of her advocate, as in: Mom, how do you want to handle
the future? What’s your idea of the best and safest way for you to live
after [sister name] moves out? Then listen. Don’t confront her, and
avoid pushing her into a place of resistance. She might surprise you by
saying she is ready, or that she knows a move is inevitable. Most likely
she will argue that it should be deferred. Listen to her arguments one
by one; see what makes sense and what doesn’t. Ask her if she’ll
come with you to one or two of the closest and best assisted-living
facilities that perhaps, God willing, one or more of her friends is
already living in. Help her see the better points about them and also
help her recognize that if she has a health crisis she could end up
somewhere far less optimal, and that planning is a far better process
than making a bad decision later.

 
You have a lot of homework to do to pull off the eventual transition.
Your local sister will be a big help in getting the house packed up and
decluttered. But you need to carefully assess financial resources,
weigh options, and learn about waiting lists and long-term treatment
options. There’s a big difference between an independent living
situation, and a facility that offer progressive “step-down” options
when your mother begins to fail. Assume that this process will take
three to six months and try to work with your local sister to keep her
involved. But the nest thing you can do is to make sure your mother
knows you love her, and that this is about keeping her safe and
healthy for as long as possible. The Talk should focus on care, not
punishment. Good luck.

Hobbled

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I am about to have my third rotator cuff surgery. The surgeon botched
the first try, a matter of a vivid dispute between my insurance
company and his malpractice lawyers. But I’m the one who had to
endure a second operation. It helped, but not enough, so now I am
undergoing a second corrective procedure. My problem is that some of
my friends, though they try to sound well-meaning about it, are
undercutting my mood, my self-confidence, and my general sense of
independence by making all sorts of remarks, like: “I hope you try
harder with the physical therapy this time.” “Gee this is taking so
much longer than my friend so-and- so.” “Are you sure you are really
pushing your limits with pain?” It makes me feel ashamed, vulnerable,
like I cannot ask them for help, like I want to just stay home and hide,
and generally emotionally and physically fragile. Needless to say the
docs are cautious around me, because the word gets around that you
are “the kind of patient who will get you sued!” How can I let people
know that I too long for the days when I can drive myself to the
market, get back into the yoga studio, and walk my own dog. At age
55 it is a scary foreshadowing of what old age could be. And there is
nothing about it that I like!

Hobbled

 
Dear Hobbled:

As the old saying goes, No way out but through. So you need to push
on, yes through the pain, but also through the emotional difficulties of
not being understood by either doctors or friends. Statistics will tell
docs what’s likely to happen. They’re based on the aggregate of
human experience. But you have only your own rotator cuff to work
with, and if it&'s not cooperating with the surgeon’s expectations, he’ll
have to adjust and cooperate with yours. That does for your friends as
well.

 
Shaming is a lousy teaching technique, for age 5, or 55, or 95. We all
deserve to be recognized for our efforts. And especially in times of
great stress and pressure, we should be supported not chastised. I’d
consider sending a group email to your friends (or writing it once and
sending it individually to people). In it you can explain how grueling
and stressful this whole process has been for you, how terrifying it is
to imagine not having full use of an arm for the rest of your life, and
how extensive, expensive, and exhausting it is to be coping with a
medical issue you had been hoping would be long resolved. Without
naming names, you can say that people who have tried to “encourage”
you with negative feedback have had the opposite impact, and that
what you most need is support and encouragement. Let folks know
that you are appreciative both for their physical help and their moral
support. And tell them that on the other side they’ll all be invited to a
fabulous party to celebrate healing and recovery. But in the meantime,
if they can’t get onboard with what you need, they should feel free to
demur when you ask for help. You’ll soon learn who your true friends
are.

 
PS You should consider doing counseling to deal with medical trauma.
Just having a place to scream and weep without judgment may be
exactly the safety zone you need.

