Being Sandwiched

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Being Sandwiched

Three Short Insights of How to Stay Emotionally Healthy in the Craziness of Caring for Aging Parents
According to Wikipedia, The Sandwich generation is “the generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent. I’ll confess -I’m a super-sub ham-n-cheese. I’ve been sandwiched for ten years when it became apparent that my mother’s memory-loss issues were far too severe for my dad to handle.  Ten years into it has given me the opportunity to research, make plenty of mistakes, learn and hopefully, have some healthy coping skills that I’d love to share.
The first insight of staying emotionally healthy in the craziness of caring for aging  parents is to do- maybe – almost nothing. You can’t change your parents. You can love them, but you can’t change them. Unfortunately, you don’t get to get sandwiched by folks who are saintly, smart, responsible, and easy to love. In a state of desperation, my dad and I went to see a counselor who specialized in Alzheimer’s. She stated to us, “Families in this type of situation either plan for crisis, or react to crisis.” Well, I am a planner and I don’t like crisis, so I knew that we needed to get an agenda together for caring for my mother.
Staying emotionally healthy in this situation means accepting that you probably are not going to get to control how either of your parents respond to their illness or their spouse’s – thus, you really can’t do much of anything.  My Dad chose to react to crisis rather than to plan for my Mom’s disease, and there was little I could do about it.  If I hadn’t realized that, I would have wasted a lot of time interviewing home-health nurses and researching day care centers. He wasn’t open to anything different in that moment.  It wasn’t the best decision, but it was his decision.  Another way of seeing the first insight: if you happen to have children, look at them right now and ask yourself…. can you picture your pip-squeak, snotty nose kid bossing you around one day?  I know that one day I will want my choices to be respected, and I know my Dad did also.
Little did I know, after becoming aware of the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s for my Mom, that I was about to start the horrifying process that would ultimately lead to admitting her into a nursing home and that my Dad and I would somewhat reluctantly become new best friends.  The second insight of staying emotionally healthy in the midst of caring for aging parents is be honest about your feelings with people who are comfortable with you being honest. I had to find people who were willing to let me talk about my negativity, my sadness, and the ugliness of Alzheimer’s.
I learned who needed to hear the “fast food” answers which I had ready to spit out. I then found, with trial and error, the three friends who were willing to hear the unpleasant four-course meal.  They prayed for me and my family, they were willing to ask a lot of questions, and they didn’t give me advice. Instead, they were just great friends who listened. Your un-fast-food friends don’t have to know your parents – two of them didn’t know mine- but they learned about them, and I felt safe to talk. Having those kinds of friends helped me to have grace to the other friends, who were good folks too, and I was able to release the latter from caring for me in that way.
After living in a nursing home for four years, my Mom died in April 2010. Since that time, my Dad has slowly morphed into living with us from every Friday at 1:30 p.m. to Monday at 1:30 p.m. Literally, my life is sandwiched with him every four days.
The third insight of how to stay healthy in the midst of caring for aging parents is to keep your life as normal as you can! Don’t sacrifice your marriage, your time with your own kids, or your career to the god of age and illness! I have had to figure out very creative ways to make “The Sandwich” work for me and my family.  We do sacrifice by knowing that we will have an extra person in our house every weekend, but we have decided that his presence isn’t going to stop us from doing our normal activities. He comes with us on our normal activities and social engagements or he stays at our house while we go out. He used to sleep in my son’s room, but now he is quite content sleeping on the sofa. I know there are doctor’s appointments that he would like for me to attend with him, but right now he can go by himself and I let him. I don’t relish the idea of him eating lunch by himself, but I don’t leave work to fix it.
My “sandwich” is ever-evolving. Our family is in continuous conversation about how having a “Grand-Dad in the House” is working for us and also having conversations about how this is working out with Grand-Dad!  Wikipedia can’t tell you the blessings and opportunities of being sandwiched. I’m grateful and thankful and plan on keeping it that way!
– From Lida Caraway