Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – New Bloggers on the Scene – Melanie M. Stewart – When The Money Runs Out (2019)


This series of Posts from Your Archives is exclusively for blogs that are under a year old. It is an opportunity to meet new readers and to show off your writing skills.. All the details are in this post along with some tips on how to make your blog more reader friendly.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/new-series-smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-new-blogger-promotionand-setting-up-your-blog-for-accessibility-readability-and-sharing/

This is the final post of Melanie Stewart who blogs at Leaving the Door Open: A Daughter’s stories about an aging parent. Sharing Tips and facts learned along the way.

When The Money Runs Out

When my mother Ginny moved south in 2000, she had the money from the sale of her condo, an inheritance from her stepmother, and her monthly Social Security check. These funds were placed into a brokerage account and she received a check every month for her expenses. Over 17 years, however, the money reached a tipping point where her costs outweighed her account income and it became clear that it would eventually run out. With less than a year remaining, we had to figure out alternate measures. Otherwise, our two families would be splitting about $1200 every month for her living expenses.

The initial thought we had was to research her valuables. She had told us through the years that certain items she owned may be worth a lot. So, I fell into an interesting research project. I started to photograph mom’s eclectic art objects she had collected over the years and I sent them to an auction house in Chicago.

I forwarded photos of figurines, a handful of paintings and large fashion prints given to Ginny as a gift in the 1940’s. They had been purchased in France. I sent along photos of jewelry pieces including necklaces, brooches and hat pins.

Unfortunately, there was just no market for the bulk of the items with the exception of a turquoise “blossom squash” necklace given to her in the 70’s. The auction house wanted that piece and included it in an auction held in Colorado that fall. It sold and Ginny received a few hundred dollars.

We worked on reducing her bills. Once we found a cable provider that would offer phone and cable (no internet required for Ginny) for less than half her current bill, we switched. We reduced her renter’s insurance policy. We researched cheaper Medicare supplement programs. (She fought this idea because she didn’t want anything to change and she wanted her same doctors.) We looked for anything that would stretch her remaining dollars.

I took a look at the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. It’s a needs-based program for the elderly, blind or disabled. If a person has limited income and assets, the program would pay approximately $770.00/month. But it’s tough to qualify for financially. Their cut-off for financial assets is less than $2000 ($3000.00 for a couple.) Although it does not include current Social Security benefits, Ginny still had approximately $7000.00 in her account, making her ineligible. We discussed “waiting it out” until she had the qualifying balance, but we had no idea how long it would take to get approved, if at all, and have the payments start. There could be a long time delay.

And then there’s Medicaid. She could save some money if they accepted her into a Medicare Savings Program (MSP). This is when Medicaid works with Medicare and pays the recipient’s monthly Medicare supplement (eligibility varies per state.) For now, this would be the extent of potential Medicaid coverage for her because she’s pretty healthy and wouldn’t qualify for other assistance. The MSP would be a savings, but not enough to close the gap.

We were also told that it might be helpful to meet with a law firm familiar with senior care law. We needed someone to lay-out any other available programs for seniors like mom. It didn’t matter whether the help came from the state or federal level. We were newbies. What was out there that we could legitimately tap into for Ginny?

Unfortunately, the attorney we met with was borderline polite. I’m not sure if the advance paperwork did us in. It showed that there were no assets to protect or even a need for a will. It’s also possible that it was just the bad cold he was nursing, but he seemed to have very little time for us.

“Why are you here?” was the exact question.

“Because you advertise advanced knowledge of senior care programs? We are here to figure out how to help our mother. She’s 86. She’s broke. Medicaid is not an option until something actually fails her. Do you have a list of programs we could investigate and see if she might qualify for one?” (OK, I was more thinking that response than actually saying it out loud, but we needed someone familiar with the workings of state and federal senior assistance programs to get us in a door. Any door.)

He offered one idea. It was a program I had previously heard about from someone in my community. It was the Veteran Administration’s Aid and Attendance Program.

