...how exhausting it would be.
This is installment one of a four part series entitled, I Wish I Knew.
There was absolutely no preparation for me. No lead up or acceleration. On February 8, 2015, I was quite literally thrown into the sandwich generation.
With one call from the RCMP that my father had sustained a heart attack and stroke, my world was turned upside down.
Then just weeks later, my mom was readmitted to the hospital with breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain and bones. Brain surgery, consults, scans, radiation and ultimately, hospice. Every day it was a new diagnosis, a new place that cancer would take over her body...until there was nothing left to take over.
There’s nothing that can truly prepare you for a trauma response to something like this. No sporting event or gold medal point (and I’ve been fortunate to have been a part of many!) that could match the adrenaline that surges through your body when someone you love is ill or injured. And there is nothing that can ready you for the sustainment of the adrenaline. It’s never ending and daily. Cortisol through the roof. Flight or fight instinct is on 24/7. Remember to eat? Yeah right, that’s not happening. Coffee will sustain me.
My daily routine looked like this:
I repeat. Coffee sustained me. Quad grande with room americano if anyone is taking orders.
Beyond the physical responses to becoming the sandwich generation, I found myself mentally exhausted. Keeping track of everything the doctors and nurses were telling us, managing finances, and also working was too much. There were thousands of things to remember and no way to keep it all straight.
The overwhelm was real. My doctor told me I would have a nervous breakdown if I didn’t start to make changes.
I made some, but being in this place isn’t a one and done. It continues.
The old adage of "put your own oxygen mask on before helping others" feels like a load of bullsh*t when you are in situations like this. It feels optional, because others are struggling to breathe harder than I am. So we burn the candle on both ends (how many metaphors can I possibly put into one blog post?) until there's nothing left.
If I'd known it would be this exhausting, would I still do it?
What else can you do for family?
Coffee clearly is my thing. What's your go-to Starbucks order? Tell me in the comments and I'll do a draw for a Starbucks gift card on me!
Six weeks ago, I took his keys.
And in a way, his independence.
He was ready, and so were we. And yet, we weren't. How is that possible?
The doctor said that Dad wasn't able to drive anymore. That, due to another heart event, it wasn't safe for him or anyone else. I couldn't tell him alone and so instead of bringing my husband, I brought my five year old son.
I made him ask Grandpa for his keys.
See, we knew that if the keys still lived with Dad, that he would use them. That his memory is so impaired that he would drive because he forgot he couldn't. Or, even if he did remember, that the temptation to get wherever he wanted to go would be too great. So to keep him safe, we needed to take them.
"Grandpa," my son asked, "Mommy needs your keys."
Dad looked at me and smiled half-heartedly. His head hung as he went to retrieve the two sets from his table. "Here you go, sweetie," he muttered, "I don't want to be like your Grandpa and give them up too late, so take them now."
"Dad, it's only for six months," I replied.
"We both know that's not true," he finished.
And he's right. We both know that his freedom is now restricted even more, and perhaps this should have happened a while ago. We don't want to jinx it or say it out loud, but we both know his body and brain will get worse, not better. We know this chapter is closed, and it hurts.
Logically, I know that this is for his safety and everyone within a 10km radius that he might actually drive. I get that and the last thing I would want is for anyone to get hurt. And yet I sit here thinking of all the car conversations we've had. All the Golden Arches that have been consumed by the two of us as we drive from one ball park to another. How the man that taught me to drive, can no longer.
Dramatic, yes...maybe slightly.
This is the start, I can feel it. Of something new and different for us. Maybe bad, maybe good - that's to be determined. But it's a new stage for the two of us. And like any good GPS, we will navigate it together. And it's time to load the Uber app onto his phone.
CBC recently put out an article entitled, "Life can change overnight. 2 families share what people should know about power of attorney." While the article primarily focuses on the stories of a spouse and sibling who step in to act as a POA for their family member, the lesson here is applicable to those of us in the sandwich generation too:
Have the conversation.
