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Invested: Podcast Transcript

Anita Rao
Hey y'all, it is Anita. As you know, one of the things we pride ourselves on here at Embodied is digging into uncomfortable topics. And for a lot of us, one of those is money. We got into it a bit recently with our show "Partnered" about couples who blend romance and work. And today, I want to introduce you to a podcast that takes on hard money talks almost every single week. It's called "This Is Uncomfortable", and it's hosted by WUNC alum Reema Khrais. I have been listening to this show since its first season, and I love how it explores the insidious and unpredictable ways money affects our relationships. I'm excited to share one of the episodes from their most recent season with y'all this week. It features a mother and a son whose careers turn in opposite directions, forcing them to confront how much they invest in one another. Enjoy and we're going to be back next week with a fresh episode of Embodied.

Reema Khrais
For Sian-Pierre Regis, 2016 started off great. He was at the top of his career. He had gone from being an assistant, to a producer, to eventually an on air contributor at CNN. And his goal was just to keep on climbing.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I was consumed by that. And I really thought that I would be the best at it. That I would learn more, that I would get bigger scoops, that I would get bigger exclusives, that my name would get bigger.

Reema Khrais
Getting to this place hadn't been easy. You could say it was the accumulation of a lifelong marathon effort. And not just his effort. His mom's too. He pulled all nighters in high school while she worked overtime as a single mom. He joined every extracurricular, got himself into a selective college. She borrowed money from friends, budgeted every penny. And it seemed like he was becoming the embodiment of all that hard work.

Rebecca Danigelis
He turned out beautifully.

Reema Khrais
This is Sian-Pierre's mom, Rebecca.

Rebecca Danigelis
He's done very, very well. We're so proud of him.

Reema Khrais
But it's right around this time, as his career was really taking off, that hers started to crumble. He started realizing something was wrong when the calls began. He'd be in the middle of the newsroom when his mom would hit him up sounding incredibly upset.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I never heard my mom this broken up, like back to back to back to back to back, where like, she's sobbing on the phone, or she's screaming at the top of her lungs. And you could just, like, slowly hear a different mom.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca was the executive housekeeper for a hotel in Boston, pretty much the same job she'd held for Sian-Pierre's whole life. But now, at 75 years old, she felt like they were taking away her responsibilities, leaving her out of important meetings. And she says she started getting these disciplinary notices that she'd never gotten before.

Rebecca Danigelis
I felt I was being pushed out, and I'd get upset, and I've worked so hard and been tired and everything.

Reema Khrais
She started to wonder, am I gonna lose my job? She'd call Sian-Pierre, like, three times a day. And each time he'd step aside from his desk, or from the live interview he was about to do. And he tried to reassure her.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Listen Mom, don't worry, everything is going to be okay — Just write them back really kindly, and say —don't give them an inch because they'll take a mile — pull yourself away from the emotion, like, I hear it, but — these points that you need to get across.

Reema Khrais
"It'll be fine," he told her, "You'll be fine."

Sian-Pierre Regis
Everything was going to be fine.

Reema Khrais
But, throughout these months, it became more and more clear that things weren't fine. Rebecca kept getting these weird vibes at work. And Sian-Pierre knew that if she lost her income, he would be her only lifeline. And then, what would happen to his life?

Sian-Pierre Regis
And like, if I missed this assignment, what happens to me? What, like, where will I be, you know? And so, it was just a constant negotiation about how much of myself to, to give.

Reema Khrais
I'm Reema Khrais and welcome to This Is Uncomfortable: a show from Marketplace about life and how money messes with it. In this country, we work, and work, and work with the idea — or really the promise — that at a certain point, we'll be able to stop working and just chill. To retire and finally do all those things we dreamed of and never had time for. For so many Americans, though, that kind of retirement is a mere fantasy. And the plan is to work until you die. But of course, it is not always up to you. And if you fall, who's there to catch you? This week: what one person did when his mom's reality came crashing down on both of them.

The way Sian-Pierre describes his relationship with his mom — I don't know, I found it really sweet.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I connected with her on, like, just like, a soul level. You know, it's — it's really, really hard to describe.

Reema Khrais
Even as a kid?

