In Our Sunset Years, Buying Trees and Shrubs Is Like Buying Life Insurance

If you’re 50+, trying to get a reasonable life insurance policy is a frustrating, expensive task.  As far as the insurers are concerned, you are two steps away from the grave.  (Well, maybe three.)

“Age is the most important contributor to both term and whole life insurance rates. How old you are plays the biggest role in how much you’ll pay to purchase a new life insurance policy.  The reason every year inches up the cost of term life insurance is simple math. Every birthday puts you one year closer to your life expectancy and thus, you’re are more expensive to insure—rates increase every year by 5% to 8% in your 40s, and by 9% to 12% each year if you’re over age 50.” —  Chris Huntley, life insurance agent at Huntley Wealth and Insurance, San Diego, California

Okay, you’re thinking.  I see the title of this blog but don’t get the connection between buying life insurance and buying trees and shrubs.  Let me fill you in:

Yesterday, my husband and I went shrub and tree shopping.  It wasn’t a bad winter here in the Chicago area (Well, not for us because we got out of Dodge) but something went wrong with our 20+-year-old red bud tree, our privets along the south side of our property, a shrub that will remain nameless because I simply can’t remember, and several of our miniature boxwoods that encircle a blue stone patio.

My garden is my temple.  I tend to it with loving care, backbreaking weeding, watering (except for a “summer” like this one that feels more like early October), and with a sense of wonder at how flowers and plants decide to return year after year—most of them— in all of their glorious colors, designs, tactile differences.  I spend a lot of my money on my garden, but I can justify the expense because, the way I see it, the garden is an extension of my home—an integral part of the design to be used and enjoyed.

The saleswoman at the garden center read the tag on a a multi-colored bush perfect for the empty corner where a hydrangea died over the winter.  “Well,” she said.  “This shrub should grow a couple of inches a year and reach a height of 5′ to 6′ in maybe six or seven years.

“Great,” my husband said.  “We’ll either be blind or half dead or in a senior home by that time.”

The saleswoman in her 20s didn’t really connect.  All she could think of was that her shift ended in 10 minutes and that she craved a hot dog with everything on it.

“How about this one?” my husband asked, pointing to another bush.

“Same thing.”

He looked like one of the gangly clematis vines hanging on for dear life on the trellis along the side of our deck.

“This sucks!  Either we pay out the nose for a mature bush or tree or we settle for a little nothing of a plant that we’ll never be around to see when it’s full grown.”

I never envisioned the day when we’d suffer the consequences of aging in the garden.  I anticipated physical and mental insults.  But decisions about shrubs and trees?  Never.

If there is a moral to this story, it would have to be this:  Buy trees and shrubs when you’re young so you can age together.




“Do We Really Have to Be Close to Our Siblings?”

I read a fascinating article on  In it, Lisa Freedman asks whether we really have to be close to our siblings.  She is not particularly close to her brother; in fact, she hadn’t visited him for at least five years.  And they live only a couple of hours apart.

Freedman has many friends who share close connections with their siblings: they call, text, visit as often as they can.  She wonders whether there is something wrong with her— “I’m half jealous of their relationships and half weirded out by their freaky codependence. And they look at me like I’m the worst sister ever when I tell them I usually see my brother only over the holidays.”

First of all some facts:  About twenty to thirty per cent of siblings have “cordial” but “distant” connections.  It’s not that they don’t like one another (although some of them do not); it’s that they don’t have time, or carry childhood hurts, were never close, even as kids, or just don’t care.  They have dear friends who are just like “family” and who give them all the support and guidance and patience they feel they need.

Freedman feels she may be missing out.  And she gets a lot of flak from others who feel sorry for her, even dismayed.  According to relationship coach Jeannie Bertoli, Ph.D., whom Freedman interviews, “It’s evolutionary to want to keep the family together.  We fear that without our family, we might not be OK.  It’s a survival instinct.”

As the author of The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives, I interviewed scores of siblings of all ages.  What I discovered is that the sibling bond is deep and never static—that a conflicted relationship can be improved as siblings age and, conversely, that a solid childhood connection can fray around the edges.

Luckily, for those conflicted relationships, there is hope.  Siblings can reconnect and look forward to a more supportive connection as they age.

Speaking of aging: Studies show that a majority of seniors say they are closer to a sibling than to anyone else except their children.  Senior siblings have weathered a lifetime together.  They most likely cared for sick or dying parents.  They supported each other and their families as they navigated the sometimes chopping waters of life.  They remained constants, in spite of divorce, death, the distance between old friends and co-workers.

But Freedman is a woman in her thirties.  Understandably, thinking about her years as a senior is not in her wheelhouse.  She and her brother lead busy lives, have their own set of friends, their own professional pursuits.  They don’t have/make much time for each other in their day-to-day lives

And that’s just fine, Freedman writes.  She understands the history she and her brother share and knows that, “If I really needed my brother for something, he’d have my back—and vice versa. Apparently, her brother agrees.  “Our relationship works for us.  We’re both just really busy, but you’re right, we’d be there for each other in a bind.”

If I were a betting woman, I’d lay odds that when these siblings hit middle age (and who knows when that is, anymore?)—when the kids are off to college, the job is secure, the marriage/partnership has survived or not—they will make more of an effort to share their lives and develop fuller friendships. They will most likely deal with the illness/death of a parent(s), understand more the fragility of life, and value the history they share, a unique history that others can imagine but have not experienced.

So, no, we don’t really have to be close to our siblings.  But for many, an intimate sibling connection can make us more human and better able to understand who, what, and why we are.



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“Your Adult Siblings May Be the Secret to a Long, Happy Life”

The literature on sibling relationships shows that during middle age and beyond, your mood, health, moral, stress, depression, loneliness, and life satisfaction are tied to how you feel about your brothers and sisters!

In one Swedish study, satisfaction with sibling contact in one’s 80s was closely correlated with health and positive mood—more so than was satisfaction with friendships or relationships with adult children. And loneliness was eased for older folks in a supportive relationship with their siblings, whether they gave or got support.”

Excerpt From: Jane Mersky Leder. The Sibling Connection: How Siblings Shape Our Lives.