Seriously, get over the awkwardness and have the [bleeping] conversation. Yes, it's hard and yes, it's weird but LET ME TELL YOU, it is much harder to do this from a rehab bed or in the presence of a lawyer in the family room of the hospital. Having this conversation when you are tired and running on adrenaline is less than ideal. Trying to remember the conversation in this same state, almost impossible.
I'd always known what was in my parents' wills. They were open that I had a guardian until I was 25 (Uncle Ray and Auntie Marg, you escaped being my guardian by 18 months!). I knew how their assets were to be distributed and that the will was in the filing cabinet, in the apporpriately labelled folder.
But that was all I knew.
As Mom was about to be transferred hospitals to have brain surgery to remove her new tumour, we realized that perhaps this document should be updated. Especially since Dad was at a live-in stroke rehab unit at a different hospital, incapable of making his own decisions. With his decision maker now heading in to get her brain tickled, maybe it was time for some of us to know what was going on and what they wanted. Someone who didn't live in a hospital who could make decisions for both of them.
We also didn't know that a Power of Attorney (POA) doesn't always cover medical decisions. This was news to us as generally, when you say you're a spouse, next of kin or POA, you get access to the information or decisions. But actually, in BC, you need a Section 9 Representation Agreement. It's much simpler than a POA actually and can be printed/filled in on your own rather than with a notary or laywer but this was news to us.
Lastly, we knew we needed an updated will and executor. None of us knew when their wills had been updated last which means they were certainly out of date. We knew we needed back up plan upon back up plan, in case the worst should happen.
So, with a wonderful and smart laywer present, we had the conversation. I will say, the presence of a laywer made it less awkward - it turned into a business discussion rather than one full of emotion. While this single conversation helped to handle the logistics of caring for Mom and Dad, and their assets, it wasn't the only conversation.
But have the conversations before you are ready. Before you need to. Earlier than you think you should. That's the perfect time.
And ask these questions:
1. What do you want? What is important to you when it comes to your care and quality of life? What are your priorities for you and the people you love?
2. Where is all your stuff? Your will? Your accountant? Your tax returns? Your money, investments, account passwords? (You don't need all the contents of this info, just know where it is so you can find it should the worst happen).
3. Should you die, is there anything that's important to you for a funeral, service or post-death requests that I can honour?
4. When do you want me to step in?
5. Who is my back up, should I not be able to fulfill what you need me to?
I know these are general but I hope they are good to get the conversation started. What other questions have you asked or wish people would ask as they plan for the worst? Tell me below!
11 Books for the Sandwich Generation
When I became a part of the sandwich generation, I searched high and low for a manual. For anything that would teach me what I needed to know, especially for dealing with my parents. I wanted a version of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting….to Parent your Parents.” I wanted the real life stories, the advice. The step-by-step instructions for getting through appointments. The conversation guide for telling your parents that they aren’t necessarily capable of babysitting your kids anymore.
Instead, I found a lot of blank space. A few random non-scholarly articles about the term ‘sandwich generation’ but nothing about what it’s like to be in it. There were generic tips but no one with lived experience who was willing to talk about it. (Which, spoiler alert, is exactly why I wrote “God Give Me Faith). And especially as someone who became the sandwich generation at 26 years old, I had no peers.
I’m always craving new reads and things that will maybe give me a tidbit of two of advice so here’s my tried and true list of books that, even if not directly talking about those of us in the middle, have some good ideas for how to survive the season we are in.
God Give Me Faith – there had to be some shameless self-promotion but really and truly, this is the book I wish was out there when I started changing adult diapers. It’s a story about loss and hope. That community and faith – in yourself, your people and God – can make this season bearable. It’s a book that hopefully sparks conversation, creates a community of those walking through it and a place to celebrate what it means to be doing life in the middle.
To Have and To Hold: Motherhood, Marriage and the Modern Dilemma – Molly Millwood. An amazing read on Mom guilt and how life events like becoming a mother or the sandwich generation impacts every part of your life. She wrote the things I was thinking, but too afraid to say out loud.
Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First – Laura Tremaine. If you want to go to therapy but for some reason can’t, this book is for you. I challenge you to do the work, to answer her questions and honestly spend time journalling your responses. This fully and truly changed my life.
While We Walk: Poems to Keep You Going - Deanna Pauls. These are the poems that I keep coming back to, the ones that stick to your heart like glue and make you wonder at both life, and faith. They put words to feelings, articulating what I couldn’t in the roughest of seasons. And gave me hope for the next step.
Send Me Into the Woods Alone - Erin Pepler. This series of essays has been my Top Read of 2023! Relatable, funny and felt like she was in my head, copying my thoughts directly onto the paper. While not directly dealing with those in the sandwich generation, the articulation of the reality of the struggles of motherhood made me feel seen and known - and reminded me that I am not alone.
What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing - Bruce Perry & Oprah Winfrey. I have to admit, this wasn’t my favorite book at first. It felt like a transcript of a conversation between Dr. Perry and Oprah. But, knowing that entering this generation can be big T Traumatic or little t traumatic, this book can be helpful in understanding why you feel what you do, and how to make the most of it. I’ve heard many friends tell me that this has been incredibly impactful so I’ll leave this with you.
This is Assisted Dying – Stefanie Green. I will say that as a Christian reading this, I was conflicted. And I’d like to clarify that I don’t know my own theology well enough to know where I stand on this sometimes controversial issue. Watching my parents both suffer, I can completely understand why medical assistance in dying is available and why some choose it. This book was eye opening for many reasons, and challenged me in how I engage with the world and those suffering in it. Bring tissues, and your Bible to read alongside.
Everything Happens for a Reason: And other Lies I’ve Loved – Kate Bowler. Outright, I might be the biggest Kate Bowler fan on the planet. Her books line my shelves and her podcast is on my Spotify ‘most played’ list. This is a witty look at a terrible diagnosis, and challenges us to look at suffering in a society that insists that everything happens for a reason.
No Cure for Being Human – Kate Bowler. Her wit comes through again in this book that reminds us to look for peace in a culture that says anything is possible. And when things like parenting your parents and kids feels impossible, this book reminds me of the truth.
Nothing to Prove: And Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard – Jennie Allen. Sometimes, my expectations of myself are set far too high. I’m expecting myself to be at every appointment, to never need coffee and to know exactly how to have tough, weird or awkward conversations with my kids and dad. This book helped me take my eyes off of my problems, and point them to Jesus.
The Bible – Can’t say it enough. This is the book you need. If you aren’t sure where to start, the gospel of Matthew or book of Romans is a good place to get started. God’s got you. No matter your season, no matter how big the challenge, you are not alone.
Any books I’m missing? I’m always looking for new reads – let me know below!
Have you gotten to that point yet when you realized your parents were getting older? In my mind, my parents will always be 38…which is weird because I’m 34. By that logic, one day I will be older than my parents...which my sore neck in the morning might agree with.
When I think of my parents, they are 38, healthy and happy. They were shoveling driveways like it was fun, staying up with friends well past my bedtime, and our house ran with them being magic fairies who filled the fridge and got us to sports.
At 26, that dream shattered. Roles reversed quickly, and I was left making all those things happen. I felt like a kid myself. Mom couldn’t see out of her left eye due to the breast cancer that had metastasized in her brain, so she needed to be driven everywhere. Dad’s stoke left him unable to remember the most basic of details, so making decisions became my responsibility. Getting from one place to another without getting lost – even in his own neighbourhood – was almost impossible. Dad’s concurrent heart attack meant that shoveling snow became dangerous to his already weakened heart.
But that was impossible, because they were 38, right?
I remember when I realized my grandparents were aging. Grams was my best friend. Honestly. My 91 year old grandmother was my bestie. We chatted for 2 hours at a time on Saturdays, making each other laugh and never starving for conversation. She remembered everything about my life – the good and the bad. We talked about beliefs, boys and booze. We gossiped. Our ears were attuned to what the other wasn’t saying, recognizing where things maybe weren’t going so well. She was healthy until the day her cancer took over her body, and then she gave up. As an adult, seeing her age and eventually die was a fact – and a feeling. She was old, and sick. Facts. But she felt ready to see her Maker, and had lived a good life. It made sense and even though it hurt, I could understand it.