Sian-Pierre Regis
Yeah, even as a kid. Always in sync, always in sync.

Rebecca Danigelis
I mean, we cook together, we — we learn together, we read together, we wrote together.

Reema Khrais
I interviewed them separately, and they both describe their relationship as best friends.

Sian-Pierre Regis
We were always a team.

Rebecca Danigelis
We've always been very close.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca raised her son and Sian-Pierre's older brother pretty much alone. She'd arrived to the U.S. from the U.K. in her late 20s working in tourism. The three of them then settled in Boston at the YWCA, which offered affordable housing for women. And right from the jump, Sian-Pierre's childhood was kind of, like, this case study in contrast. First off, they were an interracial family. He and his brother are Black, while his mom, Rebecca, is white. And even though they grew up in affordable housing, the building was right in the middle of this high-end area of Boston.

Sian-Pierre Regis
We grew up at the YW in an area that was so wealthy, right? Like, the people who lived in that building were folks who were, sort of, just getting by.

Reema Khrais
For decades, Rebecca threw herself into her job as an executive housekeeper. She'd grown up during World War II in a family where money was always tight. Her own mom was a midwife who worked nonstop. And Rebecca remembers asking her, isn't this all too much?

Rebecca Danigelis
I'd say, "Mom, aren't you tired?" "There's nothing I can't do. There's nothing you can't do. Things happen. You get up. You've got to do them. You go off and you do it." And that's been my method my whole life, there's nothing I cannot do.

Reema Khrais
So yeah, for years, that's what Rebecca did. She got up day after day and provided for her sons. Their apartment had two bedrooms. Her oldest son struggled with mental illness, so she decided to give him his own room. And Sian-Pierre shared a room and a bed with her. Each morning, Rebecca would wake up at 5:30, make her son some poached eggs and fix her hair into her signature high bun. She told them who would pick them up from school, and that there was frozen dinner in the fridge. And then, she was off to work at the hotel from early morning until late in the evening.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Her hands were always, you know, cracked and dry from chemicals.

Rebecca Danigelis
I like to see it clean. I like to see finished and perfect.

Sian-Pierre Regis
People trusted her, and they respected her and followed her.

Rebecca Danigelis
I love my job. The hotel family is your extended family.

Sian-Pierre Regis
She cared, you know, my mom — if any of her room attendants' families passed away, she would always be at the funeral.

Rebecca Danigelis
I've never been absent, never been late in my whole career.

Reema Khrais
Wow.

Rebecca Danigelis
Never took a sick day, never.

Reema Khrais
Why not?

Rebecca Danigelis
Well, if you don't take your sick days, you get paid three days pay. You make it however you can, you make it however you can.

Reema Khrais
Throughout most of Sian-Pierre's childhood, Rebecca was making between 45 and $55,000 a year. And a good chunk of that went towards sending him and his brother to a private Catholic school. Her bills were constantly looming.

Rebecca Danigelis
Week to week, week to week, week to week, week to week.

Reema Khrais
That must have been stressful.

Rebecca Danigelis
It was very hard. It was very, very hard. I never really involved Sian-Pierre and them in my worries, you know, what I mean? It's always, make them think everything's fine to make them feel secure.

Reema Khrais
But of course, as a kid, you pick up on cues. Like, they couldn't afford for Sian-Pierre to join his friends on ski trips. And he'd noticed how his classmates families owned actual houses. And not just your typical kind of home, but multiple stories with home theaters, even live-in chefs.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I remember coming home one day and being, like, Mom, like we, like — why don't we have all of that, you know? And like, like you need to work harder. Like, this isn't, like, good enough, like, this is embarrassing. I just remember going to sleep that night in the same room as her, and hearing her cry. And feeling, like just so, so torn up about it afterwards.

Reema Khrais
It was tough on all of them. To help make ends meet, his mom sometimes had to rely on other people: borrowing 30 bucks here, 50 bucks there. Paying it back as soon as she could. And that's just the way it was with money. It came in and it went out to pay for whatever Sian-Pierre and his brother needed. They never really talked about money, in part because they barely ever had a second to surface from the grind that they were in. As far as Rebecca was concerned, she had one mission: get Sian-Pierre into the best college possible.

