Sandwich generation - It's a thing.


Time is marching on, despite my best efforts to slow it down.  Larkin graduated from Enloe High School last week, and leaves for Virginia Tech in August.  I am filled with joy and despair, often simultaneously, laughing through my tears, trying desperately to enjoy every minute with him and yet not hold on to him too tightly.  I watch him make choices that I may not agree with, yet I am slowly, and with difficulty, starting to realize – that they are his choices, not mine, as it is his life, not mine. I know I need to hug him tight and let him take it from here.  Dang it.

And, as life tends to have an irritating habit of moving forward on its own schedule (without consulting me) – during the graduation festivities my parents informed me that they are thinking of relocating to a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community) in Florida.  Gulp.  At this point I feel like both the peanut butter, and the jelly, in the sandwich generation – feeling equally pulled by my roles as a parent and as a daughter.   All of my training in geriatric psychiatry and eldercare went out the window, as I was assaulted by a million conflicting emotions.  Sitting in the hotel dining room listening to them describe their plans, I was transported back in time and became the 12 year old daughter again.  Florida?  I thought we were talking about a move to North Carolina . . . to be near me??  How did this happen without my knowledge?   Hang on, is this another one of those scenarios, this isn’t the choice I would make for them, but is not my choice?  Dang it.

I find myself tentatively trying on two new roles, that of a mother of a college student, and that of a daughter of parents who will be entering a retirement community.  Neither one feels though it fits, it is as though I am trying on someone else’s clothes that are actually scratchy and smell weird.

However, I am nothing if not enthusiastic, so I have taken a few tentative steps in these new clothes.  I have joined the Facebook group for Virginia Tech parents (5,000 members and very informative!)  I have sent my parents resources on choosing a Retirement Community and have offered to go and tour facilities with them if they would like.

And I have turned to my favorite authors who never fail to provide grounding when I feel as though I have lost my footing.  I found the following quote, which captured perfectly what I am feeling, from Brene Brown in an Instagram post following the graduation of her daughter.   I found these words to be incredibly comforting because I often find myself conflicted over the notion of what I “should” be feeling at any given moment.

“There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away.  The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief.  Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow.  Both are strong.  Both are true.”

Somehow, knowing that I don’t have to choose between joy and grief has already made the process of letting go a little easier.


About Author

Kim Andreaus

Work Life Program Manager

Kim Andreaus is the Aging and Eldercare Program Manager for Work/Life. She has experience in geropsychiatry; both inpatient and in a community mental health setting. In addition, she has been a faculty member at NCSU, UNC-CH and Wake Tech and has taught courses in gerontology and conducted training in geriatric mental health.

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