I recently decided to take transportation matters into my own hands, so I moved my car to a new garage. I no longer have valet service, which means that I’m responsible for any scratches or dents I find on the car. I’ll know when I bang into a post, or ding my grocery cart into the back bumper. I’m now also responsible for keeping the car clean, both inside and out. Up until now, my car has been washed and stored in a full service garage directly across the street from my building.
Why would I want to move out of the garage, away from this apparently luxurious situation?
I lost control of the car.
Not in the usual sense, like losing control and careening off the road into an accident. No, I lost control of the scratches and bumps and dents. I had no idea what happened to the car after I parked it and exited the garage. I never knew whether the things I left in it would still be there, in the same place, day after day. I gave my car away every evening and my car was returned to me every morning.
Every time I saw a new bump or scratch, or the car was not cleaned to my satisfaction, I blamed someone else and felt bad about it. What looked like a great situation from the outside, really wasn’t working for me.
I’ve been known to speak up for myself in other situations, so why couldn’t I do so here? I worried that if I inquired about the new scratch on the door the valet might label me as a “complainer”, get angry with me, and take even longer next time to bring up the car. I secretly feared that the nicks and dents on the car were the result of my previous complaints. Finally I decided to take action and move my car to a new garage.
As I pulled the car into my new space, it struck me how fabulous it felt to have the freedom of choice to move the car, to have my car at my disposal whenever I wanted. No calling ahead, no writing the car up on the scheduling board, no disappointment and frustration if the car wasn’t ready to go when I was.
What I’m really happy about is that I found the spot on my own terms. I took my time to find the new spot. I watched and waited for signs posted around the neighborhood, for word from neighbors that a spot in a choice building without valet service was opening up. I knew exactly what I wanted. My new spot is $70 less per month, and I signed a contract saying that I can pull out of the arrangement whenever I want. My next step is to buy a permanent spot in a neighborhood garage, but I’m taking it slowly, one step at a time.
We can do the same thing for retirement and beyond. Rather than letting the years drive you, you can take control of your own future. Rather than letting your health plan tell you which doctor you can or cannot see, or feeling that your children are (graciously) making different decisions for you than you’d like, or wishing you had spoken up in time to say that you didn’t want a medical procedure, a certain home health aide, or a move out of your home, you can take control. You can let your loved ones know your wishes, and you don’t have to feel guilty or concerned about speaking up.
Retirement and beyond is the longest period of our lives for which most of us have no plan. Sure, many of us retire and age with general goals in mind. Some go back to school to re-train for a new career, some become master bridge players, some plan to travel around the world and some spend time with grandchildren and loved ones.
Yet, there is something missing. Very few of us prepare or plan for aging, the difficult stuff of aging, which is practically inevitable as medical advances help us live longer and longer. Some of us think about staying close or moving closer to loved ones as we grow older, but not many of us actually take steps to be closer. Many of us think we’d like to stay at home as we age, but few of us have a realistic scenario to pay for the ongoing care it takes to keep us at home.
Many people hope and pray that somehow the period of time where they’ll need care and possibly lose independence will be short-lived and painless, and they are too frightened to think about it–so they don’t. And then, what they are most afraid of happens to them. They find themselves facing healthcare and financial and housing decisions in their most vulnerable state and feeling out of control, rather than following a roadmap for care that was set up with their wishes and hopes and best interest in mind.
In my fourteen years as a geriatric care manager I’ve had the privilege of working with families as they sort through the crises and issues of care, of long-term accommodation, and of making the end of life meaningful and sacred. It’s been a privilege to work with people at this critical juncture of life. Yet when I work with clients who come to me in crisis I think to myself, what if we had met 10 years earlier and we could have thought about and planned for what Mrs. L would have wanted in this situation? Would she have thought to satisfy her emotional needs, her need for community and connectedness? Would she have bought the best long-term care insurance, or would she have discussed her wishes for care with her family?
Oftentimes, when people call me, it’s too late to plan. It’s probably not too late for you, though. I encourage you to take the first step, to sit down and talk to your loved ones about your future, to think about your needs and to mobilize your resources. You can ask me how to go about this, and I can help you strategize in a planful way. It can be a long stretch, this retirement and beyond. It’ll be nice to pull into your own “parking space,” and feel like you’ve made good and wise choices, and you will reap the benefits when the time comes.