Rebecca Danigelis
It was important because it's the only way to make it in this world, and especially if you're Black. I wanted to make quite sure that he had every best foot forward going, because they deserved it.

Reema Khrais
His senior year, Sian-Pierre got accepted into a handful of schools. Colgate University offered the best financial aid package. It cost about $50,000 a year, but for Sian-Pierre, it'd be about $25,000.

Sian-Pierre Regis
And I remember talking to mom and just saying like, hey, this is what it is, you know. And Colgate's one of the best ones that you can get into. And she said that she would split it with me.

Reema Khrais
Sian-Pierre got some grants, took out some student loans. He wasn't sure how his mom was planning to pay for her half, and he didn't ask. But without telling him, she'd made a big decision.

Rebecca Danigelis
I took out my 401K plan. I paid for the first year, I paid for the first year. And then, I took all my money out of my 401K, and paid them off.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca liquidated about $20,000 from her retirement plan to help pay for Sian-Pierre's college. If you're not super familiar with how 401K plans work, you get a tax break on the money you contribute. And ideally, it'll grow over the years through the magic of compound interest. It's a way to secure your future. But like many people, Sian-Pierre didn't know much about 401K's. Like, that his mom had to pay a penalty in taxes for cashing out early. He didn't even find out that that's how she'd covered his tuition until a few years later.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Really, it was just kind of like, okay, this is the way that you access money that you have. That's yours, and cool. Not ever, sort of, thinking about what 401K's really are used for, which is for, you know, retirement.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca says that in the end, she felt fine pulling from her retirement plan, because realistically, retirement never felt like an option. Her whole life, she'd been living paycheck to paycheck. And when that's your reality, you don't always have the luxury of seeing beyond what's right in front of you. And aside from Sian-Pierre, she still had to financially support her older son struggling with mental illness. So her plan was no plan. It was just a — get older and older, and keep on working at the hotel.

Rebecca Danigelis
I never, ever think I'm going to leave that place unless I'm in my box, you know. I was not concerned at all.

Reema Khrais
So that was that. She used her 401K to help get Sian-Pierre through college. And in 2006, on a chilly Sunday afternoon, he graduated.

Sian-Pierre Regis
It meant a lot to her. I mean — I mean, on graduation day, my mom was probably the best dressed, you know. Like, in just like, you know, the nicest, classiest outfit and — and just, you know, just so proud.

Rebecca Danigelis
Seeing him cross that line, as President of the class, was amazing. A wonderful feeling of, thank you, God. Thank you, God. The American Dream is starting to come true.

Reema Khrais
After graduation, Sian-Pierre moved to New York City, and the next few years were a constant grind. He ended up getting a job at BET, then CNN. He was going on camera during the Obama campaign. All the hard work, all the expenses, all the late nights. This is what it was for, right? To make it, and to make his mom proud. And this is where we found him at the beginning of this story. Feeling good, moving up, full of ambition, just as his mom's career started to fall apart. He'd visit her in Boston trying to support her. And sometimes he'd record her as she vented and shared how afraid she was about losing her job.

Rebecca Danigelis
My management style is being questioned. I feel that I'm not trusted, that's essentially what it is. I feeling a lack of trust in my ability.

Reema Khrais
In this video clip, Rebecca is slumped in a chair in the living room looking distraught. She was working even harder. She'd get in earlier, stay later. Sian-Pierre was trying to help her any way he could. When he had to be in New York, he'd sent her her favorite cheesecake, or a big bouquet of sunflowers. And when he was with her in Boston, he tried to help her with damage control. Maybe an email to HR, maybe bring in a third party. But then, in September of 2016, Sian-Pierre got a fateful voicemail.

Sian-Pierre Regis
My mom just says, "I just got fired, call me, bye." And I remember, like, my knees, just, giving out.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca had been called into an office and told that the hotel was restructuring. They thanked her, and let her know that that day would be her last day on the job. Sian-Pierre was hours away on a trip in Paris, unable to get in touch with his mom till the next morning.

Rebecca Danigelis
It was really — it was very hard. I was in a daze, I think, for a couple of days.

Reema Khrais
As soon as Sian-Pierre got back, he hopped on a bus to Boston, where he found his mom in pieces.

