CHOOSE VERY, VERY CAREFULLY!
I’m in the middle of a huge search.
For a while now I have been staring the rest of my life, so to speak, in the face.
It has become – even before the events earlier this year which resulted in three stents – very obvious that living in a 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath NJ suburban home was becoming untenable.
Like the older pet which needs to be rehomed so it can live out its remaining days in relative peace, I can’t handle the little I used to be able to handle of my life – without some major changes.
ALL OF THE FOLLOWING ASSUMES YOU HAVE SOME CHOICES.
When you have no choices to make, you live the best you can, going along from one step to the next as well as you’re able. Your choices are dictated by the moment, by an illness, by something external you have no control over.
To a large extent, this depends on prior choices – did you take care of yourself physically? And did that work for you? Did you put some money into savings – assuming there was some to spare? Have you invested in a house which can be sold now? Are you able to move if that’s the best choice, or does something anchor you in place?
If you are poor, your choices are limited all the way along life.
If your health is not good, your choices are extremely limited. I’ve dealt with that one myself for 27+ years, with no end in sight; any change in that part of my life will be created, within the disease of CFS by me, and without, by some unknown researcher some day. Even if a cause and treatment are found, or a treatment only, there is no guarantee that it will reverse the damage I live with. Me managing like crazy, just to stay on a slowly-declining plane, is already doing the best that I can.
If life is unkind, you are already stuck, but there may be a possibility of becoming unstuck some day.
Facing the facts in time
Many people wait too long to make the decision where to go, what to do – and end up making that decision by accident, when a life crisis comes along.
Friends of my parents gave me a model. I didn’t understand it at the time, since they were living in a fair amount of material comfort in Guadalajara, but they went and bought into a community in, I believe, El Paso, TX. J at least was an American citizen, and one or both of them would probably have had Medicare by that age, and possibly they wanted to be in a place with access to American hospitals and healthcare. I know none of the details, but it seemed odd at the time (my own parents didn’t do the same, due to large extended family in Mexico City, and more limited funds) because of their family in Guadalajara, but now I see they were making a decision for a whole bunch of things while they were still capable and competent to make those decisions.
It has stuck with me, even though it has taken until the last couple of years for me to see the why.
I began four or five years ago to seriously consider the future. The kids were not all launched, but that time was coming closer.
I remember pointing out the advantages to a planned change – rather than a chaotic one induced by circumstances – to a colleague in a support group who was older, and whose wife was older, as well as to family.
No one listened; and the colleague’s wife now has advancing dementia – making it very difficult for him to move, for her to adjust to somewhere new, and for her to help in the decision and the move. Family has reached a different solution, and it was as a response to crises, just as I predicted, crises that might have been avoided.
The stories are everywhere: people whose parents refused to ‘be put in a home’ until a major illness or crisis caused a non-optimal solution to be hastily implemented. People who didn’t move until one of a couple faced significant health problems, at which point it was too late to enjoy the move.
We are fortunate to have options
Which is almost funny, since the story of my life lately is that I’m completely out of options.
I preach the necessity of disability insurance, if it is at all possible (and recommend you pay for it yourself – which has huge tax advantages if you need it), because you are five times more likely to become disabled during your working years than to die – and everyone has life insurance, but most don’t have disability insurance. Private disability insurance goes beyond SS disability (which is downright stingy): it kept us middle class when I became unable to work.
Consider also the possibility of a disability lasting long enough that you really need some built-in inflation protection. I had none, and it really hurt.
I would have been able to save more money had I worked. I prefer working – keeping myself sane these many years has not been easy.
So, facing the decision of what to do with the rest of our life is happening with me still sick, but with some retirement accounts and a house which can be sold.
The parameters to the decision
I am fortunate to have a living spouse in reasonably good health – right now. In fact, I would like to preserve that health: when he goes out to clear the snow or mow the grass on a hot humid day or prune bushes standing on a platform, I worry. I used to help with the snow – can’t do that any more (but he FINALLY bought a snowplow). I used to do a fair amount of the weeding – can’t do that any more, because sitting on the ground or a low chair or bending over cause significant pain over the next couple of days, and that heat and humidity are probably what landed me in the hospital this last time.
So he’s doing ALL the work, and even with some help from an assistant, he’s still IN CHARGE of all the work. We had people last year; they were ultimately unsatisfactory.
Taking care of house and yard consumes too much of his energy, all of mine, and just has to be done again. That doesn’t even take into account ‘things that go wrong,’ such as the roof or the AC or the driveway or the trees that die.
So, the obvious is a place where we do none of the maintenance work, in or out.
