What is the Cost of Dying?

Despite being nearly 31 years old, I’ve managed to live my life avoiding the confrontation of death. There have been people in my life who have died — my grandfather on my mother’s side as well as his brother — women who performed in community theatre with me only to have passed months later due to some recurring illness such as a fast metastasizing cancer — and, of course, celebrities who seem quite immortal yet who turn out to be very mortal humans just like the rest of us. But I never faced death head on. I never have attended a funeral. Death, despite being one of the topics that frequently preoccupies my mind, has always been this abstract concept third person twice removed.

But as those around me age escaping death becomes impossible and confronting it head on inevitable. My grandfather, long losing control of his limbs due to Parkinson’s, recently fell, broke his shoulder, and ended up in the hospital in much worse health than he was leading up to the fall. It just happened that I am visiting the area, unrelatedly, this week, so I’m able to visit him in the hospital. I went last night and then again late this afternoon. His six children – my father being the oldest – all flew or drove out to my grandmother’s house to discuss plans for their father. They work as a team, despite being a hot-headed, highly-opinionated bunch. Yet facts of this painful process that is the life one lives before death, and the cost of it, were lost in a mix of semi-truths and confusion.

The thing is dying is quite the expensive hobby unless you manage to do it quickly and without much pomp and circumstance. Meanwhile few people like to think or talk about the cost of death until it’s too late. I haven’t gotten my head wrapped around the fiscal world of long-term care and the ability to pay for a certain standard of living in one’s final years, but it certainly seems complicated to understand. While today the government does provide coverage if you make too little money and have not enough in savings, being just a hair over the line can take one out of the running for such coverage while they are still unable to afford reasonable care. Then what happens?

My mother’s mother lives in Las Vegas and not so surprisingly has gambled away $300,000 of savings. Her children don’t want her to suffer but also are not jumping to help cover her expensive care. She apparently receives $2900 a month in social security which is $800 above the limit for medicare or medicaid (again, I’m still unclear what’s what here, but basically if she made $800 less a month the government would cover all her medical costs but because she makes $800 more in social security she can’t afford them.) Meanwhile my grandfather and grandmother are doing what many individuals do and legally trying to spend down their money (because they don’t have a lot of it) so they can get the care that they need, especially for my grandfather right now. My grandmother has been trying to take care of him and has been for a long time now and she is not in the best health herself, there is no way she can take care of him now in the state he is in.

Seeing my grandfather in the hospital so fragile and unable to talk outside of a few mumbles of pain, I didn’t know what to feel, say or do. Could he understand me? Was being there bothersome to him (was he ashamed? Did he want to be alone?) Did he remember who I was? Today he opened his eyes and looked at me, but I don’t know if he recognized me. He did know his son who was in the room — his six children had been taking turns every night at the hospital to stay with him and his wife and their wives switching out during the day shift. Seeing him there in pain and mumbling to himself, his chest rattling with pneumonia with every breath, I thought how horrible it is for so many elders who are left alone – their only company a nurse checking in every few hours with no time to stop and try to understand the partial sentences moaned in between shivers of pain.

My grandfather is not going to get better, but it isn’t clear if he’s going to get worse either, at least not right away. He had at one point in his pain asked someone watching over him to let him die, but of course no one can let someone die if nature doesn’t take its course. He has gained a little more strength and I’m told that in a few days if his kidney holds up (he’s experiencing kidney failure and heart disease at the moment, not to mention a broken shoulder that he’s too weak to ever have operated on to fix properly) he may be released to rehab or a nursing home – one which medicare (caid?) would pay for and one which would not be covered, or something. It is all ridiculously confusing and complicated and not something people want to have to think about at such a difficult time. Meanwhile my grandmother, his wife, is still relatively young, hopefully with many more years of decent enough health to live, but any money that could have been available for her remaining years is eaten by the cost of a life lived in pain and extended as long as possible with very little hope of any major improvement.

I’m not saying that I want my grandfather or anyone to die, it saddens me terribly at the state he is in, but stepping back and looking at how much the cost to keep someone suffering alive for more suffering is, I just can’t help but think perhaps we’re handling death all wrong – but we’re all too scared and sad to deal with it properly so it just is what it is.

