Those who have visited San Francisco always want to ride the famous iconic cable cars. Admittedly, they are cute as they clang along their rails up and down the hilly streets of the “City by the Bay.” During the height of tourist season these horseless carriages are packed to overflowing. But I often wonder if the people riding the cable cars are aware of the braking system? It’s a 2 x 4 piece of wood pressed down on the track.
It’s the smell of burning wood that always gets me.
In a similar vein, my wife and I found ourselves grabbing for life’s braking system not so many years ago. Our children were growing up much too quickly. Our parents were growing needier by the day. And then grandchildren came into the picture, consuming large amounts of our time, which is no hardship, believe me! But so many issues began to confront us that we felt wholly inadequate in trying to deal with any one of them, let alone all of them. We were smack dab in the middle of the Sandwich Generation!
It is a startling reality to discover that your parents are old. When did this happen? How did we miss it? Are we getting old, too? I heard my wife laughing the other morning while she was fixing her hair for work. Curious, I looked to see what she found so amusing. There she stood with hands on hips smiling at me from the bathroom mirror. I said, “What’s so funny?” She replied with another burst of laughter, “I look just like my grandmother!” She was right. Ouch!
Into our sixties now, we recognize that most of the years allotted to us are behind us. Like it or not, the decisions I make today have more to do with what I leave behind when I’m gone. All the “stuff” I’ve acquired throughout my life will eventually be disposed of, either by me, or my family when I’m gone.
For nearly thirty years my wife and I have been caring for kids, grandparents, parents, and grandkids. We are both in relatively good health, but one stroke, or severe illness can change that picture very quickly. Will we be able to care for each other? Or will we have to become dependent on our daughters and their husbands? Will there be enough money to live on should we happen to live twenty or thirty more years? What sort of medical plan will we be able to use in the future? And will it be affordable?
So let me ask you – Who takes care of Whom?
Studies have shown that those who retire at age 65 have less than $250 in the bank. Add to that the fact that that same person is likely to live an additional 17 years or more, and you have major problems brewing. None of us wants to be a burden to our family for any reason. So what do you do?
I would advise you to look very carefully at your financial situation. How many years will your finances carry you into retirement? Do you still need to live in the big house? It may hold all the memories from children, and grandchildren, and the many good times shared, but is it still practical? Or would downsizing to an apartment or duplex with well-maintained lawn service be more the ticket? Moving in with one of your children and their family may sound fun and exciting, but is it realistic? Unless you have an exceptionally close relationship with all of them, you may quickly find yourself an unwelcome guest.
Finding yourself in one of the layers of the Sandwich Generation can be very humbling. My wife and I have been the middle part of the sandwich for so long now, caring for everyone else that I’m not sure we know how to function in a receiving role.
“Just when the Sandwich Generation begins to feel the pressure of helping an elderly parent(s), there is evidence to show that the elderly are the ones just as often assisting the adult child(ren) financially. In a 1975 Louis Harris poll, the findings showed that 45 percent of the public aged sixty-five and older help their children and grandchildren with money, recognizing that aging parents generally do not wish to draw on their children’s financial resources. Though the government is being pressured to provide more and more for the elderly, studies show that families prefer to take care of their own.” (“The Sandwich Generation: Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents,” Charles R. Roots, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York/London, 1998.)
Here’s a sobering statistic. For every 100 people at age 65:
· 34 are dead
· 54 are dead broke
· 5 are still working
· 4 are financially independent
· 1 is wealthy
I will leave you with these questions for personal and family consideration.
1. Have you developed a financial plan for your senior years?
2. What sort of medical insurance do you have?
3. Are you involved in a routine of physical exercise?
Let me conclude by suggesting you sit down with your family and share with them the manner in which you would like to see things handled as you live out your remaining years. This will be a great blessing to your loved ones!