The terrible cost of forever chasing money to get us the two things we can't buy: Love and Time
Terrie's note was hard to read. Always good at setting boundaries, she wrote me in a kind email that she had to set some boundaries around angry people. I thought it was directed solely at me, and I took it personally.
It wasn't about me at all. Not really (it rarely ever is). Of course, my frustration with an insurance company whose emergency services department wasn't responding didn't help, and I was irritated, but that wasn't the problem.
During a calmer moment, Terrie shared that in her volunteer work with the elderly in Austin, she had been assigned a particularly angry client who was approaching 95. It wasn't the age, per se. The client was ridiculously rich, worth tens of millions, living in a beautifully-appointed 10,000 square foot mansion.
What made her angry was her lack of control over own life and affairs.
Terrie said that the woman was "fiercely independent," two words that I have used to describe myself and which also are used to describe other friends of mine, most of whom are aging solo. We're awfully proud of that in America. Increasingly we are now beginning to understand the awful cost of it.
Saga supporter Penny Nelson wrote about an elderly acquaintance who lived that way. Her fierce independence cost her friends considerable time, money and effort during her last days and after her death. Such fierce independence can be terribly expensive to others, but I digress.
What irritated Terrie's new client Maddie, however, was that her increasing infirmity, her inability to take proper care of herself and her tendency to fall and get badly injured meant that the one thing about which she cared the most was likely going away: her independence.
Maddie had failed to build any kind of loving community around herself. The great, grand house that wealth built was cold and empty. Beautiful, like an ice sculpture, but no warmth to melt it.
What's melting it is the heat from all the lawyers and hangers-on who can only see the money and not the human being it belongs to.
Age, infirmity. No matter how many millions Maddie has, she cannot push back time. Time, in her case, has caught up to her. Money can't slow its march, nor can it people her life with genuine friends.
Maddie keeps falling. In falling, she injures herself. Sometimes badly. While she can pay for a doctor and the xray machine to come to her mansion, she can't stop the legal process which is determining her future.
Maddie's terrified. At this point, no amount of money can keep the legal process from overtaking and controlling her life if she has enough people- and the courts- aligned against her. I'd be scared, too.
She cannot suddenly make herself more robust or healthy at 95, given that she has certain habits and wasn't willing to change them. That would be exercise, food, drink, and her lifelong insistence that she do what she wanted, when she wanted, how she wanted.
Money allows a certain freedom, and brings a lot of sycophants. Too many people who have no interest in you other than your wallet. Maddie steered clear of everyone but her well-to-do social circle. Ladies who lunch. People who golf on occasion, but cart instead of walk.
With all respect to all those golfers out there, that simply isn't enough. As you and I age, we have to work on the whole body, mind and spirit. The older we get the harder we have to work for overall health. One sport several times a week and being sedentary the rest of the time doesn't lead to the kind of physical independence we might need when we get into our very late years.
Maddie's vast wealth didn't buy her vibrant health. It didn't buy her family or friends, whom she had isolated. She was surrounded by inanimate things, the proof of her financial agency, and not much else.
Terrie told me recently that Maddie keeps a paper sack full of hundreds and twenties near her recliner so that she can pay service people. Not only is that a temptation for anyone who comes in the house, but it speaks to a mindset that cash will somehow hold back the creature behind the bedroom door at night.
Maddie assumed that simply being rich would guarantee a happier ending than the rest of us. Now, very old and very alone, about to be stripped of her freedom, it's a hard lesson.
Not many of us take end of life very seriously. Far too many more chase money as the be-all, end-all the same way people chase being thin as the only way to be happy. While the saying that one can never be too thin or too rich was a clarion call for millions, it is also an early death sentence if we're not careful.
Terrie shares her stories like this with me regularly. They are influencing both of us as we witness people entering their final years in varying condition. We assume we have plenty of time, even as we watch others struggle, get ill and die. None of us has forever, no matter how much we wish to delude ourselves.
Greater numbers of us are aging solo. It isn't just that Terrie's work reveals that, it's that the Grey Divorce trends and choices that so many of us made have left us to navigate late in life largely alone.
This from Pew Research puts some of this into perspective:
Most of us have no interest in "planned communities," which in too many cases is a euphemism for burial grounds. Maddie's terrified of being shuffled into one of them after a life lived in luxury.
As Maddie lumbers towards the end of her life in the echoing hallways of that lovely home, like so many of her generation and mine, she is faced with how to manage her last days with some measure of joy.
Instead, she's mad as hell, for now she's facing having to live in a facility where she is no longer Queen of the House.
Columnist Steve Lopez, facing retirement, recently told National Public Radio that his family had gotten into his face about making friends. They were right. All his connections are at work. The moment that ends, he will face an empty canvas.
The money chase which overwhelms family, friends and our communities kills us early. By the time we realize what's going on, it's awfully hard to redirect. But you can.
Make friends now. Invest in your community now. Shed that ridiculous "fierce independence" now.
You and I need fierce support networks.
We need fierce interdependence.
We need to be there for others, and strengthen all the networks which are there for us when it's our turn.
Our turn is coming. At the very end, money is meaningless. Friends, family, love and togetherness really are everything. Let's not wait until we're in our nineties to realize what really does matter.
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