Sian-Pierre Regis
They gave her two weeks pay, and told her that she needed to leave the apartment within a year.

Reema Khrais
Her apartment was attached to her job. That's part of the way Rebecca had made ends meet all these years: by working in the same building where she lived. Meant a smaller paycheck, but she didn't have to pay rent. So losing her job meant losing her apartment, too.

Sian-Pierre Regis
And so, you know, it's kind of like, that's the doomsday scenario.

Reema Khrais
It felt like this bone deep betrayal. The system, they'd both put so much faith into their whole lives, you know — capitalism, The American Dream. It had cut her loose, essentially telling her, eh, tough luck, there's the door. And again, just as her American Dream was dying, his was coming true. You know, getting bigger assignments, steadily climbing up the media ladder.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I'm, like, interviewing Tom Cruise, you know. I'm feeling like, oh my god, does it get better than this? And like, that was what made the decision so hard about what to do. Because it was like, well, look at this world that's opening up for you. But also, like, look at this world that's closing in on her. And, you know, like having to really decide, like, which decision that you make, are you going to be able to live with?

Reema Khrais
That winter, Sian-Pierre made the only decision he felt like he could live with. He would temporarily move to Boston to support his 75-year-old mom. He decided not to renegotiate his contract with CNN, which was a big chunk of his earnings. He told himself, okay, Mom has always been there for me, so now, it's my turn. It seems like there was a bit of, like, reversal of roles happening.

Rebecca Danigelis
Oh, he — he became my money, essentially.

Reema Khrais
After the break: love, sacrifice, and a 20 foot avocado tree.

Sian-Pierre had left his life behind in New York, at least for the time being. His sole focus was on his mom, and trying to help her find a new job.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Every day, it was dragging her to the computer. Like okay, Mom, let's just get your LinkedIn profile set up, and that's all we'll do today.

Reema Khrais
And then she'd be like...

Rebecca Danigelis
Hey, do you wanna go leave me alone?

Reema Khrais
And he would plow forward anyway.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Okay, let's apply to five jobs today.

Rebecca Danigelis
I don't want to go, nobody wants to hire me, leave me alone.

Reema Khrais
This was her first time navigating an online job search. Probably her first time making a resume, much less figuring out how to upload it. He tried to coax her into these bite-sized daily goals, and he was still recording everything. Like in this clip, Rebecca squints into a laptop while Sian-Pierre sits behind her, coaching her, as she scrolls through a website.

Rebecca Danigelis
I don't like to do this shit, I said.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Why not?

Rebecca Danigelis
Cuz I'm a housekeeper.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Well, you always told me that sometimes you got to do things that you don't want to do.

Rebecca Danigelis
There ain't no reason on this Earth anybody's gonna hire somebody that's 75 years of age.

Reema Khrais
Nothing was coming through. She'd go to interviews, put on her best outfit, then never get a call back. She and Sian-Pierre were both getting really exhausted. And as the weeks passed, he started to wonder: if she can't find a job, how much of a financial cushion does she actually have? So one day he decided to sit her down in the living room, and ask her a question that he had never asked before. He turned on the camera.

Sian-Pierre Regis
So, how much money do you have in your bank account today?

Rebecca Danigelis
About $600.

Reema Khrais
$600. In the clip, Rebecca looks down, away from the camera.

Rebecca Danigelis
It's very difficult right now.

Sian-Pierre Regis
And it is, to me, one of the only moments that I was frozen. Because it, you know like — okay, well that's gone next week, you know. Like, well what — what's the plan for after that, you know? And you can see in her face that she just — there is no plan.

Reema Khrais
Sian-Pierre felt gutted. After all those years of working long hours, never taking a sick day, his mom had been left with nearly nothing. In the small nest egg she did have — the 401K — well, she'd given it up for him. And she'd stopped making contributions since then.

And at that point, had you ever talked with her about her plan for retirement?

Sian-Pierre Regis
We never, not once, had a conversation about what would happen the day my mom stopped working, because there was never a plan for my mom to stop working.