Daughter in Law

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I do not want you or your readers to hate me or think I am an unkind,
unfeeling, or horrible person. But I have lived in a small world of hurt
for the past sixteen months, after my mother-in- law moved in our
home, making it and my life a living hell. She is mean-spirited, sharp-
tongued, manipulative, nasty, ungrateful, unhappy, and generally
unpleasant. I have tried being solicitous, kind, friendly, helpful and,
when that failed, have occasionally tried to be more withdrawn,
leaving my husband to take greater responsibility for her care,
something he tends to avoid, out of a mix of denial, shame, fear, and
generalized reluctance to take care of household chores other than
repairs. She has the usual mental decline of age exacerbated by what
seems to me like selective memory loss, but I have become cynical.
Physically she would probably outlive both of us, especially with the
stress her presence is causing in our home and marriage. That’s what I
thought till last week when she fell, and in the ER was told she had
high blood sugar and needed more careful monitoring.

 

My husband and I had an almost three-week trip on the calendar, planned
long ago and over which we have no control of timing; it is go or don’t go,
leaving in a week. We had planned for in-home care but now have
decided to put her into assisted living while we are gone, so the docs
can get her more stable. The question is this: When we return, should
she stay there or move back with us? My argument: Her ailments are
intermittent but potentially serious; give her better care, which she
can absolutely afford, and give us a chance to remember we used to
like one another. My husband could go visit her daily (he recently
retired). His counter: She’s my mother; she doesn’t want to go there
are at all; it’ll use up our inheritance; I feel guilty. I am past caring
about money that may never come to us but she could use to improve
our lives now by paying to live elsewhere. What say you? Oh yes, PS,
I, who haven’t been sick three days since we married, have had a
series of week or two-week long flues and ailments in the past three
months. I know it is partially stress, but it has cut into my ability to
meet clients and earn our mortgage money.

Daughter in Law

 

Dear Daughter In Law:

Even the kindest, sweetest, most generous of soul and spirit addition
to a household can cause disruption and occasional aggravation. That’s
true when both partners are on board with what’s required for the
daily care and nurturing of an elderly parent. The difficult situation you
are describing, albeit with the relieved joy of a rant to an anonymous
reader, does not seem healthy or sustainable. It’s unlikely to prove a
peaceful and relaxing trip with the Sword of Damocles hanging over
your head about whether or not she returns.

 
When you communicate to her about any or all of this, be sure to
preface every other sentence with Your Doctor Says,…. as the reason
why she is going to assisted living. Be sure the staff reiterates that
medical necessity and her quality of health is the most important
variable that everyone is watching. The question of her return home
should be something that is discussed only in terms of her health and
no guarantees should be made that both you and your husband cannot
agree on.

 
The two of you will need to find a same page to be on. In this
circumstance, one of you is inevitably going to feel like a loser. The
only way of dealing with that is in some mediated forum, like a
counselor, where you can both speak your piece and feel heard. If she
does return to the home, you must be guaranteed time out periods,
perhaps even evenings or weekend time when you visit or even stay
with friends. Even if he uses some of his mother’s money to hire in-
home care, that will help your husband confront the truer impacts of
caring for her, something it sounds like he has avoided. If I were
voting I’d side with you, but I haven’t heard his version.
“For better or worse” sounds like it’s been bad for both and worse for
you, so in my book you have the right to ask for relief, both temporary
and long term. Either that or buy her or you a personality transplant.
And let me know where you found it so I can spread the word.

Racquet Guy

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Not to brag, but in my day I was a championship level tennis player. I
won all sorts of awards in college, and was semi-pro, even making a
living for a while before I graduated law school as a club pro. Now my
knees can’t handle the running, and I am looking for a new sport. I am
so much better at hand-eye coordination than most people who come
to the intro classes that I get impatient with lessons. I’ve been told I
can get snappy if I feel like I’m being talked down to. How can I find a
new sport at my advancing age?

