They call us the “Sandwich Generation”; we are predominantly middle-aged women that have become primary caretakers of an aging parent while still raising little ones at home. I am a homeschooling mother of 8 children, ranging in age from 5 to 25, and I became a member of this uniquely challenged group of women just over a year ago.
Though I am one of five children, I always had the sense that I would be “the one”, so when our 80-year-old mother fell and sustained a traumatic concussion that nearly wiped out her already failing memory, we knew it was time to move her south to be closer to me and my family. I had a wide range of emotions when this decision was made, with my mother’s willing consent. I was excited at the idea of finally living in the same town with her after being hundreds of miles away most of my adult life; I was relieved that I would finally be able to help take care of her growing medical and physical needs; and I was overwhelmed by the idea that my already busy life was about to be taken to a whole new level of crazy.
This past year has been one rife with unimagined challenges. The time needed to care for my mother has been well beyond anything I anticipated. The endless doctor’s appointments, phone calls to coordinate services, and errands can gobble up entire days within a week, and these responsibilities, heaped on top of taking care of my large family, sometimes threaten to crush me. There are mornings that I wake up, look at my to-do list, and feel the tears well up because it just doesn’t seem humanly possible to take care of my mother, husband, children, home, and ministerial duties and, at the end of the day, still be a functioning human. Sometimes I wonder if the rest of my life is going to just be an endless string of taking care of someone else’s needs but my own. Sometimes I convince myself that I am not up to the challenge, and sometimes I wonder how this has become my life…and it is during these times that I need to be reminded that there is One that is the antidote to this self-pity that seeks to rob me of my peace and joy and charity.
While this has doubtless been one of the more challenging, frustrating, and exhausting years of my life, I do recognize that it has also been a year of tremendous blessings. Aside from the fact that it is absolutely a privilege to be able to offer this level of love and generosity to one’s parent in such a way, this opportunity to serve my mother has taught me much about myself and even more about the healing power of Our Lord and Savior. Through daily reception of the Eucharist and spending time with Our Lord in our perpetual Adoration chapel, I have come to truly recognize that these are my greatest source of strength and solace. Each morning, I fall prostrate before the tabernacle and place it all at the foot of the Cross. I beg Our Lord to help me carry this load. I ask Him, Who is Divine Mercy and Love Perfected, to help me be the face of Mercy and Love for my mother. I ask for guidance and wisdom, and especially for patience; God never fails in providing that much-needed strength when I ask for it.
While I am certainly no expert at caretaking, this year has taught me many things that I’d like to share with others joining me on this journey. They are as follows:
Take time to pray every day and ask God to give you the strength you need to cope with the many challenges inherent in being a caretaker.
Be honest with yourself about the divergent range of emotions that you feel, and let go of the guilt of sometimes feeling resentful and/or overwhelmed.
Know that you cannot do it all-- seek resources and accept help.
Remember that your husband and children are still your primary ministry.
Don’t allow yourself to wallow in self-pity--it is an energy suck and really serves no purpose-- but when you do (and you will), forgive yourself that small indulgence and move on.
Maintain your sense of humor, especially with your parent—a little laughter goes a long way to smooth over resentments that the two of you may be feeling towards each other.
Treat your parent with gentleness and respect, and recognize that this is not any easier for him/her than it is for you.
Remember that your children are taking it all in, and one day, when the parent/child roles have reversed in the other direction, you will be thankful for the good example you have set.
Remind yourself frequently that this time that you have been given to serve your parent is a true blessing.
Finally, realize that this phase, like all others in life, will pass.
When I have gotten to the point where I have felt that the I am pulled in so many directions that I might just shatter, I recall the poignant words of my favorite saint, St. Theresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Article contributed by Paige Mechling