Meanwhile, with my father – aged 63 – suffering from terminal cancer among other health issues – I know that my own time to sit in a hospital room with his own body breaking down is only a short time away. My mother is so far removed from her feelings or ability to care about other people that she is always surprised when I say things like I would want to fly out to be there for him when he is in the hospital. To be fair to her he has been a horrible abusive husband. To be fair to him she isn’t exactly the most giving person in the world. Yet even today after an incident where my father got very angry at me because I failed to look up an address I had asked him to drop me off at after breakfast before we needed to get on our way (my fault entirely, but every single thing that doesn’t please him must be this giant blow up disaster, obviously some plan to ruin his life and disrespect him) I still feel like I’d want to be there for him, as he will be in the same state, sooner than later, given his cancer will at some point spread again, and it’s not like far, far off in the future, but probably a few years away…

This is what happens when we get old – new life is formed and old life is faded, both miracles in their own terrifying ways. We spend tens of thousands of dollars per month to support the dying, to extend their lives by months or years, because that is what we do. That is the only thing we know how to do. Death is inevitable and yet we must, no matter what, fight against it at all costs. If we do not stare death in the eye and attack it from all sides despite its undefeated curse, what are we? In all this life we flood ourselves with all this bullshit of meaning when in the end we’re just this faded ghost of who we once were, our veins dark blue lining our pale flesh, our eyes drifting in and out of sight, unable to function yet still somehow considered alive, alive enough to not be dead, yet still we fade, until each and every one of us, in our own time, is no more.

 

 

Welcome Home: Tick Tock Tick Tock

One of the things I had in mind when I lost my job was spending a chunk of time with my family — the time that I rarely have to see them. I could, I thought, apply to jobs aggressively from my parent’s house and also look for a position on the east coast at the same time. My ideal goal was to have a job with a start date during my visit so I could focus just on quality family time – I mean, the most quality family time I can have with my little circus of a family.

The older I get and the more I visit my parents, the more I realize just how my psyche is completely off kilter because of their crazy, and process it a little better. It’s not always so easy though. Yesterday I was extremely depressed and found myself alone in my childhood house with tears pouring down my cheeks unable to handle both being sick, the anxiety from job negotiations, and the passing of time.

My grandfather is ill in the hospital and all of his six children have flown out to be with him and my grandmother. It sounds like this may be it. He fell, broke his shoulder, and his condition has quickly regressed. I’m an hour away from the hospital but I can’t visit because of this stupid cold that I’ve gotten myself due to all the stress and not sleeping. I’m getting better and I’m probably not contagious but the last thing I’d want to do is visit him in the hospital and for him to come down with a cold that may or may not have been my fault, only to become ever further ill and to get the blame for it. I also don’t want to miss out on the last opportunity I have to see him. I may go visit today but I’m not sure what to do.

And while I did manage to secure job offers before coming out to visit my family I did not finalize an agreement and start date, so I’m left wrecked with this horrid anxiety that’s pushing me into a deep depression. It hasn’t helped that I’ve been stuck in bed for two days trying to kick this cold. In the back of my mind I’m also freaking out about turning 31 in two months. I feel like maybe things are partially falling into place in my life and yet they aren’t quite locked in yet. I know from the outside things look hopeful but every day is a struggle with depression. Every day I have to remind myself that I should be happy to be alive and not the other way around. I wonder often if I have bipolar and try to remember my life’s ups and downs and try to pin where I am on the spectrum now, in 2014, this year, in the grand scheme of time. For the moment that would be down, quite down.