Another stressor has been how hard it is to leave the house to go somewhere for a vacation, added to how long it takes us to pack – and leave the house so someone else can do the bare minimum. Homeownership had its joys when we did everything ourselves (BC – before children); then it became just work while the kids were home and things got done when they had to be done, in among all the other chores; now it’s impossible.
Pet care – you’d never believe how hard it is to take care of one tiny chinchilla, and how difficult to arrange for someone to keep her alive while we’re gone. Impossible without an assistant (thank goodness I have one now for a few hours every week), still tricky even with someone who potentially can drop by every couple of days to make sure Gizzy has food and water and the AC hasn’t died (if it gets too hot, she won’t make it – that thick silky fur coat). Already seriously considering finding her another home (anyone want a slightly spoiled chinchilla?), and am making sure anywhere we consider allows pets in case she goes with us.
These will be the best years we have left
Seems obvious, but we’re not getting any younger.
I want a place where I can make the big push for 1) getting as much exercise as the CFS will allow, 2) making the best use of any improvements in walking ability, 3) hoping that reduced stress will contributed to better overall health and mobility.
This means I need a year-round pool and gym, and PT people on-site, somewhere I can actually get to without spending a day of my energy.
And we need bike paths. Even though I can’t go far, not being able to walk doesn’t mean I can’t ride a bike! My limitation is actually the energy – I can go short rides, hope to be able to increase those a bit.
And I want good weather: in NJ, if you miss a ‘good day,’ there may not be another for a while. I grew up in Southern California and Mexico City, where weather was a stable thing, and the next day would be much like today, and both would be pleasant. Then, going out to do something will be governed by whether I have the energy today, not by whether it’s feasible!
I require a heated year-round pool. No quarter given on this one: I’m a water baby, even if I’m not actually swimming, and I’m not moving somewhere for the rest of my life that doesn’t have a pool. Not happening.
I tell the spouse that the next 5-10 years of our lives are the good ones – and if we are to do ANY traveling, it will be now. I want to see my mother and my extended family in Mexico, possibly at family reunions in Michigan. I want to go to the beach in the Riviera Maya or in places like Acapulco and Huatulco, which have warm ocean water in the winter. Because I know I can do these – at my extremely slow pace (once I cope with a week of packing and survive the week when we come back). I want to spend time doing a vacation with the kids while it still is fun for most of the family.
The solution? I’m working my tail off to find it
California has, at last count, 102 CCRCs (Continuing Care Retirement Communities) – places we can move to and get all those things above.
Some of them are unsuitable because they are retirement communities for particular religious groups we don’t belong to; others are urban and have no pool; still others are way too expensive for us (I’ve eliminated all the for-profits). Some would make it difficult for me to get to the gym or pool – my time being coherent is also limited, and the more energy I expend in getting, the less time I have for the activity; the independent cottages, ‘just a short walk away,’ seem, by definition, to require more health to get to the pool or gym – I believe an apartment in the same building as the facilities is my best option.
The CCRC concept is doing well. It is recommended you stick with places over 90% occupancy (proof of continuing fiscal responsibility), but when a place is 98% full, by definition there are few units left! People move on to assisted living or nursing home care (a CCRC by definition has both available to its residents when they need the next step), and some pass on, but the rates are not high, and I’d like to move fairly soon (once the pesky house is dejunked and sold).
It is a lot of research work and no one can do it for you. Not really. I have spent hours talking to nice sales and marketing people – only to hang up and realize there is no way we can afford their lovely CCRC. The main reason: they don’t put their prices on their websites (probably because then people won’t call and talk to the nice salespeople), but it is inefficient and wearying when you really do know how much you can afford and what you need, which most people on this search don’t yet. A tendency to put information such as ‘apartments start at…’ out for view means people think they might be able to swing it – and then can’t when the range of prices becomes known.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina
I’ll figure it out. We’ll pick 5-8 of these places, and then take ‘the trip’: stay in a few, see the physical plant, smell the nursing home portion (apparently, that’s the biggie – clean places take work and money), and have lunch with some residents in assisted living to see how they are really living – and being treated.
Then we will make a decision, hope the house-selling sill support that decision, and spend an enormous amount of my good time – and all of husband’s – actually doing this.
The average age of entrance used to be 80; it’s already dropping as people realize they can’t live worry-free if they have a house on their hands. Even with a lot of money and a lot of help, it’s a constant set of chores.
Think about this sooner, rather than later, if this kind of solution to our common problem appeals to you. Time goes by much faster than you expect.
Wish us luck (even if you would never consider leaving your home, or living with a bunch of strangers horrifies you).