MJ discusses the importance of planning: “I do think you deal with what you’ve got in front of you, and that you should be smart about planning for the future. Because, really, how much of the future can you know?”
MJ Wurdeman, 68, noticed the tremors in her hands long before her doctors did. “They kept saying, ‘Eh, don’t worry about it,’” MJ remembers. “They said, ‘You’re fine. You have other things to worry about now.’”
Although she recognized herself as being symptomatic in 2005, it would be another seven years before MJ was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a gradual degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. The condition, paired with ongoing back pain, hastened her retirement from years of work in social service outreach at Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.
“I was doing a lot of workshops,” MJ says. “And by the time I would set up, I would be in so much pain, it would be hard for me to actually deliver the workshops. That [responsibility] was a big part of the position I had, so I realized, ‘I just can’t do this anymore.’”
Motivation to plan for the years ahead MJ’s recognition of her life with physical limitation meant thinking about her finances, and her living situation, in pragmatic ways. Planning ahead, she looked into single-level homes that would provide fluid ease of movement for someone with decreasing mobility.
“I really started doing my research,” she remembers. “I started looking at my retirement and thinking, ‘Okay. This could mean I’ve got ‘x’ number of years being active, or maybe not that many, or maybe a whole lot more. How can I keep doing some of the things I love to do?’”
Some of those passions included fishing, reading, and scrapbooking, as well as spending time with her three children and her husband, Bruce, himself an executive director at their church. Bruce’s pension program, along with a 401(k) that MJ started in her 40s, provided a bit of security for the family in uncertain times.
“That 401(k) that I had at [my first job at] United Way, it just sat there. I let it sit there and do its thing,” MJ says. “I thought I had a very small amount, but I ended up having about $25,000, which to me seemed like a huge amount of money. Bruce and I, together, had about $200,000 in various accounts [before retiring].”
Though MJ is quick to acknowledge that, without her husband’s financial nest egg, she’d be in “a world of hurt,” she says a healthy combination of Social Security, pension, and savings has largely enabled the couple to enjoy life as it comes, no matter what Parkinson’s disease may have in store.
“Medicare pretty well covers some things,” MJ says, “and I don’t do much [medically] except go to the neurologist a lot. But where I’m really seeing the strain is in the drug costs getting higher and higher. I’m on about twelve medications. We can handle it now, but if it keeps with that kind of volume, I don’t know.”
Life in retirement Today, in joint retirement, the Wurdemans live in a picturesque golf community where, MJ estimates, 60% of their neighbors have also left the workforce. Although Bruce does some volunteer teaching at a nearby church, most of the couple’s time is spent focused on each other.
“A recent special blessing from [my husband] was that he bought a pontoon boat, a little less than a year ago. It’s easier for me to get in and out of than a bass boat, and he knew I could use a pontoon boat for much longer, to go fishing or out for a ride or whatever.”
So far, these small and steady adjustments, and a shared ability to plan for the unforeseen, have informed the Wurdemans’ ability to stay a step ahead of Parkinson’s disease.
“I’m not a Pollyanna, or something like that,” MJ insists, “but I do think you deal with what you’ve got in front of you, and that you should be smart about planning for the future. Because, really, how much of the future can you know?”
About plynty Americans aren’t doing enough for retirement planning. Here’s one startling fact: the median retirement savings across all working-age families in the United States is just $5,000.
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