SHORTLY AFTER I retired, my father was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer. I would spend the next three years helping my mother take care of him. After my father passed away, my mother was emotionally devastated and her health started to decline. It has been nine years since I retired, and most of that time has been spent taking care of my parents.
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It takes compassion, commitment, patience, understanding, sacrifice, mental toughness and physical endurance. Many others play the same role. According to a Wall Street Journal article, “an estimated 34.2 million people provide unpaid care to those 50 and older.” It has become the new norm, thanks to people living longer.
My mother is 95. She lives in a world she no longer recognizes. She has lost her husband of 67 years. All her family and friends of her generation are gone. She has lost her independence. She needs help with a host of daily activities: transportation, laundry, cooking, medication, money management. More important, she has lost the one person in her life that made her feel safe and secure.
Some people look at my mother’s life and think everything is fine. She has enough money to provide her with the basic necessities of life. Her health is fine, except for lower back and leg pain, which slows her down. But the one thing she craves is companionship. She wants friendship and social contact with the outside world. The happiest time for her is when I take her out for breakfast. We always go to the same restaurant. As a result, she has made friends with the people who work there. She calls them her family. We get a booth by the window, so she can look out, and she is happy as she can be.
That’s why, as I said in a previous blog, that friends are like gold. They can be just as valuable as your retirement savings.
I have tried to encourage my mother to meet other people, so she could cultivate new friends. I took her over to the senior center, in the hope that she would meet people. She did not like going. “Too many old people,” she said.
I thought maybe she might want to go into the same assisted living facility as her next door neighbor. I got the same response. My mother has told me, again and again, that she doesn’t like being around “too many old people.” I can’t tell you how important it is to diversify your friends. You need to have younger friends as you grow older, so you don’t end up in my mother’s situation.
I have learned, from taking care of my mother, that money alone doesn’t guarantee a happy retirement. People are social creatures by nature. They like companionship and intimacy. What are the three keys to a satisfying retirement? Financial stability, good health—and good friends.
Dennis Friedman retired at age 58 from Boeing Aerospace Company. He enjoys reading and writing about personal finance. His previous blogs include First Responders, Truth Be Told, Mind Games and Looking Forward.