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My View: Sandwich generation cleans up the crumbs

By Judith Masters

She was an older woman with short gray hair enjoying her afternoon ice cream sundae. Knowing it would spoil her dinner, I realized she probably ate little at her end-of-the-day meal.

Perhaps she no longer cooked or allowed services to enter her home, no matter her need. I watched as she leaned forward on the edge of the chair, rocking slightly three times as she eventually stood, gripping the edge of the table. And just like that, I missed my mom. I am the jelly in what we now call the sandwich generation. Caught between aging parents and adult children, we spread our energy where it is needed most.

In the past 18 months, we have lost both my father and my mother. As is the case when one elderly parent dies first, the reality of what a 90-year-old man was doing for his aging wife became all the more obvious.

Like many in my position, my siblings and I encouraged help in their home, allowing us to maintain our work commitments. The generation that raised us, however, has a solid take on who is allowed access.

Amazing that the evening sandwich is fine when created by an unstable elderly walker but the thought of that delivered, along with a dose of company, is rejected. While denying the need for intervention, dependency increases. My mantra quickly became, what’s the plan?

Our first thought was to downsize. Negative. It wasn’t until her passing that any of us felt comfortable enough to donate or toss a thing. I started upstairs on the back closet shelf. Ten years of scrapbooks holding greeting cards from every occasion gently glued in place. What was the purpose of such memories if only to be stored on a dusty shelf? I found myself wishing these treasures had been distributed while the teller of its history still remembered their past.

Items of value were divided as they should be. Grief manifests in many forms. Anger and resentment are often the voice that surfaces. Months later I realize that such grief is a gift allowing us to sift through what remains, to choose what we keep.

Judith Masters

As we sorted, donated, grief came in waves of longing. Wishes for one more conversation with Dad, one more afternoon of Hallmark movies in an overheated living room with Mom.

I’ve learned that we have miles to go in the approach we take as our elderly transition.

Nursing home placement is a choice yet often made to feel a last resort. One learns to cherish that special caregiver, who though overworked and underpaid, cares for your loved one like you would.

I’ve learned that everyone has an opinion, freely shared, yet solutions are harder to come by. In the end, we are all trying to do what’s best in a world that is often met with resistance to change.

As we face our first holiday season without Mom and Dad, the impact of altered family is obvious. What matters are the memories we have of Christmases past. Now free to create new roads with those we love and those they bring to our world, laughter replaces anger, love a form of forgiveness.

My New Year’s resolutions involve a plan, written, communicated. A promise to go with the flow when my river changes course. A dedication to gifting all of my treasures as I live to those I love.

Judith Masters, of Snyder, lost her father and mother in the past 18 months.

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