I try to keep the tone of my voice soft when I answer all the questions: “How’s your mom doing? What does the future look like for her? Is she managing well at the new place? Does she miss your dad?” I keep my voice soft because how can I really know the answers? So I do my best to be patient, not freak out, and answer. all. the. questions.
Mind you, it’s not that all the questions bother me. I love how surrounded she is by people who love her. These people are part of this story of hers as it unfolds. It’s just that I sometimes sound more resolute than I feel.
I’m sad about all the events of the past few years; (the massive stroke that affected the entire left side of my mom’s body, her ensuing coma, life-support, brain damage, the slow slow daily march toward recovery, and the loss of her husband to a quick and surprising cancer.)
I’m sad for her, but if I’m honest <cringe>, I’m most sorrowful for myself, my siblings. Caregiving would never have been listed as one of my strengths, bedside manner never my forte. And I’m sadder still that I am doomed to the task of examining my motives for every helpful action, every work of service. Am I helping so I can be a good daughter or to feel better about myself? In truth it’s a mix of motives and desires - some pure and some full of…well…myself.
This is part of being in that sandwich generation, enviable label that it is, which simply refers to those who take care of an aging loved one while still taking care of children in the home. Generation X is now the predominant demographic in the sandwich generation. Here's a good article about it. As my siblings and I navigate this role of parenting both kids and parent, the goal is to be sensitive to all of it – to ascertain the overlap in concentric circles between what she needs and what she wants, what my kids need and what they want. This takes lots of conversation, plenty of intuition, loads of nuance and above all, an active prayer life that guides the whole deal.
I was listening to a podcast today that stunned me. Bo Stern is a mom, a wife, daughter and employee (everything we all are) but she is navigating that darkly lit path of ALS. Her husband is in his last year, perhaps, of struggling with this terrible disease. As she speaks about this swirl of illness, decline, and load of care – she speaks with a calm, soft, voice, too. In the podcast, she utters bomb dropping thoughts like this:
“God doesn't work everything out, but He won't waste anything. And so, hard things in good people's lives will never be wasted. They'll never go to waste. They'll always be used for His glory and not our joy. They just always will.”
"...the stuff that really is God's favor comes in our deepest moment, our darkest time, when we see an angle of His character we've never seen before, because we only need Him as much as we need Him. And I really need Him."
Do you hear it?
It’s the sound of peace…
And the only way she got to that peace is via trial in the midst of a living, breathing, I-talk-to-you-everyday kind of communion with Jesus.
What does that mean for you and me? Because mark my words, when difficult things happen in our lives, well-meaning, lovely people are going to ask you all the questions. What do you say? How do you react?
In that moment, you have a choice to make. Are you going to let the questions rattle you? Jar you into wonder and worry? Or are you going to tap into that peace? The peace that doesn’t understand, doesn’t know the answers, but knows nothing's going to waste? Lean into that place of release….it will help you react in love and tenderness. But feel free to stomp your feet and have a tantrum or two first. It’s okay.
Just so this whole thing isn't uber sad and gloomy, can I just tell you that Assisted Living dynamics are AMAZING?! It's like college all over again but with more arthritis. Like when Mom's "man-friend" comes a-calling every day so that he can have a "special hug." Bless it. And the fact that Mom has developed a new affinity for sweets (particularly oatmeal cookies and Rocky Road ice cream). And you have never seen more intense competition than these folks using a flyswatter to wack a ballon across the room in their weekly Flyswatter Volleyball tournament! Are we at summer camp with boy crushes and snack shacks? NOPE! (But sometimes I can't tell the difference).
AND thanks to all the lovelies that ask all the questions...want to know...don’t shy away from hearing about mom’s new normal life.. What a gracious gift you offer: willing to step into the hard. I will never stop being grateful for that - I'll SHOUT that one from the mountain top.
Megan's Take: Christina, I love the raw portrait you paint of the complicated nature of the place in which you find yourself. I am not currently "sandwiched" in this way. (I do salivate over sandwiches in general, but that's probably beside the point!) I understand the diverse demands of raising kids, but I can only imagine how it must feel to simultaneously "parent up" and "parent down." When I met you, your Mom was the most graceful solid spiritual rock and BFF in your life. When all that changed in an instant, I watched your world crumble before your very eyes. My heart ached for you. I wished I could "do" something to make it all better. Believe me when I say you have have navigated all of this with deftness of heart. You continue to model grace in the moment. I'm not saying all your moments are rainbows and roses, I'm saying you are always looking up, looking out and looking in. Meaning: You have kept your eyes on the Lord and others the whole time. And eventually, when the dust settled, you looked inward to figure out how to take care of yourself in the process as well. You have "gone before" me in this journey, and selfishly, I am grateful because I believe you are a fantastic role model! And BB's new found affinity for all things sugar has given me a great idea... ;)
Holly's Take: Sometimes it still catches me off guard to hear you talk to your mom, because you talk slower, louder, gentler . . . just different. Your new tone always reminds me of the reality of your situation. In this new normal, you are such a rock star of a daughter to your mom. You treat her with so much dignity. You refrain from enabling her, in order to boost your importance or belittle hers. But what a tricky balance. You always highlight and celebrate the moments where the true BB shines through, yet you are able to enjoy the new little Barbara-isms that crop up. You goal tend all the concerns from the outside with a direct, yet gentle fashion . . . or at least direct. What a hard balance. Now, all you have left to do, is remember how to feel when you are raking leaves in the backyard, instead of handling the next crisis situation. Here's to a lot of mundane moments of pulling weeds and emptying the dishwasher!