Memorial DayOn this Memorial Day, I invite each reader to pause and thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in the United States of America. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was officially proclaimed on May 5, 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic and was first observed on May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. You can read more about it here.
While Memorial Day was popular in the years around World War II, the traditional observance of Memorial Day has diminished over the years. Many Americans today have forgotten—or never knew--the meaning and traditions of Memorial Day. At many cemeteries, the graves of the fallen are ignored or neglected. Most people no longer remember the proper flag etiquette for the day. While there are towns and cities that still hold Memorial Day parades, many have not held a parade in decades. Some people think the day is for honoring any and all dead, and not just those fallen in service to our country.
My mother grew up in a farming town of about 800 in Kansas. It’s your idyllic small prairie town, complete with the town square featuring a fountain in the middle and a hip-high wall around the perimeter. Memorial Day has historically been one of the biggest holidays there, featuring a full weekend of events, beginning with a picnic and concert in the square on Friday evening. The high school holds an annual Alumni Banquet honoring all graduates from all years. Individual classes make a special attempt to gather on the five and ten year anniversaries.
I took Mom back for her 65th high school reunion a few years ago. The celebration had changed very little from my childhood memories when we would visit Grandma over Memorial Day.
The Friday before Memorial Day, the town was filled with families coming back for the holiday. It seems that even today, adult children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren return home for this weekend. We took her 92-year-old former office mate to the picnic with us, and even after being gone for decades, Mom still recognized a lot of people. On Saturday the town took on a festive atmosphere as people wandered around, visiting with one another. Throughout the town in cafes and meeting rooms, classes gathered for their alumni luncheons. Mom’s class of about 18 (including spouses) met in a tiny lunchroom and dined on sandwiches made with white bread, potato salad, and apple pie.
On Saturday evening, the high school gymnasium was turned into banquet hall, with a table for each graduating class represented. Mom’s class had two tables. Some of the younger classes had a whole section of tables. Refreshments at the “banquet” consisted of homemade finger foods, much to the dismay of those who remembered when they had been served “real food.”
On Sunday we were invited to the home of friends for a picnic. Three generations of extended family gathered and welcomed the Californians. I was a little disappointed in the food. Just like here, much of it was store-bought rather than homemade. But the fellowship was sweet and we enjoyed the day.
On Monday, bright and early, we joined the entire town at the cemetery. Everyone brought flowers to decorate the graves of just about everyone they knew—relatives, friends, neighbors. The VFW had a color guard, lots of speeches, and 21 gun salute honoring the war dead. The grave of very veteran boasted an American flag and the Masons had also decorated the graves of all of their members (just about everyone, it seemed).
Everyone should experience a small town Memorial Day. It will remind you to honor those who gave their lives for our freedom. And even those who served.
God bless our veterans and those now serving throughout the world.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Another DeathOur community experienced another death this week. Our care group through our church is made up of Gen Sandwichers or former Gen Sandwichers. One couple lost their parents years ago before the group started. A single woman lost her mom several months ago. She’s just completing her executor functions. Then I lost my step dad in April and am working on re-settling my mom. Another Gen Sandwich couple has two parents who also live several hours away and who are both ill. In fact, they’re with her parents this weekend, having just returned from visiting their married children.
Grandma Rachael lived her last couple of years with her daughter and son-in-law—the final couple in the group. The whole group adopted her and came to love her. She was a delightful woman. So deep and spiritual. So filled with faith, and yet humanly struggling with her health problems. We often prayed for her as she faced her declining health. She had been hospitalized for several weeks, and then was allowed to go home to die. Her last days were calm as she anticipated Heaven. But sad. And so hard on her daughter and SIL.
It’s interesting having a group where so many of us are dealing with aging parent issues, and the inevitable end of those issues. I read a tender article in Buzzlel.com on “The Challenge of Death and Dying: Caring for Aging Parents.” It is something we need to consider—both for our parents and ourselves.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Universal Health Insurance—Do We Really Want It?Randy Bayne at California Notes asks, “Why can’t we all have health care like Mom’s?” I posted a response that I thought I’d cross post here.