By contrast, my other grandma had Parkinsons and was quite frail early in her 80s. She was moved into care facilities, given medications and some days, unable to eat more than Boost. My parents had to explain to young teenager me that Grandma was getting older, sicker and would eventually die. They did so lovingly with tact and respect for her but I was left with so many questions. My teenage self was able to comprehend the outcome, even if the medical terms felt foreign. I could understand the weight and the emotions that follow getting older. But the death aspect – that was explained as Grandma being with Jesus. Something I believe(d) and intuitively understood, by faith in Jesus. The logic of ‘why’ though, was lost on my younger brain so I rested in faith that I would eventually figure it out.
And then, there’s my kids. At 5 and 2, they ask about “Grandma in Heaven” as we call my Mom. They want to know why she was sick, what happened to her, and why she isn’t here to snuggle them. They don’t feel her absence because they never had her presence. But they see the contrast between what they have in my husband’s parents, and what they are missing in mine. They have a Grammy who spoils them, cares for them and loves them. And they have a Grandma in Heaven. That’s it. She’s a title, a name. She’s not a feeling for them (yet?). They can’t grasp where she is, or why she isn’t here to watch their soccer practices.
Then they see my Dad, who is still recovering from his stoke and heart attack. They see a Grandpapa who sometimes needs to be reminded to look both ways before he crosses the street. They see a playmate who holds Mom’s (my) hand when he steps off a curb, just like they do. Grandpapa doesn’t like to wake up before 9:30AM and who has a good long afternoon nap. That’s not like their other grandfather but they know that’s just Grandpapa. Recently, my son asked why Grandpapa doesn’t come for walks with us anymore, or why Grandpapa doesn’t drive him. We looked at each other, a bit stumped for an honest, but age appropriate response.
My husband and I have narrowed it down to a few key tactics when we talk to the kids about aging and sickness in their grandparents. Keep in mind, they are 5 and 2 – but I’d love to hear from you in the comments how you talk about this with your kids of different (or the same!) ages.
1. Dignity is the priority
It’s really easy to chalk up Granny’s memory loss to “She’s nuts!” or Grandpa’s shuffling to “He doesn’t want to walk, so he doesn’t.” It’s even easier to lie or lace your explanations with sarcasm or ridicule. Even when you think it’s all in good fun, or that it’s just a joke.
If you want your kids to treat you with respect and dignity, do it for them now. I read in a book by Jancee Dunn called “How to not Hate your Husband After Kids” that kids ‘learn what they live.’ (10/10 recommend this book by the way.) If you want your kids to learn to treat the elderly (and you) with respect, demonstrate that at every possible opportunity.
And, the elderly in your life hear it. They may need hearing aids or may be fully deaf, but they can sense it. They can sense the truth in your sarcasm, in your body language and tone.
So what do we do? We remind our kids of their grandparent’s worth and inherent value as children of God – and humans. We remind them of their grandparent’s contributions, and their love. In our house, it looks something like this:
Child: Mom, Grandma put the salt in the sugar container! My pancakes tasted super bad.
Me: Oh boy, that didn't taste right, did it?! Isn't it nice that Grandma wanted to show how much she loved you with pancakes? Maybe next time you can make her pancakes and you can be the one to put the sugar in.
2. Empathize with age appropriate examples
Sometimes, things like memory impairments or disabilities make it hard for grandparents to interact or engage with their grandkids like they would want to – or like you would wish they could. And young kids have a hard time understanding why that is the case.
We try to remind our kids to empathize, to put themselves in their grandparent’s shoes. Things like:
Child: Why can’t Grandpa play catch with me? He just sits around all day.
Parent: I know you want Grandpa to play with you because you love him. Grandpa has an owie in his brain and it makes it really hard for him to get up and play with you. It’s like when you got that owie on your knee when you fell off your bike last week – you didn’t want to play anymore and wanted cuddles and a show, remember? That’s like Grandpa – his owie is still hurting him so he just wants to cuddle you and watch you instead.
