Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A Message For All of Us

by Maggie Sefton

My mother in 1965, when she was 45

My mother just turned 95 years old on Mother's Day this year, May 10th.  That's quite a milestone.  There was no birthday cake.  The nurses, nurses' aides, and all the other caregivers at the wonderful Skilled Care facility offered her whatever she wanted.  And they were delighted when Mom took a bite of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  She went another few days before she ate anything else.  Then on Sunday, the nurses asked her what she wanted, and she once again asked for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and delighted them when she took two little bites.  Then, later, she had a bite of ice cream.

Hooray for PBJ!  And ice cream.  As you've probably guessed by now, my mother is slowly exercising her right to choose how she wants to pass.  On her own terms, and in no pain.  We should all be so lucky.  I'm visiting every day and sit and talk with her.  She's still reading the daily newspaper that's   delivered to her own room.  And she watches television.  Over the weekend, once again, she chose the channels that show golf tournaments.  It makes me smile.  She likes to talk with me and appreciates my visits, but she always reminds me to turn that TV back on when I'm about to leave.  The woman never played golf in her life, but she loves watching professional golfers on TV.

She regularly asks me "How come I'm still alive?"  To which I reply:  "Because you have none of the Big Three Killer Diseases, Mom.  No heart disease.  No emphysema.  And no diabetes."  The Big 3 take most people's lives earlier than 95 years old.  She doesn't have them.  So, she's still here.  :)  Bless her heart.

My mother is also fortunate in that she can afford to live in a marvelous skilled care facility (they don't call them nursing homes anymore).  And, believe me, it's not cheap.  Back East where I grew up, I'm sure the cost is way higher than here in Fort Collins, Colorado---an hour north of Denver.  Since I was a CPA out there in the working world, I am quite comfortable with numbers.  So, I'll share some of these with you, folks.  I'm sure a lot of you out there have aging parents, so believe me, you WILL face this situation in the future---just as our children will be facing it years from now.

The monthly charge for the Columbine West Skilled Care facility is approximately $7500 each month.  To that charge are added the separate charges for Nurse Practitioner's regular visits plus visits by the  dentist and any other visiting physician and physician's assistant.  Add to that a visit by a specialist, X-rays, other tests, and monthly pharmacy bills.  Easily rounding up to $8000 a month for her own private room.  You can do the math.  That amounts to $96,000.  So,  we can easily say it costs my mother $100,000/year.  

That's a lot of money.  And I think it's safe to say that the majority of Americans could not afford to pay  those bills.  How can my mother afford it?   Well, she has something that most Americans no longer have---and some never will have.  I don't have one.  And that's a pension.  My mother was a single, divorced Working Mom in an Ozzie and Harriet world.  She was smart and industrious and had great secretarial skills which enabled her to take the exam required to apply for a secretarial position with the Federal Government in Washington, DC, years and years ago.

She worked 30 years and retired with a pension.  A year later, she married my stepfather, Stetson, who also worked 30 years for the Federal Government.  Stetson was Chief Historian for the U.S. Army and was the editor of the official history of World War II for the U.S. Army.  Stetson was also a neighbor in Arlington where I grew up.  Stetson's wife, Mary Alice, had died two years earlier from lung disease caused by her smoking for most of her life.  Stetson was older than my mom and died in 1985.  They had eleven wonderful years together.

So----those two pensions plus money from some small investments that my mom and Stetson had accumulated and which I've had to sell off piece by piece have provided the funds to pay all those monthly charges.  As a former CPA, Fiduciary Responsibility runs deep in my bones.  I'm just thankful the money has been there these last few years.  That has enabled my mother to spend these last years of her life in comfortable surroundings with skilled nurses and loving nurses' aides who regularly come in to get hugs and kisses from my mom, Benny.  She deserves it.

And they do love her and take fantastic care of her.  A friend asked if it was sad to watch this happening----this downward path.  We all know where this is going.  One of these days the nurses will walk into her room and find that she's no longer breathing.  Having peacefully passed----in no pain----when she was ready.   On her own terms.  I've always believed that when Mind and Spirit decide to leave-----Body will follow.   We should all be as fortunate as my mother, Benny.  God Bless her.