Unfortunately, a single payer system isn't all it's cracked up to be. Neither is Medicare, and certainly not MediCal (Medicaid elsewhere). All you need to do is look at the nations that have it--the poor quality, cattle herding care, LONG waits for routine tests and procedures, and the complacence among providers.
When the government got involved in US health care in the '60s, costs skyrocketed and have continued going up, and quality went down. Ask a Medicaid person if they're happy with their care, and see if you would like that level of care.
There are negotiations going on now to limit--again--payments to Medicare providers, which will mean more leaving the system, just as providers no longer care for Medicaid patients.
As much as we wish it weren't true, there really is no free lunch and the free market system still works best--in health care and all else. Your mother is very fortunate to be getting the care she is. I have started attending my mom's medical appointments just so she will get the level of care I would expect for the price she's paying--which isn't cheap.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Phone scam targets MedicareOn May 6 I reported a Medicare phone scam targeting Kansas. It looks as if it’s continuing. The Arkansas City (KS) Police Department recently received information from the local Chamber of Commerce about a telephone scam that involves people on Medicare. At least one area person has been targeted so far.
The caller, posing as a drug company representative, offers to help with, not only Medicare, but medication as well. The caller asked personal financial questions, including the name of the targeted victim's bank, checking account number and routing number.
I don’t think we can remind our parents too often about not giving out any personal information on the telephone. The world is so different from the one they grew up in. They still seem to assume that anyone who calls them has their best interests at heart, almost as if they can still talk to the local operator and say, “Mabel, get me Eva.” We need to keep reminding them that it ain’t necessarily so.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
The Business of DeathIt’s been a busy week. My hubby and I went over to Mom’s and had a marathon three days of attorney, banking, insurance, and medical appointments. It’s amazing when I go over there. I seem to forget life here. I even forgot to call home for messages. But we sure got a lot done. We met with the attorney and found out what we needed to do. Mom had saved all of the forms that came in—insurance, pension, IRA, change of beneficiary forms, etc.-- and we were able to deal with all of them. And then we met with her doctor. He’s finally taking some of her complaints seriously, so now I need to schedule a week over there for some tests.
One thing I learned is that there is almost nothing I can do without being at Mom’s. Every call required her to get on the phone and give permission for them to talk to me. Since she doesn’t hear well, it was almost a comedy of errors, them trying to talk to her, her not being able to understand, and my telling her the answer to give them in order for them to talk to me! We got it all done, but it was a nuisance and there’s nothing I can do without her being right there with me.
One advisor recommended that she put me on as co-owner of her trust so I would have equal ability to make decisions. So, tomorrow I need to call the attorney again and see what he thinks and what that really means. I’m learning so much! And nothing I really wanted to know…
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Resources for Gen SandwichersI just discovered a new resource for Gen Sandwichers. The 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy Web site offers general information for managing personal finances. They have articles in the categories of budgeting basics, health care and health insurance, housing issues, long-term care and dependent care, and Social Security. In addition there are FAQs and tools to help you manage your multitude of responsibilities. There are many other types of financial information for different life stages at the same site. Check it out.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
Network Helps Coordinate CareIt seems to be the trend. In April I wrote about CarePilot, which helps families find home health providers.
Now a similar service is being announced. Care.com provides an online marketplace connecting people seeking care services--babysitter, nanny, au pair, senior care, tutor, dog walker, or other care provider--with a national and local network of trusted providers. The website offers a single destination for people seeking expert advice and practical tools for finding the best options and resources that address their specific care needs. It also offers a reliable platform for qualified caregivers to promote services and connect with prospective families on a local and national scale.
As a subscription-based business, Care.com charges care seekers a monthly fee as low as $10 USD for unlimited access to a trusted network of providers, free background checks on every prospective care provider, e-newsletters offering expert advice, and a wealth of valuable information to help people achieve lifestyle balance amidst ever-changing care needs. Providers can list their services for free.
Unlike similar sites that offer a single area of care, Care.com claims to be the only website providing customers a breadth of services for children, pets, seniors, and students, as well as pre-screened provider information, video profiles, and a reference database accessible by all subscribers.