3. Problem solve together
My husband is like many stereotypical men and wants to solve all my problems! We often talk about him needing to just listen while I vent but sometimes, problem solving is just what we need. So, sometimes we do that with our kids when it comes to grandparents. We try to focus on what how we can be “helpers” and we find it builds responsibility and empathy.
Our five year old knows that he gets to hold Grandpa’s hand when we cross the street so Grandpa is safe. We’ve got our two year old in charge of Oma’s slippers to make sure she remembers where Oma puts them and brings them to Oma when she needs. Both of them know that when Grandpa’s alarm goes off, it’s time for him to take his pills and so they bring them his pill pack so he doesn’t have to get up.
4. Be available for questions…all the time
We are finding that, even if our kids’ questions are answered for the time being, they always resurface. And usually at 8pm at night when they are trying to fall asleep. Our son will often call us into his room and ask questions about heaven, death or sometimes why penguins lay eggs…it’s never a good time for these questions but we’ve agreed to take the time to answer them.
The patience to listen and the discernment to respond. It’s these nightime questions about Grandma in Heaven that helped our son understand Jesus’ sacrifice and commit his life to Christ. So is it really an inconvenience for us? No. Never.
What’s worked for you? We are always looking for new ideas!
You're never too old to need your parents, even if you think you are.
And when they start to get older, you wonder if they are able to help. If they can't remember where they put their keys, can they really grab my groceries? If they struggle to drive, can they really give me advice on my investments?
And when we start to get older, shouldn't we not need our parents as much? Shouldn't I be able to figure this out on my own?
Even if your parent is getting up there, or not here anymore, you will always need them. You'll always want them.
Today, there was an atmospheric river. For us non-meterological folks, that means it's dumping rain. Buckets and buckets and buckets. I dropped my youngest at preschool in my vehicle, and decided to drop K off at kindergarten right after. Why walk if the car was perfectly fine?
We sat and chilled in the kindergarten parking lot for half an hour before school. We played I Spy, touched all the buttons in the car and had a pretend race (picture a 5 year old grabbing the steering wheel and turning it as far and fast as he can). Dropped him off as the bell rang and hopped back in the car, turned the key and....
Battery died because our Veggie Tales music apparently took too much energy!
Cue the call. You know the call. We've all made the call. It's to the person who is speed dial 1 on your phone.
"Dad, are you home? I need you."
The man for whom I manage finances, for whom I make decisions, jumped right to the rescue. His brain often functions against his desires, but his daughter's need trumps it all. He has always been speed dial 1.
In the last 8 years, Dad has had challenge after challenge come over him. Life has been anything but easy and some days, not even kind. Some days, we've switched roles. Advice given in unconventional directions. Transitioning from him advocating and protecting me, to me getting to love him in doing the same.
But what hasn't changed is that he is still my Dad. He still answers every call, every text. He teaches ("Red connects to red, Rayel"), rescues and protects. He's my first call (sorry Adam!) even if I know he can't always help...but he always does have advice. And atmospheric river and traumatic brain injury be damned, nothing was going to stop him from helping me today. That's what my Dad does. And he's the best of Dads.
I'm 34 and in many ways, I take care of my Dad. But I need him just as much. Maybe that's it...we need each other. It changes as we both grow and age. As responsibilities shift, as more family members get added to the mix. But more than needing his hands or his head, I need his heart. I need his love. And of that, he freely, freely gives. And that happens regardless of brain function, heart function or crazy weather.
I am truly the luckiest daughter in the world.
I'd love to hear about your parents! How have they shown you love, or how do you wish they'd show you love?
I asked Chat GPT for a blog topic on being the sandwich generation and the title of this blog is what it came up with. I had to chuckle. Survival?? Am I even surviving right now? Writing this, I am drinking my third coffee of the day, with Google open to figure out why Dad’s iMessage isn’t working. My kids are fighting over who gets the ‘adult’ bowl for their snack and who is stuck with the scratched plastic one from IKEA that is very clearly two kids’ old.
