When we were growing up a familiar phrase in our house was "No. We can't afford it." I remember that response more than any I heard growing up with perhaps the exception of "Jesus Christ" which my Dad used to say whenever he was mad about something.
But "No. We can't afford it." was my parents mantra whenever we wanted something or to go somewhere. In all my years growing up we only had one vacation, when I was 12, and we were reminded for years afterwards how my folks sacrificed to take us to Disneyland.
It is not to say I didn't have a nice childhood. We lived in a great neighborhood, I always had new clothes for school and we were well fed. If we wanted spending money or extras we earned it. In fact my parents chose my college for me based on the one that would pay the most in scholarship for me to attend. It was my third choice and although I was miserable I knew I was helping the greater good by saving my parents the entire cost of my education. Okay - honestly I was mad because I had no choice, but I sucked it up for the reason mentioned.
Imagine my surprise when my parents retired at 53 years of age. I couldn't figure out how they had managed to not only retire 10 years early but they had also purchased a second home, a condo, in sunny Myrtle Beach, SC. At the time I was incredibly happy for them and reasoned that they deserved it having worked so hard while we were growing up. Good for them.
My parents were able to enjoy retirement for 10 glorious years, splitting their time between SC and VA and sharing their condo with my family so we could vacation for free during the hot summer months when they stayed in VA. It was nice while it lasted.
My father became ill in the spring of 2005 and died that fall. I remember the first words my mother said to me the morning after his death. She said "Skippy your father has left me a poor woman." Not wanting to argue with my newly widowed mother I gently reminded mom that she did, in fact, own two homes free and clear and plus she was entitled to my father's social security and military pensions. She tried to argue that it wasn't enough, that his pensions combined with hers only amounted to $2900 a month. I tried to explain that since she didn't have any mortgages, only property taxes and her own living expenses that was more than enough to live a very comfortable life. Little did I know.
My father died and left my mother a very wealthy woman. In fact they were pretty well off when they retired in 1995. All because they worked hard and we sacrificed when I was growing up. Which in my book was great - they deserved it.
My mother sold the VA home for $500,000. Then she sold the SC condo for an additional $90,000. In turn she built a handicapped accessible home in the same SC neighborhood for roughly $250,000 - cash. It is her dream home and what they had always hoped to have. It really is a sweet lil' house.
So figuring my mother had over $340,000 in the bank [plus additional savings that had amassed] plus her pension money of $2,900 a month with all her medical paid, Pooldad and I thought - Great - we don't have to worry about her. She is set for the rest of her life.
After my father's death and my mother's move into the new home my sister arrived to live with her. This should have sent alarm bells off but I was grateful that someone was there to care for my mother since Pooldad and I had to remain in VA. After about a year I was receiving phone calls from both my mother and sister, each mad at the other, my mom claiming my sister owed her $20,000 and my sister screaming she didn't. I tried to find out what exactly this money had been given over for and eventually I did. Seems my mother liked to gamble and since my sister didn't have a job [her job was taking care of my mom in exchange for room and board] she would take her gambling and my mom would give her cash to gamble too. I guess it is no fun to gamble alone? I don't know - I don't gamble.
So while this fight is going on my brother decides it is a great time to leave his third wife and three of his four kids and move in with my mother too. This promised to be ugly and it was. My brother is a leech. A master manipulator of epic proportions and my mother's favorite. It wasn't long until he became so abusive to my sister that she moved out and swore never to talk to my mother again since she allowed my brother to be cruel towards her - and my mother had allowed it - I witnessed it - but it was also an attempt by my sister to distance herself from the debt my mother claimed she owed.
Now Pooldad and I started to worry. We knew my brother and his way with my mother. We also knew the thousands upon thousands of dollars that my parents had spent bailing my brother out through the years - three divorces and a bunch of kids are expensive as is all the legal trouble he had been in. So we braced for the worst but my mother assured us that he had changed and he was going to take care of her since my sister had "abandoned" her.
It didn't last long. The money that is. And as soon as the money ran out so did my brother.
I talked to my mother yesterday. Just checking in to see how she is feeling - she has COPD and is on 24 hour oxygen but is amazing in her battle with this disease - and she began to lament about my brother and sister. She says my sister only comes once a week, on Fridays, to spend the night, grocery shop but that she leaves on Saturday afternoon and that she thought that my sister should come more often. I had to remind my mother that my sister has a full time job and she did take her to all her doctor's appointments, didn't she? My mother agreed but still seemed put out. that my sister wasn't doing more because she said "Your sister owes me." Okay. I let that slide and asked the dreaded question "So what about Jay [my brother] I thought he was living with you and taking care of you?" She told me that he had moved out sometime last year - she had never told me - and that he was contacting her once a month but when she started to ask for the money she had given him he stopped all communication with her.
Nice. Not surprising though.
Then I asked the second dreaded question "Mom how much does Jay owe you?" I received silence in response. So I tried a different tactic. "Mom," I asked "how much money do you have left?" Heavy sigh, but still no response. Third try and I inquired "Mom - you haven't taken a mortgage on your home have you?" This time she acknowledged that she had taken a mortgage and her payments were $1,000 per month. Oh crud. This is my siblings' doings I knew it. They had managed to not only help my mother spend all of her savings but had now saddled her with payments of $1,000 per month. With the savings of $340,000 plus the mortgage money - the three of them had spent over a half of a million dollars in less than 5 years.
She started to get upset and crying, said "Skippy I am sorry. Out of all you kids you are the only one that doesn't owe me anything and now I have nothing to leave you." Truthfully tadpoles - and this is the honest truth - I never wanted my parents money - they earned it and they saved it - it isn't mine to covet and my parents have always known this. I have a hard time taking money from them. I admit I am still a little bitter about being forced to go to a college I didn't want to but in the scheme of things it worked out fine.
She asked me if I thought she could get a reverse mortgage on the house and it broke my heart to tell her I thought probably not since she had a pretty big mortgage on it already but that I would look into it for her.
I told her I loved her and hung up the phone. I sat for a good while wondering how two people I am related to, who I grew up with could do this to our mother. I fiddled around with the numbers last night and although she is fine with the payments for now the reverse mortgage isn't going to happen as the equity just isn't there.
Her doctor once told me that I should make sure my mother did whatever she liked as her quality of life would determine how long she would live. Since there is no cure for her disease she continued to do the things she liked and seemed to be getting along just fine. She has actually outlived all expectations but, now, with the burden of the money and the actions of Jay and La I can see her quality of life diminishing.
What can I do?