Racquet Guy

 
Dear Racquet Guy:

I appreciate you think you’re always at the top of your game. But no
one likes a pushy beginner. Just like, as a young lawyer, you needed
to earn your standing by putting in many thousands of billable hours,
here you’ll need to keep showing up. Everyone in any new sport or
club has to pay their dues. Not just by coming and winning, but by
setting up and cleaning equipment, volunteering to help in group
events, and generally being seen as useful as well as threatening. It’s
not glamorous, but it is a great leveler, and also a way to get to know
the people you hope to trounce. Ask them what they do/did for a
living, about their families and vacations. Play doubles as well as
singles. Become well liked before you are respected or feared as an
opponent. Being a former great and/or an attorney doesn’t get you
any quicker standing in a meritocracy. You are going to have to earn
it.

 
Look at all the related sports you could consider. If squash or
racquetball are too vigorous, look at pickleball or ping pong. Identify
any clubs or leagues in your area. These may be through Y’s or city-
sponsored parks leagues. Made a list of each one’s meeting places and
times and see what works best for your schedule. Do not go to the
most likely one first. Choose a middle tier experience to work out the
kinks from your learning curve, both socially and technically. That will
include learning the rules of a new sport. You can google and study the
rules at home, but nothing beats being on the court/table to drum the
lesson home. Ditto for making new friends and becoming well-liked.

Bleep Bleep Bleep

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

Does anyone else feel like they’re part of a giant psych experiment by
the smart phone people. Here’s an actual dialogue between me and
the auto-dial- voice: Me: Call Wendy Home. Phone: I don’t have a
number for Wendy Home. Do you want me to call Wendy Home or
Wendy Cell? M: Wendy Home! P: I don’t have a number for Wendy
Home. Should I use the number for Wendy Home? I have been so
tempted to hurl my phone through the windshield of my car more
often than I can count that I have feared breaking a tooth!!! Did I get
issued a dumb “smart phone” or do other people have this problem?
And please note that when I say dumb that is the politest word I can
conjure.

Bleep Bleep Bleep

 
Dear Bleep Bleep Bleep:

Your lament is articulate and widespread. In a time when we rely on
our electronic for more and more, we often forget that artificial
intelligence is as yet a goal, not a reality. I do find myself experiencing
cognitive dissonance when I pick up my land line (I am among the
dying breed) and realize I cannot give it voice command, or that it
won’t give me directions or movie times. But I am also among those
who believe that actual voice-to- voice communication, or hand-written
thank you notes, convey a level of personal value that a text cannot.
We may be old-timers, but at least our generation can still role model
for the young.

 
As for the techno-fix, you will have to consult your phone company
and/or cell phone manufacturer. In this age of electronic snooping and
data mining, you may very well be part of an elaborate experiment,
but if so you are unlikely to discover it by asking. Be grateful for what
your smart phone can do, and hope you live long enough that its
successors live up to your expectations.

Been Patient!

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

This is a long and painful question so please be patient. God knows I
have had to be. Recently we took my mother-in- law into our home.
She’d been living alone, though having seen her close up—albeit after
the shell shock of tragedy and relocation—it is hard to believe she was
functional. Her memory is going but she’s not so far gone as the don’t-
leave-her- alone-or- she’ll-burn- down-the- house-making- tea stage. But
she is insecure and needy, and thinks someone going out to get the
mail is “abandoning” her. My husband and I go to a three-week
spiritual retreat each April and October. This year I let him go, to
recover, and stayed home with Mom. He’s due back soon. I realize I
have a lot of anxiety about his return tipping the fragile equilibrium I
have created with her. She is very passive aggressive and will play us
off against one another. For example she calls him into her room each
morning to complain and even tell lies about me, and the whole day
starts off tense and goes downhill from there. Do you have any words
of wisdom to keep me from going crazy and wanting to divorce both of
them? This was a kind and happy home for twenty years.

