Like the majority of women in America today, in addition to being a wife and mother, I have also assumed the role of a caregiver. I helped take care of my mother, Betty Jane, who passed away last June, and currently am caring for my mother-in-law, who is suffering from ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the pre-Ice Bucket Challenge days.
As a child, I recall that when my mother had something important to discuss, she’d sit my sister and me down at the kitchen table for hours at a time. Whether it was about drugs, puberty or the birds and the bees, she wanted us to know the unvarnished truth to help prepare us for the road ahead. My mother cared about our future, but there was one important issue that she found difficult to talk about — her own future. The conversation about what would happen when roles reversed and how she would ultimately need our help as she aged is a topic most people do not willingly talk about. So when she hinted she was ready to talk about assisted living, I didn’t let the moment pass, and we were both better off.
Then, three years ago, in the midst of caring for my mother, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with ALS. She raised my husband, cared for him, and after her diagnosis, there was no question that we’d be there for her too. Given her youthful demeanor and active lifestyle, we never could have predicted her taking ill or how immediately she’d need our help.
As a family, we had to discuss her long-term care at length, especially since she preferred to live independently and not go into a nursing home. Thankfully she was receptive to our discussions, and together we were able to develop a plan that allowed for her to comfortably live with us — where she still resides today. Though it’s very difficult at times, her living with us has been especially important for my children, as it’s taught them that what their grandmother is going through is just another natural part of life.
When I reflect on these situations, I realize the importance of having tough discussions about aging and the future with loved ones in advance to ensure they’re able to continue living their life on their own terms. While we had conversations about some of my mother’s long-term care wishes with her before she became ill, it wasn’t easy to discuss these choices once her health declined, and it was even more difficult to start the conversation with my mother-in-law after she was diagnosed with ALS.
What too many people don’t realize is that 70 percent of Americans turning 65 this year will need long-term care at some point as they grow older. That’s the thing about aging: We know it’s going to happen, but we don’t know when or how it’ll affect us, which is why we need to have these conversations now. Though I was fortunate to be able to give my mother the care she wanted in an assisted living facility, I do feel that advanced planning would have made things easier emotionally and financially.
My experiences as a caregiver have inspired me to have “the talk” about long-term care planning with my husband as well as open up a dialogue with my younger sister. Aging and long-term care planning may feel far away now, but it is something all of us will have to deal with, not only for ourselves, but also for our loved ones. It’s often an uncomfortable topic to bring up, but once you start talking, you’ll realize what you’re exchanging is more than words — it’s a vision about what you want your future to be and the first steps toward securing it.
For tips on how to initiate “the talk” with your friends and family, visit Genworth.com.
Angela Bassett is an actress. She is currently filming the BBC Two miniseries Close to the Enemy about post-WWII life in London. Other upcoming roles include acting in London Has Fallen, a lead character in the first-person shooter video game franchise Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, a voice in Netflix’s animated series BoJack Horseman and directing an episode of National Geographic Channel’s series Breakthrough about leading scientists and their innovations. Basset’s recent work includes her directorial debut in the Lifetime film Whitney and roles in White Bird in a Blizzard and the FX series American Horror Story: Coven and American Horror Story: Freak Show, for which she received Emmy nominations.