Death from Afar

My grandmother is a classic narcissist. My first memory of her was when I was probably five or six years old and she was so mad at me that I wouldn’t clear my plate of blueberry blintzes despite that the plate was large and I wasn’t hungry enough to eat them all being a five year old girl. That isn’t the best example of her narcissism, but it’s my first memory of her. An old video shows her extremely annoyed by my childish antics and saying she doesn’t want to visit anymore, only half joking. My reaction at maybe all by four years old is “that’s mean.” She also thought the Obama family personally sent her a handwritten note because she’s so well respected in the world, and made me invite Bob Dole to my Bat Mitzvah since she was somehow involved in his campaign (shockingly, he declined.)

She has three children – three daughters (my mother being the oldest) who all have pieces of the same narcissism embedded in their own personalities to varying degrees. And, now that their mother is dying, no one really wants to deal with it. It’s a difficult situation because she had gambled away her life savings ($300k+) and never once thanks her daughters for anything they do to help her out – her natural state is complaining about whatever situation she is in, even if it’s her own fault she got there.

I do understand that being old sucks. Her husband died many years ago and she spent all the time after that being a gambling addict. What else was she going to do? No one wanted to be around her. At the casino the workers would listen to her stories and pretend to care. She had an audience. And she paid dearly for it. But what else was she going to do when her own daughters didn’t want to visit her?

But then a few years ago she fell and had to move into a home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. For what it is, it’s nice. But it’s also a small house in suburbia with no way out but “up.” She has her own room which was a requirement for her (and luckily something that my mother figured out she could afford barely) but she has no one to come visit to take her out to even get some fresh air. The other seniors who live in the house certainly can’t stand her (though at the same time she doesn’t get bored of talking and telling her delusional stories so she might be somewhat entertaining to them) so she’s just alone. Old and alone and her own daughters bicker about whether they should go out to see her as her condition declines. The middle sister this morning asked if she would have to go out to the funeral (the older sister doesn’t actually work or have any major commitments that would keep her from traveling.) Meanwhile the younger sister would go because she lives with the most guilt and my mother, the oldest sister, would go even though she wouldn’t want to and she wouldn’t have any emotions around the situation because she has no emotions.

My grandmother is losing her mind, as an old person does, but it’s always hard to know how much so since her mind was always lost. She fell a few months ago and they had to take her to the hospital but she refused to be treated for any of her issues so they sent her home to be on hospice care and basically to die. However, one doesn’t die overnight. Dying can be a long process in which you’re left alone to suffer through all the pains that come along with the body shutting down.

Yesterday, the manager of the home called my mother to tell her that grandma hasn’t eaten in four days. We all were a bit stunned that they decided to wait that long to call. No one at the home seemed to know exactly her state and she was asleep. Hospice care apparently only means checking in three times a week and giving her a weekly bath. I had to get on the phone with the home to ask these questions because not one of her daughters could think of how to help in the situation.

Since she hasn’t eaten for four days, my first question was – why? Is she in such a bad state that she can’t eat anymore and is very close to death – or is there another reason? The closet I came to experiencing death was watching my grandfather in his last weeks. He was at the hospital and being fed through a feeding tube and hooked up to lots of machines and you could hear the rattling in his chest. He eventually was sent to a hospice house where he died fairly quickly. I didn’t see the very end, but I did see him at the hospital, and I’m glad I did. It does provide some closure to be able to say goodbyes  – and also just to understand that it’s the body’s time to pass.

But I’m not clear my grandmother is in that state yet. When we finally got her on the phone today she couldn’t hear a thing but the woman caretaker was able to communicate with her. We found out she ate a half slice of toast today but she doesn’t want to eat because her body burns (she always has had bad acid reflux but refuses to take medicine for it.) She also has other various ailments that could be cured or helped significantly by taking some basic meds but no one can convince her of that. She’s pretty much determined to die at this point – and that’s her right. And she is dying. But I can’t help thinking of how horrible it is to be alone – no matter how awful a person’s spirit is – that doesn’t chance that they deserve to have as good as possible of an end of life experience.