Been Patient!

 
Dear Patient:

I don’t know what agreements you and your husband made before she
moved in with you, but now’s a great time to revisit them. You need
some alone time with him before he walks in the door to remind him
about your family values. Either meet him part of the way or use
phone and email. Tell him what you have observed about how to
manage her and what you think needs to be done to maintain the
equilibrium you spent three weeks creating. He may be coming home
more relaxed but the pit of tension you are describing will hit him hard
and fast.

 
Come to a list of new agreements with him about daily behavior. No
more talking about you behind your back. If Mom has something to
say, then say it a daily family meeting. If she says something untrue,
tell her your side of things. Insist that the house rules of kindness and
politeness are baseline for living in your home. If she can’t be nice, tell
her she can explore outside situations, from group homes to assisted
living. Make sure she has seen a doc and that her meds are up to date
and taken regularly. Find a family support group at least for you and
your husband. Tell him if you can’t make it work without then you will
insist on marriage counseling. Find her activities with peers, whether
they are at senior centers or in the group homes that want new
members and offer day care. Also tell your husband that you have
“credit” for three weeks of solo care. Take time on your own on a
regular basis, and let him see the full brunt of what full-time care can
be. It’s not forever, but it can and will be hard for a while. But if your
husband knows you’re retreating in April and he’s staying home with
Mom, I promise he’ll solve it before then.

Shorty

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I just got a terrible shock. I have a t-shirt that I’ve had for years. I
wear it work out and somehow it rotated to the bottom of the stack. I
put it on and it hung to my knees!! I am shrinking!! I am a woman in
my mid-60s and I know this happens with age but it was shocking this
morning. I can see my friends are aging, with all the obvious changes
in hair color and wrinkles. But this freaked me out. Do I just accept the
ravages of time, or can I reverse the trend?

Shorty

 
Dear Shorty:

I’d recommend a good talk to your doctor about osteoporosis and
aging. S/he may recommend some tests to see where you fall on the
expected ranges for people your age and size and also relative to your
own medical history. There are things you can do. As my mother
always used to say, Stand up straight! Which is more than just about
looking taller. It helps retrain your muscles and bones, as well as
doing wonders for your attitude.

You should research carefully. There is lots of information online about
changing what you eat and drink, how you should exercise, and what
supplements and medications have better and worse effects. You can’t
turn back the lock or keep it from ticking forward. But yes you can
make yourself stronger and taller with some simple steps.

Only 24/7

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’ve written you already but this is a different side of the same coin.
My husband’s aging, senile, mother has landed with us. Ironically she
is not unwell, the occasional cold notwithstanding, though she is very
needy and dependent, and surprisingly chatty though from what I can
tell most of the running commentary has not much to do with what’s
really going on around her. It is taking a vast quantity of time to
adjust to having her in the household, in part because of her
clingyness.

My husband, recently retired, tries to run errands (without
her!) as much as possible, leaving me in charge. I am in a helping
profession and have a vast array of friends that I am used to seeing to
do everything from food preservation to fabric projects. I don’t want
my mother-in- law tagging along all the time, but many of my friends
are telling me—loudly and often—that they feel insulted that I am no
longer available to them. In fact, I’d rather be with them. What can I
do?

Only 24/7

 
Dear 24/7:

You can change things on several fronts. First is your attitude: this is not forever,
though it may be for a good handful of years or longer. You and your husband
need to communicate regularly about whether having his mother living with you
remains the right decision and fit for you both and for your marriage. If the
answer is yes, then you need to make, on a weekly basis, a schedule. You
should make it together on Sunday and confirm it every morning over breakfast.
It should identify on and off duty times where each of you is the primary
caretaker. Like any joint custody arrangement, you should both agree about
trade-offs. No one gets to hide behind I thought it would be okay if….

