Friday, May 17, 2013

Work, Love, Family, Unemployment and a Barrel of Dogs

Hello, all. It surprised me how long I have been away. As you can see, my last post was a rant against my little cell phone, but then life happened and more important things commanded my attention. Things like illness, death and poverty.

Often bloggers will attribute an extended absence to "family matters." We don't get details, so we miss out on the stress, exhaustion, frustration, expense and sadness of "family matters." In my case, over the space of two years I tried to keep a part time job in Canada, while orchestrating in the US a family move one year, (including the finding of the new apartment,) advocating for my mother during her final illness 18 months later, the settling of her estate and bills, clearing her apartment into storage, and other little labours of Hercules.

If you are a Canadian with American family and you ever plan to act as the final caregiver and executor for someone in the US, you should have not less than $5,000 set aside, because that's about what it cost me. Astonishingly, this doesn't include motel rental or maintenance of your own home while you're away. I was able to stay in my mother's apartment while in the states, and a friend came to my Canadian home a few times a week to feed the cats and bring in the mail. So, just in case you also need housing while away, set aside $8-10,000.

"Family duties" in America are not limited to fluffing pillows and wiping fevered brows with cool cloths. You get to navigate the grotesque, opaque and cruel medical system. Even if your relative is covered by Medicare, expenses encroach on every side, and to qualify for Medical Assistance (nursing home, in this case) you have to plow through a whole different opaque system in order to qualify, because Medicare doesn't cover long-term care.

Did I mention that when this is applied for, your relative's savings and assets must be paid out to allowable costs only (mostly towards medical and prepaid funeral costs) to less than $3,000, simply in order to apply? Whatever remains isn't theirs, though -- it must also be used towards those allowable bills. No inheritance, kids! The executor's expenses are not "allowable," and believe me, they will want to see the invoices. So pad your suitcase with your own Benjamins, because mom won't be able to help you.*

A two-week family visit in July, 2012 became a five month slog through exhaustion and frustration and hard work. If I had not been there, if my blind, widowed mother's care had been in the hands of the county, all this work would have been done by county social services staff, at who knows what cost to them. They get a salary, I got nothing of the sort.

Did I sit with her, for hours a day most days? Did I comb her hair and buy her little gifts -- a talking pocket watch, a box of chocolates? Did I finally learn how to navigate a wheelchair and check an oxygen tank to determine if it needed refilling? Did I bless every day the fact that her sharp wit and keen intelligence was unimpaired by her multiple illnesses? Oh, yes. Her final months were a blessing to me.

But I cannot deny I was suckered by the system. Systems count on our heart ties to drag us into unpaid work we never trained for, raising children, nursing spouses, helping parents in their illnesses. How many Canadian children will provide free labour to the US social and health system by stepping in to care for their American parents at the end of life? Thousands? As a percentage of GDP it's not a lot, but I can see that US children going north to help their Canadian parents don't have the same expenses.

When I returned home after five months, my job of 3 1/2 years was gone ("job abandonment" though they knew where I was and what I was doing.) My bills had piled up, and job-hunting at my age is a long term, frustrating process.

This is where the barrel full of dogs comes in. I returned home to fill in the little gaps of income with dog boarding and dog walking and pet care. It helps to put bread on my table between (small) pension cheques, but when I add in car expenses it pays way under minimum wage.

It's a luxury to the people who hire us, but pin money to those who do that work. No one would do it if they didn't like dogs. More heart-ties? Of course.


*She can't even give you a gift towards this expense. The state now looks back six years to find any suspicious large gifts.

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