At breakfast my father asked my mother to pass the maple syrup. My mother, who hadn’t used the maple syrup in a good fifteen minutes, took it and poured it on her pancakes as soon as he asked her to pass the syrup. He, in typical my dad fashion, got extremely annoyed at her and started to fume. Her thought process is that she’d use the syrup first and then hand it to him so he could keep it on his side of the table, as if it would be as hard as climbing Mt. Everest to ask for it back should she need more. His thought process that she was doing this just to spite him, as he asked for the syrup so she was going out of her way to be rude to him. My mother is a lot of things but malicious in intent she is not. I was worried that he was about to make a giant scene as he often does, but luckily he wasn’t in the mood. My parents are just these two big children who never learned how to think about anyone but themselves. If I take it all in from an outsider’s view it’s quite entertaining. There they are, back and forth, every day of their lives, bickering about all the things that don’t matter because they can’t take a moment to think about the other person and their well being. I walked downstairs this morning and found a giant vat of ice cream upside down on the kitchen floor. My father says he asked my mother to put it away last night. She says she didn’t hear him. So it melted and someone knocked it over onto the floor. It’s always the other’s fault.

Last time I visited my mother accidentally left the laundry room sink running when she went upstairs to do something and it overflowed. She wanted to call the company that charged her $2000 last time to dry out the carpeting but I was there so I found a company that would do it for $500. My father came home and of course was angry at her but it was what it was. A few weeks ago, apparently, she flooded the sink again. Another $500. Another frustrated and angry dad. What a farce! Those two. And that is who taught me how to be a human being. It’s amazing that I have empathy and awareness at all.

A year into remodeling the bathrooms in the house it’s still the topic du jour. They don’t seem to enjoy discussing bathroom design as every bit of the conversation turns into a fight. “Tile to the ceiling?” “No, that’s a terrible idea!” “Do it yourself then.” “You won’t like what I come up with.” And on and on and on. You’d think that my father with his terminal cancer and who knows how long left to live would be doing something other than spending all of his remaining time remodeling a house, but I guess it keeps his mind off reality. It’s something to do. It’s his money and he can do with it what he wants, he just doesn’t seem to enjoy it much at all with how much stress it causes.

As I wandered around my – parents – house yesterday, I found little that I remembered. They’ve changed so much. The trees in the backyard separating our neighbor’s yards and ours – the ones I hid under as a child when I was sad and needed to get away from things – have been cut down – leaving a huge lawn but no privacy. The kitchen has been completely redone and walls knocked down with a huge modern living room that is home to a large TV, a new bathroom, laundry room, and garage made usable for cars but filled with junk and made unusable again. The living room  has new carpeting and the wallpaper has been replaced with a hideous blue paint that clashes with the sofa and curtains that remain from my childhood. Upstairs the only thing that remains is my bedroom, which I’ve selfishly fought to keep in the same arrangement it has been since I was seven years old. I know it’s terribly immature to want to keep things the way they are, but as everything changes and I’m forced into the rest of my adulthood, I feel somehow oddly comforted by returning to sameness even if it was a place where I experienced many years of depression and solitude.

I don’t really feel like I have a home anymore — I’ve been living in apartments for a good 12 years now — and without home comes a jolting sensation of constantly being off kilter. I’ve found a home in my boyfriend who I plan to spend the rest of my life with – in his arms where I can be quiet and at peace with stillness, and in his eyes where we can have a thousand hilarious conversations without a word. But I still feel the lack of a home, still look to my childhood house – where I lived until I was 17 from the day I was born – as something that is partially mine, even though it isn’t at all. If my parents wanted to they could redo my room and make it into the adult guest room it should be, not one decorated with early 1990s wallpaper covered in remnants of adolescent collage and sticky tack.

It’s this lack of stability and just growing older which is causing my current depression. It is life. Everyone goes through it and I’m no more or less special than the next person who confronts their own aging process and watching others around them grow older and pass, places change and become unrecognizable, the safety of home diminishing as adult life teaches us we are on our own and it’s up to us to make the life we want, no one else will be able to do it for us. It’s exciting to have the freedom to make the life that I want but terrifying to accept that it’s my responsibility and to let go from the safety net. I’m old now. I mean, not old, old. But 31 is an adult. It’s the age many women have children or are about to. It’s not this murky extended adolescence, it’s straight up adulthood, complete with an aching body which can no longer deal with a red eye flight and spring into action the next day or sitting on an uncomfortable chair for hours without straining her back. It is life.

What I want now, more than anything at all, is to find peace with cutting this string to my past, to stop only finding contentment in being the center of attention, that childhood fancy which drove me to where I am today. I just want to be the type of person to give and care and love. I want a home to make my own and a family and friends and enough money where I can invite them over for dinner and cook amazing healthy meals and entertain and travel and see the world.

