What is the sandwich generation? I have heard it explained like this: someone helping both their parents and their children/grandchildren. I am in the sandwich generation. On Monday and Tuesday mornings this week, I helped care for my twin infant grandsons and their three-year old sister. Wednesday evening, I took care of another granddaughter and made sure her siblings got to church. I worked my job. Then on Saturday, I headed two hours away to spend five days helping my parents who are 84 and 83 years old.
On the one hand, deep joy taking care of babies and toddlers in their new life phase. On the other hand, deep sadness going with my parents to the funeral home and Elder Law attorney to help plan their funerals and find ways to protect enough assets that both aren’t stripped of all assets they will need for miscellaneous things like hearing aids and dentures by a system set in place to help care for them should they need it.
I am so thankful I could spend those days helping my parents figure out some things for their future care. But it came with an emotional price tag. Watching my dad’s lower lip quiver in the discussion with the attorney, watching my mom try to decide whether to be cremated or buried, so painful for me. I haven’t slept well in days thinking over all we discussed and all these two people had to say and decisions they have to make.
To hear my mom say she wants to die in her home when we know that if my dad goes first, she is not safe alone in her home, breaks my heart. To know my dad wants to die in the home he was raised in but is willing to leave it so Mom is better able to move about, again, heart breaking. Knowing they can’t afford to hire full time care long-term in the future and we all have jobs we need right now so can’t give the care they need. So hard. My dad worked two to three jobs at a time much of the time I was growing up and until his retirement. Life sucks up that saved money so fast even when you are careful as he is.
At the funeral home, I looked at these two people I love so much, and I remembered them as young people having children, raising us all, and now looking at the end of their lives. How does that happen? One minute, you are raising children, the next, you are looking death in the face as a senior citizen while your senior citizen children are trying to help you navigate a painful path with as much dignity as possible.
My parents have done so well in their senior years. They don’t complain. They don’t moan about their lost youth. They live the life they have in the moment. They give us joy, we give them joy.
I think about my own life. Our children are raised. We have 12 grandchildren. Someday, not that far down the road, we are going to have to downsize, sell our home where every access point has stairs and not all doorways will allow a walker through comfortably, and move to a more accessible apartment. Helping my parents, I am learning about decisions I can make now that will make our lives somewhat easier then. I asked my mom what she would have done differently at my age to help her at her age. She said she would have moved more. She meant taken more walks, making sure her body was strong, that kind of thing. She struggles to walk at all now. I can see her point. I am exercising more, heeding her advice. My daughter has asked me several times if I am writing all this stuff down. I need to do that so I remember there is a reason for each change; making lives easier being number one.
In the meantime, I will enjoy those babies and grandchildren. I will help our children where I can. And I will help my parents where I can. I will take each day I have with all of them as the gift it is, treasuring the moments we have together, whether joyful or painful. I will plan for the future but live in the present. I will give love to the fullest degree I can. That’s all I can do. It will be enough. And someday, when I enter the presence of my Savior, I will embrace Him and family who arrived before me. Life will have been worth it, all of it.