Reema Khrais
And that's the reality for millions of people in the U.S. One out of every four Americans doesn't have a retirement plan. And those who do, well, studies show many are at risk of losing their standard of living as they age. About half of older working households have less than $60,000 saved. Rebecca barely had enough to cover a few months of groceries. The only money she had coming in was social security and unemployment. Though, a lot of that eventually went to support her older son. Rebecca started to get deeply depressed.

Rebecca Danigelis
I had let my work define me, and they let me down. It didn't matter. I felt, I don't know, cast aside with nothing.

Reema Khrais
For years, she tied her self-worth to her career. And now, without a job, she felt empty. She'd spent her days in bed, TV on constantly.

Rebecca Danigelis
From the six o'clock news on, and then the eleven o'clock was the same thing over, then the next day was the last night's news. "Antiques Roadshow," I watched that avidly. Same series over and over again.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca was starting to mull over what she'd missed in giving her whole life to this job. The weekend trips, the dinners out, the time with her sons.

Rebecca Danigelis
I missed a whole lifetime. I missed lifetimes on the job. Of things that other people were doing, and just screwed myself in the end.

Reema Khrais
Rebecca says during this time, she felt suicidal. It was really hard for Sian-Pierre to see his mom in this state. So he decided to do something about it — as a son, but also as a journalist. He knew that she'd probably never have the money to do the things she'd missed out on. So he launched this crowdfunding campaign to produce a documentary about his mom. The film would follow them as they checked off a bucket list of all the things she'd never gotten to do while she was working. He and Rebecca milked a cow for the first time, they took a hip hop class together.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Okay so, what are we gonna teach my mom today? What's the easy, beginner sessions?

Instructor
This is your easy, beginner session: Intro to Hip Hop. Hip Hop 101.

Reema Khrais
They reconnected with old relatives.

Rebecca Danigelis
The one thing about family is that you can just drop off and pick up again, just like it was yesterday.

Reema Khrais
Visited her sister's grave in England.

Rebecca Danigelis
What it means to go to my sister's grave is to — first time I have the opportunity to say goodbye to her.

Reema Khrais
And they jumped out of a plane together.

Rebecca Danigelis
On my final bucket list, I wanted to go skydiving, because I heard it makes you feel really free.

Reema Khrais
It was almost like a retirement in fast forward, crammed into one year. This is actually how we found out about Sian-Pierre — through the documentary — which he called "Duty Free." For a brief moment, their awful reality faded into the background. But eventually, the movie ends, the credits roll, and one day, Rebecca finds a piece of paper slipped under her front door.

Rebecca Danigelis
They actually sent me an eviction notice. They came right under the door. And that's when all hell broke loose.

Reema Khrais
Up until that point, Sian-Pierre had been fighting to extend her lease, and he'd been able to buy her a few years. But now, after living there for four decades, Rebecca was finally going to have to leave it all behind. And she had to figure out where she was going to go.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Either my mom moved back to England with the family that she had not lived with for decades, right, or she moved into a very small apartment that was extremely affordable in the far outskirts of Massachusetts. Which — she would die there. Or, she would move in with me.

Reema Khrais
They went with that third option. Sian-Pierre had moved back to New York by then, and now, Rebecca would join him there. Picture for a second Sian-Pierre's life: a 30-something year old guy dating, working this busy schedule, and living in New York City with roommates. Sometimes he stays out late, his apartment is often noisy or messy after a party. Now picture Rebecca's life: quiet, predictable and a lot tidier. Now, how exactly was this going to work? For now, Sian-Pierre could only focus on logistics. In March of 2020, he and his boyfriend went to Boston to pack Rebecca's stuff into boxes. And once they got there, the reality started to sink in that her life was about to shrink.

Sian-Pierre Regis
So many dishes, you know, and it's like, well, we don't need three boxes of dishes, because we already have enough dishes here.

Rebecca Danigelis
That's the difficulty of moving with somebody is that your stuff doesn't always fit into that space. And people are paying for space, and they have a right not to have somebody else's clutter around them.

Reema Khrais
They tried to make some concessions, like they carefully packed up her beloved 20 foot avocado tree, which she'd been raising since Sian-Pierre was a kid. It wasn't just that Rebecca was attached to these objects. It's more what they represented. A life is made up of a lot of actual stuff. And when Rebecca had to give it up, it felt like this physical symbol of giving up her independence.

