Monday, June 21, 2010

The Dagwood Generation: Caring for parents and kids

Lately I have struggled with how much "personal" to put in this place.  I've been online for almost 6 years now, and while I started out very isolated I'm now at the point where everyone I know in real life knows that I have this little site.  My relatives, except for my elderly loved ones, are all online.  I want to be careful and be respectful, particularly when it comes to sharing details about my parents.  I struggle between the need to be honest and the need for their privacy.  They have always been strong, independent people, with a strong streak of privacy too.  But their lives are, and are increasingly becoming, my life - and to never say anything denies a large part of how my days are consumed.  I need to write about it sometimes.  There is much that I can't or won't say, and I will always try to be respectful.

This last month has involved a large slew of doctor's appointments for my parents.  They are, quite frankly, offended by the concept that old age is overtaking them.  They never intended  to give in to time.  We - all of us in my family - feel the same way, really.  We have never thought that the rules applied to us, never think that the "do not enter" or "road closed" signs were directed toward us.  We are...invincible.  We think.

But of course, we're not.  No one is.

And so, my involvement with my parent's care has risen to a new level this Spring.  They both have signs of aging and life is just getting harder for them.  I am now driving them to most of their appointments, and I am now the one doing most of the communication and scheduling with doctor's offices (and labs, and so on and so forth,) and when they have surgeries we will be the ones to care for them.

Today, was a new step-up in my responsibility level.  I took my father to his endocrinologist's appointment - he has a delicately balanced endocrine system that requires careful fine tuning.  My mother did not attend this visit with us.  The doctor is Egyptian and my father, due to previous illness, has difficulty in speaking clearly.  I served as interpreter.  The doctor would say something, my father would look at me.  I would tell him what she said.  My father would say something, the doctor would look at me, wanting to know what he said.  Eventually, as she became pressed for time, the doctor bypassed my father and directed all questions and information in my direction.  I know his medications, I know his habits (he despises all medical intervention, all medication, he'll just stop taking his medication if he feels like it) and I know his history.  He, of course, tires of it all and tunes us both out, sighing loudly from his perch on the examination table.  I can tell from those sighs that he is highly annoyed.  His hearing is bad, so he picks up nothing from the visit.  Couple this with the fact that he would like to ignore anything she says (not because he doesn't like her - he does!  He's just trying to ignore the fact that he is getting old) and he will go home and tell my mother that the doctor didn't really say anything!  I will try to show him the paperwork, he says he can't understand it.  (Both of my parents struggle with this.  They are not members of the computer age - it all is so foreign to the world they were born into.  I feel for them.)  I will try to tell him what the doctor has ordered on the drive home.  He will pretend that he has heard.   He will not turn on the air even thought is is almost 100 degrees outside...he does not like air blowing on him, so I will sweat a thousand deaths as I drive. I will call my mother as soon as I get home, so she will know of changes in medication and future labwork, but a correct exchange of information will take 3 or 4 phone calls to get things correct.  He will deny it all, and argue that he doesn't need anything that the doctor thinks he needs.

This is not a place he wants to be.  He does not want to be 85 and ailing.  He does not want to be given another horse-pill to be included in his already impossible schedule:  Take this one before eating.  Take this one on a full stomach.  Take this one at this time but don't take it with another.  This one will make you go to the bathroom - ALOT.  This one will interact with your blood pressure medication.  This one will make your feet feel better but may deplete your body of potassium.  This aging thing is for the birds, a real twisting of the nose for an independent man.

He does not want to be dependent on his baby girl, his littlest one.  He wants to be the one to zoom confidently through construction detours, to rely on his great memory to navigate the side streets of the city.  But what are his options?  The qualities that have kept him self reliant and strong to this point are the things that he must now begin to give up in order to survive, in order to be around to see the grandkids continue to grow...including the new one his daughter is still carrying.

I know this.   I understand.   I know that these are the things that rub at his collar, that chafe his pride.  They hurt, and they allow him to become cantankerous.

But I still have a job to do, and that is to help him obtain good medical care.  To do less, is to let him down.  I have to know when to press in and gather and exchange information, and when to step back and allow him to save his image and be his own man.  This is a very difficult balance to achieve - to care for, to act in one's best interest, yet to not be offensive and to not wound a relationship.

