In the early 80’s, a sociological term was coined to the describe those that were sandwiched between caring for the needs of aging parents and their own children. I can remember hearing the term in my classes and scoffing at the thought that a) my super capable parents would ever need help and b) that my parents would arrive at that place while my children were young enough to need care. Both have happened.
Fortunately, the season of life that I find myself in gives me the gift of journeying through the first pass of care giving with my ever-capable mom as a rock. It is my dad’s body that is failing. At the same time, at 12 and 16, the girls in the great chasm of adolescence. With a debit card and a driver’s license, they can solve most problems all on their own. Sure, they can act a fool, but without a doubt, my ability to walk steadily at my parent’s side is in no small part due to Ally and AJ’s independent and determined spirits.
May 3rd was a prime example of the way that life in the middle of the sandwich works. Dad was scheduled for a quick outpatient procedure. In an attempt to be overly cautious, we planned for a 20 hour hospital stay. I woke up that morning and ran school carpool. After swinging by the house to get online school up and running for the day, I headed to the med center to be with my parents. My plan was to stay that night in the hospital room with dad so that mom could get some needed rest at the hotel attached to the hospital. Surgery was completed and dad was sent to his room about 4:30pm.
Throughout the day, my girls both asked for regular updates. One wants just basic facts. The other needs to know the ‘how’s’ and the ‘why’s’ of every decision. The sandwich-y part of that challenge falls in the moments of truth. How much is too much? My girls are incredibly perceptive. They are listening even when no words are being spoken. They have learned about the myeloma that plagues Dad’s blood and the failure that has taken his renal function. They know the numbers that are alarming and the hard realities of what lies ahead. They also ADORE their Mimi and Papa, and watching the toll of this road is hard on their developing hearts. So, like I do on a daily basis, I answered with truth and tempered all things through their age appropriate lens.
If my parents and my kids are the bread of my sandwich, I am the over processed lunch meat. The demands of this season are intense. And with the best of intentions, life gets very uphill. Sleep suffers. Worry increases. Caffeine intake escalates. Long baths become vital. Frequent calls and texts with my siblings and dear friends are precious. And on the hardest of the days, I thank my precious Savior for giving vision and creativity to the GIF library in my iPhone. I would not last a day of our hospital stays in my sarcastic head without that feature and my knitting needles.
As with all well planned, quick medical stops in the last year, this one was not what we had hoped for. Twenty hours turned to a week of in-patient care. By the time we left the hospital, we knew the surgical nurses by name. With 3 OR trips, regular visits to the hemodialysis floor and a plethora of new specialists to help us navigate challenges, we press on. And by WE, I mean all of us. You cannot have a sandwich without the key ingredients. When one of us is suffering, we all feel the pain.
What I cannot yet explain in well formulated words is the weight of my mid-sandwich place. On one hand, the foundational grounding of my life is changing. My dependable, predictable, secure bottom layer of bread is not the same. For more than 40 years, I have rested the weight of my rotten tomatoes, moldy lettuce, and even the gourmet bacon on the trusted knowledge that no matter the condition, my bottom bread could bring out the best in my flavor. In the same breath, I am watching the top layer of bread, that which I have often seen as decorative and even fragile, developing with great determination and control. Bering the responsibility of holding our form and containing the ever-changing meat of worn out emotions, I have seen my girls thrive and even soar in the midst of finding their place in the order-less chaos.
The good news is that my Daddy taught me to love a sandwich. I never acquired a taste for his peanut butter/jelly and mayo version, but I love a fancy, unique, creative sandwich. Sometimes I add new flavors that I instantly regret. Other times, I find a delicacy like Panera’s Bacon Turkey Bravo or Jason’s Deli’s Ham It Up that forge a permanent place of honor in my meat loving mind. Whatever next weeks or next months hold for us, I cannot thank God enough for the gift of being sandwiched between people whom I dearly love and that make me the very best version of myself.