…I want to somehow truly make peace with my parent’s crazy, to be thankful that somehow I’m nearly 31 and both of my parents are still alive despite ration saying that one of them would have likely killed the other by now. I am the product of narcissists and so is my sister and we’re both dealing with it in our own ways, both depressed, both fighting for a chance at a good and happy life. I have gotten so far and yet so often I fall back and I look ahead at all the challenges in front of me and I gasp for air, panicked, trying to comprehend how I can handle all that is the future, never mind the present. This is my depression. This is my life. I am ready to change but I’m still trapped in this quicksand. It tugs me down into the earth and I can’t move. I know I just need to lift my damn leg up and take a step but all of the sudden I just forget how to walk. I need to relearn all over again.

Negotiation and the Patience I Do Not Have

I should be thrilled about the prospect here of multiple job offers and the luxury to negotiate a little bit, yet I’m not at all. I’ve been crawling out of my skin with anxiety for the past week especially and I can’t stand the whole playing it cool and waiting for a response. I know today a reference put in a good word for me for one of the potentials, and the other one is in full-on negotiation mode stuck in limbo. Part of me feels like I should just fold – after all who cares about money? Well, I do. But I care more about my sanity. And it’s quickly slipping away.

A lot of people have commented on my blog that I shouldn’t negotiate. I was surprised to see these comments. Granted, the comments are from people who actually have read my blog for a while and know that I’m a bit of a mental trainwreck (yeay bipolar II) so they think I’m better off just taking the job I’m offered without going back and asking for more. I’ve read so much about how women don’t negotiate that I’m now the type of person that I can’t NOT negotiate. I mean, I know what I’m worth if I deliver on my promises. If I deliver on my promises I better be paid what I’m worth. If I don’t the company will get rid of me anyway so they have a much smaller risk to take.

So many of the comments also noted that they’ve had experiences where the offers would be rescinded if they tried to negotiate. That’s crazy. I wouldn’t want to work for a company that pulls that anyway. I mean, in my job I’m going to have to negotiate to save the company money practically every single day so you bet your ass I want to show them that I’m good at negotiation and don’t just take the first offer. Maybe if I were in another field I’d be more likely to accept an offer without negotiating… and maybe I should anyway… but clearly there is some wiggle room or else they wouldn’t still be talking to me.

I know when I’m good I’m really good. I am going to immediately invest in a psychiatrist upon my health insurance kicking in and get whatever antidepressants/ anti-anxiety meds I need to stabilize myself and be functional at my very best. I’d rather be compensated for being my best than for being my worst. If I don’t add value get rid of me, that’s the way I look at it. Maybe that’s too aggressive. But I can’t just be a woman who gets walked over when it comes to salary. I mean, I already have been according to some people – even though compared to most of the world I make “a lot” I still am underpaid for my title and level. Granted, being unemployed means any job/salary is better than nothing, but I can’t let myself be as weak as I actually am.

Waiting on finalizing these offers is making me extremely sick, however. I can’t sleep, I have a cold and cough, I can barely eat anything. I just want to get the paperwork signed and move on, but I do have at least two really attractive offers to negotiate — I am just so scared of losing both of them by being too aggressive. Even today when I spoke with HR at the larger company I had to share my former compensation at the last three companies I worked at. I told the truth. I am worried that telling the truth would make me seem too expensive or too cheap or too whatever for the role. I considered lying – making myself cheaper – or more pricey – just so they would hear what they want and offer me the role at the salary they feel is fair for the position. Meanwhile in the other half of this job seeking town I’m swinging for the fences because the job itself requires a lot more responsibility. Either way, I really do just want a job, I’m no good at this not working thing.

How and When to Give Back: Charity & Philantrophy

During this period of unemployment I know that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to have an emergency fund and a chunk of networth in the bank to pull from should shit continuously hit the fan. Many of my friends say I’m too focused on money and that I shouldn’t be so obsessed with it. Even my friends who make good money seem to think I’m too obsessed with it. Maybe I am but I know that for me having goals and working towards them is the only way to achieve success.

