Friday, November 10, 2017

The Unexpected

Photo from Gaomei Wetlands.

My maternal grandmother in Taiwan passed away suddenly late last month. She lived with us in the US for a long time, helping take care of my sister and I for most of our childhoods. She had been extremely frail and in poor overall health for a long time, with unrelenting chronic pain, likely from rheumatoid arthritis, complicated by dementia, which is why she went back to Taiwan, where she'd have readier access to medical care and assistance from our extended family. We'd been bracing ourselves for this for a long time, though it was still a great shock. I went to Taiwan for a week to attend her funeral. 

I think my offline reactions to my grandmother's passing would strike many as being rather emotionally detached. I haven't cried much. Because of when the funeral was scheduled, I had four full working days at the office between when I first heard and when I got on the plane, and well, I think most of my colleagues would have been surprised if they knew I had so recently received tragic news. I may not have come across as being sad, though I wasn't completely myself. I certainly didn't talk about it, except to the extent absolutely necessary to set up my time off from the office.

While I'm generally someone who loves to talk ad nauseum about the small problems in my life, even long after I've already decided exactly what I'm going to do about them (which might be somewhat apparent in my writing), when things actually are bad, I go into "crisis management mode." Then, I'm all action, with minimal patience for talking things through, except to put the solution in place. So I'd like to think that I'd long since shown my love for my grandmother, my commitment to family, through my actions. In college, I once spent a month of a summer caring for my grandmother while she was in a back brace after a car accident, and while my mom was at work, a job my mom previously hired someone to do when I was away for an internship earlier that summer. I played a similar role the summer I studied for the bar, after her health had taken its dramatic decline, though I never talked about it then. I don't talk about these things to the vast majority of people in my life.

Culturally, as a Taiwanese family of Chinese descent, we place extreme value on caring for family members, particularly elderly parents and grandparents. There's a profound fear of and strong social stigma attached to putting relatives in nursing homes, and I think most families from our cultural background that I know of, including my own, make sacrifices of both time and money that could come across as extreme, in order to ensure that elderly or sick relatives can be adequately cared for in a family member's home. My mom took on those responsibilities by herself for a long time, so she's the real hero. I assisted only briefly, sharing my mom's burdens only a little. Ours isn't a culture that allows for complaints about how difficult it is, but I saw how hard it was for her, and also how much pain my grandmother was in for more than two years. Acceptance as a stage of grief came remarkably quickly because, as a family, we'd been prepared for so long. It feels as if I'd already started going through the earlier stages of grief much sooner.

This was originally going to be a post that tied all this into the extent to which family, and the possibility of needing to care for family (both financially and otherwise) at later stages of my life motivates my personal finance journey. That includes going to law school (insane loans and all) because it felt like the best way to build up the necessary resources while also supporting my hypothetical future children, mainly in having the high-quality education that has been so important in determining the course of my life, hopefully without the same student debt burden. It also ties into my probably excessive emergency fund (that I may bolster even more, rather than turn that extra money towards my student debt). Part of that predilection for possibly slightly excessive cash reserves was that I don't want to be one of those "left biglaw with insufficient savings while barely denting the loans" horror stories (link one). Also, an emergency fund was critical to my handling a huge emergency dental bill recently, as well as immediately traveling to Taiwan, both in short order and without even blinking. No doubt it'd help immensely in weathering future crises as well. 

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