At the moment her mind flutters between reality and memories and delusions – but she very clearly remembers that I’m marrying someone who isn’t Jewish and brings that up all the time. Apparently last week she had convinced herself that her youngest daughter (while on the phone with her) was the one marrying someone who isn’t Jewish and she went on and on about how the children aren’t going to be Jewish and all the problems they will have… she’s definitely in and out of reality, but that she won’t forget.

My mother was trying to figure out whether she should go out there. Actually, all the sisters are trying to figure out when they should visit. My mother has a wedding to go to this weekend (and then my wedding coming up in a few weeks but this is actually a good time for her to go otherwise.) Her middle sister doesn’t care to see her mother at all before or after she dies. Her youngest sister wants to go but she is still working and has a lot going on in her life, but she’d make the time for it. The younger two are more bitter at their mother for how she has treated them through the years and my mother has not an angry of bitter bone in her body to use. She also has no caring bone. She just manages logistics. She has no heart.

When I heard my grandma wasn’t eating, I immediately thought we should try to get her the one meal that she loves — lamp chops with mint jelly — from the casino she would gamble all her money away at in her early senior years. I understand she wouldn’t want to eat any of the crappy food at the home that they serve but if she could get lamp chops, maybe she’d want to eat that. Maybe she wouldn’t, but at least then we’d see if she was capable of eating. I called the restaurant and tried to coordinate a delivery of the lamp chops but it turns out they’re no longer on the menu and the manager promised to call me back after he spoke with the chef today to see if they could make them still. If I could get them made I would be able to get an Uber driver to deliver them. She’d never appreciate someone doing that for her – surely she’d find something to complain about. Our family doesn’t know how to say thanks or to appreciate when other people do things for them. I’m guilty of this too, for sure, but at least I’m aware of it.

What I’ve realized this week too is how much I care… care about other people’s happiness… and how much I enjoy caring. Well, I knew this already, but I’ve come back to it. As I falter again and again in business where I’m not allowed to have a heart, I find myself still most comfortable caring about other people. And I do care – I care about my grandma being left alone in a room to die in a pile of her own shit. I know her daughter’s either hate her or don’t want to intervene with her wishes to just die in peace. So maybe doing nothing is the right thing to do. We asked her on the phone today if she wants my mother to visit and her answer was no – she’s too sick and not in a state to see people. She always wants to put on her makeup and look “perfect” for any guests. But how do you explain to an old crazy narcissistic lady that she won’t ever see her daughters again if she waits until she’s ready to wear makeup and pull herself together? And would she even care?

Wedding Ridiculousness

Don’t ask me how much this wedding is costing. I don’t want to know. Unfortunately I do. I am going overboard (and that’s an understatement) and yet I don’t FEEL like I’m having an extravagant wedding by any means. It’s just the little… and the BIG things… add up. The whole situation makes me sick to my stomach – yet I’m so far in I can’t dig myself out.

Case in point – hair and makeup trials. Who the hell cares what I look like on my wedding day? Me. I do. I’m vain. I’m vain but that’s kind of built into the whole wedding situation which requests of you to wear a big white dress and have the more photographs of yourself ever taken in one day. No pressure. I mean, the photos will likely be the only remainder of you long after you die and your children’s children’s children are looking back at that one picture that remains of their great great grandmother and there you are with the world’s worst hair and eyeliner that has run down your cheek. No fucking pressure.

