Friday, October 22, 2010

The Sandwich Kids

The Farmer and I are Sandwich Kids. No, this does not mean that we are fond of peanut butter and jelly on squishy white bread. It means that we are sandwiched between our children and our aging parents. It's true that our kids are not young, but one is still at home and navigating nursing school.

Our fathers are gone, having died at the relatively young ages of 65 and 68. I can honestly say that as a child I never actually knew a person that was in their 80's or 90's. That was an extraordinarily long time to live in those days. But through the miracles of modern medicine I know many, many people who are over 80 and 90, including both our mothers.

Mom and Dad, holding me - 1948

The "miracle" is a two edged sword and I'd like to continue the conversation I began yesterday. It started innocently enough, talking about winter coats, but as I wrote the subject swung around to moms and failing memories, my own memory included!

The care of elderly parents is a big part of many of our lives. Personally I feel like I'm sailing alone in uncharted waters. Some would criticize the fact that I speak plainly here on an open forum about the Mother and the Other Mother's problems. I would understand that criticism because in the past we believed in keeping family issues in the family. But that all changed during my battle with depression. One of the most crushing problems I dealt with was the feeling that I was alone, the only one going through the struggle. When I discovered otherwise it was a tremendous breakthrough and I vowed to speak out openly in the hopes that someone else could find comfort.

It's important to discuss these things openly. There's someone out there who has been through your struggle and might have a solution or suggestion that might help. Just the fact that they can listen and empathize is huge.

Yesterday Terri left this comment:

"My Mom sewed all our clothes... even stuff I wore in college. I think my wedding dress was my first purchased dress. I wish she was still that person, but she has had some stokes and now she is mean to everyone. (A little memory loss is not always a bad thing.) Thanks for reminding me of a happy memory. - Terri"

I was stunned because my sister and I spend alot of time discussing this very thought. As people age and are beset with health problems their personality changes. It's unsettling and strange, you never know who is waking up in the morning. We talk at length whether her personality was always this way and we just didn't see it, or perhaps age and illness have magnified the negative aspects. I just know that as time goes on it's getting harder and harder to remember the person she was, or is it the person we thought she was?

Another comment from yesterday:

"It is exactly my goal, my role . . . to remember for my mother w/Alzheimers. I remind her of the many memories she has related to me . . . entrusted to me. I retell them to my Mama and watch for a spark of rememberance, of recognition. I gift wrap the memories and give them back to my beloved Mama. - Nance "

Nance seems to have found acceptance and a positive response to her mother's disease, but I can tell you that coming to terms with the changes is proving very difficult.

I can remember being 19 or 20 years and thinking, "As I get older things will get easier and easier. I'll have plenty of experience under my belt and I'll be able to deal with everything."

Oh, to be 19 again and totally ignorant!!


chocolatechic said...

In about 5-10 years I'll be in your shoes.

I pray that I will have the strength to do so.

Anonymous said...

I have been in your shoes but have few answers. I still second guess myself,should I have sacrificed more and kept my mom in her home longer. My friend did that for about ten years at the sake of her marriage, now a few years later the marriage seems strong but there was a risk to the marriage involved.
My advice, make the best decisions and don't look back. My MIL just died after 7 yrs in assisted living. We could not have survived with her in our home, she had always been trouble and not treated her son well. But he and I were there for her but not in our home.
I think the brain changes as one ages and sometimes it is just bringing out the true personality?
Good luck. linda

Lisa D. said...

My parents are about the same age as you Suzanne. They each have one parent left, each of them in a nursing care facility. My mother works part time at another facility (both the parents are in a different province). She says children should never feel guilty about having to make the decision to have their parent in care. Sometimes it works well to take care of a parent at home, but most often she sees children struggling with all responsibilities and parents who feel guilty about the extra stress and burden they are putting on their children's families. My mother says let the parents go into a home where professionals take care of what they are trained to take care of, parents peers around them to visit with, the children can come visit and spend as much time with their parent and then go home and take care of their own lives and families.

Kat said...

Some days I can talk about it, other days I can't.
Today, all I can choke out is that it's really hard.

Lovella ♥ said...

We lost three of our parents before we should have. I was the baby in the family so my parents were a bit older but my fil was still relatively young.
We are left with my mil now. .and I realize what a responsibility it is to care for our parent as she get to that age.
We really feel like the sandwich kids too. When the family gets together. . it is at our house. .our grands tugging at our legs for attention and our mom at the other end adding bits to the conversations ..needing to be answered with respect. I need to learn to do this part better.

