Sandwich GenerationA few months ago I was taking my mom to a doctor’s appointment at a nearby hospital. With her no longer being able to walk for long stretches, I used a courtesy wheelchair to traverse the halls and make our way. In my haste to get on an elevator, I pushed her in forward and the doors closed. When we went to exit, it was hard to maneuver, and a kind woman offered, “It’ll be easier if you back her in next time.” I thanked her and off we went.

Little did I know how that comment would replay in my mind numerous times over the coming months, as my mom was on the verge of a major health ordeal. There would be lots of wheelchairs in our future, and nearly every time I backed my mom into an elevator, I thought of that woman.

Life is funny that way. A little something here or there rings out time and again as it comes into play in a way that you did not expect.

I am both a mom and a caregiver to an aging parent—what I’ve written about before as living in the Sandwich Generation. I deal with my son’s and my mom’s needs on a daily basis. Both are similar—yet at the same time, they are very, very different.

When you deal with a child’s needs, you know that you are equipping them to grow up and move on. But an aging parent is the exact opposite. The journey is not to grow and go, but to support and provide care during the inevitable decline. As a parent, you can measure “success” by seeing your kid go off into the world and make his way in it. I’m not sure how you define “success” in the other realm.

The woman who, when I was sick, used to stand ready with an unwrapped stick of gum for me, after my having to chew a horrid tasting pill (you know, back in the day, before flavored oral meds for kids…) is now the woman who I administer medicine to—including a terrible tasting liquid dose for which I stand ready with an applesauce chaser. Two women exchanging roles.

Merriam Webster defines coming “full circle” as “a series of developments that lead back to the original source, position, or situation or to a complete reversal of the original position.” I am aware that the circle is closing. I don’t mean that about my mom’s life, but rather the role I play in it. The receiver of care is now the giver.

Yet through all of her health struggles, she is still her sassy self. Her physical therapist is captivated by her ability to move her legs as nimbly as she does. (Those lovely 3-diamond legs…Why I couldn’t have inherited those babies instead of her chubby thumbs, I’ll never understand, but such is life). This dynamic—the fact that she is an adult and my mother—adds yet another challenge to the role of caregiver: she isn’t always thrilled to receive from me the help she needs. One might use the word “stubborn” once or twice, among other words, in describing my mother.

But she does indeed need that help. And so a new life chapter is being written day by day.

And just as we make our way, learning what is needed and figuring a new daily routine, I am well aware that it can change in an instant—and will for certain change over time. Nothing will remain as it is. This I know. The one constant is change.

And so I muddle through. Daily falling short, and daily asking for forgiveness and grace. But the beauty, power, and spirit of the circle is not to be neglected…the fullness of life and how it calls us to nurture one another through all seasons is a gift all in itself. Much of it is not easy, but all of it matters.

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