Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old

I just finished reading Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old, a collaboration between two friends, Mary Boone Wellington and Tracey Bowman, who are the primary caregivers for their elderly parents. They share their stories in alternating chapters and include useful information on all kinds of things you might not know you need to know about, like common medical problems of the elderly, Long Term health insurance, how to clear clutter and more.

There are probably a bunch of books like this on the market, and as baby boomers age there will be more. The appeal here is the conversational style; it’s like listening to friends tell stories over coffee at Panera’s, only with more candor. If you approach the book with that expectation you can excuse the occasional typo and abundance of exclamation points. It is, after all, self-published, but don’t let that stop you. When I met co-author Mary, she observed that it was “…pretty well written considering the fact that I’m a visual artist.” That honesty is a big part of the book’s charm.

Both Mary and Tracey struggled in their roles as caregivers. They were, occasionally, resentful of the time and effort it took, and the sense that their elders were not as cooperative or appreciative as they should have been. That may sound shocking, but I’m guessing it’s not unusual. I’ll bet every child of an elderly parent has had similar thoughts, and then been horrified and guilt-ridden. However, Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old posits that the negative feelings may actually make you a more effective caregiver (which may be why the sub-title is How to Survive Old Age: Your Own or Someone You Love) if you pay attention to what those thoughts are really telling you.

After expending effort to make her mother’s house safer and enduring a scolding in response, Mary was hurt, even as she realized that her mother “…longed to be on her own again…without me asking her how she felt, or what she wanted for lunch, or whether she wanted a nightlight in the kitchen.” Her frustration caused her to vent to her friend, Tracey, who helped her understand that “…this process was a kind of orphaning, and my anger was transparent cover for my sadness and fear.”

Who wouldn’t be scared by the prospect of becoming an orphan? That primal fear may be what drives children to worry about their parents long before their parents are inclined to worry about themselves. There may come a day when you have to intervene and take away the car keys, but what if your elder decides on their own that they no longer feel safe behind the wheel? Aging isn’t easy and elders need to be able to maintain some control over their lives.

Reading Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old will undoubtedly make you think about your own aging as well as that of your elders. Everyone is different and YMMV, but buying the book is a small investment to make in the future that, if you’re lucky, is still a long way away.

You can buy a copy of Hope I Don’t Die Before I Get Old here.

Elderly suitor

My eighty-six year old neighbor has a crush on me. I’m going to call him John, because I don’t know his name. John is Greek and his English is minimal, so conversations are painful and time-consuming. I try to stick to weather observations like “beautiful day” and “it’s getting chilly,” but he persists in our version of chatting, so over time I’ve learned a thing or two about him.

He lives down the block with his wife and a cat (or two, or three). He has a daughter in Connecticut who is, apparently, a great success, and lives in a house I think he bought her, with his grand-daughter. Another daughter passed away a couple of years ago. I think the cats were hers. Most days, he takes a walk up and down our street. His wife does not join him, but sometimes one of his cats does. He carries a very tall stick as a cane, and moves slowly.

If I am outside when he passes by, he stops to say hello. If I am actively engaged in something, he will stand on the street and watch me. After a while, if I don’t stop what I’m doing to join him at the curb, he’ll walk onto the lawn towards me. He does this even if I’m mowing the lawn. When that happens, I feel obliged to stop the mower to say hello since clearly he is going to pursue me until I do, even though it strikes me as an outrageous intrusion.

He kisses me hello on the cheek. The first time he did that, I allowed it out of some convoluted sense of respect for his age; that and I didn’t know how to repel him politely. Lately, he has professed his love for me. I want to believe he means like the love he feels for a daughter, but given his limited English, I am not sure, particularly since one of his words is “jealous.” He told me he was jealous of my husband. If he is like most other elderly men, he is probably just taking advantage of his advanced age to get away with saying mildly inappropriate things. But I am no longer comfortable letting him kiss me, and I don’t know how to make him stop.

I have taken to avoiding John when I can. If I’m thinking of going out, but I see him on the street, I wait until he’s gone. Recently, I ran away from him. I was across the street, chatting with another neighbor, an older woman he likes to hug hello, when he came by. We said hello and then I told him we had something to do and dragged her back to my house, up the driveway and around the back. We congratulated ourselves on getting away and continued our conversation. After a few minutes, I walked back to the driveway – where he was still standing, waiting for my return.

Winter is my least favorite season; I hate the cold. This year, however, I’m looking forward to it, because it will curtail my elderly suitor’s constitutionals. If John’s intentions are innocent, I can tolerate them for the sake of an old man’s happiness. If, however, they are not, I do not want to encourage him. Since I don’t know how to discern his true motives, I guess I’ll spend my winter reprieve dreaming up creative ways to avoid him come spring. 

