On the Sandwich Generation

Most people somewhere between the ages of 40 and 65 are known as the Sandwich Generation. We are caught between two generations! Somewhere in here we finish up raising our children but then are faced with caring for our aging parents.

This is not as easy as it sounds. For some, this reversal of roles stirs up old hurts and unfinished business. Perhaps the parent you care for wasn’t that good a parent, negectful perhaps, even abusive. Yet now they need your care.

Even if you were blessed with a decent relationship with your parents, this caretaking does not come easily.

My father had a stroke in 1994 and, 6 months later, my mother died of cancer. My Dad did well for 2 years but it became clear that, if he were willing to move to El Paso, I’d be better able to care for him. To my surprise, he was willing to leave the town he’d lived in for over 80 years.

During the 4 years he lived in El Paso, he had 2 more strokes we know of. His temper got him kicked out of one facility. And he developed dementia, that state where slowly, slowly a person loses his past. When I would come home from visiting him at the nearby assisted living facility, my wife would often note I was sad. Indeed I was. I’d lost my mother suddenly to cancer. My Dad I was losing a little at a time. In some ways, that was more painful. There would be little gaps in memory, mistakes in his checkbook, hygiene problems.

Losing him became more poignant towards the end. The last visit I had with him was a day before he fell and lapsed into unconsciousness. As I sat with him, he pointed at a picture of him with my mother before they were married. “Who’s that guy?” he said, pointing at the picture. ‘That’s you, Dad. With Mom before you were married.” He stared at the picture for a moment, trying to recall, then looked at me. “She’s gone, isn’t she?” “Yes, Dad. 6 years ago.”

Part of caring for one’s parents may also involve that most painful of decisions — directing medical personnel to let them go. My Dad’s fall had resulted in a subdural hematoma that would require surgery. His doctors were kind and helpful. I directed them to do nothing but keep him comfortable. A week later he was dead.

One thing I have to share was that, as he lay in a coma, I asked God to take him just as I had asked God to take my mother. Some people might be shocked by that. To me, though, that was a last act I could do for my parents — ask God to ease their passing. In  both cases, I felt my prayers were answered.

Reflection: Have you had any Sandwich Generation experiences? How did they affect or are they affecting your own journey?