When it comes to finances, have the courage to ask for help

We’ve actually begun March, which doesn’t seem to matter much to anyone because “stuff” keeps coming up.

Since we launched 2013, we’ve all been talking, off and on, about Elders and safety and respect and negotiation and a lot of other things. If you’ve been paying attention, you know what we’ve all been talking about. If you haven’t, I’m not about to put the rest of us into a coma by recapping everything, so just jump in and hope for the best (because hoping for the worst would be stupid).

What a lot of this conversation has come down to is any Elder’s right to live their own lives and call their own shots, while a lot of the rest of us (i.e. people who care about them) are on the sidelines trying to “help.” “Why won’t he listen to me?” “How can I get her to accept the help that we’re glad to give?” “Doesn’t he know he’ll be better off…?” “… But I want her to be safe!”

And we’ve even bumped into when we have to accept that nothing is all we can do.

It has to do with freedom and personal responsibility and independent choice; sometimes, it has to do with fear — fear that “they” will put me somewhere that I don’t want to be if they know how much help I really need, which usually isn’t that much and is very rarely true.

One of the life spheres where this comes up a lot is money. Or just about anything that has anything to do with finances. Think about it: In my world, it is not uncommon to need to discuss toileting — I’m sorry if that’s not exactly what you wanted to hear on a Sunday morning, but it’s true. And my experience is that it’s often easier for folks to be forthcoming about “toileting” than it is about “money.”

This is America, and “money” is a very personal thing; Well, OK, so is toileting, but that’s universal and the fact is that we all know pretty much everything there is to know about that. But money? Oh, no! That’s intensely personal and it’s secret. There are a lot of reasons why it’s a secret, but we don’t have enough space in this newspaper to climb all over that! And I’ll bet you real good money that if you stop and think about it, you’ll realize that you do the same thing.

So do I. So what?

Well, sometimes this financial stuff can get pretty complicated. Maybe an Elder made an investment along the way, or bought a product — or bought several! — That seemed like good, long-term planning at the time and, in all likelihood, it was. But here we are, 15 or 40 years later; and maybe we don’t have quite as much energy or maybe there are quite a few more medications or maybe we have this-or-that condition or diagnosis or maybe we just forgot about the darn thing, then something comes in the mail.

Something that is, often, utterly incomprehensible.

“Universal life” policies are a great example; now, there’s nothing “wrong” with universal life policies – or illegal or unethical or whatever. But they are “complicated” (at least, for many of us). So, you got one of these 25 years ago and over time, because you’re a human being who doesn’t do this stuff all day long, you’ve “simplified” it: I pay money and I get life insurance (in case I die) and at the same time I’m building up a nest-egg, in case I don’t die.

Well, kinda, but the point here isn’t to dissect universal life policies; the point is to go back to the part where something incomprehensible showed up in the mail and you don’t really get what it means (because it’s written in Martian) but you know what you decided to understand and remember 24.5 years ago and you don’t really have the energy or the inclination to devote a lot of energy and inclination to trying to figure it out, so you put it “over there.”

And there it stays, until something happens — and “something” is almost never good.

Look: I know people in their 30s, 40s and 50s who aren’t very good at this stuff. So, what many of us do at a time like this is to jump into it with both feet and try to figure it out, or we go find somebody who knows what-the-heck this incomprehensible thing means, so they can help us figure out what-the-heck to do. OK, so why doesn’t someone in their 80s do the very same thing?

You know why and so do I. And so do they, so from here on, let me just talk to them – Elders, OK?

Look, guys: Most of us have helped other people, one way or another, most of our lives. Maybe it was a “little” thing, maybe it was a “big” thing, maybe it took an hour and maybe it took weeks and months and years. We did that because (a) we’re decent human beings, and (b) somebody needed that help and we were able to provide it.

And we usually remember those times fondly, because what we did made us feel good about us. We helped - genuinely, sincerely, and then we moved on. Somebody was better off because of something we did. It’s one of the nicer aspects of being a human on Earth. Helping.

So, ask somebody for help with that utterly incomprehensible thing. I know that isn’t always easy to do, because it can make us feel “less than” — “stupid” — “weak” — old. But none of that is true. We haven’t gotten to here on a solo flight, so nothing has really changed, except our own willingness to be brave. To have the courage to ask for, and accept, help. You probably would have done it when you were 40, so why not now?

Right; besides, most financial stuff really is written in Martian, and most of us flunked that in high school.

Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.