I had to make one of those tough pastoral calls today. I had to bid farewell to one of our senior couples, two people who had lodged deeply in my heart over the past 10 years. They’re moving from their senior living facility to a nursing home because their money has run out.
They’ve been members at Faith for 47 years. He’s 99; she’s a year or two younger. He’s had dementia for the past 10 or 12 years, but still physically pretty strong, at least for 99. She’s solid as a rock, physically, mentally, spiritually, and until recently emotionally. You can imagine the toll that such a situation would play on a woman who was an astute business woman and accountant — she kept the books for a local real estate agency until she was 92.
Until 7 years ago, they were living in their own house. She didn’t want to move out, but finally recognized that she could no longer care for him on her own. They could have moved into one of the facilities that promised perpetual care, but instead they moved into the one that they liked better and was closer to church. They knew it would be expensive and would likely use up most of the proceeds from their house and their savings. But they also knew their age and they knew that statistically, they’d die before the money ran out and they would still be able to leave something to their one living son and to the church.
Now here they are, after having spent close to $600,000 over 7 years. They thought that their substantial savings and the profit from the sale of their house would be plenty to carry them through; now it’s all but gone. And they have no choice but to move into a facility which will take the remainder of their money. After the balance sheet reads 0, Medicare will kick in.
There are way, way too many changes for them to endure. They were two blocks from church and church people would show up regularly just to say hello. Now they will be 45 minutes from the place that has been their spiritual and social home. They have been seeing the same doctors for decades. Now they will be faced with a whole line-up of new doctors because their doctors here don’t make house calls there. They go from an apartment where they were surrounded by their own furniture and pictures and keepsakes to a single room with two hospital beds.
Here’s the hard part: having to sit with good, good people who lived their life the right way, worked hard, and planned for the future, who have come to the point of having no good choices. In what will undoubtedly be the last years, or even last months of their life, they are forced to give up the last vestiges of their former life — furniture, photos, momentos, pots and pans, their bed — everything. And go to a place that they don’t want to be.
I don’t really have any answers. I’m not sure what I would change. But to see the pain in her face and to know the many transitions that they are being forced to make that they don’t want to make, has brought me deep sadness.
I would like to believe the platitude that things always work out. But sometimes they don’t.