With families spread across the nation, such services are going to be increasingly important.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Passing family values with inheritanceJames Carter writes at BeaconNewsOnline that families need to consider passing on their family values as wells as finances. He says that while many families view leaving an inheritance as a final act of love passed from one generation to the next, a recent study shows only one-tenth of all families are able to pass an inheritance on to a third generation. That’s a sobering statistic.
He suggests that it’s important to not only pass on your assets to family members, but also to pass on the values, knowledge, and tools your children and grandchildren will need to responsibly manage an inheritance. This calls for communication established early and repeated regularly in whatever manner is most comfortable for your family—formal or informal. That gives the next generation the time and luxury to learn and think about what the money means to them and how they plan to use it.
He also suggests making sure that your estate plan is up to date. As your family grows over the years and tax and other laws that affect your estate plan change, it’s important to work with your legal and financial advisors to keep all of your plans and paperwork current.
He recommends that If your own health and living expenses are taken care of, consider helping your family now. This is an especially wise move if your money will be subject to estate taxes—generally over $2 million.
We’ve worked hard to do this with our son and now with our DIL. We want them to understand how we’ve managed our finances, especially including the values that have driven our decisions. And we want them to understand the charitable decisions we make, both now and later. As they grow up and gain more financial experience, they’ll be equipped to manage whatever we are able to leave them, or even what we can share with them now. Makes more sense to me than hoping they figure it out after we’re gone!
Monday, May 07, 2007
Women expect to care for parents, but few prepare for itA recent nationwide online survey of women conducted by Iowa State University sociologists and the marketing and analysis firm Gestalt Inc. in Nevada, Iowa, found that while 70 percent of respondents expected to care for their aging parents, few prepare for it. Eighty four percent reporting that they delayed care giving decisions until they were needed.
Among those whose parents were both still living, 70 percent said that they expected to be the person to care for their parents in their own home. Half of the respondents also indicated that they would leave their job, at least temporarily, to take care of their elderly parents.
But while the majority saw future responsibility for the care of their parents, most aren't doing anything to get ready. Nearly half (49 percent) were concerned about the quality of care their parents will receive because of have limited financial resources to help them.
One interesting pattern was that women were predominately responsible for the day-to-day care of their parents, such as bill-paying and things like that, but it was usually a man--a brother, or a son--who is the executor. The parents make the sons the people who are charge of the finances, but the person who actually does the work is the daughter, or the daughter-in-law.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
Kansas Medicare ScamInsurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is warning Kansas Medicare beneficiaries of a new phone scam. The caller, claiming to be a Medicare representative, reports that all Medicare beneficiaries will receiver either $200 or $150 per month to pay for prescription drugs. Then the caller asks to confirm their Medicare number and then asks for their bank account number.
Beneficiaries are reminded that Medicare representatives will never ask for a bank account number over the phone.
Whether you live in Kansas or not, please alert your parents of these scams that keep popping up. I was so proud of my mom recently. She had received a call asking for her Medicare number, but she told the caller to call me. He didn’t. Good for her!
Saturday, May 05, 2007
Queen of the CastleJust in time for Mothers’ Day, here’s a change of pace for Gen Sandwichers who still have children at home or perhaps for those who have a daughter or DIL with children at home. I just received a fun book called “Queen of the Castle: 52 Weeks of Encouragement for the Uninspired, Domestically Challenged or Just Plain Tired Homemaker” by Lynn Bowen Walker. Even though I’m past the life stage she writes about, I’m loving every page of it and finding it easy to apply the principles to my own experiences.
With humor, compassion and a survivor’s instinct for the relevant, Walker serves up a collection of advice, tips, tricks, recipes —and much more—in chapters with titles like “Housework, Done Correctly, Can Kill You,” and “Trippity Doo-Dah: The Family Vacation.” But she doesn’t stop there. The queen herself needs nurturing, and Walker makes sure that there’s plenty of encouragement for anyone who’s uninspired . . . or just plain tired. This includes life-generating biblical truths and prayers, as well as rejuvenating chocolate recipes and other pampering pointers.