 
If having your mother in law move to an assisted living facility where she would
have more regular companionship and care is simply not an option, look into
part-time help and regular trips to the local community center for group activities
with other seniors. You should also find or create a support group with other
people in a similar situation. It will give you the insights you need and perhaps
you can have collective gatherings that might lead to the senior equivalent of play
dates among your respective aging relatives. As for your nagging friends, invite
them over to help cook and schmooze with your mother-in- law and to stay for a
game or cards. An afternoon or evening of your life should quiet down the
kvetching pretty fast. When you have off duty time, decide then if you want to sit
quietly with a book or get together with friends. They will need to adjust to
spontenity and less contact, at least for the foreseeable future.

No More ZZZZZZs

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I was always a good sleeper. When my friends went through
menopause and one by one started to have terrible insomnia, I felt
privileged to be getting my zzzz’s on a regular basis. As I have
approached retirement my sleep has gotten less stable. I can’t tell if it
is work stress (How long to stay?, Who will do my job as well?) life
stress (What about money?, What will I do with myself?), or an actual
health problem. I am uninterested in pills to solve the problem, but
now I am alternating between insomnia and weird, even sometimes
violent, dreams. What a girl to do?

No More ZZZZZZs

 
Dear No More ZZZZs:

Nothing beats waking up refreshed after a good night’s sleep unless
it’s a night with a good dream to boot. A terminal diagnosis
notwithstanding, not much is worse than dragging your sorry tail
around all tired and draggy. Too many nights like that can affect
physical as well as mental health. Go to your doc for a check-up to be
sure there’s no big medical reason for your condition. Meet with your
financial advisor about what you need for a safe retirement. Tune up
your hobbies.

 
As frustrating as it may seem on a bad night, stay in bed and
meditate/cogitate on every aspect of the dream you can remember
(this may wake you up a little but will engage both right and left
brains). If it’s time for insight you will get some. If you do, repeat
those often enough so you do not forget in the morning. If whatever
you’re supposed to learn is not ripe yet, you will eventually end up
going back to sleep. Either way you push the knowings a little closer to
the light. Ps coffee and naps to follow later are okay for a day or so.

The Good Kid

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother is dying. My sister is crazy and greedy. My brother can’t
hold onto a job with a belt. She doesn’t have more than two years and
if she doesn’t stop smoking and drinking probably more like one. She’s
not rich but does have some assets and a modest house. But she also
has special needs now, for in-home care and assistance, chauffeuring
to appointments, and housekeeping. Only I of the sibs provide any of
these services, and I am also the only one among them that has a job,
a spouse, and a child. Both of my sibs have approached my mother for
loans. They have come with sob stories about emergencies, about
needing help with broken cars, overdue rent, and—the boldest—for a
down payment on a “great deal of a house,” this last from a woman
who hasn’t held the same job for more than a year in her life or stayed
with a partner more than two. My mother feels sorry for them and tells
me that I have such a good life. I’m worried they will bleed her dry
and that after she goes they will keep coming to me with their fake
and outrageous demands. How can I interject some reason into this
process?

The Good Kid

 
Dear Good Kid:

You can get your mother to consult an estate attorney. Someone
competent and articulate who can explain both her current finances
and needs and the options she has for helping her children now and
after she goes. You should not be expected to either fill her shoes in
administering her estate or trying to solve the life issues of your
siblings. Nor should you be expected to sacrifice your share of the
estate to their needs.

 
If I ran your show I would have the attorney identify a budget for her
monthly needs, an emergency fund for each of you to draw from
before her death, with the used amount be charged against that sib’s
share of the estate after your mother dies. I’d recommend each
“emergency loan” come with a note and have at least a minimum
monthly repayment amount. That’s primarily to encourage the insight
that money isn’t free, and also to begin to convey the notion that it
isn’t infinite. The monthly for each of the sibs (not you) should be put
into a trust, administered by the attorney, that will provide a monthly
sum towards living expenses, with a fund for emergency expenses.
Decisions about those emergencies should be at the discretion of the
executor.

