Van Halen sez YOLO--so do it RIGHT NOW
I could hear my mother’s voice quite clearly—or…feel her with me, more like, as I pondered this huge, life altering decision.
And I could see my father, smiling and shaking his head because he knew something she didn’t—lots of somethings she didn’t. And would therefore advise me quite differently.
It was ever thus, while they were both still here with me. Mom would say, “Be careful! Don’t go too far!” And Daddy would say, “Go on and try it! If you fall, well…that’s how we learn to get up again.”
So, I could feel them both tugging in different directions as my heart and mind lined up on the appropriate sides of this issue, too.
This issue is this.
In a little over a year—my birthday is days away--I will need to decide whether to take Social Security early or to wait ‘til I’m 66. I retired early, like my father, with a pretty nice little pension though my online teaching and curriculum writing jobs have come in very handy, admittedly.
That’s in part because my awful illness almost two years ago sucked up all of my savings. And I am still going back and forth to the Mayo Clinic, working on the last bits of nastiness that remain.
The SSI check would literally double my income. And given the fact that my current income is considerably more than a lot of middle class elders have or will have…I feel a little sheepish worrying about this.
But the reserves are gone. And I haven’t been able to live anything even vaguely like the wild retired life that my father had. The man had always lived well, but when he retired a full three years younger than I did, he hit the road and…the planes and the boats and every other mode of transportation necessary to take him to all the places he’d ever dreamt of going.
I don’t think he and his lady—he left but never divorced Mom and had a woman so cool that I loved her, too--missed a Mardi Gras ‘til he was well into his 70s. And there were trips to islands and countries and…as always, the places he loved to go fishing and camping. He even had a little trailer to haul along, and a little boat and…oh, the man had everything he’d ever wanted. Worked hard…and played even harder, when the work was done.
And I wanted to be just like him.
My mother reaped the benefit of his master plan when he died and left her a full pension for life. Those were the days, my friend—gone for good, I fear.
It allowed her, when she became too ill to be cared for at home, to live in some of the best assisted and skilled nursing facilities in Tucson. And everyone that worked in her cushy “facilities” loved her--I was astonished at how well she was cared for. So we were both able to relax and enjoy what was left of her life.
But…before I got her out to Tucson she had needlessly chosen--out of that fear that I always heard in her voice whenever I or Daddy chose to do something “dangerous”-- to live in a scary neighborhood in a scary building because the rent was subsidized or…something like that.
I’ve never totally understood these things, but before Daddy passed away and because she was elderly and somewhat frail, she was able to have one of those places and therefore live within her means. Or what she thought were her means.
I would later discover that she had all kinds of benefits that would have made her life much easier, but she’d been afraid to ask questions about the letters she didn’t understand. My father, no longer living with her but still very much a part of her life, would try to tell her what they meant, but she seemed almost unable to accept the idea that she could and should have such things.
Long story, that. To do with being abandoned and orphaned…and losing the man she loved. Or pushing him away and then wondering why he finally figured she didn’t want a husband so he might as well go.
When she was finally forced to let me help…I found all those letters and more. And wept as I sat sorting things out. She had wasted thousands upon thousands of dollars. Thousands—I’m not exaggerating.
But I asked the questions she hadn’t. And from then on, she lived a good life, what was left of it. And I vowed that I would live an even better one.
Which…takes us back to that decision.
And explains why half of me was almost embarrassed to ask people to help me make it—like Mom. And how half of me was totally sure I had earned the right to a better retirement, especially after that illness which had nearly killed two years ago and taught me that that “New York Minute” song by the Don Henley is ‘way too true.
Which…is what Daddy would’ve said—in his own inimitable way.
I chased my tail for a few weeks. And then, I did what I’d done for my mother when we got her to Tucson and her health began to fail.
I started asking about the prices of independent living facilities and nursing homes and…all the things I might need at some point. Unlike my mother, I own a house and some land in Northern Arizona, so if I ever need that kind of care, there will be more than just SSI and my pension.
And the more I crunched the numbers, the more I realized that no matter what…I’d be okay.
Still, I thought I’d get a few more opinions from people I loved and trusted.
And at first, I discovered that many of them had “Daddy and Mommy” tapes in their heads, too.
And in their parents’ voices they said, “Oh, c’mon! That’s $400 you might need later when you’re dealing with all the little aches and pains.” And, “What’s a few more years? You’ve made it this far—wait! You never know what you’ll need—you have to prepare for the unexpected.”