My dad, David, was a Korean War veteran. He had passed away in 1978 a couple of months before I graduated from high school. Our family and friends helped my mother explore VA benefits at that time, but for whatever reason, she was ineligible. Maybe something had changed, and it could provide some financial relief.

My sister and our husbands held a round table on how to approach the VA. We knew that we would need to locate dad’s discharge papers and death certificate. Thankfully, Ginny had saved the discharge papers which was a huge help and I purchased a copy of the death certificate online through the State of Ohio’s website. In the meantime, Hailey decided to hire a facilitator from a local senior care business. She is familiar with this VA program and she agreed to join my sister and me when we met with the VA administration office in Clearwater to assist with any questions.

The Aid and Assistance Program basically assists in helping a veteran or spouse of one pay for another person to “aid and assist” them with a variety of daily needs. It is structured so that the payment goes directly to the recipient, but the recipient pays out the money to the person who supplies that monthly assistance. It can be paid to a professional healthcare provider or a family member. It is expected that there will be a pay-out every month to the assistance provider. The recipient can’t just keep the money.

The VA coordinator was extremely helpful. He explained that the amount given can vary per case. He used a formula and it appeared that mom might be eligible for some assistance. We didn’t know what to expect so we were pleased with even a small amount.

I know the Veteran’s Administration has been criticized in recent years, but personally, I have nothing but praise for the organization. It took two months to be processed. We happened to be together for my birthday when Hailey got an alert about a deposit in mom’s account. They had retroactively paid out the past month and the current one. And the amount was almost double what we had originally heard. It would almost cover her full monthly expenses.

We were grateful that they would consider her case at all and now they had given us more than we expected. It was probably the best birthday gift I had received in a long time. I got to unwrap some peace of mind. Neither Hailey or I have ever expected anything from anyone or any organization, so their help really touched me. And I also like to think that after 40 years, my dad is helping her too.

Thanks to Melanie for sharing her experiences as I am sure that it is not uncommon as parents age. These proactive steps are certainly worth bearing in mind as we also age.

@Melanie M. Stewart 2019

About Melanie M. Stewart.

Many years ago, I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper in suburban Chicago. I covered everything from cloning & measuring the risk of heart disease to my “Day in the Life” series where I spent the day with a veterinarian or watching “behind the scenes” at a popular restaurant.

Then I went to work for Legacy.com (online obituaries). I stayed there for almost nine years. I enjoyed helping customers navigate the site and at times, offer support during a highly emotional time.

This blog combines these two experiences. They are non-fiction stories pulled from my own experiences navigating the aging parent years. I also provide informational links and tips as well as the opportunity for you to share your story.

I have no professional background in psychology or senior healthcare. I’m just in it day-to-day. I’m married and a mom who enjoys a good laugh, a good mystery/thriller and watching the Chicago Cubs.

Connect to Melanie

Blog: https://leavingthedooropen.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/storiesonaging

It would be great if you would head over to Melanie’s blog and follow her there and on Twitter.. Thanks Sally.

 

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Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – New Bloggers on the Scene – Melanie M. Stewart – Saying Goodbye, a Story of a Friendship (2019)


This series of Posts from Your Archives is exclusively for blogs that are under a year old. It is an opportunity to meet new readers and to show off your writing skills.. All the details are in this post along with some tips on how to make your blog more reader friendly.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/new-series-smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-new-blogger-promotionand-setting-up-your-blog-for-accessibility-readability-and-sharing/

This is the third post of Melanie Stewart who blogs at Leaving the Door Open: A Daughter’s stories about an aging parent. Sharing Tips and facts learned along the way. In this post, Melanie’s mother faces the loss of a friend who had become like a sister to her.

Saying Goodbye, a Story of a Friendship

This is going to be a tough one. We’ve just heard that my mother Ginny’s best friend Ann passed away yesterday. She was 90.

Ann and Ginny’s friendship began 65 years ago when their future husbands met at college. They raised their families in the same suburb for many years. When my dad died at age 50, Ann was the rock for mom. When mom moved from our house into a condominium, Ann and Uncle Ted graciously agreed to take “my” piano (an inheritance from my grandmother) and place it in their living room for more than ten years until I had a home of my own. Uncle Ted walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. Ann and Ginny talked just about every Wednesday for 19 years once mom moved away to Florida and they shared countless, endless laughs together. They shared life together.

