Doug Curtis, a financial advisor with Edward Jones in Rockland, told me when he first met me that I left a chapter out of my book, Your Countdown to Retirement. I was very surprised. After all, I thoroughly researched all the topics I thought relevant to non-financial issues facing baby boomers.
“You don’t talk about the Sandwich Generation,” Curtis said, “baby boomers who are caring for their elderly parents as well as their children.” Doug was right. I hadn’t included any information on this topic. It was something I hadn’t experienced and therefore was not something I included.
Fast forward a year and my 93-year-old father is now living with me and my husband. He was in an excellent graduated care retirement community in Illinois. But when my step-mom passed away, it was no longer practical for him to remain there. My Dad has been diagnosed with dementia. Most days he has few memory issues and is still very much “with it.” However, all that can change. Managing his affairs long distance was not feasible. Besides, he wanted to come live with us and we were in favor of that decision.
While with us in Rockland, Dad loved to walk without assistance to Snow Marine Park on Mechanic Street just down the street from our house. He is fiercely independent – a characteristic of many members of “The Greatest Generation” and one that has served him well. Like many people born in the depression era, my father takes great pride in financial and physical independence.
With a recent fall and two hospitalizations, his sense of independence was threatened. The walks he enjoys so much are currently not possible without the aid of a cane. This has shaken his confidence.
Dad is not used to having someone care for him, let alone asking for help. His recent health setback was a learning experience for both of us. My attempts to help him often took away his sense of being in control of his life and affairs. A somewhat gruff “I can do that!” often met my attempts at assistance. What I learned through this process is the more he does for himself, the more he will continue to do for himself.
As parents we often grow impatient with our toddler’s clumsy attempts at a task. Their belligerent “I DO IT!” response to our intervention and assistance is similar to the reaction of the elderly. They want to be able to care for themselves and when we do something for them that they are capable of doing for themselves, we take away their sense of independence.
It is seductive to think about having someone do something for us when we are capable of doing the task ourselves – whether it’s balancing our checkbook or doing laundry. We lose our ability to do something efficiently and effectively when we stop doing it and that is not in our best interest in the long run. As we age, the more cylinders our brain is firing on the better. Movement and lifelong learning are proven components of longevity and the cliché “you rest, you rust” is not just a cliché.
This 4th of July, I encourage baby boomers to make your own declaration of independence, continue to do things for yourself, and live independently for as long as you can.