Seven years ago, I was a 39-year-old bride-to-be. I had a great job. I lived in an apartment in the city. I was in love. Life was good and only getting better.
Within three years, I was pregnant with baby #2. I was a stay-at-home mom. I lived in an old farmhouse in the sticks. I joked that I would wake in the morning asking, “Where am I? How did this happen?” Life was still good—very good—but also very different.
By March 2012, I thought life had handed me all the crazy changes that it possibly could. I had birthed two children and I was absolutely, positively certain that no more babies would be coming my way. I had cared for my husband in the wake of a heart-attack and he seemed healthier than ever. I had lost all my baby-weight and then some. We were financially in sound shape despite the bad economy. Life was good—very good—and I was ready to get down to the business of living an easy, peaceful life.
Then, one afternoon, my father-in-law (FIL) called to tell us that my mother-in-law (MIL) had fallen. She was in an ambulance on her way to the hospital. The result was a massive brain injury—the kind you would expect to result from a motorcycle accident, not from a trip over a throw-rug. She spent two weeks in intensive care, two weeks in a head trauma unit, a month in rehab, and another month in the rehab wing of a nursing home. When she was discharged, it wasn’t because she was better, but because she wasn’t getting any better. “This is no longer a matter of medical care. This is the need for long-term nursing care.”
Just as she returned home, my father-in-law’s health failed. He died on July 6, 2012. MIL stayed with my sister-in-law and her family for two months before we brought her to live with us in September.
When people hear that we are a household with an age range that spans over eighty years, they call me a saint. They marvel at the fact that my disabled, diabetic, wheelchair-bound, dementia-suffering MIL lives with us. I’m not a saint. They say I am a part of the sandwich generation. I agree. I feel like a sticky, sweet substance squished between two slices of bread.
According to the Pew Research Center, 1 in 8 Americans between the ages of 40 and 60 are caring for an older family member.
Also, as an older mom, people are constantly telling me how it’s so common for women in their 40s to have babies these days.
Really? If these two things are true, it stands to reason that I would know a lot of people like me—those who are caring for the elderly while raising their minor children, but that’s simply not the case. I’m blessed with a lot of friends, and yet, I only know two other women in similar positions. One has three children and while her 90-year-old father-in-law lives in an assisted living facility, she and her husband are very involved in his care. The other is a single mom caring for a dependent parent who is fairly young, but suffers from multiple health issues.
I attend monthly support group meetings where I am by far the youngest person in the room. Everyone else is in their 60s and 70s. Their children are grown. In some cases, their grandchildren are grown. Even in a crowd where incontinence is discussed in the most casual manner, my situation is unfathomable.
So I am writing about it. Feel free to follow me. Will you learn anything valuable? Probably not. I am, however, blessed with a unique situation, an extraordinary family, and an opportunity for both emotional and spiritual growth. I promise not to whine too much, but I also promise to be very real about the challenges I face on a daily basis.