Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Please for a serving of 'simple'

I like to think that I can handle complexity but these days..................

If there is a more complex situation than the one in which I find myself now, I cannot think of it, though I'm sure it exists.

Here's what I'm dealing with: my mother, tall and straight, straitlaced and firm, some might say hard or cold. She was deeply loved by her parents, but feared by her children. She was devotedly loving to her parents, but not so much to her children. She is/was a woman, quite frankly, with dark spots that I don't think even she knew or acknowledged fully. These aspects of her character are probably part of who she is and when she was born and the era in which she grew up. Add to that, her own life's disappointments and viola-la-la as my niece would say.

This woman, who was one of the first female Principals of a two shift school in Trinidad, who shepherded a staff of 60 professionals and assorted administrative personnel and had charge of 1920 students between the ages of 12 and 15, this woman now wanders around the house blank-eyed. Well, she's blank-eyed until you piss her off and then she gets that, "Who the expletive deleted are you?" look in her eye. It's a look I know all too well from my childhood. It's the look that says, "I will knock you down" in that harsh whisper that lets you know she means it.

Complex, is having to wash this person's feet. Complex, is having to help her dress all the while not screaming because she insists that she doesn't like what you've chosen or that the clothes aren't hers. Complex is having to do all those things while trying not to remember the visual of her hitting your sister in her back with a closed fist for some teenage infraction (I don't know if that's an actual memory or just something I know she would do). Talk about 'complexity'? Complexity is not becoming her.

I have a mind for complexity and I thank you for it Lord. But Lord, simple is good too you know and I can do simple. Not only can I do simple, I promise I'll do it real, real good. Please for a little 'simple'?

The picture above, Ascending and Descending, is a work by M C Escher. This quite well known piece, features a staircase that ascends and descends. When first you look at the work, you think perhaps it's possible, but on closer observation your realize how complex (and mathematically impossible) his work actually is. He created, as one website puts it, "mathematically challenging art". To my mind, this is the definition of complex! It goes several steps beyond where I am at the moment. :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Of Weeds and Arks

Several years ago, my former pastor, Reverend Matthews preached a sermon about gardens. In it, he pointed out that when you cut weeds down low, they look just like grass. Apparently, he had complained to someone that his yard was being overtaken by weeds. The person to whom he was complaining, responded that he needed to decide whether he was cultivating a garden or fighting weeds. Was he accentuating the positive or eliminating the negative? His takeaway: if he focused on the grass and the weeds would eventually die, choked out by the good grass. Hm.

So to the 'gardener' in your family, the one person who 'gets it' and has realized what needs to be done to prepare for the end of life pass; to the person in your household who is struggling to communicate to others what may lie ahead, I say this: focus on the grass not the weeds; focus on encouraging whatever small steps along the path to financial preparedness that you can not the naysayers or the passive aggressives who pretend to agree and then go out and undermine your best efforts. There will always be naysayers (the weeds), there will always be roadblocks (bugs that might eat your blooms) but in the end, if you stay focused on the garden you're trying to cultivate, you'll find that you can deal with these distractors and distractions with far more aplomb.

I'm currently working on something with several members of my family that has reminded me that I too am cultivating a garden. Others may not yet see what I see. I have to remember too that I am the one with the vision. I am the one who has seen the whole picture in my head, so I now have a responsibility to communicate that vision effectively to the others.

The story of Noah's Ark serves as a good reference point for me. Noah knew about the flood. Others didn't. They hadn't seen what he had or heard what he had. He was charged with a responsibility to build an Ark and so he did. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convince others that he knew what he was doing but all the while he was struggling to share his story, he was knocking those nails into wood. The Ark was being built well before there was hard proof that it was needed.

So tend your grass while ignoring the weeds. Build your Ark. Tell your story. Talk to your people and keep working as if your life depended on it. It does. Never mind the weeds or the naysayers, they're part of the process. And when you start to think, "This is too hard. Maybe we should wait?" just remember that it wasn't raining when Noah built that Ark and more importantly, that construction was complete when the deluge came.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Losing Mummy, Losing Me?

I had thought that I could 'rise above' and find my way through this disease and emerge triumphant at the end. I might yet do that, but what I realize is that along the way, there will be days, weeks, perhaps even months, when a triumphant end is not the obvious outcome of this quest. And make no mistake THIS is a quest.

The list of losses is fairly long. First and most obvious on that list is the career I had once dreamed of. I would be lying to say that I still want to work in HR, the career for which I had prepared. I've found transactional HR - applying laws and rules - to be beyond boring, and I haven't seen too many opportunities to do the kinds of transformational HR work that I'd like to do. So that 'loss' is perhaps, not really that much of a loss. But there is the loss of income. There is too, the loss of opportunity to be in the wrong place and find my way to the right place. All that, gone. The upside though is that maybe this pass I'm in is God's way of getting me off a path that would have made me very unhappy indeed and moving me to a place that will make me far more content? Let me just say that I sure hope that's where this is going!

