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Sandwich Generation

January 2, 2012

Not quite nine years ago, at the age of 57 and as I looked at my elderly parents, it finally hit me that I was getting ‘up in years.’  It was at that time in 2002 that I began writing…or journaling as some may call it.  This is an excerpt from the first piece I wrote.

                 It is said that our lives come full circle.  We begin our life as an infant needing diapers and caregivers.  As we get older, we learn to take care of ourselves and start exerting our independence.  We have children of our own who begin their own life cycle.  Our children grow up, move on, and we have our independence again and can live a full life.  Ultimately, we come to the point where we near death.  If we are fortunate, death will arrive quickly.  If we are not so fortunate, we end up in diapers again and with a caregiver…most often our spouse, if we are fortunate enough to still be married, or our children.

                I think the hardest part about being a parent is asking my children for help.  I have no trouble asking SonNo2 for financial advice because he has a good head on his shoulders and gives good advice.  But in other respects, I want to be independent and self-sufficient…to be able to do things for myself.  I do not want to be a burden on my children.  When I am unhappy or depressed, I try my best not to let them see me fall apart…there are things I just cannot share with them…and I don’t want to add to their worries.  I have two wonderful daughters-in-law, and I want to be as good a mother-in-law to them as I can.  I want to be a good example of a strong woman for my granddaughters.

                At age 57 and alone, I am just now realizing that I can’t do everything by myself.  I don’t always have the physical strength or agility that has kept me going until now…though that is something I will continue to work on maintaining.  I now find that I sometimes have a medical condition or event, which temporarily puts restrictions on me.  So I have to bite the bullet and ask for help…usually from the kids.

                On the other hand, at age 57 I am also experiencing the frustration of the child who has parents who want to maintain their own independence, who don’t want to be a burden, who don’t ask for help in a timely manner…enter my own parents, now 82 and 76 years old.  They are physically becoming very frail and emotionally becoming overwhelmed by their frailty and loss of independence.  They stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their own pain and limitations, therefore, making it difficult for us to be on top of their needs.  All of this, in the long run, ends up causing more work for us than if they asked for assistance from the beginning.  But I understand now why they do what they do…or don’t do.

                How in the world do we handle this?  I am fighting both fronts, and I am at a loss.

A lot has happened in the years since I wrote that piece.  My father has passed away, I have five more grandchildren and am semi-retired.  I’ve taken on more responsibility regarding my mother, who is now 85, on 12 medications, and will rarely ever participate in any social activities. 

I try to be as open as possible with my sons about what’s going on in my life and to let them know how I am handling it all.  I want them to know what I am actively doing to help myself.  I only hope that I can continue along this path for another 20 or 30 years.    

After all, I do have my Bucket List…or as some people prefer to call it, the Don’t Regret List.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. January 2, 2012 10:31 pm

    My family is in a similar situation . . . I see my mother struggling with some of the same issues when it comes to my grandmother. We are all a little lost on how to help someone who doesn’t accept an 84 year old woman who refuses to see there is anything wrong. It is so hard, but our family is learning to rely on one another and come together without feeling bad about asking for help. I know a little bit of how you feel and you are not alone.

    • January 2, 2012 11:39 pm

      Yes, there are a lot of people struggling with this. Good family support like you have is so important.

  2. Betsy Cushman permalink
    January 3, 2012 6:00 am

    You are a wise woman to have written that 10 years ago! We all cope differently with aging, both in others and ourselves. I think there are many ways to do so successfully.

    Creativity seems like one of the most fun coping skills — burn up all that frustration and emotion in writing, photography, piano-playing, sketching — plus all that “exercise and eat judiciously” business.

    • January 3, 2012 7:46 am

      Thanks, Betsy. Creativity is also a means of escape…?

  3. January 3, 2012 7:24 am

    Hi JSD,

    Another thoughtful post. I consider myself in the sandwich generation — I’m a fluffernutter.

    I just nominated you for a couple of blogging awards — please check out http://fiftyfourandahalf.com/2012/01/02/the-envelope-please-part-ii/

    Happy New Year!

    • January 3, 2012 7:51 am

      Thank you, Elyse. And thanks, too, for the nominations…that’s sweet of you!

  4. January 3, 2012 9:12 am

    Very thoughtfully presented. We are all somewhere in the circle and if our parents are ok for now, the time may come when they need more care. Happy New Year to you.

    • January 3, 2012 2:19 pm

      Thank you for your comment…so true. Happy New Year to you, too.

  5. January 3, 2012 12:22 pm

    It’s good that you write about this – we’re living longer, which is a good thing, but it means we’ll need care longer, too. It’s great that you are open about your needs with your sons. It’s hard sometimes to ask for help. You are modeling graceful aging for your children and grandchildren. I hope you get to work on your “Don’t Regret List” this year.

    • January 3, 2012 2:26 pm

      Funny thing is that I still don’t like asking them for help, but that’s just me, I guess. I know they can’t read my mind. And we just had a discussion with my mother last night about the very same thing…again. I don’t know about modeling graceful aging, maybe it’s just that I don’t want to go out quietly. I want to live life fully for as long as I can…don’t we all? I’m already working on my Don’t Regret List…hee, hee.

  6. January 3, 2012 2:20 pm

    What a great post – deep emotion and wisdom. Thanks for sharing.
    I’ve been faced with similar struggles. In a 10 year period it was my grandmother, my great-aunt, my mom, my dad, another great-aunt….I am so thankful that I had my sisters helping. We learned to respect each other more deeply. Now only my mom remains. Creativity is both a coping skill and an escape….and I am embracing it wholeheartedly while I can.

    • January 4, 2012 10:36 am

      Thank you for your kind words. You have been through a lot, and your creativity is inspiring others now. :)

  7. January 9, 2012 11:27 am

    I am right there with you! Feeling “sandwiched” between the needs of my mother and those of my still youngish kids.
    Great post!

  8. January 10, 2012 4:31 am

    So there are times I wonder…why journal? Why write? You’ve just answered that question. People change. How inspiring that you’ve chosen to adapt and you’ve paved the way for others to understand and not be so resistant. The sandwich years are desperately trying, but then…I can say that about every stage of life (or so it seemed while I was living it.) Tenderly thoughtful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • January 10, 2012 7:58 am

      My thanks to you for your comment. Years ago, I was encouraged to start journaling to get me through a rough time in my life. It helped then, and I would resort to it periodically since. Now I’m finding more creative ways to express myself.

  9. January 15, 2012 4:21 pm

    I think the importance of keeping a journal (and blogging our thoughts) is that it keeps the mind agile. While our bodies may become less so, an active mind can overcome most of the problems we bump into!

    • January 15, 2012 9:35 pm

      You are right! It’s so important to keep the brain active. As for journaling, it can be extremely therapeutic, too, allowing one to see how far they’ve really come when they feel they’re not making progress.

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