I work at a funeral home and meet with people to discuss their funeral plans. We talk about their lives and what they enjoyed doing. Basically collecting information to be used to write up an obituary.
On this particular day, I met with Joe. Joe had moved back to the area after being a snowbird for 25 years. We covered the basic stuff and then he asked me if I had any children. I indicated that I did and that I also had grandchildren. I then asked him about his children and he preceded to teach me a life lesson. This is his story.
Joe and his wife, Theresa, were able to retire at the age of 58. Their children had graduated from college with good jobs so they decided to spend time on themselves. They enjoyed vacationing in Florida throughout their marriage and decided that was where they wanted to purchase a home. So they found a gated community with a golf course that they loved and looked forward to enjoying some warmer winters.
Their plan was that they would stay in Wisconsin through Christmas and then head down to enjoy the sunshine until May, at which time they would return to enjoy Wisconsin summers. After a few years, they decided to sell their Wisconsin home and found a duplex at a reasonable rate. This way they could live in Florida for a little more than six months out of the year to gain residency and save on state income taxes. After all, this is what all of their Florida friends do. Seemed like a good plan. After a few more years, they decided to return to Florida in early October and then fly back for Christmas to spend time with their children and spouses. They found it much nicer in Florida in late fall verses staying in Florida the months of June and July. They often found themselves celebrating holidays with their Florida friends which, in essence, became their new family. Joe and Theresa invited their children to join them in Florida several times throughout the year.
Soon, their son Michael and his wife became pregnant with their first child. They were due mid February. Our kids made arrangements to have the baby shower during the time we were back for Christmas and were so kind to Facetime us once our first grandchild was born. We were so excited to be grandparents and showed off his picture to everyone we came into contact with. Once we returned to Wisconsin it was so wonderful to hold our grandson and to spend time with him. But when October came, we returned to our lives in Florida once again. It was truly nice to have the ability to facetime with our son so that we can see our grandson.
Soon our daughter became pregnant and before we knew it we had six grandchildren between the three children. We were able to be present for the births of some of them but others were born when we were in Florida. Overtime, we decided to not make the trip back to Wisconsin for Christmas and just stayed in Florida. Again, celebrating with our neighbors in our community. It bothered us somewhat but we were so set in our world. We always invited our children and grandchildren to come visit us. I think because it made us feel good to do so. We knew they wouldn’t come. One child didn’t really have the means to do so, another ran their own business in which they couldn’t take the time and our other child was involved in their child’s activities.
Time went by so fast and before we knew it our grandchildren were graduating high school and college. Some were starting to get married and have children.
It wasn’t until Theresa got sick that I started to realize how the decisions we made affected our lives and relationships.
Theresa started to get sick in November. By February she was gone. I spent much of that time alone with my wife. Wishing that our children and grandchildren could be with us. But we were in Florida. It wasn’t like they could just stop in after work or school.
I had Theresa flown back to Wisconsin where we had a nice funeral. I was beside myself with the loss of my wife. I spent much of the next week in a spiral not knowing what to do or how to move forward. One afternoon, at my daughter’s home with all of our children and grandchildren there, I sat and watched. I marveled at the interactions between my children, their children and their grandchildren. The profound love they all had for one another. Even between my children and their nieces and nephews. Theresa would be so proud. That’s when I realized that I didn’t have that type of connection with any of them. Neither did Theresa. Don’t get me wrong…we love our children and grandchildren. But we were not there…we were not present. We were always looking to get back to Florida.
Later that afternoon I sat with our three children, who were now grandparents themselves, and I apologized. I cried as we discussed the decision their mother and I had made throughout the years. Always giving them invitations to come to Florida…knowing that our children and grandchildren could not travel hundreds of miles to see us. Putting the responsibility on them to come visit when they were not the ones that moved. Also missing out on so many family events like births, recitals, games and birthday parties. And they were right…we had missed all of those things. We were so caught up in our own lives that we became selfish.
On that afternoon, I made the easiest decision of my life realizing that all of the money that was saved on taxes had cost me and Theresa the most important thing…family. I needed to mend relationships with my children and be present in the lives of my family. I no longer wanted to see them on a cellphone screen. I wanted to hug them and tell them I loved them. And so I did. Next to marrying the love of my life it was the best decision I had ever made.
It was so nice of Joe to share his story. It had been five years since Joe was back in Wisconsin and his relationships with his family is what he had always wanted it to be. He told me that his advice that he has for anyone looking to be a snowbird is that, while his time in Florida was lovely…it is not a place to live unless you have your family by your side.
If you can’t stop to see your children and grandchildren on a Sunday afternoon…all the money you save in taxes and all the sun that may shine on your face isn’t worth it. He just wishes that he would have realized it years earlier so that Theresa could have experienced it too.