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The last retirement plan

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Posted: 9 am ET

My 85-year-old mother-in-law died Sunday. Death is always a shock, but hers came only days after we found out that what we thought was a smoker's cough was actually a very virulent form of lung cancer.

She was only lucid for a few hours after the doctor made it clear that she wasn't going to be able to go home. She told us during that time not to throw anything away without making sure there wasn't an "envelope" in it.

The priest offered his blessing Sunday morning and her breathing slowed as his comforting words brought her peace. A few minutes later, she stopped breathing altogether.

By Sunday night, as we searched for the dress and jewelry in which she wants to be buried, we located $1,600 taped to the backs and undersides of drawers.

In our families, Betty was the surviving member of her generation. In most ways, her planning for her final retirement was stellar. She had bought the burial plot, instructed the funeral director, who buried her late husband, about her own wishes, and she left a will that fairly divided what she left behind among her three children. But, she like many women of her generation -- products of the Great Depression and limited opportunities -- had a tortured relationship with money.

For most of us, retirement planning is focused on spending and saving. Hers was limited to saving -- every penny she could -- to carry her through unspecified financial perils, whatever they might be.

I know we should be grateful for her frugality because unlike some families, we never had to worry that she wouldn't be able to pay the bills. Instead, as I mourn her death, my only regret is that she didn't have the time nor the inclination to fully enjoy what she had. Instead, of traveling and enjoying life, her recreation was pinching pennies.

My husband says my regrets are misplaced -- that his mother was satisfied with what she had and how she lived. Still, as we journey down life's same path, I hope we can manage to find a better balance than she did between spending money on pleasures and holding onto enough to avoid being anyone's financial burden.

It's true. You can't take it with you.

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1 Comment
Erica R
January 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

I do want to say that I am very sorry for your loss. My great grandmother has done the same thing. She's 99 this year, and when we had to move her to an assisted living home a year ago, we found money hidden all over her house, even though she has a fair amount of savings in the bank. It was quite a surprise.