When I was in Dallas recently, I talked with an old friend. I always enjoy spending time with him. He’s the most insightful guy on financial questions I’ve met anywhere in America.
After scaring me to death talking about the national debt, he waxed philosophical for a moment. He said, “I’m in a very good position. I make a lot of money, and I really like what I do. My wife has a mother and father both on Medicare and Social Security. My parents are on it. I sat down one night to think about how much the people in my family were costing taxpayers. And I realized that I could easily afford to pay for those benefits. But the thought never occurred to us or anyone else that we ought to.”
Wow! Did he ever hit home with me. I remember when I was growing up during the Depression, there was no such thing as assisted living or nursing homes. Relatives came home to be tended when they were sick and when they were getting close to death. I remember when I was 10 years old, my grandmother and grandfather came to live with us. My grandmother got very sick with terminal cancer. My mother cared for her day and night, and never complained. I watched my mother suffer; she was taking care of the house and taking care of me. My grandmother would moan in pain, and I would hear her because I was in the next room. My mother had moved her mother into her and my dad’s bedroom because it was more comfortable.
The whole point was that we never considered this a sacrifice—this is what you did for your immediate family, and to some degree your extended family.
I know two middle-class couples—one is upper middle-class—and in both cases it was the wife or the mother who needed total care. So, at the counsel of financial advisors, they transferred everything out of her name—this is in two cases now—put her in the home, and she started drawing Medicaid. Were they wrong?
It’s really an interesting ethical question. When they stripped her of her assets, were they then making an honest statement when they said she had no assets? But the bigger question is, what is our philosophy now as a nation? Do we take care of our own, or do we pawn everybody off on Uncle Sam, who is bankrupting us?
The biblical model here is quite clear. If we don’t take care of our own family, we’re acting sinfully. It seems to me that before we turn to the government, we need to do everything in our power to meet our own personal and family needs. Yet even as I write this, the words sound foreign and strange because they are so out of keeping with the way we do things now.
I know my own mother lived in dread that she would be put in a home. I told her that I would see that she was well cared for. She died in an accident, and she never had a chance to see whether I would do that. Nor was I ever put to the test.
This is a great debate. This ought to take place in the church. Pastors ought to preach about this. We ought to start talking about our responsibility to the family so that we really take care of our relatives in need rather than just dumping them on Uncle Sam’s doorstep.