I Care. by
50
(59 Stories)

Prompted By Caregiving

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This week’s prompt is a toughie for me.  To be sure, five years ago, we moved my wife’s mother, then 90, up from Florida to an assisted living facility very near where we live in Massachusetts. Caring for her since then — she is now in the dementia unit, though her physical health remains remarkably strong — has been quite a saga. But it has been primarily my wife’s saga, not mine.

As to my own mother, I was her primary caregiver the last months of her life, following some complicated circulatory surgery that (obviously) did not end well.  There is certainly a story there — indeed, several of them — but, frankly, they all remain too painful for me to want to share, even after twenty five years.

So let me, as is my wont, stay on the relatively light-hearted side of things and selfishly talk about my own (prospective) caring. My wife is a very caring person, but she is exactly one week younger than I am, so relying on her as my primary caregiver as I start to totter mentally and/or physically is fairly problematic.  And vice versa.  I am also quite close to her kids, my step-kids, which is lovely, but I don’t think it is fair to impose myself on them.  With their own and their own kids’ lives (and, indeed, their own parents), they’ve got enough to deal with for the foreseeable future — though at least they wouldn’t have to worry about getting me into a good college.

So that leaves it to my own two darling daughters, both grown and highly capable lawyers.  I think they both love me very much.  Plus, they are very caring people.  And, in the case of my older daughter, I can say that literally.  One of our favorite family stories is about when we took her to her first movie at a movie theater when she was a little over two.  It was “The Care Bears Movie” and, if you were spared that one with your own offspring, I can confirm that it was just as nauseatingly saccharine as one would imagine. Indeed, watching it might cause tooth decay.

In any event, at the climax of the CB movie, when things are at their darkest and it looks as if no one will really care, one of the Care Bears turns to the camera and cries out — rhetorically, I would have thought — “Doesn’t anybody care?”  At which point, my daughter stands on her seat and cries back at the top of her lungs, “I care, Care Bears! I care!”  Hilarity, of course, ensues in the audience.  But, for present purposes, the point is simply this: my daughter cares.  And her younger sister (not yet born at the time) is equally caring.

So I feel pretty confident about my daughters being willing to care for moi.  But I really don’t want to be too much of a burden.  I have seen enough of the enormous emotional and financial burdens that can be imposed on the next generation in handling such care; indeed, other stories on this prompt also speak eloquently as to those things.  So, in order to minimize these burdens, I have taken two steps.

First, and more seriously, I have for many years gotten long term health care insurance for both my wife and me.  Such policies are ridiculously expensive and getting more and more expensive and difficult to obtain.  But I believe they are worth it.  And I would argue that they are more important for our children than for us, as they protect them from having to shoulder what could be a massive financial burden that we might otherwise impose on them.

Second, and less seriously, I have advised my daughters, if  and when I am not able to take care of myself and they are taxed with that responsibility, to imagine that I am at all times wearing a sign around my neck.  And that sign reads exactly like the one I have created as the featured image to this story.

Based on my own and my friends’ experiences, this sign is the best advice I can give my daughters and, hopefully, prospectively relieves them of any guilt or second guessing they might have as to my care.  Of course, being the smart ass daughters of a smart ass, they have already pushed back and suggested that I simply start wearing immediately a “DNR” sign instead.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Marian says:

    Well said, John, and your concern for the next generation is really admirable. I am glad for you that your daughters are so caring (the movie scene you describe is hilarious). Not having had kids and now with a partner 20 years older, I was fortunate enough to purchase long term care insurance more than 15 years ago. Ouch, it’s expensive but essential. My one niece is wonderful and as caring as your daughters, but same deal, I wouldn’t impose on her, and she’ll have my brother and sister-in-law to consider.

  2. Suzy says:

    Great story, John, and thanks for the lighthearted look at future caregivers. I love what you advised your daughters, and it’s nice to know that they have inherited your sense of humor and not their mother’s! Love the Care Bears story too. That must have been unbearably adorable! Do you trot that story out on a regular basis? Ideally when you first meet a guy she is dating?

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. And, yeah, my humor nuts didn’t fall too far from the tree. But I am quite judicious in pulling out that story — though I think my daughter secretly loves it, too. Unfortunately, I have a tough time meeting the girls’ dates. Usually, any questions about whom they are dating is met with an eye roll and an assurance along the lines of, “Don’t worry, Dad; you’ll meet him before the wedding.” Or else I will get some statement along the lines of, “Well, I broke up with Darrell last week. A really sweet guy, but just too needy.” And I just walk away thinking “Who the f*ck is/was Darrell?”

  3. Well. Where to start. First, hurrah for bringing your “smart ass” humor to such a delicate and difficult subject . . . I, for one, needed that right about now!

    On a serious note, though, I’m truly sorry for the painful experience you underwent with your mother. I have a feeling that might not be a story you’ll ever want to share in any great detail.

    From the sign you designed (expertly, I might add) to the hypothetical DNR sign you allude to, I feel safe in saying it’s clear that you would be someone your loved ones would be happy to care for, because it seems to me you care more about them than you do yourself. That would seem like a foregone conclusion, but it’s one we can lose sight of, and one I desperately hope I can remember.

    Thanks for another great story, John!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Barb. One of the things I love about Retro is total editorial freedom (subject to prompts, of course); I can write about what I write and not about what I don’t. As to DNR, and getting serious for a moment, I think it is as much about and for the person and his/her own quality of life as it is about and for the caregivers. I certainly have seen people in conditions that I know I would not want to be kept alive to endure.

      Only slightly less seriously, I am thinking that another term of Trump might itself qualify for DNR.

  4. Love it John!
    We also have long-term care insurance which my husband unkindly calls decrepit insurance.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m with you John. Before turning 60, I made Dan get both of us long-term care policies (in fact, his hadn’t been signed…I refused to go to MV for the season until he signed his; I’m not above taking hostages). Because we were both under that magic age, the premiums were pretty reasonable for a while. No longer, of course, but still worth it, I’m sure.

    And I am all about DNR! My husband thinks I will live forever like my mother (my father was 76 when he passed away), but dementia is awful. I would rather take pills. I’ve told anyone who survives me to just put me out of my misery, though I know that isn’t possible.

    But I do love the “I care” story with your daughter. Lovely. Even better than clapping for fairies to bring Tinker Bell back to life, which I’m sure many of us did, while watching Mary Martin on TV every year.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Our great minds think alike, Betsy, both on long term care insurance and DNR. And I love the idea that you held your husband “hostage” to get the former. Mine was a much easier sell. And, happily, my former wife feels the same and also has such coverage (or at least I am pretty sure she still does) — again, really to spare our kids.

      And I love your reference to Tinker Bell. In fact, when my former wife and I were laughing about the Care Bear movie — and our daughter’s unannounced cameo — later on, I noted that, on top of every other gloppy aspect of the movie, that “Doesn’t anyone care?” shout out seemed to be a pretty blatant rip off from “Peter Pan.”

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your story about your daughter crying out that she cares during the Care Bears movie. John, it was so interesting how you turned the prompt on its head and talked about your future caregivers. Most of us don’t want to go there, but if forced to think about it, one of my daughters and her husband would definitely be there for me. And their daughters as well. I just hate to contemplate that time, although as it says on my car’s rearview mirror, objects are much closer than they appear.

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