Challenges of the Sandwich Generation: Learning to Celebrate All of Life

It won’t be long ’til we say hello to our baby granddaughter!

I learned today that I’m part of the Club Sandwich generation. According to Wikipedia, we’re typically in our 50’s or 60’s sandwiched between aging parents, adult children, and grandchildren.  I guess they call this a “club” because there are so many of us–7-10 million!

It’s a bittersweet time in my life. In December, my mom and I and my four siblings made the difficult but necessary choice to place my dad in a dementia care facility. We enlisted the help of an excellent aging well consultant, Liz Taylor/Aging Deliberately from the Seattle area.

“There are solutions,” Liz told us. “All of them are difficult. But you can do this!” Her guidance and support steadied Mom and me, giving us courage and strength to do what was best for her and dad. To our surprise, the much-dreaded event of taking Dad to his new home went more smoothly than expected. Mom and I envisioned a tearful, heart-wrenching moment of leaving Dad there. Instead, our hearts were buoyed by the warm welcome Dad received from the staff. When we kissed him good-bye, he held up the Christmas cookie he was munching on and said, “See you soon!”

Of course, this has been a time of mixed emotions…grief in facing the loss of the dad I’ve known as he slowly slips into the fog of dementia. But also relief as we acknowledge the reality of his condition. This is without a doubt the very best for Dad–and Mom, who was exhausted by her heroic caregiving efforts.

On the other side of this long good-bye is a much-anticipated hello to a sweet grandbaby girl (our first grandchild!) who is due to arrive any day now. In January, I had the wonderful privilege of being with Jeremy and Jen for the baby ultrasound, a wow experience! The tech showed us some 4-D images of this tiny baby who weighed in at less than a pound. I uttered an audible gasp when the ultrasound wand brought her face into view, showing her features and perfectly formed hands with two fingers in her miniature nostrils. We all chuckled as I reached for the Kleenex–strategically placed for emotional parents and grandparents. What a moment…love at first sight! I can hardly wait to cradle her in my arms. These are the miracles of life, the comings and the goings, all in God’s perfect timing…all to be cherished.

So instead of bemoaning the fact that I’m part of Club Sandwich–I want to focus instead on celebrating all of life.

How are you coping with being a member of this not-so-elite “club?”

A father is neither an anchor to hold us back nor a sail to take us there, but always a guiding light whose love shows us the way. – G.W. Douglas

G.W. Douglas

Remembering Dad: Navigating the First Year Without Him

My brother posted this picture of our dad on Facebook on what would have been his 87th birthday.  Dad passed away on January 1 and it still doesn’t seem quite real that he’s gone. Friends who have lost loved ones have told me the “firsts” are the hardest. The first birthday without Dad, the first Father’s Day with no dad to buy a card for, and then my recent birthday, the first one in my whole life without talking with Dad have been difficult milestones.

I remember my birthday last year. Dad was living in a dementia care facility. The day seemed empty. I felt sad because I hadn’t talked with him. My husband Randy who’s always coming up with practical solutions said, “Why don’t you call him?” What a great idea!

The person who answered the phone at Dungeness Courte was more than happy to locate my dad and put him on the phone. It took a while, but I finally heard his familiar voice which I mentally tried to  record. “Hi, honey.”

“Dad, I had to call you. It’s my birthday.”

“Oh yes,” he chuckled. “I think I had something to do with that!”

Dad was always joking. I smiled as I realized that not even dementia could rob him of his sense of humor.

On his birthday in June, I decided to walk the mile or so to our small town to enjoy the flags waving from each business. Dad was born on Flag Day. Growing up, he thought the flags flew in his honor. I snapped a few pictures. Then I walked to the bakery and bought blueberry muffins for Randy and me. Dad would have approved. He loved anything baked with blueberries. My heart felt glad that I’d taken this time to remember him.

Now it’s November. Glorious fall colors fade to brown. Trees are bereft of leaves. A raw chill penetrates the air. As I turned the calendar page today, a pang shot through me. It’s almost a year since I was with Dad.

I know that grieving involves feeling the sadness of losing someone who was such an important part of my life. I also know that celebrating the blessing of having a wonderful father is comforting and even healing.  

I believe Dad and I will have a beautiful reunion someday. I will hear his familiar voice again. “Hi, honey. Welcome home.”

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Revelation 7:17

How are you coping with the loss of a loved one?



A Tribute to My Dad

I wrote this piece about my dad 5 years ago on his 80th birthday. It seemed fitting to re-post my tribute to him on Father’s Day, 2011. I love you, Dad!

Wednesday, Flag Day, was my dad’s 80th birthday. When I drove through our sleepy downtown (all of one street) early that morning, flags bedecked nearly every building. I smiled and thought of Dad. How did he get to be 80, I wonder?

Just the other day, it seems, he ran alongside me as I took my first solo two-wheeler bike ride. “No training wheels,” Dad said. He was convinced I could ride without them.

“But Dad,” I protested. “I can’t reach the pedals.”

He tightened the blocks around the pedals. “There you go, Deb. You can do it!”

Of course, he was right beside me, running along with his hand balancing the back of the seat. It was only when I realized he had let go that I panicked and crashed.

“You did great!” Dad beamed. I wasn’t so sure, I thought, rubbing my skinned knees.

Dad insisted that I get back on the bike and try again. He was always there but let go more frequently. He was right. I could do it myself.

And that’s how it’s been throughout my life. Dad has always been there to cheer me on, to nudge me out of my comfort zone, to believe in me when I hardly had any confidence of my own.

When I approached my half-century birthday, I became more aware that Dad wouldn’t always be here. And now, five years later, I am faced with reality. Dad was diagnosed about a year ago with a form of dementia called Pick’s Syndrome. I’ve watched him slowly slip away from being the invincible, self-assured man I could always go to when I needed advice, or that special dose of self confidence. I suddenly feel like I’m 8 years old on my first solo bike ride, wobbly and panicked when I realize no one’s holding onto the bike seat. I miss you already, Dad.

But I remember he’s trained me well. He’s given me the ability to venture into unknown arenas and know I’ll be OK.

Randy and I are traveling over the mountains today to Washington’s Olympic peninsula where my parents live. My four brothers and families will be there from various parts of the U.S. to celebrate Dad and all he means to us. It’s our turn to walk alongside him, steadying his wobbly steps, and assuring him we will always be here for him.

Not all have been fortunate to have a dad like mine but many of us have that unmistakable imprint of a father’s love in our lives. I hope you have the opportunity to tell your dad.