Each hair trial is about $100 or so. Makeup trials run the same. I’ve done two makeup trials (which I think given the situation is reasonable) and have settled on the second artist. At some point I just have to accept my face is my face. It’s not horrible. I have a wonky left eye and eyelid and my profile is unfortunate due to the lack of a substantial chin and unsightly nose. But who cares, right? I mean – a wedding is about love and marriage and not all this fucking vanity that is costing me a fortune because I want so desperately for one day of my life to look beautiful before I turn into a shriveled up old women with no sex appeal whatsoever. Despite being 32, this wedding feels like the end of my extended delusioned youth. Hair, however, is proving to be a major issue. My hair is just… blah… and after three hair trials I’ve yet to really find a stylist I like. But I don’t think it’s their fault, it’s my hair, plus maybe unreasonable expectations for what it can do. We can add extensions (another $100+ investment) and I can go get it dyed (which I probably will do for $200+) and maybe after that one of these styles will look decent but you know what it’s really just my manly Hungarian cheekboned round face and fat arms that make the hair just not work. So. I’ve spent, oh, over $500 on hair/makeup trials (I KNOW I KNOW THIS IS INSANE) and I still don’t like my hair options. Since I’ve spent $7500 on a photographer and $7000 on my dress (including alterations) it just seems at this point rather ridiculous to have horrible hair – though, I’m unsure if it is more or less ridiculous to spend another $500 on finding the right hair stylist.

Then there’s the ACTUAL costs of the hair and makeup styling day of… my hair/makeup will be about $300, then I am paying for 8 bridesmaids to have their hair and makeup done (about $160 each) which I don’t have to do – but I want everyone to look good for the pictures and my girls aren’t vain like me so they wouldn’t spend that much if I asked them to chip in on their own. I’m trying to make this wedding as reasonable cost wise for them so they don’t hate me afterwards… their bridesmaid dresses, the ONE frugal thing in this whole freaking disaster of a financial experiment – were on sale from $290 to $109. Phew. One smart financial choice. Too bad that doesn’t actually help my or my family’s bottom line.

I want to look forward to this wedding. I really do. I know when I’m at the venue – even if it’s pouring rain and flooded and lightning and hailing and five traffic accidents have caused every last guest to miss the ceremony – I’ll still be able to look at my life partner and enjoy the whole “hey, we’re getting married” thing. I’m sure whether my hair is a complete disaster or perfectly coiffed he will still love me and still marry me and at the end of the very fast expensive day we will be married and we can move on with our lives and be adults and never again think to splurge so embarrassingly on a very brief experience that will be over and done before we can say hello to every single guest.

Weddings. Bah humbug. I make them a whole lot more psychotic than they need to be. For sure. But I’m not alone. I don’t think a lot of brides talk about it. Well, there are bridezillas who just have a lot of money to spend (or don’t but act like they do) and don’t worry about the costs. Then there’s me – a perfectionist who recognizes how stupid this whole thing is and how $70k+ that is now being spent on the wedding  would be much, much, MUCH better off going to a down payment on a house or grad school or a trip around the world or even 100 virgins (to do my laundry – what are you thinking?) and I’m so in over my head right now and although I joke here and there about how overwhelmed I am… I am really, seriously, completely, morbidly, enthusiastically, and maniacally overwhelmed at the moment. I feel a major depression coming on and trying to grasp onto mild mania if only to power through this and be able to actually enjoy this nut job of an event that will be occurring next month as long as my fiancé and I still have a pulse.

On top of all this stupid wedding crap, I’m trying to keep my job and do a good job and I’m so far off the mark on that as well. It doesn’t help that I can’t focus 100% of all my time on it, and it’s pretty damn clear I’m distracted which is likely going to cost me yet another job which I can’t afford to lose right now. I know I need to just let go of the wedding at some point (well I will once it’s OVER) but some details I can’t ignore. I have to figure out transportation for guests and make food choices and somehow coordinate the day’s schedule so my mother’s photography requirements do not force me to go future Dateline NBC-guest ape-shit and slash her with a cake knife half way through the evening.

When I think about everything that has to get done my thoughts drift to those common suicidal ideations which aren’t exactly real but nonetheless are so appealing as everything seems so impossible right now. I’m running faster than I’ve never run before but unfortunately it’s straight into a brick wall. I want out. I don’t want to feel like this right now. I should be excited. I should be so thrilled that my big wedding day is coming up and my friends and family are flying in from all over the country to see me and my man tie the knot and celebrate with us. I am excited about THAT but everything else is killing me. I mean. I think it might be literally killing me. I can’t handle it all. I should probably call my therapist but then what crazy OCD bride can actually afford therapy? Not this one, that’s for sure.