Ginny is 88. The family had called my sister Hailey to share the news with mom. When she was told, she was very quiet. She asked about a service, but nothing at that point had been determined.

I checked in with Ginny that same afternoon. She did share that she had called another friend who would look for the obituary in the local paper and mail it to her, but she immediately shifted the conversation to asking if we were ready for our upcoming trip to Boston.

“We’re ready, but that’s not why I called Mom, how are you doing?” I reiterated.

“Well, I think the news is disturbing. So I started reading. It’s a good book about the 1930’s…”

It dawns on me that she doesn’t want to talk about it. It IS depressing, disturbing news. My mother was basically raised as an only child because her “half” sister was 18 years old when Ginny was born. I know that she considered Ann her sister. And then there is the fact that she allows VERY few people into her world to begin with; Ann was at the top of the list. Her already small world was shrinking even more.

Hailey chose to check on her a day or two later to get a feel for her emotional state over lunch.

“I don’t have service plans yet, but when I get them, would you want to go to Minnesota?” she gently asked.

“That would just about kill me” was her exact reply and they are words that have let us in, if just for a moment, on the enormity of the loss she is facing.

Three Weeks Later

Hailey and I decide that we want to fly from Florida to Minnesota to attend the service. Representing mom feels like the right thing to do. And I try to hold onto everything related to that weekend so I can share it with her.

The service was held in an ancient, tiny stone chapel located right on the cemetery grounds. The program included “Reflections on Faith”, “Musings on Mom” and an original piano piece titled “Morning Lily” played by her grandson. And because they wanted to focus on the word “celebration”, they encouraged everyone in attendance to stand at the end and move to the aisle to dance. Yes, dance. That’s how Ann would have wanted it.

Parts of the day were tremendously moving. I have vivid images of standing at her grave while we each placed a flower on her already-lowered casket. I see the image of her husband standing in front of her, talking to her, sharing lyrics from a song. I do not see a dry eye around me.

And for me, there was that camaraderie spending time with my “second” family. I hadn’t seen some of them for at least 20 years, but their stories made me feel like I walked right through a screen into our collective past, watching and listening to everyone as they were 40-50 years ago.

“Did you know your mom took me out for ice cream on my birthday because mom was out of town?” asked one family member at the dinner we had that first evening.

“Did you know your mom once drove mom to the hospital because dad was out of town?” asked another.

“Did you know your mom threw me a wedding shower?”

I did not know. And honestly? I don’t remember that Ginny. The Ginny memories I have are of someone who doesn’t cope well with doing favors or taking charge. In my mind, she would not be the person to be a second mom to someone and go out for a birthday ice cream. But I am grateful to hear memories from a different angle. It’s kind of cool, in fact. It makes me wonder about how deeply the loss of my dad changed her. How being alone for so many years turned her inward; less confident. But that thought can be examined at a later time.

I go to the second floor of the restaurant where we all met for lunch (where Ann and Uncle Ted went on a date) to watch a slideshow presentation of Ann and her family. It included photos from every phase of her life. When she was young, when she’s holding her babies, then photos of her four children holding their own. There were photos of grandchildren, cousins goofing around, posed shots with Ann and Uncle Ted, family beach vacations, holidays. Life. Love. I saw a few photos of my mom and dad from so long ago.

I realized that in a way, I was watching Ginny’s life too since there were so many overlaps and shared events and memories along the same timeline of life. That was a powerful thought. Ginny had lost a significant portion of her own self with the death of Ann. Maybe she was thinking of that when she had said being there “would just about kill her.”

Although there’s really no way that I can turn the loss around, I do want to share all these details with Ginny in a way that highlights how she was able to connect with and be a friend to this smart, kind and funny woman for sixty-five years. And maybe one day, in the privacy of her home, and just for a moment, she may dance for her friend too.

