Did Someone Order a Sandwich? (The new normal of raising children while caring for an aging parent)

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?

What can I do to help?

Mom in front of one of her paintings at an art exhibit  

Mom in front of one of her paintings at an art exhibit  

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 her people. These people are part of this story of hers as it unfolds. It’s just that, while answering questions about her well-being, 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.

My mom with a sampling of her 7 grandkids  

My mom with a sampling of her 7 grandkids  

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. She lost her husband due to this terrible disease. As she speaks about his swirl of illness, decline, and her load of care – she speaks with a calm, soft, voice, too - with 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.”

AND:

"...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."

Oh my.

Do you hear that?

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, don’t you? Are you going to let the questions rattle you? Jar you into wonder and worry? Or maybe you could tap into that peace? What if you leaned 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 whack a balloon 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).

So back to all the lovelies who ask all the questions...thanks for wanting to know...I’m grateful that you 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: 

I seriously LOVE the way you write. I'm left chuckling in the midst of super tender emotions.

"How are you (let alone anyone else) doing" -- is a super loaded question. One that often changes as quickly as the Kardashians. I love that you allow the fluidity and perplexing nature of such a journey to take its own pace. You are engaging in the hard and the entertaining. Good on ya, sister!! I have a feeling I'll be leaning on you as I someday navigate my own sandwich. And we have already drafted the kids that are on point to massage our aging feet. It will remain a secret, but I'm guessing it wouldn't be too hard to figure out! #loveandfriendship

Holly's Take:

I just hope my kids are as good at care taking as you, when I'm playing, "Flyswatter Volleyball." I haven't ever lived in any other time period and I've never lived in any other foreign countries, but it seems like in other times and places, there is more of a tradition of caring for your aging parents. We talk more about boundaries for ourselves and for our immediate family, then about going into the really hard places of taking care of ailing family members.  I'm totally FOR boundaries and not getting so exhausted that you are rotten for everyone around. So, how do you have boundaries and keep the right balance of giving and self preservation, all while caring for an aging parent or a sick loved one. I sure don't know the answer and I'm sure it would look different for each person and each situation.