Worried

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

My mother is 85. She’s in reasonable health and certainly as stubborn
as any of her children. We all live in town but I am the primary
caretaker. I go over each night to feed her and put her to bed. The
other sibs are less reliable and get simpler responsibilities. Here’s the
problem: she’s decided she doesn’t want to leave her home. Period.
For a while she had been taking classes at the local senior center. Now
we can’t even get her to go out for pizza and a movie. Her answer: “I
have Netflix.” I’m worried she is going to cocoon herself into a coffin
much too prematurely. She’s intelligent, funny, and reasonably
healthy. But she’s turning into an isolated misanthrope, if you don’t
count the neighbor caretaker who drops in during the day. Do you
have any winning arguments to keep her relating to people other than
her kids?

Worried

 
Dear Worried:

Many elders like to stay in environments that they know and feel safe
in. It’s not just fear of falling, though that’s a legitimate concern. It’s
knowing one’s routine, feeling secure, and not wanting to bother with
the potential for catching an illness from others or having to hear lots
of kvetching about health issues. What you are seeing as misanthropy
could be self-protection. But I agree it is too soon to become a 24/7
lifestyle.

 
Have a meeting with your mom one on one, and then together with
your sibs. Simply tell her: We need you to do this for us. Prior to that
talk to the neighbor, and to the senior center. Be sure you understand
what they offer in terms of classes and drop in events and what the
neighbor can handle re timing . It’s legit for your mother to prefer
sitting in her own living room to a room with other folks just sitting
around. But identify lectures, movies, or classes that she might enjoy
and offer to pay the neighbor to take her there and help get her
introduced to other people. Once she starts to make friends and look
forward to seeing them, she’ll be more interested in going out more
often. And if not, make sure to stock batteries for the remote.

Golden Years

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

How can I convince my family (three generations of them), that I am
fit to keep living alone? I have a few minor ailments, but I am as
active as I was in my 60s. I am 84 now. I work out every day as well
as walking my dog twice a day. I eat healthy organic food that I cook
for myself, and have a social life that would put a thirty-year old to
shame. I regularly attend ballet, opera, and theatre. I volunteer for
reading programs for pre-schoolers, hold babies at the hospital
nursery, and help out at the animal shelter connecting strays with
their new forever parents. I have enough resources to be happy, pay
my own bills, clean my own house, and except for one hospital stay a
few years ago with a slipped disc, I have not had any medical issues
that should make people think I am doddering or incapacitated in any
way. At my recent birthday party my children and their adult children
gathered around like they were doing an intervention with a heroin
addict. All they could talk about was downsizing and moving to an
assisted living center “before it’s too late.” How can I convince them
it’s nowhere close to late? In fact, it’s way too early!

Golden Years

 
Dear Golden Years:

You’re describing a life than many younger people would envy. Your
children and grandchildren are projecting their own fears onto you. It’s
not that those fears aren’t legit. For many folks in your age range,
they might be appropriate and valid. But you are a happy exception,
and they should be able to see that and treat you that way.
If you were applying for long-term care insurance, you’d have to
specific when you could no longer independently perform any of the
six aspects of daily living: bathing, dressing, eating, continence,
toileting, and transfers. Those’re the criteria for getting help, which
could be help in your home, not necessarily moving to a facility. I
would engage the services of the local Jewish Federation social worker.

 

 

Ask for a meeting with her and plead your case. Then invite the family
over for a sit-down, and together agree on criteria for a future
reassessment. Let the social worker plead your case from a
professional perspective. But then agree to a series of actions you can
take as a precursor to future downsizing, like clearing and purging
your possessions. You should also begin to document all your finances
and bills, and put together instructions lest you have a medical
emergency and someone needs to step in.
I hope you live long and healthily and die decades from now in your
bed with a smile on your face, surrounded by your generations of
family.