The story begins during World War II. My grandmother was a young bride, a thousand miles from home, facing the harsh extremes of Arizona’s climate. She was a new mother, and she was helping her husband recover from tuberculosis. She spent much of the next several years raising two children on limited funds. The funds were so limited, in fact, that family members spent evenings and weekends (imagine the heat in Phoenix) building a home by themselves. I’ll never forget my grandmother talking about the respites of Sunday evenings when, at last, she could unwind at the movies.
She never really got the chance to enjoy the house that she had designed herself and that had been so much work to build. My grandfather accepted a job in San Francisco, and they relocated before her dream house—years in the making—was even completed.
Once in the Bay area, she spent several years helping my parents—both of whom were pursuing college degrees—by taking care of me and my siblings. I have many cherished memories of her picking me up at school and, along with her sister, taking us on Saturday outings.
She continued being a caretaker after my grandfather retired (he was not the self-reliant type) and, still later, helping her sister. After a fall made it impossible for her to live alone, my great aunt moved in with my grandparents. She brought with her additional laundry, cooking and more.
My grandmother has never been afraid of hard work. She has always been willing to help. She has spent most of her adult life taking care of other people, but even she has her limits. After my grandfather died quite suddenly, she grew worried about her ability to take care of herself and her sister, particularly if either of them should develop further health problems. So she called her insurance agent and bought long-term health care policies for herself and for her sister, something my grandfather had long resisted.
Within days, my great aunt had another fall. She has been in a long-term care facility ever since. Several years have passed, and my aunt is otherwise in good health. Even if she weren’t continuing to get care, the care she already has received would have wiped out the family’s financial resources.
I told Nancy Breuer my grandmother’s story while she was researching the story on long-term care insurance for this issue. She, in turn, asked me to share it with you. I thought about whether to do so for a long time, because my grandmother and her sister are very private people. In the end, I decided that sharing the story was a good way to honor my grandmother’s courage, wisdom, strength of spirit and loving heart.
I also hope you’ll take a cue from the "timing is everything" element in the story to take action, soon, on behalf of your employees. In short, I hope you’ll learn from my grandmother’s example—as I have all my life.
Workforce, July 1997, Vol. 76, No. 7, p. 4.