My wife and I used to sit around and wonder what we would do if ten million dollars fell on our lap. I used to imagine buying fancy cars and an amazing house and more electronic gadgets than I can even imagine. They were great dreams, the fantasies of a twentysomething yuppie couple wanting to live a fantasy.
I used to want to be rich so I could buy myself things, because I thought that some of the empty parts inside of me could be filled by material objects. Now, though, I wish that I had money for completely different reasons.
My grandmother is spending her final years in a very, very sad state, one that depresses me just to think of it. She has emphysema and can no longer breathe without her oxygen tank and she whittles away the end of her life in severe poverty. Due to her own loving nature, she lives and cares for an individual who smokes, making her condition even worse. Her living condition is very, very sad.
I have the financial power to help her now, and I’ve offered many times with money and a room to live in, but she refuses out of a sense of pride that has carried her through life to this point. She says that any time I want to give her money and I think I can afford it, I should put it away for my own son’s college savings, because that would mean more to her than a little more bread on the table. One look in my grandmother’s eyes tells me that she means this with every ounce of her being.
My grandmother has unconditionally loved me since the day I was born, and every time I see her now, it physically hurts me to see her. She taught me that a woman can be whatever she wants to be, that a woman can be intelligent and independent and yet maternal and giving. She looks so old now, but I can just close my eyes and remember her vibrance from when she was younger, her red curls all over the place and her laughter filling a room.
If I were able to convince her of our own financial stability (she’s not easily fooled), I would buy her a small, two bedroom home and the full time assistance of a home nurse / maid to clean her home for her (since she’s no longer really capable of doing it) and take care of her daily needs for the remainder of her life. She would have a spare bedroom, enabling visitors to come and see her with much more convenience than in her current situation, plus she could have fresh air with proper filtration and circulation and without second hand smoke.
Every time I think of her, and what I would love to be able to do for her, I realize what money really is. Money is the freedom to take care of what is important to you and not leave it to chance. I’m focused on personal finance now because, as painful as watching the end of my grandmother’s life is, it will be even more painful to watch my parents near the end of their life, and I will not stand for this end for them. After that, I don’t want to be any sort of burden or concern for my own children or grandchildren.
Outside of a miracle, my grandmother will pass away within two years and I will be completely unable to help her. It’s something that I will regret for the rest of my life, a depressing addendum to my own financial and personal mistakes during my twenties.
Whenever I consider spending money frivolously, I think of my grandmother, and then I think of my son. Then I ask myself, do I really need this thing I’m buying? The answer is usually quite clear.