19.1 Months and Counting

My sister called tonight—to tell me after some complex calculations (involving her laptop and an Excel spreadsheet) that our father has approximately 19.1 months of money left.

19.1 months—that’s barely to the end of 2010—not even a decade after the Space Odyssey.

My father lives in a small studio apartment (with his own furniture) at a local assisted living facility (decorated like a cruise ship) where they are kind enough to care for him for a miniscule $6100 per month. Every penny is worth it—other than an occasional bad shave and a lost sock here or there, they care for him 24/7 and do an excellent job.

So 19 months left. Not enough time for me to make millions. Not enough time to build another retirement account. Only enough time to worry about what happens to him once he’s kicked out. There’s always the VA—which provides excellent care but whose waxed floors and clinical décor remind me of a hospital—and the tiny bedrooms of a jail. Or there’s a Medicaid facility—where he’ll share a room with an open-mouthed sleeper or someone who wets his bed, or worse, a nonstop talker. Not that my father is that much better off—he has a pretty serious head injury that has left him in a wheelchair unable to care for himself. Hence, the assisted living, hence, the $6100 a month, hence, at some point, the end of the money.

I’m not a baby boomer but somehow I am part of the sandwich generation. Move over, liverwurst and lettuce! I am taking care of my 11-year-old son and trying with my siblings to desperately care for my father, who is turning 80 in about a month. Of course, I’m not responsible for his day-to-day care—all I do is visit him every weekend so he doesn’t go insane eating the same thin vegetable soup and roast turkey dinners in a lunchroom full of Alzheimer’s patients.

I am grateful to the nursing home for taking good care of him—bringing him home is out of the question because he needs 24 hour care—but at the same time, I feel a bit distressed about his future.

I’m envious of friends whose parents still meddle in their lives—they complain how their mothers call them nonstop or their fathers grumble at the crappy molding in their foyer or are continually telling them to change the oil in their car. My mother died of cancer two years ago, my father is stuck in a nursing home (for now, thank God), and I find it hard not to say to those friends, “I’ll call your mother and listen to her complain!”

Life is a precious thing. There is a grace in all of this—I feel it when I hold my father’s hand and he squeezes back; I see it when the LNAs make a point of admiring how handsome he looks in his plaid shirt; I sense it when I run into my brother or sister at the nursing home and we laugh about something silly as a family.

There is a grace in watching a parent age as your own tired bones are aging. There is a grace in the fact that my father is safe for now, and that he has lived to be 80. When I remember to focus on that grace, I feel good about all things, even the $6100 that he is spending each month—there is a grace that he even has that much to give.