Life After Death, Boomer-style

Ruth D Benincasa

Mom in better times

My mother just died.

She was 92, in quickly deteriorating health, and didn’t see the inside of her home again during the final six months of her life – she needed far too much, and round-the-clock, skilled care – best handled in a Skilled Nursing Facility (aka, “nursing home”).  We found her the best available facilities in this woods’ neck, stayed on top of her care daily to ensure it was highest quality (aka “squeaky wheel”), visited her daily, and, I hope, helped her to leave this world with as little suffering as her body would allow.

I’m sad.  Sad that her body was so broken in the end; sad that given my own disability I couldn’t do more for her myself; sad that there will be no more visits and dinner outings with her; sad that I’m now an orphan (daddy died in 2009).

John H Benincasa Sr

Daddy in his final year

In that I’m a wee too old to be upset that I have no parents now, I’m realizing that this is a Boomer phenomena – we take the loss of our parents harder than our parents did the loss of theirs.

Why is that?

Here’s my theory.

I believe our parents were, well, a bit more adult adults than we are as we live our dream of perpetual youth.  We’ve depended on our parents far more than they did theirs, remaining “children” far longer.  Too many of us depend upon our inheritance as our retirement plan, having spent up and borrowed away what we earned.  Even those of us who became, and will become, our parents’ caretakers in the end as was I, and therefore took on a type of “parenting” role with and of them, do so in a way different than our parents did theirs; some of us doing it from afar and therefore, frankly, less effectively by necessity, some petulantly (annoyed that an ailing elder is interrupting their daily routine), most of us lovingly but perhaps with a tinge of shock that we must sacrifice in ways to which we’re unaccustomed.

Their “greatest generation” moniker came from lives of sacrifice, stoic determination, toughened by the need to take on great responsibility at an early age (some right after high school, many before even completing it) thus being better prepared for such significant loss.

Our at times aptly coined “me” generation came from being more coddled, cared for through college and for some beyond, we had/have lives of greater comfort than they; we are softer.

They felt like grown-ups who understood the loss of their parents as another part of life to rise above.  We feel like….orphans.

My mother and father, I realize now, lived up to their generation’s sensibilities, something I didn’t appreciate enough when they were alive.  I will try to emulate them now.

Mom, Dad, I think I’ve finally learned what you tried to teach us all along – the ideals of humility, thrift, strength to face and conquer adversity with dignity (eg without losing stride…) that your generation tried to teach ours but we cast aside as too “old fashioned” – now that you’re gone, I’ve finally grown up.

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How Boomers Will Choose a Retirement Locale: Weather? Taxes? Or One Other Key Factor…

retireesWhen our parents got down to choosing where to live out their years of retirement bliss, they based that decision, generally, on the following criteria:

  • warm climate
  • lower taxes (particularly for those in the Northeast)
  • affordable, senior-friendly communities
  • golf (or other favorite sport like boating)

Not in that order particularly; perhaps even equal in importance.

Then came Boomers’ turn to choose retirement Eden, and I predict – or hope, or both – we will include one key factor; for some of us, it may even trump one or two of the others on our list:

  • political & cultural climate

That portion of our youth, activism and strong political/social views, just might influence where we finally settle down to live out our last 30+ years.  After all, that’s almost 1/3 of our life, so we’re wanting more than early-bird specials and Jai-Alai.

As the country becomes ever more polarized (thanks to us…we started out polarized and remain so in our current dual roles as powerful voting block/generation in charge both legislatively & industrially), we will want to live in a place that shares our views governmentally & socially, from gun rights to health care.  Boomers who lean left politically will choose states like New Mexico and California. Boomers who lean right to far-right will love places like Arizona & Florida run by the Tea Party and the NRA, where their views are embraced by the populace and the leaders they choose.

The importance of these factors as we determine our retirement move is driven by the role cultural & political comfort plays for us (far more than it did for our parents): Culturally we care greatly about such things as quality elder care for our parents and then us, a supportive environment for mid-age & older workers/entrepreneurs as we pursue our “second act,” affordable health-care options (as we live longer and more active lives than our parents did), and 55+ communities’ emphasis on healthy lifestyles; politically we are not comfortable in a place where we would be surrounded & governed by those whose world view is the opposite of ours – and if we can’t move to a state that meets the criteria, we will at minimum find safe haven in a city/county that does.

So, states wanting to woo us, play this socio-political ace in your deck to attract our lucrative generation to your shores.

Boomers, pay close attention to this key ingredient when you make this very important decision.  I can tell you from personal experience; living in a state far removed from your cultural/political sensibilities is very painful indeed.

Book Review: "The Daughter Trap"

The new book, The Daughter Trap, Taking Care of Mom and Dad…and You, is written with much love by Laurel Kennedy: love for our elderly first, then for those of us who pretty much give up having a life to care for them when they become incapable of living on their own.

Although filled with excerpts from interviews with a cross-section of Boomers, from the youngest to the oldest of us, men and women, those caring for their own parents and those caring for in-laws, all of which serve well to let fellow Boomers know they’re not in this alone (and giving voice to the sadness, frustration, overwhelm, and myriad other emotions that go along with this gargantuan responsibility), what is most useful are her concrete action steps to be taken, resources to be accessed, and social/media discrimination that must be changed.Men still expect women to be the primary caretakers…even of their own parents, and our parents expect that, too; the media is rightly on top of the lack of services/resources for children in need, but still far too often ignore the fact that little exists for the aged and those who care for them. The few progressive/innovative programs that are out there, or trying to start, designed to give our parents wonderful choices for living fully even if they cannot do it independently, get little help or attention.

Boomers have, and continue to, change entire mind-sets, social values, and communal expectations. Laurel Kennedy makes it abundantly clear that this, the way we care for our elders and the emphasis needed on this issue if our society is ever to get to even adequate let alone stellar around it, must be our new fight. Good thing it doesn’t require sit-ins…that’s a little too painful at this point in our lives… It requires instead the use of our formidable influence in government and the halls of commerce, our consistent attention to the issue with the media, and our Boomer-proven determination to right another wrong.

Only we have the power and the ability to make this change; taking elder care from back- to front-burner.

Read Laurel’s book to find out why, and get some wonderful ideas on how, while you glean some very useful ideas/resources for elder-care if you are doing so now, or are about to take it on soon.

Then get on your Boomer high horse and start demanding better for them; in your community; in the nation.

It’s what we do, and our parents deserve it.