Friday, August 23, 2013

Sandwich Generation

 I was talking with a friend some months ago about my struggles with caring for elderly parents and raising a young son. She said  it's called the Sandwich Generation. Your "sandwiched" between taking care of both. 

 My feeling "sandwiched" started a little over three years ago when I got a call from my Dad and he told me he had cancer. I was shocked and scared.. I never thought that would  be something I would hear from anyone in my family.  You think it happens to everyone else until it happens to your family and it was a shock. My Dad had an aggressive form of bladder cancer-stage 4.   I stuck by my Dads side the whole time, through all his surgery's and chemo. Getting him to all his appointments and staying at the hospital during his surgery's. He stayed at my home after one of his surgery's so I could drain his catheter to make sure he was draining enough fluid. Yeah, never thought I would do that.

My son was going on 10.

During this time my Mom started to lose her memory. She was repeating herself all the time and she refused to help with my Dad. I knew something was wrong but my brother and sisters believed she was fine.  I was with her and talked to her all the time so I knew something wasn't right. 

Almost exactly one year from my Dads diagnosis, my Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. During her visits to the Dr and surgeon, my Mom wouldn't allow my Dad in most of the appointments.  My Moms treatment was a partial mastectomy but she never followed through with more treatment. Who knows if she still has cancer but my Mom is really prideful and just didn't want to deal with it. I was able to be with her during all this and was there when the doctor told her about her losing her memory. She didn't believe him and it was heartbreaking.  This was probably one of the darkest times of my adult life.

 My son was just turning 11. I was trying to hold it together and be a good mom to my son. It was a really hard time.

Over the next year or so my Moms memory got worse. Until just last year she had been driving but Mom was following my Dad home in her car from a motorcycle shop and took  a wrong turn. This was at 11 am.  We didn't find her until 7:30 pm when a man from a bar by Mt Rainer called to say she was there. She was several hours drive away from her home.  The deputy with her said if she hadn't stopped at that bar she would have gone into the National forest and they don't patrol there but every few days. This was the last stop. She had been driving 8 hours trying to find her way home and never stopped for help. She blames the lack of good signs and I couldn't understand when she passed Seattle and then Tacoma, and didn't stop. She felt she could find her way home. I felt she was in a ditch somewhere. Yet when she talks about that day all she says is she wished she had a camera because Rainer was soooooo beautiful! Oy vey.

Present day, my Dad is still cancer free but my Mom's dementia is a lot worse and I have no idea if her cancer has spread.  My Dad is doing the best he can but he's still in a bit (a lot) of denial. He still believes she can do a lot more than she really can. He wants to believe she's OK. We all want to believe Mom is OK.

Dementia is a nasty beast. Sometimes it's hard to figure out. My Mom will remember dates and things and you think she's fine but then she'll do something that your like...Oh wow.  It's really hard  to communicate with someone who's dementia is progressing. You have to have a lot of patience and don't argue. If she believes something happened, it's OK to let her believe it. It's better than the confusion and anger it causes. At first, she would  remember things wrong. She would get a bit confused and remember an event happening in the wrong order or not remember conversations and  get very argumentative. Now, she remembers things that never happened. Or she tells me things she's been doing when she actually hasn't done that in a long time. I used to think she was telling me these things so I wouldn't worry. Now I know she actually believes she was doing it based off of a memory long ago. It feels to her as if she just did it. Dementia is horrible!   My heart breaks to see my Mom like this but she still believes she has no memory problems. She also believes she can drive and gets upset when someone tells her (me) she can't.

Through this I'm trying to be the best Mom I can be. I try to compartmentalize it so the stress of it doesn't interfere with the care of my son.  My son just turned 13 and he's a pretty great kid.

Are any of you going through this? Are you part of the "Sandwich Generation"? Do you have elderly parents that you want to honor and help them like they helped you? Are they healthy?  Do you have young children as well?  How do you find balance and not let the guilt monster rip your heart out?

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