What to do when you’re caught in the middle

By Valerie
March 18, 2010

What kind of sandwich did you order today?

Whether a vegetarian, classic club or low-carb choice, many baby boomers have a full plate for lunch these days.

Usually between 45 and 60 years old, Sandwich Generationers are raising children younger than 25 years and caring for aging parents older than 75 years.

Some are also caring for grandchildren and find themselves with a mouthful as they bite into a Triple-Decker sandwich. The Low-Carb Sandwich Generation is caring for aging loved ones without other generations to care for.

Regardless of what’s on your plate, many individuals caught between the slices lead hectic and stressful lives. They feel squeezed and pulled in many directions.

Caring for aging parents can include taking them to medical appointments, helping with daily living or figuring out how to manage a decline in physical and mental abilities.

At the same time, raising children includes taxi service to after-school programs, helping with schoolwork, dealing with hormonal changes and maintaining a home. Add in work, more than one aging loved one to care for, a busy travel schedule or grandchildren, and it’s easy to feel sandwiched.

Personally, I’m eating the Doggie Bag Sandwich, the kind where you eat half and save the rest for leftovers.

Four years ago with me seven months pregnant, my father suffered a major stroke. Despite being a gerontologist with health care navigation skills and experience working with caregivers, I wasn’t emotionally or physically prepared for the transition ahead.

The next month was like a rollercoaster. Decisions had to be made for the future care of my father. The youngest of four, my voice wasn’t often heard and I was long-distance from my family.

And then the worst happened: Dad suffered a massive seizure. Three days later, with no signs of improvement or hope, our family had to make the excruciatingly painful decision to take Dad off life-support.

With Mom as a widow, we discovered that our father didn’t have a will, had cancelled insurance policies, debt and his small business had no exit strategy.

As for the leftovers, my daughter is close to four years old and my husband’s parents are in their 70s. I know that our plate is going to be full again in the future. This time I’ll be more prepared.

Starting today, every two weeks in the Record, you’ll find on-the-ground tips and strategies for caring for aging loved ones and suggestions for avoiding the landmines that come with being in the Sandwich Generation.

We’ll tackle sticky topics like how to have those hard conversations with your aging loved ones about their future care, and how to deal with siblings and difficult family members.

We’ll offer practical tips including understanding the health care system and finding your way through the maze of services. We’ll also talk about how to avoid caregiver burnout, balancing life and taking care as caregivers.

After all, we may not get to choose our sandwich, but we can choose how to eat it and leave room for dessert!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC