Stuck in the Middle With You: What I’ve learned being in the Sandwich Generation
This is cross-posted on my friends' blog, HerandHymn.com . They invited me to write a guest post and I was so honored to do so. Please follow them...you'll be so glad you did!
In the past year, I have transitioned into the Sandwich Generation. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s generally middle-aged individuals who are responsible for simultaneously caring for aging parents while bringing up their own children. I will admit that nothing could have prepared me for being thrust into that role. While there were road signs along the way for a few years prior to 2019, the realization that my parents’ house and living independently had become too much for them, along with my mother’s distressing diagnosis of Alzheimer’s-type dementia, it felt as though I was thrown into competing in an professional-level sport I had little to no experience in playing, and the stakes were high…too high. But I had no choice but to jump into the arena, with all eyes on me.
Like any other life transition—moving out of your childhood home and being on your own, getting married or having children—there are no instruction manuals, no one-size-fits-all how-to guide. And as life would have it, my sister and I found ourselves to be trailblazers among our similar-age peers. We were, however, given stacks of public resources and countless lists of various services and organizations in our area, but figuring out what was best for our family was truly like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. And while I’m only a little over a year into being the stuff inside the sandwich, I will share some things I’ve learned along the way.
My gratitude for the people in my life
The first thing I will tell you is how thankful I was, am and forever will be for having my older sister. If I had to do this alone, I don’t think I would have fared nearly as well. Being the older of the two, she has always taken charge when there was a crisis, and being the younger of us two, I always gladly let her lead. The neat thing about us both being grown-ups now, we have shared the putting on of big-girl pants in a miraculous synchrony. I don’t take for granted the fact that I have her to do this with me. I am not naiveto the fact that many people have no siblings or do not see eye-to-eye with other family members in making hard decisions and carrying out difficult tasks. Again, I am so thankful for her and I know my parents are grateful for her, too.
I strongly believe that we are meant to live this life shared. We were created for community and in sharing our stories and our vulnerabilities. Brené Brown, a researching expert on vulnerability and empathy was quoted to say, “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.” My sharing the hardest parts of my life with others has been more of a need of mine that comes quite naturally. In this season of my life, it’s been vital. You will be amazed by the people God brings into your life who aren’t just willing, but are sincerely honored to enter into your places of sadness, grief, anger and uncertainty. I am so grateful for my friends who regularly ask me for updates on my parents and especially me. It is humbling, and truly a way that I believe God reveals himself to us. Paul wrote to the Galations to “…Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (ESV)
I have also intentionally shared with my daughters what I have been going through and have even shed tears in front of them. They have been able to observe how my sister’s family and we have bonded together as a team to make difficult decisions, such as finding a new residence for their grandparents and doing unpleasant things, like packing up an accumulation of 40-plus years of belongings in their house, to ultimately get it ready to rent out. I’ve shared my grief with them about my mother’s dementia and ways I feel like I lose a bit of her each time I see her. I’ve taught them about the nature of this heartbreaking, degenerative disease and answered their many questions and listened to their musings. They’re processing it all just like we are. My hope is that they will appreciate that despite how difficult life may seem, we forge on. One day…one packing box…one memory at a time.
The aging are a gift
The bible tells us that aging is honorable. Proverbs 16:31 reads, “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life” and Leviticus 19:32 says “Show your fear of God by standing up in the presence of elderly people and showing respect for the aged. I am the LORD .” Being an American-born Chinese (ABC) child of immigrants, I can tell you that growing up bicultural has always been challenging. My western, American culture would teach me one thing and my Asian upbringing would tell me the exact opposite. One of cultural mores I often tossed in my head was the value of the elderly in a society and our obligations towards them. While some of my non-Asian friends saw marriage and the growing of their own families a way to part from their family of origin with a sense of independence, the notion of filial piety--caring for your aging family members as a duty and honor—pulled me and my sister towards our family’s roots. A reminder that people don’t have expiration dates. We grow older and while our youth-loving society would like to tell us the aging can be disregarded, the bible tells us that the elderly are to be cherished and respected.
Working as a medical speech-language pathologist, I’ve enjoyed a 17-year career of caring for the geriatric population. Yes, the cliché is that with age comes wisdom, which is most certainly true in many cases, but I will also vouch for the elderly as having some serious side-splitting humor as well as being so emotionally and relationally astute it can take you aback with surprise, yet at the same time brings such comfort in a moment when you wonder if anyone else thinks or feels the same way you do about a matter. Years of life experience, I’ve decided, can make our elderly loved ones develop a certain Spidey-sense of doubt, discouragement and even self-loathing in another person…probably because they went through something similar themselves. It is beautiful and it really is a gift they give us. What they remind us of constantly, is that life is short. James 4:14 says, “…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (ESV)
You see glimpses of God through all stages of life
Being image bearers of God, we humans are the real-life, visible, tangible reflections of who God is in this hurting world. It occurred to me not too long ago that like a brilliant diamond with many facets, so is God, who is not only reflected in different people with different upbringings, ethnic backgrounds and stories. We get to see facets of him in people of all ages and stages of experience and maturity. I’ve seen him in the innocence and empathy of my 11 year-old, as well as the cleverness, creativity and growing emotional awareness of my 13 year-old. I see him in the pensive thoughtfulness of my middle-aged husband and siblings. And I see him in the reflective, nostalgic musings of my 82 year-old dad and even in the innocence of my mother’s repetitive comments. Yes, even in dementia, I see through her how God probably regards us with joy and love when we walk into the room. And how the foolishness of the things we said and did in our teenage years don’t matter, but our sitting down and holding hands and enjoying the here and now is enough, and it is good.
So to my fellow sandwich fillers, and those yet to be, take heart. There is joy in the things that are hard. There is beauty in the things that make us cry. There is much more to look forward to, that God has in store for us on the other side of the wall you you’re scaling. Feel free to invite others along. While you may feel some shame or fear of overwhelming them, remember that they, just like you, can stand under it with Jesus.
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Cor 12:9-10