By Todd Brantley and Amy Brantley
Donna Futoransky never expected to be looking for a part-time job. She never expected to be personally caring for her elderly parents well into her own retirement. She never expected that she would one day have to move her mother and father into her own 869-square-foot home.
But that’s what happened when her parents’ life savings and thoughtful planning became another victim of the Great Recession.
“They lost a tremendous amount of money,” says Donna, a 70-year-old former physical therapist and director of nursing home public relations.
Donna decided to move to North Carolina in 2006 to be closer to her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. Her parents moved into an assisted-living facility nearby, as well.
“I had figured with what they would pay a month, including inflation, with the money they had, they would be able to live there until they were 96,” Donna says.
But then the recession hit in 2008, gutting her parents’ life savings and the careful plans for their long-term care. It became clear to Donna that her parents would not be able to stay in the assisted-living facility.
Donna decided she would have to move her parents in with her. After speaking with her parents, they decided to build an apartment extension on to Donna’s house, keeping the family close together. They took what was left of her parents’ savings, combined with Donna’s own savings, and began construction.
In 2009, with construction complete, Donna’s parents moved in with her. Her parents managed well, helping each other with daily activities. This gave Donna peace of mind when she was away, knowing they were together in the event of an emergency.
Then in 2010, her father passed away, one month shy of his 90th birthday. Initially, Donna still worked full time. She was fortunate to have an employer that understood her situation and was willing to be flexible with her schedule.
“When you don’t have anyone else to think about, you really don’t think about, ‘Well, I have to make an appointment, but the doctor’s not there on Monday or Friday. Oh well, I’ll go Tuesday,’” says Donna. “Well, if you are working, and Monday and Friday are your best days then you have to make some kind of arrangement to change your work schedule or whatever. Fortunately, I was in a situation that it wasn’t critical that I be there at a certain hour, but I still had to put my hours in.”
Eventually, Donna retired, but with her parents’ depleted savings and the cost of caring for an aging mother, she needed to look for a part-time job to help make ends meet.
“My mother gets social security. She gets Medicare taken out, and then she has to pay for her secondary insurance, and for the dentist,” says Donna.
“We had to use the money. We had to provide a place [for them],” Donna says. “If we hadn’t, and then my mother and father’s money had run out, and we had this little house, then what? We used up what we had in order to accommodate all of us, and now, now we’re in a position where we need money. I’m 70 years old and now I’m in a place where I have to look for a job.”
“There aren’t a lot of people looking for someone 70 years old for work.”
Yet Donna and her mother Sophia are upbeat and optimistic about their situation. They know that not everyone has extended family close by who can help care for an aging parent when the primary caregiver needs a break. They know that not everyone has the means—financial, physical, and emotional—to live with an aging parent and instead must consider institutionalized care.
“There are so many people that have this same situation but that are not as fortunate as we are,” says Donna. “They don’t have family supports; they don’t have a nice place to live.”
For Donna Futoransky, who is caring for an aging loved one and navigating her own retirement, the day-to-day obligations of her caregiver role have caused her to reflect more on her own future care.
“Every day that I get older, I think about it [long-term care],” says Donna. “I don’t know if it scares me, but I do think about it. And I have thought about it more when I see what is happening with other people and where they have to put their parents.”
Donna’s time working in the nursing home industry helped her appreciate how important the nursing home option is for families who can no longer afford to care for a sick family member, despite their desire and willingness to do so.
“I was crying right along with the people who were bringing their family members in,” says Donna. “They were so devastated. [These were] large families with sons and daughters who would have opened their homes in a minute, but didn’t have the capability to take care of them [anymore].”
“Some of the nursing homes I worked at were wonderful—some were ok,” Donna says. “But I don’t want to have to visit my mother in a nursing home, so we will do everything we can to make sure she doesn’t have to do that [move to a nursing home].”
Yet Donna often wonders how others in similar situations manage, especially those whose families weren’t as well prepared as hers.
“Fortunately, I was in a position where I could do this. I was making the decision for myself. And I signed up for it,” says Donna. “[But] if you sign up for it or not, it’s a challenge. Period. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for my mother, because she doesn’t have the privacy she would ordinarily have. It’s a challenge for me that I don’t have the freedom that I might have had, and that’s not a complaint, it’s just a fact.”
For now, she’s enjoying the time she has been given with her mother and the chance for her grandchildren to know their great grandmother.
“I’m so glad we have the opportunity to be able to have her here.”
Her mother, Sophia, agrees. “She’s such a loving daughter. She’s been so good to me. I’ve got a happy life.” -