Rebecca Danigelis
It was sad. It was sad.

Reema Khrais
For years, she had made all the decisions about how to live her life. And now...

Rebecca Danigelis
I felt like I couldn't call the shots anymore. You know, I've always been able to collect what I want and get what I want. And trying to fit that into another person who — whose space, where there really isn't enough room for all my stuff anyway, it was painful.

Reema Khrais
Before they said their final goodbye to the apartment, the home where Rebecca raised her boys, Sian-Pierre did one last thing.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I just remember going into the closet and taking a key and etching all of our names into the closet. Because I was like, well, even if they paint over this, like, we're still here.

Reema Khrais
On the day Rebecca got to New York, Sian-Pierre and his boyfriend were ready at the door to greet her.

Sian-Pierre Regis
It was a beautiful day outside. We were on the terrace and you walked up with just your bag. And we were like, welcome home roommate.

Reema Khrais
They made a big deal about welcoming her, getting her settled in, making it festive. They painted a green accent wall in her new room, set up a desk with a computer, did a deep clean. Still, though, everyone was battling some nerves.

What were your hopes for that day? Because it's a big day.

Rebecca Danigelis
Just wanted to feel like I was at home. And that I wasn't going to be an inconvenience, and yeah.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Yeah, my, I mean — my immediate hope was that, I guess, settling in, if you will, over time, was not too terribly hard. And that, you know, leaving your home of 40 years wouldn't loom over you, I guess.

Reema Khrais
You wanted her to feel at home, even if this new home was a lot smaller.

Sian-Pierre Regis
The line I remember most often was, "I moved from a 750 square foot apartment."

Rebecca Danigelis
781 square foot, remember?

Sian-Pierre Regis
To a 10-by-12 room.

Reema Khrais
During this part of our conversation, Sian-Pierre and Rebecca were actually sitting in this room, squeezed together on her twin bed. Her bedroom doesn't have any windows, and she has to walk down the hall to use the bathroom. And as they're figuring out how to be roommates, there have been a few tense moments. Like, she does not love dirty dishes in the sink.

Rebecca Danigelis
Well, I'll be with you in a minute when I just cleaned up this thing a little bit. But smiling, right? We're really not smiling inside. Isn't that right Sian? You know that.

Reema Khrais
She says she tries to make herself feel useful around the house. She makes the beds every morning, she does everyone's laundry. And there's been an ongoing negotiation about what stuff of hers to keep and what to give away. There's still a pile of unopened boxes in their loft. But more than any of that, Rebecca has had to manage this anxiety of not wanting to be a burden.

Rebecca Danigelis
Like you're a third wheel, like you don't know, you know, who — who's going to cook the dinner? What are — what are my responsibilities? Not — you don't want to interrupt anybody when they're having a conversation, or you're gonna go to bed, or they have visitors come over, where do you go? You say, hello, how are you, everything. And then you go into your room and close the door, or do you sit out there and sit with them? It's different, it's different.

Reema Khrais
This comes up a lot for her. This feeling of not wanting to impose, not wanting to overstep.

Rebecca Danigelis
I'm invited outside when they're having their dinner and stuff often.

Sian-Pierre Regis
"I'm invited outside" sounds like you are locked in your room.

Rebecca Danigelis
It's not like I'm squirreled away. I mean, I can go out there anytime I want.

Reema Khrais
And yeah, I mean, think about it. They've been living together again for the first time in nearly 20 years. Except this time, it's in Sian-Pierre's space, with his routines, his way of doing things. And that can be awkward. He's in his 30s, no kids and sometimes he's like, should Mom get to see everything I do?

Sian-Pierre Regis
Like, you know, drinking, before we go out, right? Like, all of those things, like, my mom can and does have judgment on.

Rebecca Danigelis
We only have one shot at life, for God's sake, enjoy your life. I'm becoming more tolerant of that. Drinking, I will occasionally have a glass of wine with your friends, but I'm not a drinker. Whatever they want to do in their house is fine with me.

Reema Khrais
Money-wise, it's been a stretch. Sian-Pierre's rent went from about $1600 a month to just over $4000 a month when his roommates moved out and his mom moved in. For the most part, Rebecca hasn't been able to contribute financially. But just recently, Sian-Pierre's landlord hiked their rent by 500 bucks. So now, she's going to start chipping in from her Social Security checks.