Thanks to Melanie for sharing this love tribute to Ann and also to her mum Ginny. I am sure that any of you with elderly parents will connect with story as we watched them cope with friends from their youth that have been there through all the ups and downs of life.

@Melanie M. Stewart 2019

About Melanie M. Stewart.

Many years ago, I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper in suburban Chicago. I covered everything from cloning & measuring the risk of heart disease to my “Day in the Life” series where I spent the day with a veterinarian or watching “behind the scenes” at a popular restaurant.

Then I went to work for Legacy.com (online obituaries). I stayed there for almost nine years. I enjoyed helping customers navigate the site and at times, offer support during a highly emotional time.

This blog combines these two experiences. They are non-fiction stories pulled from my own experiences navigating the aging parent years. I also provide informational links and tips as well as the opportunity for you to share your story.

I have no professional background in psychology or senior healthcare. I’m just in it day-to-day. I’m married and a mom who enjoys a good laugh, a good mystery/thriller and watching the Chicago Cubs.

Connect to Melanie

Blog: https://leavingthedooropen.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/storiesonaging

It would be great if you would head over to Melanie’s blog and follow her there and on Twitter.. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives – New Bloggers on the Scene – Melanie M. Stewart -The Cable Debacle (2019)


This series of Posts from Your Archives is exclusively for blogs that are under a year old. It is an opportunity to meet new readers and to show off your writing skills.. All the details are in this post along with some tips on how to make your blog more reader friendly.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/new-series-smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-new-blogger-promotionand-setting-up-your-blog-for-accessibility-readability-and-sharing/

This is the second post of Melanie Stewart who blogs at Leaving the Door Open: A Daughter’s stories about an aging parent. Sharing Tips and facts learned along the way. In this post Melanie is faced with a logistical nightmare to get on the road for a trip and deal with a sudden change to her 87 year old mother, Ginny’s cable set up.

The Cable Debacle.

Dennis and I are just completing a 3-day visit with Ginny when she receives a notice from the cable company. They will be converting their signal to digital for all Florida customers and her zip code is next. Apparently, she will need different converter boxes to pick up that new signal.

Although they are giving her a month’s notice, we know that we will not be back before the switch. As much as I am longing to hit the I-4 traffic before it gets ugly on a Friday, we have to tackle this exchange first. (You may remember that in order to save money, I had handled the switch from one carrier to another. Ginny’s account is under my phone number, so I need to be the one to get the boxes.)

And just to throw in a cruel twist of fate, they’ve moved their offices this week. It’s complete chaos. Dennis and I get to their office by 9:30 am. Too late. There are so many people, there is a woman with a clipboard by the door taking names. I give her my name. They have chairs lined up outside and a big tub of cold water bottles. It’s Florida. Luckily, there’s a fast outside rotation and we get to grab the last two of thirty seats inside.

We watch as numerous people go up to the counter, then leave with their digital prizes. Finally, it’s our turn. The woman is pleasant. I provide my phone number.

“Ok, your number does pull up Ginny XYZ. Is she here?” she asked.

“No”, I reply “she’s 87 and hard of hearing. I’m taking care of this for her.”

“Well, unfortunately, it looks like you are not authorized on the account” she informs me. “You mother would have to be here to receive the converter boxes.”

“How can this be?” I ask.

“It’s my phone number on the account. I stood in this spot a year ago with my mother and we opened the account” I shared, getting frustrated. “She can’t deal with this” and I wave my arm around the chaotic room.

“I completely understand” she responds sympathetically. And then, she surprised me.

She slid a small piece of paper towards me and lowered her voice.

“Here, call this number. It’s customer service. Say that you are your mother and you are authorizing to have your daughter on the account” she explained, looking at me. “And when you’re done, come back here.”

I get it and nod. I am hardly someone who enjoys perpetrating a fraud, but there are times in life when you have to use common sense to cut through the BS. This will expedite the process enormously.

I sheepishly walk into a corner of the room, make the call and return to her counter.

“Oh, good, I see you’re listed on the account” and we both share a laugh. “How can I help you?”