Maybe I should be thankful Chat GPT didn’t suggest “Thriving in the Sandwich Generation” because today, I certainly am not.
But surviving, I am. I am breathing, I have brushed teeth and I’ve had water today. When I was in the early throes of post-partum, that was what a friend said constituted a win each day. I had to complete one of eating, brushing my teeth or showering – I didn’t have to do all (thank goodness because just one felt herculean when I hadn’t slept all night) but just tackle one.
Today, my father is resting comfortably on his couch, feet up and Big Bang Theory on in the background. My kids, though fighting, are fed and well. And like I said, I’ve brushed my teeth.
So how does this happen? How do we survive this stage of juggling parenting and elder care?
1. Demand help
Notice I didn’t say ask. I hate, despise, loathe asking for help. There’s got to be a way that I can do it all. Isn’t that what all the books say? Women can have it all. Though I would add, not all at the same time. And frankly, we can’t do it all by ourselves. There may be that unicorn person who is a single parent, looks after their parents with full-time needs, who also runs a million dollar company, and who has two well-adjusted, non-picky children and does it without daycare, family or a nanny. (If anyone knows this person, send them my way – I have questions!)
But in reality, very few of us (if any) can do this without help. And sometimes, asking feels like too much. So we shrink back and we don’t ask. We struggle to stay afloat and breathe as the waves get high. We let our silence speak for us.
Our silence says we are okay. But in fact, we rarely are.
So instead, what if we went in the opposite direction and demanded help. Instead of asking, “Can you take my parent to the doctor?” what if the sentence turned into, “If you are free on Tuesday, I would be so appreciative if you could take Dad to the doctor.”
Or what if we said yes to those offers for help, instead of defaulting to “I don’twant to put you out,” or “We are fine.”
2. Do Your Research
I will be the first to acknowledge my privilege, and my family’s privilege. And, there are a lot of options available (at least, where I live) for those that need it. That’s not to say there’s no wait to access them, but it is worth a look.
Research what’s out there to help, especially with your parents. Contact the social workers at hospitals or care homes – they have pamphlets and while old school, they have so much good information. In doing a little searching, we were able to:
3. Bring them together
At first, when I had the kids, I often thought that I had to keep everyone separate. I would find care for the kids so that I could take Dad to his appointments. Or, I’d schedule my social time with Dad after the kids went to bed. I didn’t want to go to his appointments, I can’t imagine how my 2 and 4 year old would want to!
Until one day, it became too hard.
I couldn’t find the babysitter.
Dad was getting lonely. And I was getting frazzled.
So I brought the kids along. And it turns out, they loved it! They got some Grandpa time, they got treats for being well-behaved (I am most definitely not above bribery), and mostly, they got to see love in action.
They got to witness what compassion looks like, what patience in waiting rooms is. They got to see what a love that bears all things means. They got to see what it means to love Grandpa as he is, not as how I wish he would be. And then, there’s also the piece that I hope they do this for me one day. That they could see that this is how we love our family.
How are you surviving these days? What’s keeping things working for you? Tell me in the comments!
I want you to close your eyes and think about the best sandwich that you have ever eat. No, I mean it, I'm not kidding. Close your eyes and think about that sandwich. What did it taste like? What did it have on it? What did it make you feel?
Let me tell you about my best sandwich. It is a spectacular turkey and vegetable sandwich on pumpkin cranberry bread made at a local deli close to my house. (Moreno's Market for all those in the Lower Mainland....#notsponsored but dang, if they did I'd happily accept!) The bread is fresh, with an inside so soft and a crust that is just the right amount of crispy. It is thick and full and delicious. The meat has got to be a couple hundred grams of turkey on one sandwich. Finely shaven, beautiful, deli turkey that I swear has some sort of honey in it or maybe some crack - that's how delicious this is. Then there's this pile of veggies. Think tricolored peppers and onions and lettuce and tomato that still has beads of water on it from when they were freshly washed and cut. When you take a bite out of this sandwich (IF, that is, you can even remotely fit your mouth all the way around it) it just brings to mind Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every possible good memory you could have.
