30-Something Worries: Some Things Are More Important Than Money

“We can’t cut back on rent, unless we move.” — me, in my previous column.

My family and I are moving. After more than 10 years in Los Angeles, we are packing up and heading about two hours out of the city, to the small town my wife grew up in. Needless to say it’s a huge change for our family, but like all change, there are good parts and not-so-good parts.

The good part is we’ll be very close to my parents-in-law, which will be a huge help since we have a 2-year-old. You can’t beat free babysitting. It’ll also be nice to get out of the city, where life will be much slower, the air much cleaner, and the area much safer. We’ll be close to nature, and our little boy will be able to explore trees and rocks and let his imagination run wild.

We were lucky to be offered a house for rent that we simply could not turn down. Our rent will be going from $1,850 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to $1,200 for a three-bedroom house. Our car insurance will also be going down by a few hundred dollars. I anticipate that our utilities will go up and offset some of those savings, but by precisely how much is yet to be seen.

I’m also going to be keeping my job, which is great given that moving is hard enough without having to look for a new job. The job is flexible enough that I can work from home some days, which means I won’t have to do a two-hour commute to L.A. every day. It also means I can continue to keep in touch, at least on some level, with my network when I am in the city. If business school has taught me anything, it’s that your professional life is all about your network.

Here’s the not-so-good reason for our move: My father-in-law has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Diagnosed almost two years ago after a numbness in his left foot wouldn’t go away, my father-in-law can no longer walk and is quickly losing the use of his arms and torso. A once proud fire-fighter who helped save lives can now barely hold a cell phone for longer than a few minutes. His body twitches as the nerves lose contact with the brain, his muscles spasming out of control before they atrophy.

We’re moving not only to help him, but to also help my mother-in-law, who is the only one caring for him on a full-time basis. She simply cannot carry the load by herself as the disease progresses. He will soon need two people to move him from his bed to his wheelchair, to feed him, to bathe him, or even to scratch his nose if he has an itch.

My wife and I have debated moving for a few months. We were not on opposite sides of the issue, but there were serious family dynamics and consequences to consider. We also can’t truly anticipate the emotional toll this will have on our family. Taking care of someone who is dying is not something my wife and I have ever done before. We’ve never been this close to death.

The decision is certainly more important than paying back student loans. It involves a deeper debt: What do we owe our parents? Our decision came down to a simple fact: We will not regret moving, but we might regret not moving.

My wife will certainly suffer the emotional weight of seeing her father slowly extinguish. There is no dignity with this disease. Most people end up dying because they either choose to not be kept on life-support, or because they can no longer afford to be kept alive. The mind is lucid but there is no way to express yourself, to communicate with the ones you love. My father-in-law has no desire to live that way, and I don’t blame him.

Many people got annoyed by the Ice Bucket Challenge that swept social media a couple of years ago. I would have been annoyed as well before I understood what ALS was. Now that I do, I’ll be very happy when progress is made towards a cure. For some families, it’s a genetic disease. Although I don’t think it’s the case for our family, I can’t imagine my son having to suffer through it.

We really don’t know how much longer my father-in-law has before his whole body succumbs to ALS. He will eventually lose the ability to breathe on his own, but the progression is different for everyone.

As we pack up our boxes of all the things we’ve accumulated over the last ten years, I think about these big life changes that come to us. None of us are guaranteed anything, including a future. How fortunate we’ve been that for the first 30 years of our lives my wife and I haven’t had to deal with anything this hard.

This article is the second in a new series.

Mircea Vlaicu lived in Los Angeles with his wife and son. He is a content marketer at a big tech company, runs a wedding photography business with his wife, and recently earned his MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. You don’t have to follow him on Twitter: @MirceaVlaicu


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