I am a member of Generation X. As anyone born between 1961 and 1981 knows, change is more the rule than the exception for us. I fit this definition perfectly. After college I decided to move from Wisconsin, where I was born and raised, to get a job in New York City. My parents didn’t want me to go, but they couldn’t stop me. I was bound and determined to get out of a place where I felt like I ‘didn’t fit.’ I managed to find a job and an apartment within the first two weeks I was in New York (after all, it was during the prosperous 90’s). I flew home to pack the rest of my things, and quickly left to start my new life in the city.
Just 22 years old, I had no idea the impact moving over 1,000 miles away was going to have on my life and my relationship with my family. My eldest sister had her first child that year. My brother was single. My parents were in their late fifties and healthy. In the past fifteen years, my sister has had two more children. My brother married, had a child, and got a divorce. I got married and had two children. And my father developed Alzheimer’s disease.
This was not completely unexpected. My father’s mother had Alzheimer’s disease (she was diagnosed a few years before I moved away). Then my father’s eldest sister developed Alzheimer’s. About five years ago, barely one year after his mother passed away at the age of 90, my father started showing symptoms of the disease. He was immediately put on medications to help slow the progression of the disease.
Up until a few months ago, my parents lived in their own home, about 15 minutes away from my sister. She helped out when necessary, but my parents were starting to have trouble with the day-to-day of taking care of their house. So, they sold their home and moved six hours away to live with my brother. This move brought them much closer to the VA hospital where my father receives medical care.
Since I live so far away, the help I provide for my parents is much different from what my sister did for many years, and what my brother now does. I can’t be there to take them to doctor’s appointments or stay with my dad so my mom can get out of the house once in a while. But I can help with any legal, financial and health-related decisions. I set up home health aides and volunteer caregivers and researched adult day-care centers. I ordered medic alert bracelets for my parents and helped my mom manage her Medicare Prescription Part-D coverage. I also closely monitor my mother’s mental and physical health. We speak at least once per day, and I have always reminded her she can tell me anything and talk to me any time. I recognize that as my father’s caregiver, she has the hardest job of all.
I went from being a member of Generation X to the Sandwich Generation – a generation of people who care for their aging parents while supporting their own children. According to the Pew Research Center, just over 1 of every 8 Americans aged 40 to 60 is both raising a child and caring for a parent, in addition to between 7 to 10 million adults caring for their aging parents from a long distance. Some members have their parent(s) living with them while they also take care of their children.
I am trying to adapt to being a member of the Sandwich Generation. But I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming sense of guilt I have because I am not physically close to my parents- and I always wish I could do more to help them. It is expensive and often difficult to visit (we had to cancel our visit last Christmas because one of my children developed an ear infection the day we were supposed to fly there), but we usually fly there once or twice per year. Some days I try to convince myself that I wouldn’t be much more help even if we did live closer. My brother and sister can’t do everything because they have to take care of their own children and they both work. It would be no different for me, and I have much younger children. The real issue is: I miss seeing my parents. When we are together, it is wonderful to just…be together. So, we just try to enjoy each precious day as they come.
Next week, we are flying to Wisconsin to celebrate Christmas with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephew. I am praying my children stay healthy so we make it home. My dad is very excited we are coming.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog. Elizabethsboys is a New Jersey mom.
Photo credit given to Today’s Senior Network.