Rebecca Danigelis
I've always wanted to pay my way, so that's what I'm going to do now.

Sian-Pierre Regis
And we'll see, you know, we'll see how it goes. And that's the whole thing about this situation is that, it's kind of like — it really is, we are working together in a very real way.

Rebecca Danigelis
Somehow rent that — the rent gets paid every month. We all eat, we all do what we have to do. No debt collectors on my doorstep. And so that's, that's life.

Reema Khrais
But for Sian-Pierre, the hardest part of all of this hasn't been the money. For years, he's grappled with this feeling, or really this question: How do you do right by a parent who's given you everything? It's this overwhelming mindset that constantly bleeds into his day-to-day life.

Sian-Pierre Regis
I mean, frankly, the hardest thing is, I think feeling emotionally tied to your happiness, right? Like, feeling like, if we're going out and you're staying home that, you know, maybe you would be bored, or that like — that you are not having the same experience as we are having.

Rebecca Danigelis
Lay your fears on that, if I have my TV, and I've got my coffee, then I — my days of going out are over. I am 81 this year. And it's not, no, it's —

Sian-Pierre Regis
Yeah, but I mean, like, I mean, even so much as like, you have more time in the day, right? It's like, you know, what are you doing with your day? Like, are you really living your day to the, like, the biggest, like best that you could be?

Reema Khrais
You can hear them struggling here. Rebecca, wanting to reassure Sian-Pierre, that she's okay. And Sian-Pierre, wanting to make sure that she's more than okay, that she's happy. They both feel the void that her career has left behind. And yeah, we tie so much of our self-worth to our work, or if you're not working, what you can contribute. That's the way the system is set up in the U.S. — your work can feel like it's your identity, your virtue. But now that Sian-Pierre has become his mom's retirement plan, he's slowly realizing that there's only so much he can do to fill that gap. They've merged two different lives at very different stages, where happiness means very different things.

Sian-Pierre Regis
It's important to acknowledge that like, as much as I want you to be happy all of the time, like, life is not that way, and I'm not happy all of the time. And to be okay with just, you know —

Rebecca Danigelis
Going with the flow.

Sian-Pierre Regis
Exactly. And so, that has been a big — a big, sort of, epiphany and like, ah ha moment, which allows me to, like, just relax a little bit, and not have to, sort of like, strangle happiness out of every moment, you know.

Rebecca Danigelis
Be yourself, enjoy yourself. I am happy, know that — these words: I am happy Sian-Pierre. Don't fret about it.

Reema Khrais
Sian-Pierre and Rebecca have been living together again for nearly two years now. And as far as they can see, this new living arrangement is permanent. For decades, they threw themselves into a system that promised limitless opportunity — if you were just willing to hustle for it. And it seemed to be working. Sian-Pierre was like the poster boy of his mom's American Dream. But when the system fails a loved one, it fails us too. So they're leaning hard now on a different kind of system: their small but mighty family.

Alright, that is all for our show this week. If you want to hear more about Rebecca and Sian-Pierre's story, including the bucket list they did together, be sure to check out their documentary, "Duty Free." And a big thank you to Sian-Pierre for sharing extra footage from the film with us, which was featured in this story.

If you have any thoughts, or comments, or want to share your own story, you can always reach me and the team at uncomfortable@marketplace.org. Also, do not forget to sign up for our weekly newsletter, if you haven't already. Each Friday, I'm in your inbox with a note about my own life, or how I'm making sense of the news. Our team also shares really great recommendations on things to read and watch and listen to. You can subscribe to that by going to marketplace.org/comfort.

This episode was lead produced by Camila Kerwin. It was hosted by me, Reema Khrais. Our producers are Phoebe Unterman, with help this season from Marielle Segarra. Hayley Hershman is our senior producer. Our editor is Karen Duffin, Marque Green is our digital producer with help from Tony Wagner. Sound design and audio engineering by Drew Jostad. Donna Tam is the director of on demand, and our theme music is by Wonderly. Special thanks this week to Zoë Saunders and to Anqi Chen from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Alright, I'll catch y'all next week.

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