generally in response to isolation or a lack of companionship.
Occasionally, it can be the motivating factor to causing separation
and seclusion. For some six months, no one saw Patty or her 87-year
old mother, Phyllis. Their story was sad… and is becoming far too
Florida is often referred to as God’s waiting room. Many move to our
great state with dreams of enjoying retirement during their golden
years. Sometimes it’s “gold” that keeps that dream from being
However, in the case of Patty and her mom Phyllis, seclusion was a
choice they made. After over six months of self-imposed solitude, they
were both found dead of presumably natural causes in their Longwood,
Estranged from relatives and friends, Phyllis, a victim of dementia,
was being cared for by Patty. Giving care is a stressful and
anxiety-riddled avocation. There is a place in heaven for the
caregivers. Often, their lives take on the symptoms of those for whom
Sixty-one per cent of all caregivers are women. They tend to be more
nurturing and patient than most men. Many of the men who serve as
caregivers are doing so by default rather than design. Absent of
long-term care insurance; they are part of the 21 percent of American
people who provide for their own long-term care needs.
Most caregivers are middle aged, just like 53-year old Patty. What
made Patty’s situation different was their desire to always guard her
Maybe she came by that honestly. After all, her father was a spook
with the CIA and his occupation was top secret and constantly
shielded. Having to constantly move from such locations as Tehran,
Okinawa and the Philippines, friendships were sparse and guarded.
Slowly and not necessarily unrelated, family members became estranged
as well. Refusing to take phone calls or to respond to mail would
leave relatives perplexed. Loneliness, solitude and isolation became a
My 91-year old aunt lives alone and ferociously guards her
independence. Her mind is clearly sharp and she takes only a baby
aspirin daily. I would trade blood work with her in a heartbeat. When
she visits her doctor, he facetiously asks, “Why the heck are you
My in-laws are in their mid-eighties, and they too insist on their
privacy and dignity. Living on Lake Murray in Columbia, SC, they care
for themselves and their property like people half their age. I fault
neither my aunt nor my in-laws, and would frankly feel that way
myself. Fortunately, relatives are close by to care for them if
needed. But sooner or later, the clock runs out for all of us.
Caregivers are often frustrated, guilty and exhausted. Only a special
person with special traits can perform this role and yet many people
come by the task by default.
I have three of the most terrific sons in the world who are married to
three wonderful women. The last thing I want is any of them changing
my diapers. The kindest gift I can give my children is a mother or
father who can visit… but doesn’t have to stay.
The good news is we’re living longer. The bad news is we’re living
longer. Too often, we outlive our financial assets and our mental
capacity, causing us to be a burden on others. This is clearly the
greatest challenge of the new millennium, especially now that the baby
boomers have arrived.
IRA accounts were introduced with the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) and were made popular with the Economic
Recovery Tax Act of 1981. Their sole purpose was to take the pressure
off of government programs such as Social Security and Medicare and to
provide incentives for people to save and become self-sufficient.
Perhaps the time has come for Congress to get off its lazy hind-side
and grant Americans with similar incentives to provide for their own
long term care needs. Maybe then the sad stories of the Patty and
Phyllis would be more the exception than the rule.
The horrible process of dying alone and in seclusion should never
happen to anyone. After all, who is there to give care to the
Michael Aun is a syndicated columnist and writes a weekly column for
this newspaper. To contact Michael Aun, email him at