“Caregiver” Redefined

I’ve thought of myself as a caregiver for years now.  I give lots of care to three beautiful, smart little girls. However, I realize now that parenting and caregiving are separate realms.  All the love and devotion I invest in my children I get back threefold. That’s just standard for a normal parent.  Your kids will always (at least at their young ages) run to see you with open arms yelling “mommy” with big, wide smiles and eyes glimmering like they’re lit from the inside…and all feels right with the world.

Caregiving for a loved one (especially one whom has dementia/regressing mental function) isn’t like that.

My grandfather has always been my patriarch and idol.  I don’t know how many evenings I sat listening and soaking up his advice and wisdom in my youth.  His words hovering in the back of my mind over so many decisions in my life. He was always there during difficult times assuredly telling me to “suck it up”, make a plan, and move forward. He’s always been a rock I could lean on reminding me that “life is good” (a normal end to most conversations) and to focus on the blessings.

On bad days now he doesn’t recognize me, but knows he should know me. On the worst days he doesn’t remember my father, hence my existence is wiped away as well.  On bad days he wakes up throughout the night confused, on the worst days he “wakes up” but is still in his dream-state and is riddled with anxiety/fear with no knowledge of reality.  His bathing and toiletry are no picnic for me, but I know that I must go into it laughing and smiling or my alpha male’s morose and apologetic attitude due to his need for assistance can quickly turn to a depressed state. His frailty may worry me, but it makes him disconsolate.  He feels as if is body is his foe not allowing him to do even the little daily tasks so many of us take for granted.

My two year old believes they are best friends, as if they share some unseen connection, and is always at his side. At a doctors office recently my grandfather says “J, be quiet already”, she just looks at him and says “No Papa” and starts laughing uncontrollably and she crawls up on his lap. Then he starts laughing uncontrollably, then I am, and the nurse joins in too. These good moments are unforgettable.

On his best days he’s still giving orders, asking questions, and making demands like the Plant Manager he was most of his life. We have coffee every morning and dinner together every night and chat about family, news, weather, finances, and everything in between.  Our conversations aren’t as deep or as filled with wisdom like those we had when we were both younger, but his good days still outnumber his bad days and I relish the time we have together after so many years living hours apart.

Starting this journey I didn’t know the heartache I’d experience when someone you love doesn’t recognize you, the pain it would cause me to feel his self-consciousness at needing help, or the frustration and many obstacles of dementia.  I didn’t realize the full-context of a caregiver nor the simple lessons I’d learn.

I’m happier (although more exhausted) than I have ever been.

My grandfather is teaching my little family to take things in stride, how to more fully appreciate simple things, and how to just live in the present. My life had been so much about the plan, the budget, things to get done, my career, etc. (all still important), but it’s just as paramount to focus on the day and not lose the moment.  Balance.

Thank you Grandpa. Life is good.

gpa and j

 

 

Update – Added to Our Household

Becoming a caregiver.

I’ve been out of touch for a while. My apologies. I’ve added a chapter to my story and I believe it’s an important one to share more frequently so you’ll be hearing more from our tribe.

My father was the full-time caregiver for my grandfather (his father).  After he passed and much deliberation, my grandfather decided he wanted me to take care of his affairs.  This was a huge task because my hands are quite full with my own nuclear family.  However, in the end it was what he was most comfortable with and made the most sense because his affairs were so closely entwined with my fathers and I was trying to close out his estate/businesses (still haven’t completed this almost two years later).  It’s amazing the work left behind from death.

Fast forward a year (and hopefully that explains my absence as well) and my grandfather was showing severe signs of dementia.  This summer, after many family and close family friends had multiple discussions, it was decided my grandfather would move to Texas and reside with me. My once 6’2″ alpha male grandfather was a mere 150 lbs and completely fragile when he arrived.

The last four months my three girls and I have been adjusting to life as caregivers.  When I initially made up my mind to do this I thought it would be like adding a child to the household. We’ve done that before…nothing out of the ordinary for us. Oh, how wrong I was!  However, it reminded me of something I say to expectant mothers, “you’ll never have a job so hard, but so rewarding”.  Becoming a Caregiver for a loved one is the same.

grandpa

The ONE thing I’m sure of in this adventure is that it was the right decision (despite the multitude of days I’ve collapsed with exhaustion on the bed thinking this is impossible).

Happy Thanksgiving to all! May you focus on all the ways you’re blessed and forget all the reasons you should be stressed.

Emergency Fund as a Roth?

I’ve read so much literature on why you shouldn’t use your Roth as an emergency fund account.  However, I want to delve into why I do.  First of all, I do have anywhere from $250-500 in my regular savings account that easily transfers to my checking for any day-to-day “emergencies” (e.g. new brakes, plumber, etc).  I have an automatic contribution of $50 from my paycheck biweekly that goes to this savings account so I don’t have to even think about it. Generally about the time my savings is above $700 I deposit $500+ into my Roth accounts.

Let me tell you why I do it this way.  I do understand that I can only deposit $5,500/ year and once I take out my contributions to this account I cannot “catch up” so to speak. However, for me as a single mom just having a Roth is a luxury.  Plus, my savings account gets basically no interest (0.03%), but if I put it in my Roth I am generally making about an average 7-9% return.

So my money is doing double duty by saving for retirement and providing major emergency relief, if needed. Once you put money inside of a Roth IRA, it can be invested in a wide range of options such as stocks, bonds, bond funds, money markets, or mutual funds. Depending on your risk tolerance and desired returns, investments ranges can be selected from varying degrees of mixed portfolio. While the Roth IRA might not provide the instant liquidity of a savings or checking account, it can still provide access to funds within a few days.

This summer I did have to withdraw from my Roth when my A/C went out and needed replaced.  Tax rules allow us to withdraw contributions tax-free at any time (just don’t touch investment gains until retirement or you’ll be hit with taxes and penalties).  So by the time the A/C man was available to install the money was already transferred into my checking account and I didn’t need to put anything onto my credit cards.  I look at this differently than some people because I’m not using my Roth as an Emergency Fund, I’m making my Emergency Fund a Roth.  If no major repairs come up then that money is staying put for retirement and I’ll be able to pull out the earnings tax free when I’m over 59 ½.  However, in the event something drastic happens I do have it there and it helps me sleep better at night knowing that it’s there.

Let me be clear that I will NEVER touch the earnings on the Roth either.  I only have withdrawn the contributions and only as-needed.  I don’t dip into Roth for vacations or other nonessentials because I can’t simply “return” the money later. Any money put back into a Roth is considered part of the allowed contribution for that particular year.  For example, if you’re allowed to contribute $5,500 a year to your Roth and you withdrew $1,000 for plane tickets in January, you can’t put in $6,500 ($5,500 + the $1,000) when you get your December work bonus. You can only contribute $5,500 total/year regardless of how much you took out and that’s it.

I personally use both Betterment and WealthSimple for Roth accounts (I like to diversify).  If you’d like to test them out here’s a link to get 90 days free through Betterment  and this link for WealthSimple gets you $15,000 managed free for one year. Currently, my Annualized Earnings for my Betterment account are 9.8% (I’ve had it for two years now) and for WealthSimple are at 3.8% (I just opened it in April). I have really liked Betterment, but I’ll write more on WealthSimple after I’ve had the account at least a year.

Do you have a Roth account?  If so, who do you use and why do you like them?