One of the main reasons for my wife and I to return home to New York City was because of my parents. They were getting older and started to physically and mentally decline. As the youngest (and only) son , I was expected to be around to help them. And, eventually, take over their affairs.
But as much as I tried to get them to plan, my elderly parents simply refused to take action. And I don’t think this is unique to them.
So when the critical event does happen – a sudden medical emergency, such as a fall or a stroke – you are almost always scrambling to do damage control after the fact.
If I weren’t (almost) financially independent, I don’t know how I could possibly have managed things.
The Importance Of Parents’ Twilight Years
Most FIRE adherents say one of their main motivations for FIRE is to spend as much time as possible with their children.
Once kids reach about 12 or 13, they spend much more time with friends and social circles. And then they become antagonistic teen-agers.
So that first decade or so is incredibly precious.
My wife and I don’t have children yet, but that same mentality applies to aging parents.
I didn’t want to regret not being around during my parents’ twilight years. They sacrificed so much for me and my sister. Not just time and money, but their own happiness.
And for many elderly, senile dementia (either Alzheimer’s or from another cause) will diminish whatever years are left.
Steady Decline, And Then Dropping Off A Cliff
Like many elderly, particularly of Asian ethnicity, my father never prioritized his own health. Fortunately, though, he did not have the same lifestyle afflictions that most others have. He did not drink alcohol or smoke. He never even drank coffee or any form of caffeine.
But he also never had any form of structured exercise. And he always resisted seeing a doctor whenever a new health problem arose.
During the years after he retired, he became less mobile. He would just watch TV all day. When his legs started bothering him, he wouldn’t see a doctor or go to physical therapy.
Three years after we returned to New York, my father had a sudden fall. He was in the ER and was admitted to the hospital. Then he needed to be in physical therapy at a skilled nursing home/rehab center for weeks.
We weren’t sure if he would ever recover. So we had to prepare for him to never walk again. Or possibly to never come home from the nursing home.
Fortunately, he did come home, albeit needing a walker and a wheelchair.
This was a watershed moment. His attitude changed, as he realized he could not ignore his mortality. And mine changed too, as I wanted to help him more in his vulnerability.
The Opportunity Cost of Time
Now, I’m not fully financially independent yet (see this post for details on my situation).
And I personally don’t subscribe to the concept of retirement, early or otherwise.
As an aside: I just don’t think a paycheck defines valuable, productive work. So, in theory, as long as you are doing something valuable and productive, you are not retired. Caring for your children or elderly parents are prime examples!
But one of the greatest criticisms of FIRE adherents is that they face the increased risk of running out of money during their life time. This is usually followed by the risk of losing benefits like health insurance before Medicare kicks (assuming it will even be there). And the risk of losing identity, purpose, and a pre-set community.
But what about the risk of losing time with loved ones that you will never get back?
As difficult as living with parents can be, there is a certain sweetness and appreciation of being with them.
Their age gives them perspective and wisdom. And my age, now that I’m a seasoned adult, gives me the appreciation to ask questions.
So I’ve started to ask my parents for advice.
I’ve started to ask them about their lives before coming to the U.S.
I’ve asked them about love and life. Hard times and regrets. What they would have done differently. And if certain struggles were worth it, as they look back on their lives.
Had I come back when they were on their death bed, I’m sure I wouldn’t have the presence of mind to ask these things. And if they told me, I probably wouldn’t have had the time to contemplate and ask questions.
So I’m glad I took the risk.
How about you?
Are there certain precious moments that would make all the risks of FIRE worth it?