Guest Post by Chelly Massey
I am a part of the Sandwich Generation, and no that?s not because I started Keto and don?t eat bread. Although some days, I would cut off my left hand for a #11 no tomatoes from Jimmy John?s. No, I am a member of the ever-growing population known as ?The Sandwich Generation.? The phrase was coined back in 1981 by social worker Dorothy Miller, to describe those adults in their 30-40s who are caring for our aging parents while also raising our own kids and growing our careers.
I was forced into this role back around 2011. 18 years earlier, my Dad in his early 50s was diagnosed with Parkinson?s Disease. At that time, I thought Parkinson?s meant shaking hands and maybe loss of motor skills. My family never realized that it would also mean losing him slowly to the effects of dementia.
My role in the Sandwich Generation has never been full-time direct care, but rather, I was thrust into managing my parents? financial affairs. My parents were hard-working people. We didn?t live a lavish life, but we never wanted for much. My parents didn?t take extravagant vacations, but when I was thrust into the role of financial caretaker, I quickly saw that my parents had made no plans for long-term care for my Dad. I became an armchair expert on things like elder care law, Miller?s trust, annuities, spend down periods, etc. All of this in an attempt to care for my Dad and still allow my Mom to live a full life. I did all of this while working a demanding full-time job with 2 young children and a husband who traveled frequently for work.
Being a part of The Sandwich Generation felt so isolating. I saw friends with active, healthy parents taking their grandkids for the weekend. Some friends never paid for daycare because their mom was daycare. Grandparents taking vacations with my friends and the grandkids to Disney or Hawaii. I always felt guilty asking my Mom to watch my kids because I knew she was caring for my Dad even before the dementia started, Parkinson?s controlled my Mom?s life.
I went through 2 grieving processes with my Dad. I grieved him even when he was still alive because I watched him slowly and painfully go from a vibrant, loving man to being bound to his bed unable to communicate. We all know the phases of grief. I became a rock star at the anger phase of the process. I was so angry at my parents for burying their heads in the sand and not making plans for his long-term care. I was angry with my family because as I started working with the elder care attorney to get my Dad qualified for Medicaid, I saw just how much money my Mom was giving out to family members and how none of it was getting repaid. Relationships suffered, and being completely honest, some will never return to their former state.
My Dad passed away in November of 2014. I stayed with him all night before he passed. I sent my Mom home to get some rest, and I sat with him all night playing music that he loved. Old school country and the soundtrack to ?The Quiet Man.? I said all I needed to say even though he never heard it. I left the next morning around 6:30 am when my Mom and sister returned to sit with him. I had just gotten home and laid down to sleep when my sister called to say he was gone. A new grieving process started because now he was truly gone.
As I said, this phase of life felt very isolating, but in an ironic twist, as I shared my story, I had 3 dear friends who followed me on this unfortunate journey. In this, I found the blessing of my Dad?s suffering. Through this process, I learned just how strong I am. I was able to empathize with my friends. I was able to provide advice and support, not just thoughts and prayers. My children now understand and share their experiences because they were apart of this journey as well. I continue to share my story so that I can help those who are being forced into this new role of caretaker.
Unfortunately, I?m making a second journey down this path. My mother in law was diagnosed with Alzheimer?s in July 2014, and although our journey with her is unique and different, we feel better knowing we survived this once before and came out of it stronger and closer as a family. We will survive our 2nd go around as well.
Below are some helpful resources that I have used over the last several years. Please feel free to reach out to me if I can be of assistance or just a shoulder to cry on ? firstname.lastname@example.org