That said, now that I’m 30/almost 31 / I have taken so much from the world and not really given back. What makes me happiest? Well, I love when I can buy a meal for a friend who I know couldn’t afford to splurge otherwise. If I had the money I wouldn’t spend it on designer clothes but instead on taking my friends on a vacation every year so we could experience the world together. Granted, that’s not actually charity, that’s just being a rich and somewhat giving friend. What I do want to do in my 30s is figure out how to be a more charitable person without blowing my savings plans or long-term financial goals.

Donating to charity always seemed to detached from actually helping people. Sure cash is cash and charities of all types can use the money. Meanwhile there are charity ratings and such so of course I can put my money somewhere it will actually help people… I just haven’t been the type to give yet. With some of the numbers I’m talking with potential jobs, especially when I get into what I could earn if I overachieve my objectives, I can either just actually start a fund for a down payment, or I can split it up and put some of my earnings to charity. I also think I’d probably work even harder knowing that after a certain point every extra cent could be used to help an organization I believe in. It’s a part of my life that has been missing, esp given I’m not a religious person, and one I want to pick up on now that I seem to be entering the junior big leagues of executive pay.

This video was especially inspiring:

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How do you figure out how much of your income each year you give to charity? Which organizations do you support? I’m going to do some research and figure out who I can help. I’m definitely interested in charities that focus on domestic violence, single mothers, children’s rights, et al. I don’t really want to give to my college even though I’m sure they’d love me if I did, but we paid so much to that damn school already. What organizations are best for charity? I’d like to get more involved in an org but I won’t really have time so prob need to find one where giving money is my primary contribution.

The Game of Risk: Nature vs Nurture

Today I had a very interesting conversation with my father about negotiation. He noted to me that when he was 32 and I was born him and my mother had just purchased our house in the suburbs with a small down payment and he had little savings to speak of otherwise. He worked at the company that would employ him for his entire life. While he earned a good salary and obtained raises throughout his career, he never once asked for a promotion or a raise. He concluded his career earning over $200k in the 1990s, plus additional stock profits on the sale of his company, which was still a lot for our middle class neighborhood, and this enabled my mother to stay at home and raise me (and take us to the mall a lot) while still managing to have money left over to save for retirement.

When I talk to him about negotiation his general reaction is that I’m silly to attempt it. I find it quite alarming that my father – who I view as this tough guy – never once negotiated for a raise. Despite throwing a thousand temper tantrums a day he’s the most risk adverse person I know. In fact, one could say he’s rather paranoid of change. He likes things the way they are. My parents should have gotten divorced long ago but god forbid such change were to occur. When I told him I’m playing hard to get and trying to obtain a higher offer he basically suggested that I was being stupid as I didn’t have a job and I wouldn’t want to lose this opportunity (even though I told him I have two offers.) I wanted my big, tough father to encourage me in my negotiation, and perhaps even provide some supportive professional advice, but all I got was that I’m crazy for attempting to negotiate.

At the same time, both offers are real, and I’d like to decide which one I want without pay being part of that decision – but of course pay is part of the decision. Every other minute my mind swings one way and then the other. They are just such different opportunities. I’m madly excited about one that would require a crazy commute and would be much more unstable than the other. But then I think if I can succeed in the larger company it would provide a good base to go in different directions. Either way, I want to negotiate with both companies and see what I can get without losing the offers. I hate how the hiring managers always say “think about what you need to live on.” Well, I can live relatively cheap, but that’s bs. I want to save. I want to save a lot. I have a future family to support. I hate feeling like people who hire me see me as this woman (cheaper than men) who isn’t married and doesn’t have kids (cheaper than woman who is and who do.) Age discrimination isn’t even illegal if you’re under 40.

In any case I always feel like I’m being paid too much but I’ve come to realize that everyone is only paid what they can convince someone else they’re worth. I didn’t at all learn how to take risks from either of my parents so how can I do this well? I seem to stumble left and right on negotiations and it just seems clumsy and embarrassing. But no wonder I suck at negotiating, it certainly wasn’t a learned skill.