Lessons for the Final Frontier

By: Andrew T. Gardener, CFP®

One of the common refrains we hear from aging parents is that they never want to be a burden on their children.

As we approach the 7th anniversary of my dad’s passing and the 3rd anniversary of my mom’s passing, I’d like to share some lessons from them on how they made their “final frontiers” easier for me, for which I am forever grateful.

Trading Places

Mom and Dad were living in Florida and loved their life there. They had many friends and were very involved in their community. One of the things they noticed was the strain and burden of their older friends’ children, particularly the children of widows and widowers who lived far away. Every time their parent was sick, the children would struggle with leaving work and family to be with their parents, whether at home or in the hospital. Sometimes this would create tension among the children as they negotiated “who would go this time?” The children would never know if this was going to be a 48-hour visit or whether they would need to stay a week or longer, and what that meant for childcare and work responsibilities.

Rather than burden me with that, Mom and Dad, still healthy and mobile, chose to leave their home of 30 years and move to a suburb of Houston to be closer to me. The timing was fortuitous, as dad’s health started a slow descent. It also created a particularly nice memory: They moved to a community near a golf course and our intention was for dad and me to be able to play golf from time to time. As it turned out, he only played golf once after their move to Texas, but that one time was in a scramble tournament we played in together. Having lost much of his strength, he just couldn’t hit the ball the way he used to, and heading to the 18th green, we had not used any of his tee shots. The designer of this particular course waited until the 18th hole to challenge golfers with a large water hazard between the tee and the fairway. After seeing three of us hit our tee shots in the water, Dad blasted one over the hazard and safely on the fairway. I don’t recall him ever high-fiving so much.

Having them close also meant seeing them regularly; no doubt not as regularly as they would have preferred. That included doctor’s appointments and several hospital visits. And it meant I was close by in order to work with Mom on logistics when Dad passed away a few years later. Since Mom was in physical rehab at the time and could not access any of her records at home, I don’t know how we would have managed the arrangements.

The Keys

One of the most difficult situations that adult children worry about is knowing when it’s time to discuss the car keys. When their parents may no longer be safe behind the wheel. To make matters worse, unless there has been a specific incident, that is purely a subjective decision. I know too many families where the fight over the car keys led to a terrible, painful fight, sometimes the last fight between a parent and child.

In my case, a couple of years after my dad passed away Mom said, “I don’t really feel safe driving anymore. Here are the keys. Could you sell my car for me?” What a relief that was, as I had been worrying any time she drove.

Safety First

Another source of intergenerational friction we see is when adult children think it’s time to move their parent or parents from their home and into a facility against their will. Again, Mom relieved me of this by one day saying, “You know, I’ve fallen a lot and am worried about being alone in this house. Maybe I should find someplace to live with other people around.”

There is no magic formula or set age to determine when the right time is to make life adjustments like these. Indeed, some never need to move and some never need to give up the car keys. As parents, we want to be conscious of potential burdens in our final frontier. I’m grateful my parents were. Your adult children will worry about you, even if they don’t say so. By thinking ahead with them in mind, you can mitigate some of those concerns and make it easier for those who love and may care for you in your final frontier.

If you have questions or would like help with any of these final frontier issues, feel free to contact me.


Written by: Andrew T. Gardener, CFP®