We return to Ginny’s apartment and I realize I have made a fatal mistake. I thought Ginny’s bedroom television was a flat screen, but it’s a much older model. The box I got will not work.

We have run out of time on this project and I accept that I will have to have a service call to complete her bedroom set-up. But for now, the old signal will continue to work in that room. We are able to get her living room television hooked up and the new remote control is programmed and activated.

“Is that a new remote?” my mother asks with concern.

“Yes. We have to use it for your television to work mom.”

I sit next to her and explain that the button marked TV is her on-off button. Aside from the channels or volume, she doesn’t have to touch any other button. I do not share any information about the cable button turning on and off the box. My plan is to keep the box on at all times to make it easier for her.

We practice using the remote. She enters the numbers of the channels she likes and everything is working well.

When we get into the car, Dennis asks “How long before we get a phone call about that remote?” I burst out laughing.

It actually takes several hours. About 6:00 pm, mom calls. Apparently she hit the “cable” on-off button and turned the box off. I walk her through turning the box back on and then the television.

Getting creative with tape

Concerned, however, I check up on her the next day and she is watching television in her bedroom.

“It’s not working, but I’ll just stay in the bedroom” she said.

“No, mom, that’s not right. You have to be able to spend time in your living room. Go out there now while I’m on the phone and let’s try again.”

We go through the steps again, but this time there is a moment of understanding.

“Oh, the pretty green lights are back” she shares.

“Yes!” I explain that the lights are part of the cable box and you have to see the lights to know the box is on.

“Well, you didn’t say that before” she replies.

In truth, this was an ongoing issue despite the lights. As you can see, we tried tape too, but to no avail. We eventually learned that patience was the primary culprit. It takes about 10 seconds for the t.v. screen to light up and she was giving it 3 before hitting other buttons.

TIP: This can be helpful if you are not a fast drive over to your parent(s).

  • Take photos of the:
  • Television remote
  • Dishwasher panel
  • Thermostat
  • Microwave panel
  • CD Player (front and back for plugs)

When a confused parent calls about a device, you can refer to the photos to better troubleshoot over the phone.

Thanks to Melanie for these tips.. going back a few years with my own mother in her 90s, we had plenty of shenanigans with multiple devices..Television with too many channels, CD player and a cable box with additional remote.. buying a combined remote did help somewhat, and we found one with extra large letters and numbers..If you have any stories please share in the comments.

@Melanie M. Stewart 2019

About Melanie M. Stewart.

Many years ago, I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper in suburban Chicago. I covered everything from cloning & measuring the risk of heart disease to my “Day in the Life” series where I spent the day with a veterinarian or watching “behind the scenes” at a popular restaurant.

Then I went to work for Legacy.com (online obituaries). I stayed there for almost nine years. I enjoyed helping customers navigate the site and at times, offer support during a highly emotional time.

This blog combines these two experiences. They are non-fiction stories pulled from my own experiences navigating the aging parent years. I also provide informational links and tips as well as the opportunity for you to share your story.

I have no professional background in psychology or senior healthcare. I’m just in it day-to-day. I’m married and a mom who enjoys a good laugh, a good mystery/thriller and watching the Chicago Cubs.

Connect to Melanie

Blog: https://leavingthedooropen.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/storiesonaging

It would be great if you would head over to Melanie’s blog and follow her there and on Twitter.. Thanks Sally.

Smorgasbord Blogs from Your Archives – New Bloggers on the Scene – Melanie M. Stewart – Finding Joy in your 80s and 90s (2019)


This series of Posts from Your Archives is exclusively for blogs that are under a year old. It is an opportunity to meet new readers and to show off your writing skills.. All the details are in this post along with some tips on how to make your blog more reader friendly.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/new-series-smorgasbord-posts-from-your-archives-new-blogger-promotionand-setting-up-your-blog-for-accessibility-readability-and-sharing/

Delighted to welcome Melanie Stewart to the series.. Melanie blogs at Leaving the Door Open: A Daughter’s stories about an aging parent. Sharing Tips and facts learned along the way.

In Melanie’s first post she shares some of the wisdom she picked up from author Judith Viorst who is almost 90 years old and the joy that her mother who is in her 80s, has found in following Tiger Woods….

Finding Joy in your 80s and 90s (2018)

Today I’m in the mood to pull the curtains back from a darkened room and find the joy. Living through aging parent experiences is draining, it goes with the territory, but witnessing pure joy sure brings in a lot of light.

I found an example of just such a joy when reading a Glamour article about Nearing Ninety – a book written by the well-known author Judith Viorst who is indeed, close to 90 years old. (That very fact is joyful! A woman turning 90 has the energy, mindfulness and desire to write a book. Can I have some of that please?)

Here’s a quote from her book:

There’s a quote from philosopher George Santayana, whose proposition all of us should heed: “To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.” I believe he’s telling us that instead of wistfully looking back at what we once had, or anxiously imagining what might come, we ought to be seeking what satisfactions, what pleasures, what meaning, the season we’re in has to offer us.”

She is almost 90 and she wants to live in the moment. Find the best joy in the moment. Who’s kidding who? That’s an enviable goal for all of us.

I recently discovered the extent of joy my own 88-year-old mother Ginny has found in the most unusual of places. She is mesmerized by Tiger Woods and watching him play golf.

My mother has neither golfed in her life nor did any family member of her generation, but she adores watching Tiger. My husband Dennis (who is a golfer) will call her and tell her that there is a major tournament on a particular weekend and that Tiger made the cut. He’ll also tell her which network is carrying it. Given her interest, she is usually aware, but not always and she’ll thank him as she heads to the television.

I have made the mistake of calling Ginny during a tournament. She’ll answer the phone, but after a couple of minutes, I’ll realize that I’ve lost her as her play-by-play begins.

“Wait, Tiger’s up, he’s looking at something, oh what’s happening here (suddenly I hear the crowd, so I know he took his shot) and she continues “Ohhhh, he got it close to the hole” and on and on. There’s no competition to who is capturing her interest.

I love that she loves Tiger. And when he won the Masters this past April? Look no further for a sign of her devotion than this newspaper clipping collage that my own mother placed on a wall in her condo. I have never seen her do anything like this in my entire life. I was dumbfounded when I turned the corner and saw it.

“What do you think?” she asked grinning.

“I’m blown away” was my truly honest answer.

What speaks to her about Tiger? I really don’t know because she has never been able to verbalize it. His strength? Sheer will? She has both qualities. Somehow she seems to lock into the challenges right there beside him – living vicariously through his struggles and his triumphs. And he’s a champion. And the camera loves him. Ultimately, I guess her reasons for her joy don’t really matter. The bottom line is she has it.

Ginny’s birthday will be here soon and she’ll be receiving a throw pillow with Tiger’s golf swing in silhouette. When the 2019 tournaments end, she can sit by the pillow and contentedly look forward to the seasons changing once again; to the golf season of course.

How does (or did) your parents find joy? What inspires them? Please feel free to leave a comment below.

@Melanie M. Stewart 2019

About Melanie M. Stewart.

Many years ago, I worked as a freelance writer for a local paper in suburban Chicago. I covered everything from cloning & measuring the risk of heart disease to my “Day in the Life” series where I spent the day with a veterinarian or watching “behind the scenes” at a popular restaurant.

Then I went to work for Legacy.com (online obituaries). I stayed there for almost nine years. I enjoyed helping customers navigate the site and at times, offer support during a highly emotional time.

This blog combines these two experiences. They are non-fiction stories pulled from my own experiences navigating the aging parent years. I also provide informational links and tips as well as the opportunity for you to share your story.

I have no professional background in psychology or senior healthcare. I’m just in it day-to-day. I’m married and a mom who enjoys a good laugh, a good mystery/thriller and watching the Chicago Cubs.

Connect to Melanie

Blog: https://leavingthedooropen.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/storiesonaging

It would be great if you would head over to Melanie’s blog and follow her there and on Twitter.. Thanks Sally.