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We’ve seen the statistics about Americans living longer than ever before. However, for my family – as likely is the case for many of you – this reality is more than a data point. Longevity, aging and illness have impacted us in a very real way.  

Upon retirement at age 65 from her career as a teacher in Milwaukee, my mother-in-law moved back to Mississippi to care for her mom. Though she did not explicitly state it at the time, she had an expectation of spending a few years caring for her before embarking upon other exciting aspects of her retirement, such as community work and travel.  

Instead, my mother-in-law provided hands-on care to her mom for nearly 13 years. My grandmother-in-law entered a nursing home at age 98, ultimately passing away at age 102. We were very grateful to have her in our lives for this long, yet no one was prepared for the impact of this kind of longevity on our family.

My mother-in-law is now 87, suffering from her own medical issues that prevent her from doing things she once planned. The cycle is repeating itself once again, as she has now moved in with my sister-in-law. 

I’ve also dealt with the impact of an unforeseen illness. My dad lived through a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer for nearly eight years. I am incredibly thankful that he beat the odds for so long. He was there to walk me down the aisle when, at the time of his cancer diagnosis, I did not think that would be possible. However, our family was ill prepared to deal with the emotional and financial implications that would arise while he was fighting for his life during this extended period of time. 

Even with these deeply personal experiences, it is still difficult to put myself in the shoes of the person who is ill or living far longer than imagined. Even today I am fearful of losing a loved one or concerned about managing the “new normal” during a challenging time. As I talk to others who have had personal experience with a long-term care event in their families, I find this to be very common. It’s hard to predict what will happen or how you will navigate through it when it occurs.

These experiences have changed me and my family. It drives the work I do on a professional basis at Northwestern Mutual, and it drives the decisions I make for my own life. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that a focus on financial planning has put my husband and me in a position to rest a little easier than our parents did. We’ve been proactive in planning for the unexpected so we can focus on enjoying our life’s journey.