That was today's appointment.  Tomorrow brings another lengthy day and two more doctor's visits.   Along with standard doctor's visits for the elderly (endocrinologist, nephrologist, dermatologist, pulmonologist, general practitioner) both of my parents are seeking help for aging joints.  My mother may have a knee replacement yet this summer.

I have read for years about women (in particular) who are members of the "sandwich" generation.  I was born to older parents, and I always knew that this is how things would be.  There was no way I would be leaving my parents to age on their own.  This is why three years ago we moved to be closer to where they live.  After two decades of living 7 to 11 hours away, we now live 45 minutes from their home.  I never did think that it would be easy, in fact, I used to lie awake at night wondering how on earth to manage it all.  I still do that, come to think of it - but I try not to.  I try to continue to turn it all back over to God, to allow Him room to work in all of our lives.  Otherwise, I would never sleep.  Sandwich generation?  Sometimes I feel like a real "Dagwood," you know....the sandwich that reaches to the ceiling?

I know this - that we will remain faithful during this time of life.  This is what we are supposed to be doing.  We are called to love and to care, to be wise and thoughtful and considerate.  I do not believe that we will regret these days nor the time and love given.  These "growing elderly ones" would have done (and still would do) anything for us that they possibly could do.

If you think of us, though, we are grateful for your prayers in days and weeks to come.  We need strength, wisdom, and great management/organizational skills.  :)  God bless you - all of you who read here!


  1. Definitely keeping you in prayer, Holly. You know that this is near and dear to my heart. You have an overflowing plate right now, and I hope that you are remembering to let others help you. Casey was 10 and Nick was 14 when they began helping to care for my dad, and Emily at 8 could help me with mom. One of my dearest friends has a "dagwood" of her own, and there are many days that she doesn't know how she is going to meet the many needs of everyone around her who is depending on her. Many times she has told me that she just has to trust God to work it out, because she can't...and somehow everything that needs to get done, gets done. I've been listening to World Magazine's Andree Seu's archived podcasts, and as I read your post, I thought of one from 2005 called "The Next Thing", which you can down load on this page. I hope it blesses and encourages you, dear friend.

  2. For some reason, it didn't include the link in my previous post. Here it is again:

  3. You are so precious, Holly. Big hugs to you.

    Val xx

  4. Holly,
    I understand all to well all that you are going through. Although it was taking care of grandparents not parents, still the load is full at times. Praying for His strength and peace and wisdom for you!!!


  5. Most of my friends were born to older parents, but mine were practically babies so I've watched as they've taken on more responsibilities with their parents and didn't think much of what it would be like for me, except through their experiences. I've watched them fight the pride of those doing the aging and try to navigate what is their responsibility and place and what isn't. Now, my husband's parents, though young, are both very ill and out of work and this will be the rest of their life. He's an only child and feels so responsible and yet they refuse to allow him in to help. It's hard to stand by and watch helplessly and to know when to step in boldly and refuse to take no.

    Being a good mother isn't about being bossy or dominating or taking control (well, sometimes it is the latter a bit) but it's about love, taking care of those we love and have been entrusted to us. As such a loving caretaker of the younger loves in your life, I know you're doing a beautiful job taking care of the older loves in your life. My prayers stay with you and all your family.

  6. Dearest Holly,

    My prayers are definitely with you. I still remember so vividly when we moved Mom and her mother in with us back in 1990. Mom did most of Grandma's care during the day and I often stood in awe at her patience and love.

    Now, I am in the place of full-time caregiver to Mom. The one who has served her entire life without complaint is having great difficulty being served. It is so hard to give up that independence. She was such a shining example to me with Grandma, yet I am ashamed so many times when I fall short in patience and understanding of the losses she is dealing with.

    Your love and understanding toward your parents is beautiful to watch. You are an encouragement to me (and many others, I'm sure) as you take each step forward that the Lord brings to you. In your seeking Faithfulness, you are finding Him.

    In His great love,


  7. You are such a beautiful daughter, Holly. I'm keeping you in my prayers. *hugs* You need all the strength you can get! Wish I could be there to help you.

  8. I was born to older parents too Holly, they were both in their forties when they had me. They are failing in health now and need a lot of help and support.
    My Dad in particular finds aging hard, both emotionally and physically.
    Praying for you Holly, it's not always easy.
    You are doing something very beautiful for your Mom and Dad.

  9. prayers are continued for you my dear. :)