The chapter I related to as a Gen Sandwicher was “Schedules (or Which of the 568 Volunteer Opportunities Should I Sign Up For?).” In it she says,
An older friend whose children are grown encouraged me recently to put most of my time into being with my children rather than volunteering for various causes. “Because in two years,” she said, “you’ll have forgotten 98 percent of those people you accomplished things with. But you’ll have a relationship with your kids until you’re in the grave.”
I love the format and layout. Lots of short segments, quotations, definitions of words I’ll never remember, chocolate recipes, and tongue in cheek humor make it a perfect bathroom book. Or doctors’ office book. Or a moment of encouragement before you start your day.
So do yourself or a loved one a favor and pick up this book for Mothers’ Day. It’ll help you put things in perspective.
Thursday, May 03, 2007
Assessing Driving Skills of Aging ParentsMy mom is still able to drive and that’s a mixed blessing. It allows her the freedom to live on her own in a town where she now has no family. She can even drive at night, which is also a mixed blessing. The mixed part is that she still feels pretty invincible. Since Dad’s death a few weeks ago, she keeps threatening to drive back to Kansas to visit her few remaining childhood friends. A reasonable desire, to be sure. But do I want my 86-year-old mother driving alone halfway across the country? No way!
Frankly, I dread the day when I’m no longer comfortable with her driving (and I check that every time I visit) because I have no idea how we’ll handle it. It will almost definitely necessitate a move, and possibly one to another town where she has someone who can keep an eye on her. A bridge I’m sure we’ll need to cross in the next year or so to keep both her and the rest of the world around her safe.
The Arizona City News has an article called “How to begin that conversation about driving with aging parents” that looks like it probably originated from AARP. It offers some good tips for those of us facing this issue.
Wednesday, May 02, 2007
10 Things you Better Know When an Aging Parent Falls IllA blog called Dumb Little Man: Tips for Life offers this advice, noting that his parents have recently passed that ancient age of 60, so he’s thinking about what he needs to know in case one of them fall ill. Makes me feel old… but his advice from the Mayo Clinic is good. I’ve needed all of these in dealing with my aging parents.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Medicare and Social Security in TroubleAccording to the Washington Times, the results of the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees report released this week are not good. The government's will is once again bigger than its wallet. The report shows an unfunded liability in Social Security and Medicare over the next 75 years at $51.7 trillion.
According to John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, "In just five years, these two programs will require 10 percent of other federal revenues. That means in five years the federal government will have to stop doing about one in every 10 non-entitlement things it has been doing in order to balance the budget and keep its promises to the elderly."
Although the Bush administration has emphasized Social Security reform, the reality is that Medicare is in worse shape. Medicare expenditures are expected to reach $483 billion this year, making it the second-largest government expense behind the Defense Department.
According to the article, “Medicare costs are at the mercy of a two-headed monster. A ballooning price tag for medical care will be coupled with an explosion in the number of retirees with 76 million members of the baby boom generation moving closer to becoming eligible for benefits. Combined, those forces will overwhelm the Medicare program by 2019, while Social Security is slated to run out of money by 2041.”
The crisis “has been exacerbated by the addition of the new prescription benefit," said John Palmer, an economics professor at Syracuse University and a public trustee. "The challenge here has been understated."
Under a law passed in 2003, President Bush must propose a strategy to address the program's fiscal crisis when he submits his 2009 budget and Congress must immediately consider the proposal, but neither the president nor Congress is expeted to pass a new law.
U.S. Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Jim Webb (D-VA), and Representatives John Tanner (D-TN) and Mike Castle (R-DE) reintroduced legislation in the Senate and House this week to create a Comprehensive Entitlement Reform Commission. The commission would review Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and make recommendations to Congress that would sustain the solvency and stability of these three programs for future generations.
Medicare has increased US health care expenditures from its inception. The likelihood that there will be benefits available when we boomers reach retirement age is slim. And unless politicians are willing to bite the bullet and make major changes, the entire system will collapse on itself. And yet, the clamor for universal health coverage or extending Medicare to everyone continues unabated. When will we ever learn?