Vee said...

Oh I don't like to think that illness and memory loss brings out the "real" person. I say this as I remember that my pastor always said that when under pressure who we really are comes out. I don't like that thought either. Okay, I'm off to find happy Blogland preferring not to deal with these issues today because, as you know, I am doubly sandwiched in both directions.

The Farmer's Daughter said...

My hubby and I have lost both our parents. It's really a strange feeling to know that we are the oldest now. And as fast as time seems to be rolling by, we will be facing old-age decisions ourselves before you know it.

My mother died much too soon at the age of 59. My father was well into his 80's when he made the decision to go to an elderly care home. Thankfully, I didn't have to make the decision. But shortly afterward, he developed senile dementia really bad and it was so hard to communicate with him. He would call me at 3 or 4 in the morning and want me to come take him for a drive, etc. It was hard to have to take his phone away. It also broke my heart when I was visiting and he would ask "can I go home with you?" I would just say "not today, dad". But then, he would start crying. Broke my heart. Still breaks my heart when I think about it.

But, even tho part of me regrets not trying to take care of him myself, I feel that he knew what was best for himself and for me, too, when he made his decision. I'm not sure that I could have handled him. My dad was a very demanding, gruff, and controlling person. He would have made my life very difficult if he had lived with us. It was difficult enough as it was. I still can't help but wonder if I failed him, tho. My hubby says I couldn't have handled him without getting down myself. He's probably right.

There are no clear answers, as far as I know, in the best way to care for aging parents. You just do what is the best at the time. It's really all you can do.

As far as personality changes, most all of our relatives I've seen grow old get what we call senile dementia. It does change their personality at times. I don't think of it as their true personality, however. And once they are gone, I remember them the way they were before. The way I would want to be remembered. Good luck!


Stickhorsecowgirls said...

As Alzheimer's has progressed, my mother has mellowed--she was always a difficult personality. She ruled our home with huffing and puffing and slamming doors. My dad and my sister and I were totally intimidated by her! The old adage "If mama's not happy, then nobody's happy" was so fitting! We spent a large part of our lives tiptoeing around her mercurial moods! Some times I wish my dad had called her bluff--she really had no power. She "chose" to be afraid to drive, thereby leashing my dad to her by the need to taken everywhere. Of course, he was a willing if often resentful "victim".
As I write this, I think how awful it sounds and for many years I smouldered with resentment myself. My sister and I both have felt caught in her dependent web.
Thankfully, I have been able to leave my resentment in the past and watching her slow descent into senility is painful and evokes feelings of mercy from my sister and I. Yeah, aging isn't for sissies, is it?

Suze said...

I currently have two teens and care for mum and dad in a small home. Both parents are still relatively young. One is fragile with many conditions and is the mercurial one (thanks for that perfect description) and the other has Alzheimer's. Life ranges from explosive to calm with everything in between. I try hard to remember that every good day is one to be celebrated. I feel you have to do what you can with the cards you are given. Being human means we will make mistakes.

Loving thoughts are sent to you.

Thirkellgirl said...

I went through a very difficult decade (!) with my mom after my dad died suddenly at age 73. Our relationship had always been difficult (translation: she was a mean manipulative control freak and I had few tools for dealing with that) but the very day my dad died it was as if she made a decision that it was ALL going to be about HER from then on. I made 22 trips one year to support her in her widowhood (weekend trips, not an hour or two away), while homeschooling my 5 and 8 year olds. Long story short, she sucked the life out of me and I would never counsel anyone to do the things I did for her, trying to make her happy. She wasn't happy until she had a stroke six weeks before she died. It was as if the stroke turned off a switch in her brain. I cherish those few weeks; they were the best in our relationship ever. At the same time I was dealing with my husband's elderly parents, his mom who had cancer (and who confided in me alone, setting up an impossible dynamic with my sisters in law) and his father with a degenerative disease he's still suffering from at age 92. I'm done, though. I have no more to give, and I didn't really have to give as much as I did in the past anyhow. My counsel to anyone in the sandwich generation is to truly put yourself and your kids first, no matter what ethical or religious load of justification for martyrdom you're dragging around. I know this sounds harsh, but that decade exacerbated my autoimmune disease and robbed me of time with my girls I'll never get back. And in the end the old people die anyhow.