For the first time in my LIFE I’m at risk for not being able to pay my monthly credit card bills. That is terrifying. I certainly make a lot right now and luckily my fiancé has liquid savings we can spend (I’d pay him back of course) but – it’s scary when you look at your monthly credit card bill and it’s like $10,000 and you don’t have $10,000 sitting around to pay it. That’s when you know you are making DUMB AS FUCK (TM) financial decisions. At 32 I’ve saved $350,000 in networth so I keep telling myself it’s OK To splurge a little bit (or a lot bit) once in my life and then I’ll go back to frugal living and get myself to $500k in the next 2-3 years which is still a major accomplishment ($500k before 35 isn’t so bad) so … it’s fine. I just want to be able to stop worrying about how much it costs and focus on how much fun it will be. Or, you know, how much fun it will be when it’s over.

My Parents Are Actually Not That Great with Money

When I grew up I knew two things to be fact – my dad was talented at earning money and my mom was equally talented at spending it. My mother constantly complained about us not having a lot of nice things – and we indeed were upper middle class and not a millimeter over the upper class line – but we had it rather great. As my father worked a professional job requiring his math brain, the money kept rolling in. And my mom (and I) would keep spending it.

But despite the “every time we come back from the mall” fights on spending it never was  a “real” issue. We weren’t in danger of losing the house. My private college tuition was paid for outright. So was my sister’s private school for a learning disability and then college. Apparently at some point my father’s company was sold and he did fairly well for himself in his stock and income appreciation. My parents should be comfortably set for life and then some.

However my father (who was told he had two years to live about nine years ago, mind you) and my mother have spent and spent and spent post “earning” years and with the stock market underperforming all his estimates about his finances didn’t quite pan out. Shocking for a man who made a career out of calculating risk. Yet, here we are today, with my father looking at all the numbers involved in the family finances and he can’t make heads or tails of it. There’s a massive home equity loan out that has to be paid back fairly soon, and there’s little left on it to borrow at this point anyway. He wanted to spend a lot on my wedding but, now that I better understand their financial situation – I realize it was not a good idea. It’s not that they are broke – they have social security and pension money coming in… about $100k a year. But in order to afford not only my wedding but also a winter condo they bought in the southeast and renovations to that condo and fixing a bunch of things breaking around their main house there is the reality that my dad had to pull out a bunch of money from the IRA bumping him up into a higher tax bracket so most of the income they’re making goes to taxes.

So they have to in the next few years pay back about $200k in home equity. How? The idea seems to be either from a reverse mortgage (which as I learn more about I really don’t like) or taking more money out of the IRA and paying a lot of taxes on it or, well, there aren’t many other options. The money is there, but it isn’t. They’re so much more fortunate than most people their age (due to smart saving at least and the possibility of a one-working-parent household being able to afford a nice life and a decent retirement) but their spending is just out of control. It’s not just my wedding – which theoretically my father had budgeted “forever” for – it’s the lack of acceptance of 1 – what life really costs and 2 – what their life really costs.

My father keeps talking about how they’re going to have to “get frugal” and I can’t help but laugh. They aren’t exactly going on luxury vacations but my parents do spend. My mother has no concept of money and I worry she’s going to eventually spend every last cent of her retirement money leaving her with “just” the monthly income – which at some point may not be enough to pay for her care. I’ll help, of course, as much as I can – but I’m stuck in the reality of my world which = I cannot ever afford a house, I cannot figure out how to save enough for my own/my family’s retirement, even on my current substantial income (which will not last because I’m about to completely crack in my current career and my next step is something less profitable but more personally fulfilling, I hope) – in any case, I’ll need to help out of guilt knowing how much my own life has cost them, but it’s still frustrating that this didn’t have to happen… they were doing so well and then they had to put an addition on the house and had to buy too-nice further for the vacation property and had to get a new dress for every wedding-related event coming up (I’m glad I talked my mother out of purchasing a $2000 dress for my wedding when the $300 dress she got looked WAY better than the one the fancy store was trying to sell her.)