Now, let me tell you what the worst sandwich I ever had. My dad made this for me for lunch for a couple weeks when I was in grade one. White Wonder bread (so you know it is somewhat moist yet tastes like cardboard) slathered on one side with cheese whiz (or as one of my brother's friends used to call it "death in a jar") and the other side was strawberry jam. Squish those two sides together, cut them into triangles and you have an exact replica of the Cheese Whiz and Jam monstrosity that made it into my lunch for a few weeks straight.
That's what life is when you are part of the sandwich generation. It can be turkey and veggie delight, or it can be a sticky mess. And some days it can be a bit of both.
They really is no set way that life in the sandwich generation goes... which makes it all the more frustrating. You can't plan for it, you can't dream of it. You don't know what it's going to be until you're in it.
And for a Type A person like me, that just makes it that much worse. I'm a person with high anxiety. I want to be able to plan for every situation, to understand what's in front of me so that I can get ahead of it.
So that I'm not surprised.
So that I don't let people down.
But when it comes to being in the sandwich generation, you can't plan ahead. You can't live in the past of what was, because it is no longer. You can't live in the future, because there is no way to predict it. And the day-to-day is often sooo not what you expected. So if you don't have the past, present or future tense, all you live usually is tense. And that is no way to live.
You're in this constant state of asking, "What now? What should I do? Did I do the right thing? Maybe I should do it this way? What are they going to think?" The thoughts spin. The questions mount. There is no good way to answer. So, in the state of living tense and in the state of not knowing what to do, we wonder what is next. How can I possibly move on being caught in the middle?
So what do we do? How do we live in the middle? How do we eat more of the turkey sandwich than we do have the cheese whiz version?
It's about trust. Trusting yourself that you know the answers, that you can figure out what needs to happen next.
I remember one of my first experiences of realizing that I was in the sandwich generation. Dad needed to get to a cardiologist appointment and I was 6 weeks postpartum with my oldest son. It was 8:00 a.m. I hadn't slept because of a newborn who wouldn't latch, therefore, wouldn't eat and therefore, wouldn't sleep. And yet I needed to get up, look half decent, and get the three of us to Dad's doctor. I felt like I couldn't function. My mind was starved for sleep. Well, maybe it was starved for coffee but there's only so much coffee that you can have at once.
And I had to figure it out. I had to figure out how to get my sleep deprived, unbathed self and my newborn son (who would never stop screaming) to pick up Dad and get to the doctor. It was the very last thing that I wanted to be doing. Call it guilt, call it 'sense of duty' or whatever title you wanted, I wasn't doing this out of love.
But the love was there. Somewhere deep that I certainly couldn't access in that sleep deprived state. So maybe that's it...even if we enter the sandwich generation kicking and screaming, we stay because of love. Sure, some days we stay out of duty but take a look, it's usually out of love. And I trust that love always hopes, and never fails.
What part of you do you trust? Maybe your ability to figure things out, maybe it's your calmness under pressure? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!
PS If you want to read the story about how I became a part of the sandwich generation, check out my new book, "God Give Me Faith" available for on my website or Amazon.
Welcome to my blog.
Maybe you are a friend and I told you to come and read this so I can have traffic- thank you. Maybe you found me because of my book and you wanted to find a space where you could belong and we could have conversation- thank you. Maybe you happen to come across me from some random cross post or some other blog- thank you. Thank you for being here. Thank you for taking the time to read and for engaging with what we have to say.
My name is Rayel and I am part of the sandwich generation. What does that mean? Well it's quite simple. It means that I care for my parents while I also care for my kids. Actually, it's not really that simple. When I come to think about it. It's hard. It's sucks. And it is probably the most challenging thing that I've done in a very, very long time. I don't want to say ever because absolutes will always come back to haunt me.
