I have been on a journey that I could have never expected. My brother, sister, and I have been walking with my mother through the journey of dementia over the last 5 years. Although the details differ in each individual case, the story is often the same. First we noted some changes in behavior. Then we noticed she was losing weight. There was a lot of denial and argument among us kids about what was really going on, and the problems continued to get worse. None of us (her children) wanted to believe that she wasn’t well.
We began to explore options of having someone come into her house to help with everyday items like cooking and cleaning. Soon, it was apparent that she could no longer live at home by herself. We reluctantly went through the process of selling her house and moving her to an assisted living facility.
These are all physical steps in a very emotional journey. I would love to tell you it was easy, but it was not. The problems came hard and fast, and each decision had to be made with everyone’s input and agreement. As my mother became less able to made decisions for herself, we have had to step up and make them for her. At times, these decisions threatened to tear us apart, but have ultimately brought us closer together as siblings.
The financial realities of this journey have been sobering. It is expensive to pay for help, and there have been other financial challenges that I wasn’t prepared for. She was wise enough to name her children as Powers of Attorney early in this process, but trying to organize someone else’s finances can be hard! The constant communication between the siblings can be tedious, but it is necessary.
Mostly, this journey has helped me to be present. When I visit my mom, the cares of the day drift away. I smile and sit on her bed to talk. I share pictures and stories of family and friends. Although she is in the late stages of this disease, she is still glad to see me and loves to see her grandchildren. I can see it in her eyes. Although she cannot speak anymore, she bursts into song when we play music. Although she cannot walk without assistance, she loves to hold hands for a stroll.
If I have learned anything through this journey, it would be these things.
- Money has a purpose — to provide what you need, no more and no less.
- Make sure your estate is in order. This means wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents. An ounce of preparation in this area is worth avoiding the giant headache you will experience without it.
- Most importantly, invest in making memories! No one knows what the future holds.
As a father of a young family, I always thought I had plenty of time to get my financial house in order. But after going through all of this with my mom, I realize that the unexpected happens every day. I need to have protections in place, in terms of how my finances are set up and insurances, so that if I should become disabled or suffer from something like early onset dementia – the money stuff doesn’t get in the way of my family being able to be present for me and do what’s in mine and their best interest.
I also wish I’d had some of the conversations I can no longer have with my mom back when she was healthy. We probably would have set up some better safety nets and contingency plans that would have given us more options as we faced her illness. When it comes to caring for someone you love, having the luxury of choice is invaluable. If your parents are still alive and healthy, don’t avoid this important topic.
No matter what your age or the size of your assets — protect your family today. It’s the most loving gift you can give them.