And I thought, “Wait—these are ‘Hope I die before I get old’ Boomers, tellin’ me this! People who drank electric Boones Farm and…ran off to Woodstock and…Haight Ashbury and all that 60’s stuff--who ARE you people and what have you done with my friends?”
And then…I remembered some people who would answer me from both their own truths and the truths about me that only they knew and understood.
Two, are new friends—two wonderful elders I’ve written about before who found each other late in life and ran off to live the life they’d both been yearning for through all those other lives.
I met them on a bench, overlooking the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. When they approached, I was not happy. That bench had been my ringside seat to the sunset sky show every day that I’d been there. And I did not want to have to entertain a coupla white snowbirds once that show started.
But they quickly taught me a few new truths about myself and…damned near everything else.
Gerry is the feistiest, saltiest old bird that ever spat a string of very harsh words at the mere mention of George W. Bush. The man knew Washington, D.C. all too well—another long story, but a real good one. In fact, he had lots of good stories about politicians. And nothin’ but rage for the “machine.” Informed rage. The kind I like.
His lady Polly is his sweeter half. But sharp as a tack. She was tuned into the elements. And Gerry. And a kind of intuitive wisdom that snuck up on me quietly.
So he fumes..and she glows. They’re absolutely perfect for each other.
And when I asked them what they thought, they gave me some advice. Informed advice.
The kind I like, remember?
They reminded me that someday I’d realize that I couldn’t get back those days when I was still young and spry enough to live it up…but didn’t. They said they’d run off together and had a great time and it had all been just great ‘til they started to get close to 70 and “…the wheels fell off” and they started having serious health issues.
But because they’d driven that buggy as fast and as far as it would go before those wheels fell off…they had no regrets.
I almost wept as I read that email. I knew they would understand me. They understood me from the moment we met. And I trust them as if I’d known them all my life.
And then, as if realizing I needed a more “practical” confirmation of this opinion, one of my oldest and dearest friends from ‘way back in high school handed the conundrum to her husband.
You see, her husband is a corporate lawyer—a damned good one. And consequently, they have done very, very well for themselves. In fact…she’s a little embarrassed about how well they’ve done—it’s that good. I mean, the kinda good that when they take a trip to London, they stay at one of those old ritzy hotels that have been “the best” forever, and there’s a car and driver waiting to take them…wherever they want to go every day.
Doesn’t get much gooder than that.
Which tickles me, because the first time we went to London we were in college and did the $10 a day thing—you could do that in London, though, then. Now…well…she goes in style.
She got her husband, whose opinion I also value because the man saved a very big corporation from going belly up a coupla decades ago. And he did the math. Knowing full well that I am completely unable to do or understand any kind of math beyond…well…fractions gave me fits and after that, I kinda gave up. It’s an actual disability, this thing I have about math, but I just thought I was hopelessly deficient in the math department. Until a psychologist heard me talking about math and some other issues that also show up when you have this disability, and said, “Let me test you.”
Et voila! I discovered that my brain is wired…differently. That strange silence that comes over me whenever someone tries to show me how to do anything mathematical is my brain literally failing to connect. My eyes glaze, I get sweaty…and only recently have I learned to say, simply, “I can’t do numbers. Show me a different way.” Most of the time…that works.
It worked this time, too. Along with the numbers came a little story about…me. And the story explained that I would be 81 years old before I’d throw that little pity party about taking the money too early. And…remember, we live to about…82 in my family.
I figure one year of being a grumbly old granny’s not so bad.
So…four people I adore and respect were saying, “Hey! Live a little while you still can!”
And I dug that.
But nobody did it better, in the end, than my crazy, quirky 25-year-old daughter—wow, it’s hard for me to say that age out loud, still. Twenty-FIVE—she’ll be 26 in April. YIKES.
Anyway, she’s a pistol that girl. There’s no one else like her. She’s just…got “that” kinda mind. Just a little ahead of everyone else and twisted just enough to put a really cool spin on just about everything.
So…first she told me to wait. Because she knows I’m a little bit wild with money from the days before I retired when I could be. So in a very unique role reversal, she’s the voice of financial reason around the house most of the time. But she likes math. And balances her check book. And…everything else.
So watching me deal with my finances makes her feel like she’s on a rollercoaster that has lost its brakes.
But…a few days after I first asked her about all this, she strolled into my room and told me that she’d seen a t-shirt that summed up the whole things pretty simply.
“You only live once. BUY THE SHOES.”
Only, I bought a big luxurious leather desk chair with matching ottoman--it heats up and vibrates, too.