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Commentary: Take a break before transitioning to non-caregiving life

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: I quit a job that I enjoyed, one with good benefits, in order to be a caregiver to my parents up until their deaths just months apart. They did help some financially and I don't regret doing what I did, but now I need a change. I'm 57 years old and must go back to work. Before I even worry about that, though, I'd like to take a vacation. I've been planning a cruise with a friend, but my brother has me reconsidering. I didn't inherit a lot of money, but I have enough to cover the trip and still retain some savings. He says that I should land a job first and then consider a vacation. I know that he's right in a practical way, but I really need to regroup and do something for myself before beginning to rebuild my life as a non-caregiver. My brother was across the country during the caregiving so I'm not certain that he understands. What do you think? Am I being foolish and reckless and my brother says? — RH

Dear RH: To me, one key statement in your letter is that your brother was across the country and he probably can't understand what it's like to put your own life on hold. You not only gave up much of your freedom, you gave up the income that you'd have been earning, the seniority in your field, any chance of matching 401(k) or other retirement funds and a huge chunk of your future Social Security. That's a lot.

I don't know the details of your financial situation. What counts as "some savings" to one person may be a lot of money to another. The reverse is true, as well. I also don't know what you would consider a decent retirement.

I'm assuming that you wouldn't be planning this trip if it would leave you without the means to pay your basic bills. Therefore, I'd encourage you to take this cruise since that is your choice for a boundary between your caregiving life and your upcoming life. Others may choose different methods of marking this boundary, but it's very common for former caregivers to need a transition before they can truly move forward. It seems to me that your thought process is healthy.

I don't think that your brother is consciously trying to ruin your plans. However, since he didn't live your life, you are right in saying that he truly can't understand. Tell him that you appreciate his concern and are considering his advice. Then think through your finances with your eyes wide open. You need to be sure that this trip won't seriously hamper your future if you don't find a job right away. If it will, you may want to settle for a more modest way to mark this change in your life. Whatever you choose to do, I hope that you can find an enjoyable way to make this transition and that you find a satisfying way forward. You deserve it.

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