Rob Azevedo watched as his father died broke, and sees his neighbor about to do the same. Is this the new norm for all of who face aging today?
My Dad died broke. We never knew he was broke until, well, until we knew. By “we” I mean my brother and sisters. This revelation presented itself just two months before that pig faced monster—otherwise known as cancer—put an end to him for good three years ago.
I still can’t muster up the guts to delete his number from my cell phone. Ah, so be it.
When you’re watching a parent die, or anyone, young, old or ancient die—as my dear retired neighbor Hank is watching his wife of 35 years die before his eyes—the horror is all you can focus on.
Sooner or later the bill comes calling and she’s equally ugly as the pig face. And just as big a priority. Numbers stacked on procedures, on lab runs, on ambulances, too, only deepen the fear and toil.
Real scary stuff.
When we learned my father had virtually nothing left to his name in the form of property or finances when he died, we were shocked. We knew he wasn’t “well off” anymore.
The 1980’s was a wonderful time for making money if you didn’t mind the hustle. My Dad hustled. Worked his way off a furniture truck to be a country club card carrying cranky pants with a long time financial business in downtown Melrose, Mass.
He drove a BMW, bought a big brick house, spent little on himself, had few friends, smoked a lot of butts and read a lot of books.
He was a success. All this by age 50. Not bad.
And my neighbor, Hank, the one who is losing his wife, was a success too. He got early retirement like a 100 years ago from the phone company. Best health plan ever. Best pension. Best place in the world to be let go, back then, anyways.
Hank figured he was covered financially. He was wrong.
I can remember on countless occasions, looking over at Hank messing around in his yard like a happy dog on some fine Monday morning—mowing, clipping, washing—and thinking to myself, “Now I want to be him instead of the cat.”
Then, just the other night, Hank arrives at my back door in tears. At a loss, this old man, so strong, hands like horse saddles, was busted up like no one’s business. His mouth was quivering, buckets of tears beyond his thick glasses. He’s telling us his wife said, “Goodbye. You’ve been a good man, a good husband.”
Today she lives.
Then Hank starts talking about his life, all the years he worked, the money he saved, the Golden years he was promised. “Not so golden….“ Yeah, I know that one too.
He’s angry and terrified as he should be about the mounting bills. No person past their 70’s should suffer going broke, that’s a young man’s game. But millions of seniors are drowning in debt, trying to heat their homes, pay for medications, eat some food and keep their butts out of the retirement home, where they’ll absolutely go broke.
Brutal business, this life thing.
Prophetic in hiding his financial demise, of course out of pride and shame, my father, amazingly, found himself so underwater that he stopped fighting against the current. He retired too early at 53. Stopped hustling and dreamed too big.
With earning out of the equation, every buck he borrowed and spent led him deeper into the abyss.
Had us children had an inkling he was drowning in something other than that pig faced monster’s own slobbers, we could have helped. But the Christmas cards with cash inside arrived each year for the grandkids. Weddings and dinners were paid for, colleges funded, credit extended.
He seemed comfortable, safe. I always thought he was being shrewd with his finances, in a survival sort of way. Live on the cheap, bare-boned but not busted. Spend it all but make it last.
Impossible these days.
As one finance friend of mine told me, “You have no idea how broke so many people your father’s age are. And you would never know it.”
But my old man was no street urchin thumbing for nickels on a cold winters night. And neither is Hank. Nobody should live that way, under a guise of ease and stability when in actuality the pig face isn’t only chowing down on your life line, but on your pride, sanity and Golden Years.
Wish I had a better perspective, but the pig face ate that too.