This is a blog I wrote two years ago and did not post because I felt strange writing so personally about my parents, however despite the passing of my dear father exactly a year ago, nothing much has changed in regard to our lives, where we are at and where my mother is at, so I decided to post it as an offering to those of you who are experiencing a similar situation with elderly parents and other members of the family who require assistance and care.
I was reading over an old posting of an article in Positive Psychology News Daily by Kathryn BrittonThe Sandwich Generation: Looking Both Ways last year, and I realised this article was very relevant to me back then, but even more now. I invite you to read her thoughtful article and my musings on this very current topic.
As with most of the articles I read from Positive Psychology News Daily, this article on The Sandwich Generation as well as the interview about Loss and Grief was particularly interesting and helpful. It was for me personally, as I have two elderly parents whom I adore and I am now finding myself having to think more about how to help them cope with their ageing bodies, Dad’s mental decline and Mum’s new role as his carer. Over the last couple of years, I have watched my previously astute, highly intelligent, self assured, independent and opinionated father become frail, forgetful and unsure of himself and gradually he has needed to defer to my mother for his daily needs. Mum has hardly ever had to make a financial decision in her entire married life and most of her wants and needs were taken care of by Dad, once he had considered their necessity and given his stamp of approval. She is now having to cope with the incoming bills, learning how to write a cheque, dealing with bank tellers and keeping her eye on the bank balance. Mum’s confidence in dealing with tradespeople, having repairs to the appliances, the car and the house, has increased and after a rather tenuous beginning, she is starting to have some of her own ideas as to how they will live their remaining years.
My Mum has always been my best friend and confidante and I never hesitated to call her for advice when I really needed it. She was non-judgemental, unbiased and she could always see the other side of things, like other people’s perspectives, or possible outcomes. Thankfully, this very sensible side of Mum has helped her remain resilient despite the heavy responsibility of looking after Dad.
I have, however, noticed that the tables are turning somewhat and when Mum now calls, for our still daily chats it is about her painful bursitis, her frustration with Dad, how she lost one of her good earrings in the shower only to find it in the towel hours later, how she wishes she never left their old house in the hills and how she wishes she could move house closer to me and enjoy the lifestyle of living in a port city.
She regularly asks me to review some official papers, take her to medical appointments and to help her with the garden or to lift a heavy object. I only have one day off work during the week and I ask her to try to make her appointments on that day, however it can’t always be so and I find I am experiencing some frustration with the disruption to my working life. I do my best and encourage her to be independent and to make a practice run to the new specialist’s rooms or to the new places she has to visit.
The grim reality of Mum and Dad ageing and their increasing dependence on me has caused me to think more about my own ageing and decline in the years to come. I turn sixty this year and in 22 years I will be Mum’s age. That is not so far away, especially when I think back to my forties which seems just like yesterday. It all happens in the blink of an eye. At the same time, I am aware that time for Mum and Dad is running out fast as well and I will one day have the dreaded phone call that one of them has passed away.
As I become more mindful of the inevitable, I find myself looking at them both in a different way. I am more mindful for the time we spend together. I take mini snapshots of things about them, hoping these will become indelible in my brain for when they are no longer here. Things like Dad’s hands – the strongest hands I have ever known. We hold hands often and he caresses my hands like he does Mum’s, full of meaning and love; Mum’s voice – still young and lyrical, full of expression and laughter; both of them walking ahead of me, holding hands, Dad bent at the knees and leaning forward, Mum supporting his weight on her slight frame.
It is now so important for me to make sure that Mum and Dad have a good quality of life, that they can cope with the day to day chores, their meals, their emotional well-being. They have arranged for a weekly cleaner, meals on wheels, trips to the library, fortnightly bus outings with other elderly people, occasional gardener and podiatry and physio appointments. I cut Dad’s hair, clip his toe nails and take them for drives to their old haunts. They are invited to all of our major celebrations and parties as they have been good friends with our friends all these years.
My husband and I are now talking about what we will do in our retirement years, (which keep getting put back several years as we age) and we are aware that in order to fulfil our retirement dreams, we will need to consider Mum and Dad and how they are and where they are at that time, if they are still alive. Feelings of guilt and sadness come up when I think about us living overseas for few months, as we plan to do, and wondering how they will cope without us.
So these are the sandwich years that our generation is experiencing and yes, we have been a halfway house for our children on more than one occasion. We still have a shed full of their belongings and we are quite happy to advance them some money to help them with studies, or a car, or a debt with the promise that we will be paid back of course! Thankfully, our children are all quite independently living away from home and working and I am now more than ever aware that one day, my husband and I will be elderly and probably requiring help and support, if only emotionally, from our children.
Although our parents vowed they would never be a burden on us, and that they would know when the time had come to go into more advanced care, their awareness of their frailty has become clouded with their advancing fear of losing their independence, so they hang on to their belief that they are managing very well and are a long way off from needing to leave their home to go into a retirement facility. Meanwhile, we have filled out the application for Enduring Power of Attorney and Advanced Health Directive and so on just in case anything happens.
As mentioned earlier, Dad passed away a year ago and Mum has managed to pass through her grieving and is living independently, managing quite well and even asserting that she does not need anyone’s help and she is certainly not ready for low care accommodation. Quite the reversal. On the other hand our children are all still making great strides toward independence but there are the occasions where they need a bit of help financially.
We are relishing the thought of retirement in the near future and living for a few months overseas and making the most of our able bodied years through travel and home renovations. We don’t like talking about when we are really old and what will become of us, for now. We are just happy to belong to the Sandwich Club and know that our friends are all members and we are in good company.