The Sandwich Generation

A poem can be interpreted many different ways. Our own experiences cause us to infer what the poet is actually talking about. Our inferences can be totally wrong if the poet chooses not to reveal the poem’s significance or meaning. Some poems are specifically vague for a reason.  They are meant to make you think. So today, I wish to shine a light on my poem, In the Darkness.

I am a member of the sandwich generation. Maybe you haven’t heard that expression before but simply put you are caught between raising your own family and taking care of elderly parents. For 10 years,  it was an honor and privilege to give back so much what my parents had given me. In reality, however, it was a very stressful point in my life. After giving birth to my second daughter in January of ’94 , I lost my dad to a massive heart attack in April that year. In fact, the children and I had been visiting at my parent’s house on the day it happened. We were having such a nice visit with my mom and dad. My dad was so excited to hold his new granddaughter in his arms. It was getting close to lunch time and I needed to get the girls down for their naps. Giving my  parents hugs and kisses, we said  “I love you” and headed for home which was only 15 minutes away.

By the time we reached our house and walked in the door, there was a panicked message on the answering machine from my mom that something was wrong with my dad. He had been taken to the hospital. I remember turning around with the kids and driving as fast as the law would allow. Out of the car, I bolted holding the 4 year old’s hand in my  one hand, and the baby carrier with the 3 month old in the other. In the emergency room I asked “Where is my dad? Is he going to be ok?” The doctor informed me that my dad , who had just turned 78 in February, was gone and that he didn’t suffer.

I remember feeling as if I was on auto pilot because I had to be strong for my mom and my family. It is amazing the pool from which we draw our strength in times of sadness. So  I pushed down the sadness and did what I had to do. I took over the main caregiver role my dad had held. My mom had been sick for many years prior to my dad’s death. She had been diagnosed with orthostatic hypertension,  a  rare neurological brain disorder. She would pass out with what I would call epileptic-like seizures. Basically, the signal that controlled the opening and closing of her blood vessels ceased to function properly. If my mom stood up the blood would sink to her feet in a matter of a few minutes or less. If she was laying in bed, the blood pressure would rise to a dangerously high point. My mom had to take experimental medicine for years to help her with this illness. Unfortunately, there was no cure and her symptoms would only get worse as she became older.

With my siblings living out of state and myself with small children, it was decided that my mom needed to have someone live in the  house with her. My mom was fiercely independent even though she was ill. The live-in would help her with cleaning, cooking and laundry. They would also make sure she didn’t fall and hurt herself during her spells. I handled everything from taking her to doctor appointments to paying her bills. Doctor appointments were always an adventure. Wheelchair in the back of the van, mom in front seat, caregiver plus two children in carseats in the middle row. I wouldn’t trade those times for anything in the world. They were precious moments. Both my daughters learned respect and  compassion for the elderly during those times.

Fast forward 3 years from the time of my dad’s death, and once again the girls and I head over to my mom’s house to visit and check in with how she is doing. My mom is in bed and her stomach is swollen. I immediately call for an ambulance to take her to the closest emergency room. Sitting in the waiting room, trusting that the doctor  would know what’s wrong, hours slowly ticked by. At last, the doctor emerges. He tells my husband and I that they want to run one more test but they think that my mom is  constipated. I looked at my husband and said ” They don’t know what they are doing in this hospital. I don’t trust them.  We need to get her out of here and to her doctor on the North Side!” So we  drove for an hour to get her to the hospital where her doctor practiced.

My mom’s doctor admitted her and ran some tests. My mom was diagnosed with congestive heart failure not constipation. Her doctor recommended a pace maker. If the surgery went well, it would improve her quality of life. However, it was risky because of her medical condition. If she didn’t have the surgery she would die for sure. During  Thanksgiving week , my mom contemplated what she would do. Either option involved death. If she  went ahead with the surgery there was a chance her quality of life would improve. After much discussion and prayer, she went ahead with the surgery.

I remember waiting to hear from the doctor how the surgery went. Finally, the words came. ” Ah yes the surgery went well,  but she hasn’t woken up,” said the doctor.  Medical jargon is what I hate most in the world.  I had the distinct impression that the doctor wasn’t telling us everything.  I wanted  to see my mom. My older brother,  who was there with me kept pressing  the doctor for answers. “We need  to meet  with you later  to explain everything,” said the doctor.

So  we met with the doctors in a cold, antiseptic room where once again the medical jargon was spewed. “Please be honest with us. What does all this mean?” I said. Then like a freight train running over us ….the words …surgery was a success but when heart was restarted….pressure surged.…affecting her front lobe …had to put on life support  … chance she could still wake up but would be a vegetable. 

My heart felt as if it had been shattered into a million small pieces. My poor mom laying there with all these tubes attached to her body to keep her alive. I will never forget that. This was not what my mother wanted. I told my brothers and sister that I was sure that she had filled out a DNR when my dad and her were considering going into a senior living facility. We just needed to find it.  Legally, the hospital would not take her off until we gave them the DNR.  Eventually, the DNR was found in her house and my mom was finally able to be at peace.  She was 78 years old just like my dad when she passed away.

Now I didn’t have to push down the sadness. I was able to release all my tears of grief that I had been holding back. I had wonderful friends and church family that surrounded me, supported me and covered me with love and kindness.Though my dad has been gone now for 22 years and my mom has been gone for 19 years, they are always with me.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Sandwich Generation

  1. Thank you for your honest post about a difficult and important time in your life. I am starting to understand the sandwich generation idea as my MIL and FIL face medical challenges. May you always keep your parents in your heart and continue to heal.

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  2. It takes strength and courage to write slices that involve so much of the heart…..hopefully you find it helpful in the healing process. I too am a member of the sandwich generation…..please know I understand…..

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  3. Losing a parent is such a painful moment. Thank you for honoring us, the readers, with your story. Grief never leaves, does it. It changes us. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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