I have experienced the sandwich generation – facing challenges I could have never imagined.
This is an update to the original article published in 2016.
I was my dad’s favorite. I don’t think my brothers will argue with me. He was hard on them, easy on me.
That’s my girl is a phrase I heard often. He wasn’t given to physical affection. I never remember him saying, “I love you.” But that’s my girl was the same thing.
My father’s health began to decline a couple of years before his passing. He was diagnosed with polymyalgia, a nerve condition that caused pain and tingling in my dad’s legs. Soon he needed a walker, and eventually progressed to a wheelchair.
My husband, Mike, and I, along with my mom, convinced him to stop driving. This conversation is not for the faint of heart. Imagine you’re the darling of your father’s love, the apple of his eye, and in his eyes, you can do no wrong.
Then try saying, “Dad, we’re taking your car keys.” The fall from grace is a long way down, and the impact hurts.
My mom had stopped driving the previous year due to increasing macular degeneration. Mike and I did our best to make things easy for my parents in their new car-less existence. I took Dad to his monthly swap meet so he could hang out with his buddies. Mike and I took turns taking Mom on errands and to the grocery store.
Still, Dad’s health continued to worsen.
As we note the gradual day-to-day changes in those we love, the “big picture” transformations often elude us. Then in one moment, we may suddenly witness a decade or two pass before our eyes. Our children seem to be infants one day, and the next they’re dressing up for prom, or walking down the aisle to meet their groom. The same thing happens with our parents, except in reverse. We forever see them as the youthful, vibrant people, playing baseball with us in the backyard, challenging us to a game of Scrabble, or handing out wisdom around the dinner table. They’re growing older, but in our mind’s eye, they stay the same.
That’s one reason it’s difficult to face the reality that our parents need our care. One minute they’re chasing after our wobbly attempts to ride a two-wheeler, and the next we’re helping them into the shower.
Life progresses, not in a linear fashion. It’s a zig zag of messy moments, and sometimes it seems as if life’s downpours lead to monsoons.
While I was dealing with the increasing number of Dad’s falls, emergency room visits, doctor’s appointments, and lab tests, our son called with devastating news.
“Mom, Dad, I have cancer. Again.” He’d been in remission since his eighteenth birthday. He was now twenty-nine. He lived twelve hundred miles away.
I was like Sir Edmund Hillary, the first person to reach the peak of Mt. Everest. I was climbing up a treacherous mountain, exposed to the elements, battered by the wind, exhausted.
I needed God’s grace.
A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day, as we need it. – D. L. Moody
I love this quote. The more grace I needed, the more God supplied.
God knew I needed to spend time with my son. Although it didn’t seem like His grace, I was laid off around the time he was diagnosed. My new job wasn’t as demanding, and I was given the freedom to take off as much time as I needed. We crammed as much living as we could into the next several months.
There came a time during that fourteen months when our care for Dad wasn’t enough.
When an elder care caseworker came to talk to us, we were armed with facts about why my father needed to make this move. But the facts couldn’t shield my heart from having to tell Dad that he couldn’t live at home anymore. He would no longer be able to wake up every morning next to my mom, his wife of more than sixty years. He couldn’t prepare the coffee for breakfast the night before. There would be no more helping Mom by setting the table or emptying the dishwasher. His world would shrink to a seven-by-ten-foot bedroom.
As difficult as it was telling Dad he couldn’t drive, this was worse. We let the elder care advocate take the lead.
“Roger, I’m concerned about your safety and your overall health.”
Dad nodded. I don’t think he knew where this was headed.
“Charleen can’t keep calling 911 when you fall. You know she’s not strong enough to pick you up, right?”
Dad murmured agreement.
“You have a couple of options I’d like to talk about.”
She first suggested that he could have someone move in to offer around-the-clock care. Dad looked at Mom. “How do you feel about that?”
Mom shook her head. “I’m not comfortable with it. I don’t want a stranger in our house.”
“Your second option is to move to a place where you’ll have more hands-on care.”
Dad visibly recoiled. “If I have to go into a convalescent hospital, I’ll stop taking my meds and die.” After one particularly nasty fall, he’d been hospitalized and then released to a convalescent hospital. He hated it.
The advocate nodded with understanding. “I know, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Are you familiar with a board-and-care home?”
She explained he’d be in a home environment, with his own room. A full-time caretaker would fix meals, help with bathing, and assist with any mobility issues.
I squirmed in my chair as she moved the conversation from “if” to “when.” Guilt and grief in equal measure washed over me. Dad would likely die in that other place, away from his family, away from his darling daughter, his chickie. I couldn’t breathe. As I stepped outside to try to regain equilibrium, my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Heather, calling to see how the conversation was going.
“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” I told her. “More difficult than dealing with your brother’s cancer. How can we make your grandpa move somewhere else?” It was like putting a child up for adoption. Or shoving my dad onto the streets. How could I force him to live with strangers?
Dad seemed resigned to the move. Mom cried, already grieving the separation. I was still focused on myself and my angst over having the dreaded conversation with Dad. I had little empathy for my mom.
Besides, my son needed me. This would allow me more flexibility to leave town, knowing Dad was in good hands.
What does God’s grace look like when your son’s diagnosis is terminal, and your father isn’t expected to live more than a few months longer?
It’s beautiful. Andrew Murray said it best in his book, Abide in Christ:
In Christ the heart of the Father is revealed, and higher comfort there cannot be than to rest in the Father’s bosom. In Him the fullness of the divine love is revealed, combined with the tenderness of a mother’s compassion – and what can comfort like this? In Him you see a thousand times more given you than you have lost.
I’d heard countless times that God becomes more real to us during suffering. I found it to be true. The more I ran to Jesus, the more grace He poured out. He prepared my heart for my dad’s passing. Six weeks after, Mike and I sat with our son when he took his last breath.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve walked through the valley of the shadow of death. It wasn’t a brisk walk through the valley, and it wasn’t a stroll in the forest. There was a treacherous precipice on one side, and an enemy waiting for my foot to slip off the edge. A rocky slide on the other side peppered me with loose pebbles, trying to keep me off balance.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4 (KJV)
All the way through my long walk through the valley, God’s grace kept me from falling. With His rod on one side, and His staff on the other, He guided my steps and kept me from stumbling.
God’s grace is amazing.
Murray, Andrew. Abide in Christ. 2010 by ReadaClassic.com. page 71
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