I just worry too because I know that in so many years my father’s cancer will eventually end his life (I hope this is a long time out but who knows) and my mother will – god willing – life a very long time. But as bad with money and gullible as she is she’s suceptable to all sorts of scams and con arts and just about any potential way for her money to disappear. My dad likes to talk to me (so awkwardly) about how he wants my sister and I to get an inheritance – and I can’t comment on that because on and hand I think inheritances are just plain awful and unfair and should not be allowed and on the other hand the world we live in is one where people can or can not afford to, say, buy a house or send their kids to college due to such mini dynasties. It’s not a topic I’m comfortable talking about and I certainly don’t want to be the person held responsible for convincing my mom not to, you know, spend that money that one day would possibly end up trickling down to me and my sister – even though I honestly don’t want it if she needs to spend it, I just don’t want to see her getting conned. I worry I’ll have to be the responsible one because my sister knows nothing about money and clearly I’m the best educated on the topic (I don’t know how that happened but anyway, it happened.)

My father was even asking my advice on how to repay the home equity. I have no idea. $200 is a lot of money. It took me a very long time to save $200. Now I have almost double that. But it’s all locked up in retirement funds and such. It’s about half of the cost of their actual house. I don’t understand home ownership and the whole taking loans out against your property. It seems like he has a really great rate (2 percent?) so maybe that’s a smart/good thing. But it’s only smart insofar as the needed to spend the money. It’s my wedding but it’s more than that for sure. It’s just this nature of spending and spending and spending and being delusional slash not wanting to deal with the time to come when they really do need to be “frugal” in their own middle class sort of way… not something my mother has known how to do for years. I worry they’ll lose their home – though my father said that will never happen – but I’m starting to doubt his ability to predict these things. He seems rather surprised about how much taxes he owes in general and how things add up and money keeps disappearing. He seems perplexed that the stock market didn’t perform strongly so his networth shrunk more than expected and he didn’t have a backup plan to deal with this. And this all has led me to the conclusion that my father – the math guy – the financial industry risk expert – is actually really bad with personal finances. I worry for them, and I also hope somehow I can do better with my own family and wealth. I’m beginning to think that all starts with NOT owning property – EVER. Rent is expensive but at least it’s not handcuffs.

Wedding Registries and the Pile of Boxes in My Living Room Corner

Thank you profusely to all the kind wedding guests who have sent me a gift for my bridal shower in advance of my upcoming nuptials. Thank you for going to my online registry and selecting a gift that I already picked out from a store like Macys or William and Sonoma and purchasing it and having it delivered to my apartment. Suddenly, I’ve gone from having no quality household items to a smorgasbord of things I want, need, and thought might be interesting to own that I don’t actually need that fit that golden present cost requirement of “around $30-$50” so everything on my registry wouldn’t be too expensive and offensive.

Thank you for the china that I asked for – it’s beautiful – and likely will be about half of the items I will need for a complete set due to how these things work out – so then I have the choice to either return the china to get something I actually really need and feel guilty that I’m returning your gifts (that, mind you, I asked for) or keep it and somehow find the money to buy the rest of the set after the most expensive year of my life (and, thank you for reminding me that I get a special extra 10% off discount six months after my wedding to buy anything that wasn’t purchased on my registry – that will not actually help me afford these items.) Also, thank you for suggesting I use any cash I do get for my wedding to complete the registry because all the bills for the actual wedding will be paid for with fairy dust.

Thank you for avoiding the items on my registry which I actually need but are rather bland or unladylike to purchase (buying knives for a bridal shower seems so unromantic.) Thank you for the fancy measuring cups and vegetable cutting contraptions and vases and towels and wine glasses. Thank you for taking me serious when I put items on my registry I clearly don’t need when I live in a household with two plates and a thousand steak knives and a few random pots I purchased at Target when I moved into my own apartment 10 years ago. Thank you for all these beautiful gifts I will likely exchange for things I actually need because the reality is I have no where to put all these items I don’t need at the moment. My apartments is small and I’m not sure what to do with all this amazing stuff that I asked for but didn’t realize the consequences of getting.

