Lonely in the Middle
Being the caretaker of a sick parent is harder when you’re also the only surviving sibling.
The “sandwich generation”: It’s the sort of phrase that means nothing to you – until it suddenly becomes your life.
And unlike static generational descriptors – Baby Boomers, Gen X – almost everyone can expect to spend some time in the sandwich generation at some point in their lives.
The phrase, for those who don’t know, refers to those “sandwiched” between caring for young children and aging parents, and it’s where I found myself Wednesday when I was splitting my time between trying to celebrate Georgia’s sixth birthday (which came with a whole host of bittersweet feelings about my baby’s growing up) – buying presents and a Happy Meal as a special treat, going to dinner, taking her swimming, baking a cake; helping Ruby, who is in St. Louis with her dad, reset her email password and find her summer reading book; and trying to convince my dad, who was having some scary symptoms, to go to his doctor.
I think, ultimately, I was as successful as possible. Georgia said it was “the best birthday ever,” although it could’ve used “more presents”; Ruby got everything under control; my dad went to the doctor yesterday and has tests scheduled for Monday.
It’s a stressful place to be, but that’s kind of the price of admission for having a family you love and care about.
It is, however, also a time I am acutely aware of the loss of my siblings. Although, realistically, I know that were they both still alive, they would probably just be still more people for me to take care of and worry about, I do sometimes fantasize about how nice it would be to have allies in this, how comforting it would be, were they both alive and functional humans, to have someone to talk to, to help assess, to complain to, to share my fears and my frustrations, to understand my exasperation mixed with love and fear.
My mom is wonderful (although I worry about her, too) – even though she and my dad have been divorced for almost 30 years, they still love each other, and she spent much of Wednesday checking up on him, too. It was a huge relief to know that she was in my corner.
My husband is great, of course, understanding and supportive and calm in a crisis. He definitely picked up my slack on Georgia’s birthday celebration while also making sure I understood the limits of what I could control re: my father and forcing him to seek care, trying to tell me to not beat myself up about anything.
And my kids are delightful, charming distractions, who keep me focused and motivated, remind me what really matters, and make me laugh even when I’m sick with worry.
Still, though, as grateful as I am for all of them, I can’t deny that I miss my siblings. Being in this “sandwich generation” would be better if I had them to be the avocado or cheese or some other delicious sandwich filling metaphor here in the middle with me.