Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Sandwiched between Grandma and a hard place

As we Boomers hit a certain age, the whole world has acknowledged that we've become the 'sandwich' generation, dealing with kids and maybe even thoughts of our own retirement, along with elderly relatives. My own situation is probably easier than most. No kids, for one thing. And for another, I lost both of my parents years ago -- my mother at the way-too-young age of 60 and my dad 20 years later at 80. Both were in comparatively good health, if you can say that of someone who died so young of an aneurysm. And my dad was able to do his favorite thing, work in his garden, right up until the day he died of a heart attack.

So what am I doing writing about this topic? For one thing, almost every one of my friends is or has been struggling with the demands of elderly parents, so it's a hot topic among all of us. In addition, over the past six years or so, I've had at least partial responsibility for helping out with an uncle, his wife and an aunt who is now 94. My uncle died after a long battle with cancer that took its toll on all of us, but especially his wife and his son and daughter. Then, only a couple of years later, we all struggled with the decision to put his wife -- their mom, my aunt -- into an assisted living facility. At the time, it seemed like the very best option available, but given her very quick decline and subsequent death, we all regret not keeping her at home with help.

Here's the thing, though, we all make the very best decisions we can at the time, for our relatives, for our families and for ourselves. At one point friends of mine had both moms living with them in very tight quarters. It was an incredible strain, but it was a decision with which they were comfortable. Those of us who watched from the outside marveled at their capacity to juggle the needs of two women, one with Alzheimer's. And -- to be honest -- the two women didn't even like each other very much. Yet my friends incorporated them into their lives and those of us who cared about them made them part of our lives as well.

Today I'm just back from a two-day visit with my 94-year-old aunt, who still lives alone with very little outside help. She has someone who comes in to clean and someone who will go with her to doctor appointments. My cousins -- her niece and nephew -- shop for groceries for her. When I'm in Virginia, I go up every couple of weeks to take her out for a ride, a meal, a hair styling or whatever else she wants to do. She's still sharp, but her hearing is going and so far none of us has been able to drag her to an audiologist to get a hearing aid. There are things she does that make all of us a little crazy. My own particular gripe is that she treats water like medicine and refuses to drink it except in very tiny doses. I've tried sending articles, explaining the consequences in terms of her health, pleading. So has the doctor. It all falls on deaf ears -- no pun intended. She didn't get to be 94 without having a few strong opinions and, believe me, I'm not going to change them at this late date. She has the Woods gene for stubbornness in spades. My cousins and I have promised her we will do everything in our power to keep her at home as long as she's careful and not in need of more assistance than we can get for her. I hope we never have to renege on that promise.

If any of you are dealing with an elderly relative -- or have tried to help out an elderly friend with no family around -- let us know your thoughts about this. Have you had to make the difficult decision to move a parent into a nursing home? Divide your time between your family and an ill parent in another city? How have you coped? What choices have been the hardest for you? What kind of support system have you put together? Tell us. . .just between friends.

Sherryl Woods

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Blogger Nourishing Relationships said...

There is no formula for how the Sandwich Generation can take care of their family in flux. When squeezed between children growing up and parents growing older, each situation is unique. However, being comfortable with the choices you make and involving those affected by the decisions as much as you can, is so very important.

September 27, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger Scarlet Wharton said...

anishMy mother is 72 and still going strong, though she will only drive within our small community. All of girls take turns driving her to larger towns for bigger stores, prescriptions ect.. then the family get togethers and any flight of fancy trips she wants to take. It's actually funtospend this time with her but we often wander if it's not an excuse she's made up so that we all take time to spend with her! Oh we visit, but when your driving somewhere your relaxed you don't have a time frame and it becomes quality time.

September 27, 2007 1:35 PM  
Blogger bbeth said...

I really can identify with this. My husband worked offshore for years in the oil industry with a schedule of 14 days offshore and 14 days at home. We moved back to Arkansas to be near my elderly parents who were still very active eight years ago. During that time my mom had a stroke which changed their lifestyle forever. I was so thankful to be there and to be able to help and stay over at their home when needed - even though I still had a child home in school.
That all changed in one week. We gained custody of our two young grandsons, aged 2 and 8 months, when my son and daughter-in-law in Georgia were arrested and incarcerated. I knew in that drive to Georgia, that I was making a choice between my grandchildren and my parents and it broke my heart. In that same week my husband was offered a promotion and a job in the office where he could be home every night. With two small children to raise and a son in middle school, we knew we had to take the job which meant moving back to south Louisiana. We begged my parents to sell their home and move to LA with us and they wouldn't consider it.
My dad's health deteriorated from caring for my mother. A friend in AR started working for Hospice and called me to tell me that my mother qualified as a stroke patient. I thought hospice was only for the terminal. Hospice was a huge blessing for us - they cared for my mother and then my father for two years. When my father's health and mind slipped so much that he needed constant care, I went into their savings and hired sitters for them. With one exception the sitters were wonderful with them. My father passed away in August of 2006 at the age of 93. My mother was able to stay at home for three more months with sitters until their money ran out. Then we had to put her in a facility - she demanded to stay in AR where she has no family.
It has been very hard for me to care for them long distance. My husband has been able to get off frequently and go check on them in the past four years we have been in LA. With two small boys it has been hard for me to get away and even when I do,it was hard to be helpful with small children underfoot.
I have struggled with the guilt of not being able to care for my parents as I had wanted - yet if I hadn't taken my grandchildren, they would be in foster care in GA. It is much harder to care for children day in day out in your 50's than it was in your 20's and my health has gone down. I know that I wouldn't have been able to handle the boys with their emotional baggage and my parents - but still feel like I should have been able to handle both.
I do have one brother in Texas who has not been very helpful. He is older than I am and has no children at home and a flexible schedule, but never goes to visit or calls or wants to make any decisions regarding our parents care. So that has been frustrating as well.
My mother is now 86 and her sisters in Alabama call and check on her frequently and even made a trip to AR to visit her. They have told me I did the right thing by placing her in a facility where she can get care round the clock - and I know I made the right decision - but it still hurts that I can't give my parents the care that they gave me as a child.

September 28, 2007 4:58 AM  
Blogger momx2 said...

It is very hard to put parents and loved ones in a facility but sometimes it is the best. I used to work in a assisted living facility and the people get great care. I often enjoyed going in on my days off just to visit some of the people that didn't get alot of visitors, because their family lived far away and couldn't get to see them often.
I helped take care of my dad before he died of cancer in August 2006. It was very hard to do with two young boys, but my husband helped in the evening when he got off work.

October 15, 2007 2:10 AM  

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