Virtual shopping has limits

The electronic thermostat in the family room needs to be replaced. My first impulse was to buy locally, but we had a coupon for $25 off a seven-day, programmable thermostat from Home Depot, and we assumed that they would have a bigger selection than our local hardware store, so off we went. The selection probably was bigger, but it was all from one manufacturer. We could get a Honeywell 1 week programmable unit, a 5-1-1 unit, a 5-2 unit, a 7-day unit, a wireless 7-day unit, a flush mount unit, an old-school, round, non-programmable thermostat, and all kinds of additional models that were variations of the above.

We narrowed it down to one choice and a quick check of Amazon via Andrew’s iPhone showed us that we could get it online for considerably less money, even with the coupon. In theory, I disapprove of people who go to a store to scope out an item and then buy it for less on Amazon, but sometimes the price difference can be compelling. The moral high ground can be slippery.

We also did not buy a ceiling fan/light/heater for our bathroom. Our current fan makes a god-awful sound, one that clearly indicates that something is wrong. Maybe all that’s wrong is that it is so damn loud, but we both remember quieter days and we’d like them back. The store only had a couple of choices and the list of features was short; noise factor and heat wattage. As a marketing professional, I was surprised to note that one model was touted as noisy. Was that a selling point? Did anyone come in looking for the noisy model? The other was ultra-silent. I thought silence was binary; it was, or it wasn’t. But the real sticking point for us was that while the noisy one would fit in the existing hole in the ceiling, we would need to enlarge it for the ultra-silent one. And by “we” I mean someone else. Clearly this was a problem best dealt with at a later date, so we wandered over to the Garden Center where Andrew can always find something to buy.

While he shopped, I read my Kindle. He was doing a final check of the gardening supplies in the cart when a little girl approached us, she was probably around ten, and said, “May I borrow your cell phone? I can’t find my father.” For some reason she directed her question to Andrew. Maybe she intuited that he had the cooler iPhone and that I was still using a Nokia flip phone with the Cingular logo on it.

He called up the phone screen and handed it to the girl. I asked, “Do you have your dad’s number memorized?” She said yes and proceeded to demonstrate.

Then she said into the phone, “I can’t find Dad.” I envisioned her talking to her mother in some other state and briefly wondered how she was going to get along with my own daughter when I ended up bringing her home. Luckily, her mom walked around the corner and they saw each other. The girl took a step away and then remembered she was holding the phone and came back. Then a quick “thank you” and she ran off to her mom.

That interaction made all the time spent not buying things worthwhile. If we had gone straight to Amazon, without the detour to Home Depot, we wouldn’t have been able to help reunite a little girl with her family. Unless that happens in an Amazon department I haven’t discovered yet.

IRS – Kafkaesque

It’s Election Day. By the time you read this, I will have voted. It’s possible that by the time you read this the fat lady will have sung and the election will be over; votes counted; streets swept clean of confetti. If you waited long enough, the recount lawyers may already have walked away, and the nation’s attention will be back on football. And that’s fine with me, because I don’t want to talk about politics. I want to talk about something that everyone can agree on; how painful it is to deal with the IRS.

After we filed our taxes last April, we got a letter from the IRS claiming that we owed them money. After a painstaking review we were able to figure out that we had made a mistake with an IRA. In layman’s terms, money went into one bucket that should have gone into another. We remedied the mistake and filed an amended return. The new return showed that the IRS owed us money. In the fullness of time, the IRS notified us that they had seen and accepted our amended return and that a refund would be sent to us, which was good to know since the check arrived the day before the letter!

We fast forward now to a day not so long ago, when the letter carrier rang our doorbell. Andrew got there first so he was signing when I said, “Oo, it’s so exciting to get a letter you need to sign for!” I was envisioning an offer of representation from a fancy New York agent, or better yet, a three book deal from the Random Penguin! I was vaguely aware that the letter carrier was apologizing for the delivery and I couldn’t understand why good news would upset her. Then Andrew handed me the letter, addressed to me, from the IRS.

The letter said I had thirty days to send them $353.03 or they would start garnishing my wages. My first thought was, not so smart are you IRS? I don’t have a job! My next thought was, hold on, we don’t owe the IRS money. And if we did, why was it addressed to me? It wasn’t hard to determine that the sum was the amount of my personal IRA (re-characterized for our amended return) plus $11.76 of “failure to pay” and $5.27 of interest. Now we get to the painful part.

I spent fifteen minutes on hold, only to find out that the woman who finally plucked me out of telephone limbo couldn’t help me. I was an advanced issue. I had a moment of panic when she said she was going to transfer me, envisioning the call being dropped and having to start again from scratch, but she got me successfully to the next person. And there the success ended. Sixty-two minutes later, most of it spent on hold with brief interruptions to assure me that she was still working on it or to confirm something I’d already told her, the verdict was in – she couldn’t help me over the phone.

The computer indicated that we, the married-filing-jointly-entity owed nothing to the IRS. The form that included the numbers that produced the $353.03 indicated that we owed no money. And yet, somehow, I owed money. She allowed as how it was highly irregular, and she may even have said I might be right, I didn’t owe anything, but I may have been hallucinating by then. But in any case, she would have to escalate the issue, off-line, and someone would get back to me in a month or so. I only hope it’s before they try to garnish my wages.