Put yourself in others’ shoes

  • Harsh reality: life is not always kind as in the case of our 90-year-old widow (File photograph)

    Harsh reality: life is not always kind as in the case of our 90-year-old widow (File photograph)

A 90-year old widow with a developmentally disabled adult child struggles with the everyday cost of living while trying to make sense of the proposed government budget tax and social service increases. This is a hypothetical composite case based on real-life input from readers of The Royal Gazette and the director of Age Concern. Facts and identities have been changed to protect confidentiality.

The path in life is never a straight line

It is 1969. She is 41 years old and a very unexpected blessed event is on the way. Fifty years ago, she and hubby George, 55, were considered too old to be a parents; they had given up hope of having a family. They are both over the moon.

Six months later

Their son arrives; he is a strong healthy baby, but the delivery room atmosphere is subdued. The next morning, their obstetrician quietly informs them that their newborn has developmental challenges. How their son may progress going forward is simply unknown, except that he will need supervision his entire life. Their doctor is empathetic and so sorry for them.

Stunned, they realise that their lives have just irrevocably changed, for ever. How can they cope? Acceptance of their tough situation may, or may never come, but right now they must go on.

Reality arrives in so many ways. She will take unpaid maternity leave as long as they can afford it: then she must return to her job. George, immediately, looks for a second job to augment their budget. Childcare difficulties arise as not every nursery is equipped to handle special needs children.

Fast forward: he is happy every day. He is verbal and agile, loves to play with his cousins. They are patient and include him in their activities when they can, but they are almost grown now. Soon, they will take flight to greater horizons. He will not be able to follow them. He wants to, so desperately and does not understand why he cannot. It breaks their heart; but soon he is happily occupied again with one of his favourite things, fishing off the dock.

Fast forward: his teachers have gently told them, he will need special education training going forward. It is not provided in public school. It’s another life reality check. Social functioning and interaction will always be a challenge for their son. “Our child will never be independent, have a career, or support himself. He will always need us, or someone like us.” They are resolved to toughen their strict budget plan even further; every single extra bit of income, needs to be put aside for his future care.

Fast forward: he has reached the fully-grown teenage years. He can handle commonplace tasks, loves to interact with people now, but getting him a sustainable job is challenging; even regular transportation scheduling is costly and difficult. She is now 58, has an adequate job, but was not able to progress professionally the way she could have. George is 72, still working two jobs for as long as he can. They need the extra income, given that his government pension is barely adequate.

Soon, they will have to finance separate health insurance for their son.

They are both worn down from the years of relentless time-juggling, penny pinching and advocating services for this dear innocent child. At times, their relationship with each other and their families has been greatly affected.

Nevertheless, some inner core of strength propels them forward. They’ve managed to purchase a small cottage with an attached rental unit. That extra income will maintain home repairs, pay down the mortgage to keep their minimal budget intact, while, eventually, the fully-owned equity in their home will provide for their son after they are gone.

Fast forward: she is now 73 and her son is 32. She is still working at a nearby local restaurant. The pay does not begin to compare, but thankfully, management is supportive of her time needed to assist her son’s issues. He has a part-time job, brings home about $60 a week. Every bit helps.

George died a few years ago, due to cancer. He worked right to the end to make every dollar count for their son. They used to talk wistfully about retirement planning, but it was not to be. She misses him terribly for his positive attitude towards life and his gentle way with the boy.

With George’s passing, monthly income decreased further; she must keep her job as long as she physically can.

Fast forward: she is 90 years old. Her finance situation is dire. Nothing left at month end. Her rental income, and small residual pensions are absolute vital necessities. Her son is now in his early 50s and is only sporadically employed.

The recent government increases in health insurance and land taxes, the new rental income tax, foreign purchase taxes, and others are simply unacceptable to her.

Any unmanageable increases in her cost of living will probably push her over the edge.

While the rental tax has recently been rescinded, she will conserve further by eliminating her own health insurance benefits completely — even though she is in deteriorating health. She must protect her remaining savings and home for her son.

In her current financial state, she worries constantly that if she cannot pay these tax bills, she may, at some point, lose her home.

“What is going to happen to my child when I am gone?”

Most of us are lucky enough to be born with an intelligent mind, a physically sound body, and some, even with the proverbial silver spoon. We need to remind ourselves that not every member of society is mentally or physically capable of being a fully functioning contributor to the economy.

Governments have a public policy duty to protect and help those who cannot help themselves. If we deny the developmentally disabled and their families the means to be prideful and self-sufficient by limiting their ability to earn an adequate income, their needs become a drain on the public purse and a suppression of their right to spirited independence.

Martha Harris Myron CPA CFP JSM: Masters of Law — international tax and financial services. Dual citizen: Bermudian/US. Pondstraddler Life, financial perspectives for Bermuda islanders and their globally mobile connections on the Great Atlantic Pond. Finance columnist to The Royal Gazette, Bermuda. All proceeds earned from this column go to The Reading Clinic. Contact: martha.myron@gmail.com

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Published Feb 16, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 16, 2019 at 12:40 am)

Put yourself in others’ shoes

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