The loss of career is fairly typical for the caregiver. If it becomes necessary to stay at home and deliver care, not only do you give up your job in the short term, but you ultimately may have to give up your career in the long. There is an inevitable atrophying of skills and a decline in the value that you could potentially bring to the work place (maybe not in your mind, but quite possibly in the minds of hiring managers). Moreover, in an age-focused culture like the US, if you leave the job market at say 42 and cannot return for a decade, when you do finally return you're 'old' and have stale skills to boot! Add to all that, the stark financial consequences to your income, your long term earning potential and, most dangerous and frightening of all to me, your retirement savings. In sum, it's a frightening picture. It certainly frightens me.............and yet.

It really is too much to think about. Some days it terrifies me what the future might hold. And yet, and yet, I remain convinced that I am here and prepared for just such a time as this. Even on days (like today), when I'm not feeling so upbeat as perhaps I'd like to, I trust and believe that the future that I cannot see is bright.

Losing Mummy, Losing Me? Mayhap not. Losing Mummy? Definitely, but the loss of self is not inevitable here. The 'me' that will emerge at the end will be different and I pray, triumphant. What will have been lost perhaps was just so much dead skin that I needed to exfoliate. I can only hope and pray. Let the scrubbing continue.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On being a job creator

I had an epiphany today. When we fail to prepare for the end of life crisis, which it surely is, we hurt not just ourselves, but others as well.

I had a conversation with one of my mother's former caregivers today. I would like to bring her back on, but there are costs that I would have to bear if I did so.  In spite of the costs to us, I'll still try my best to make something happen but as I was thinking that thought, it occurred to me that my situation - an inability to find the resources to pay her - multiplied by millions of families across the land, equals a real crisis for caregivers. When we (families) don't put the necessaries in place well in advance, we do real damage to ourselves, our families and as it turns out, the families of complete strangers who would otherwise have been employed had we done the needful.

I know, I know, other people's problems are not your business but perhaps we need to look at it this way: by doing the needful and (i) buying long term care insurance if you can find it and (ii) squirreling away resources for care needs, you will be able to serve both your family's needs and the needs of a caregiver's family. You will have done your part to help the economy and that certainly appeals to me.

When the Affordable Care Act was being developed, embedded in it was the Class Act. Community Living Assistance Service and Supports (CLASS) supported the creation of a national, voluntary insurance program that would provide non-skilled personal care, such as help with everyday tasks, called Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Individuals were to be encouraged to buy in to the program - it was to be voluntary after all - but once enrolled, individuals would then be eligible for services should they later need them. Unfortunately, the CLASS Act failed a number of financial reviews. The number crunchers simply could not find a route to making the provision financially viable. In my humble opinion, the provision quite simply sought to be too generous. Efforts were being made to include not just people who might at some point need the long term care services, but also people already using services. While this would have helped relieve some of the pain being experienced by families already 'in the pass', this provision would have put enormous pressure on the resources appropriated for the program. The addition of the active use population threw the numbers entirely off and there was no way to make the program work. Even if it had become possible to get more than a 3% uptake rate of the policy (the approximate rate of uptake of private insurance), I am not sure that it would ever have been possible to make this program run at anything other than a significant deficit. I'm no math whiz, but that's my common sense thinking on the matter.

After much hand wringing and anguish (I'm guessing), the CLASS act was suspended, leaving us all to find long term care insurance on the open market if you can find it, as a number of companies that have been providing this coverage, are no longer taking new registrants. So the problem really is still without a solution. We still need to prepare and our options for doing so are becoming fewer and fewer.

So here's today's recommendation: if you can find a long term care policy, buy it. It is well worth it. It fills a hole that some of us realize too late, that needs filling. My mother has coverage, and though it is not enough to cover the full costs of her care (hence my role as unpaid caregiver), it most assuredly is better than the other option: having nothing at all and trying to cover these costs out of earnings or savings. Neither will ever be enough. Trust me on that.

Perhaps the CLASS Act will be revived, but if it isn't, each of us needs a Plan B. Further, if you do have an LTC plan, you will find that you are helping not only yourself but also the family/ies of the caregiver/s who will support you in your journey. I take my role as a job creator very seriously. You should too. Just imagine if more of us in the pass had been properly prepared for it and could pay for the care we need. My guess is that there would be quite a few more employed caregivers and more families making it through these difficult times with the help and support they need.