Thank you for the piles of boxes at my door everyday I get home which should be exciting but instead are a tall pile of doom in which I must identify another spot in my living room in which to store these items which likely will go back to the store eventually when I have time to get around to it and be turned into a nice set of pots and pans.

Thank you for registries not allowing you to ask for either a complete set of something or individual items so either you have a set that a group of guests can go in together to purchase that is quite expensive or individual items that seem too expensive on their own for a group to buy even though they’re what I actually want (hey, good knives are expensive.)

Thank you for editing registries after two shots of whiskey and the brilliant idea to put about five different knife sets and individual knives on my registry to see if any lovely friend out there will get the hint that the most appreciated gift of all would be some high-quality cooking knives that I one day will likely slice off one of my fingers with due to their high-quality sharpness. Thank you to wedding registries for being outdated yet the best option since the various “cash funds” online all take a percentage of the gift which is a waste of money – i.e. honey fund, down payment funds, etc and it’s still considered rude to ask for cash.

Thank you to all of the people I invited who sent me gifts who can’t come to any of my wedding festivities as you won’t get to partake in the celebration or enjoy the food or band and you still sent me a gift and I feel guilty about that but thank you that’s very kind of you.

And now, back to the pile boxes.

Networth Update May 2016: $365k

2016 networth goal $500k – aborted. I’ll be lucky if I break even this year. It’s my own fault. I’m making a really solid income I’m just spending way too much on my wedding. I mean – wayyyyy too much. I’m torn on how bad I feel about it. On one hand, financial blogger self feels nauseous about how much this wedding costs – and how I failed to manage to keep the budget within my very generous parent’s contribution that at first seemed impossible to exceed. Well, it seemed impossible to exceed before I fully understood the difference between $2000 and $6000 wedding dresses and how the higher petal count of garden roses makes them just so much more elegant than a standard rose and that DJs really aren’t our style and venues which rush you out because another couple is getting married an hour after your celebration ends make the whole day feel so unfortunately rushed and unromantic.

Ok. I went overboard. Way overboard. You can see how overboard in my networth chart for the year to date:

It’s going to look flat for the next few months. I’ve paid off the entirety of my dress and alterations, as well as deposits on the florist and photographer and videographer. I still don’t understand how despite how much we’re spending on this shindig it still feels I have to cut corners all over the place.

I’ve revamped my networth goal this year to $400k. It’s $100k under where I was hoping to be at this point but then again it doesn’t look like I’m having a kid anytime soon — and the real goal is $500k before my first child is born. If I add in my future husband’s savings and count it in my networth we’ll be close to $500k by that point. I’m still going to account my own networth separately going forward though – I don’t really think we should merge our bank accounts. We’re doing just fine splitting rent and food at this point. When we have kids or buy a house I guess we’ll have to figure it out.

So… I don’t think I’ll be able to save any money until after the wedding. I’m still maxing out my 401k this year… about half way there so far… but the rest of the wedding expenses will wipe out my sizable take-home income for the next few months. We haven’t even planned a honeymoon because that will be too expensive and there’s no time… though I’d like to take one. In any case, I figure July will be the first month this year I can start saving something. I have a zillion weddings to go to this year as well which are across the country, so I’ll be spending a lot even after my wedding is done. I’ll somehow make it work.

If I break even by July 1 — say, $360k — I have $40k to make up in the next six months of the year… or $6.6k per month. Fortunately with my income that’s doable but I really cannot buy anything other than gifts for my friend’s weddings and plane tickets (you know, and food and rent and such.) I just really really really need to keep my job. Odds are looking ok on that but not great. If I lose my job all bets are off. I’ve been struggling to manage wedding planning and job together so once that’s over I can get back to focusing 100% on work… hopefully I’ll last that long.

Farewell $500k goal… on my way to $400k this year. Next year I think $500k is really possible with interest and such or at least getting closer to it. 2017 will be my half million year, I hope.