On my birthday, I got a phone call from the police that my 54-year-old father had had a stroke and a heart attack while riding his bicycle. That stroke left him with a traumatic brain injury of which he will never recover. He can't remember. He struggles with making decisions, or assessing time, or simply just doing the things that he needs to. The part of the brain that initiates things like remembering you need to go to the bathroom or getting yourself up off the couch or buying a birthday present, is damaged. He can't do those things without a lot of help. At one point, he couldn't remember that he was wearing pants. And I don't say this to embarrass my dad. He is the most loving, the most kind and the most brave person that I have ever met. And now he has to deal with a horrible injury that is impacting his life - and mine, to a lesser degree. And it was while my dad was in the hospital, that my mom was readmitted, rediagnosed, relapsed and passed away from cancer.
I was 26.
I was a newlywed for only four months and now had two parents in two different hospitals twenty minutes apart. When I was supposed to be checking out new breweries or planning exotic vacations with my husband, I was meeting with social workers. I was drafting power of attorney agreements. I was living day to day.
I became an expert in all things sandwich. Not just making them. And I can make a mean PB&J when the time calls for it. Actually, to be honest, I love cooking so I could probably make a fairly gourmet sandwich that might rival the dirty apron though. That is #goals.
But what I know and what I've learned is how to change diapers on adults and babies. I've learned how to put adults in time out and toddlers in time out. Navigate doctors as they don't believe the extent of injuries, and advocate for those who can advocate for themselves. I've been doing this for 8 years. So yeah, I kind of think it makes me an expert.
I entered this generation well before anybody that I know. My in-laws hadn't even entered this generation by the time that I've been here. As of writing this, I get questions from my friend's parents and my in-laws about how to deal with aging parents because I've already been through it. I'm 34 years old. I have one parent who has died, one parent who is living with a traumatic brain injury and two toddlers who need me more than ever before. I'm constantly navigating this world of ups and downs and stickiness that is peanut butter in the middle of this crazy peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I really didn't want to be a part of.
To those that have come here because you wanted to find community know this. I know when it sucks. I know when it's good. I know when it feels like all is lost and all you can do is cry but you have to keep moving and putting one step in front of the other. I know.
And so in those days when it's so lonely and you think no one understands and you don't know what to do next, I hope you find a friend here. I hope you find a friend who understands who gets it and who honest to goodness wants to walk with you through it. Because peanut butter sticks best together.
I started this blog as a place to share my learnings to share our stories to learn from one another about how to walk through this with grace, with dignity and to do what is best. No scratch that last to-do. Rather than what is best, I want us to share about what is most loving for those that we are doing life with. Whether that's our aging parents, our little kids, are grown up kids, or those that have already gone before us.
The sandwich generation is truly a stage of life, rather than a specific generation. (Hallelujah! Because I’ve had enough millennial stereotypes to last me a lifetime)
So, when things get overwhelming, when things get crazy, when you don't know where else to turn, you can turn here.
What you need to know is a few things. I will acknowledge front and center that I have extraordinary privilege. I am a white, upper middle class, university educated woman who lives in Vancouver, North America. I was born into wealth. Well, not significant. There is wealth nonetheless. I have been blessed with good health for most of my life in an opportunity to play university sport with the absolute best of teams (#gobirds).
I am Christian. I am a follower of Jesus and a person who desires a relationship with him. I overshare, I am way too sarcastic (just ask my husband). I also don't believe in pulling punches. And after all I’ve been through, I don’t believe in shallow or surface relationships. We simply don’t have time for that. I crave depth in conversation and people. You’ll find that in me.
As much as I feel like an expert on being in the sandwich generation, we all have our own experiences. I won't pretend to know yours, but I know that you will get to know mine. What I hope you'll find here is someone who gets it, someone who you can talk to, and someone who, no matter what, will love you. You'll find a faith bend to all the words that I write. I can't get away from it, it's part of who I am. It's part of what I believe, and why I have hope that things can and will be better.
I'm so glad you're here. I can't wait to talk to you to get to know you and to just do this crazy, sticky life that is life in the middle with you.
Thanks for being here. I love you already.