Star Weiss, like many of her peers, is experiencing what it’s like to be part of the Sandwich Generation, a demographic coping with the needs of children and ageing parents. How do you balance your priorities when your heart goes out to all of them?
I ran into a friend the other day who looked frazzled. She had just delivered her parents to the hospital for another medical procedure for her mother, who has dementia and is failing. Her elderly father insists he can still take care of his lifelong mate at home. The family is beside themselves, as their mother recently fell and broke her arm and is increasingly unable to navigate the stairs in her home, yet their father refuses outside help and is determined to care for his wife on his own, despite the fact that he is now suffering from painful leg problems himself.
Other siblings and spouses are helping out, but the fact is that someone “on the ground” is needed, someone who can act as caregiver, social worker, and advocate, and who is able to be there nearly every day.
Another friend’s mother also fell recently and fractured her hip and was eventually admitted to a Rehab unit (the first and nearest one available) that they later discovered was rated as “below average.” Fortunately, again, the adult children and spouses were able to come from out of town and help their mother navigate the medical system and fight for better care and regular therapy.
After two weeks of this, they “sprung” their mother to her apartment in a seniors’ complex, where they have set up services and caregivers to assist her at home. Still, one of them is with her nearly all the time now, hoping to see improvements and healing before they leave their mother on her own again.
And here’s my own current dilemma. My 98-year-old father, who lives on the other side of the continent, was recently admitted to hospital. My brother and his wife, who are on the scene, were, as usual, there to help him through this, but it was a more than daily commitment: visiting him after work, meeting with medical staff, overseeing his progress and decisions about his care, and keeping the rest of the family informed of developments.
My dad deteriorated mentally while in hospital and Rehab, becoming more and more confused and agitated, and needing almost constant supervision. He was better when someone he knew was there, so of course this responsibility fell on the local family members, my brother and his wife, who already have health issues of their own to deal with.
My husband and I could have gone….he’s retired and I’m a self-employed freelancer, and would have gone, except that our eldest daughter is due to have her second baby any day now, and we just can’t leave that little family of three at the moment. They ran into unforeseen medical problems when their first baby was born, and needed extra help then, and, while we are all better prepared this time and feeling very positive, there are still many unknowns and we need to be here for them. I need to be here for my own peace of mind, frankly.
So, I’m caught. It’s the classic sandwich generation dilemma, when love, duty, and a sense of urgency pulls you to both the older and the younger generation. And it’s more and more prevalent in our long lived, geographically spread out, double income earning families of today. Guilt and love, perhaps in equal measure, propel us to try to be there for everyone, and it’s simply not possible.
It seems to me that the Baby Boomer generation, which has an answer for everything, needs to be imagining new ways of managing elder care, especially when we are at a distance from the elders we love and want to help. So, I’m currently searching for solutions—creative new ideas that are being tried, suggested, or imagined. It’s a societal dilemma that needs our combined brain, heart and financial power, applied innovatively to build a new model, sooner rather than later.
“Star Weiss with her dad, her granddaughter Sophie and her daughter Holly: Experiencing the Sandwich Generation” Photo Courtesy of Star Weiss. All Rights Reserved.