The Sandwich Generation is something I’d only vaguely understood. Until now…
Today I posted on Instagram about how I’m really feeling. At lockdown 3, and entering month 12 of the Coronavirus pandemic I think a lot of people are feeling rather hopeless, and I’m no exception. I’m sad for all the loss – of lives, and of life in general.
I feel despondent about how much longer this might go on for as we approach our second summer of restrictions. Where once I was resolute and stoical about it, I’m now joining the cries of “But it’s so unfair!” that I once had no patience for. Being philosophical seems not to be working for me any more.
I’m scared about money, both my own finances and the kids’ futures in the tax-heavy post-Covid government that I’ve convinced myself is coming. I’m starting to worry about recession, economic collapse, and a society so impoverished it may descend into doomsday scenes.
I can’t even bring myself to think about the mental health crisis brewing behind all the locked down doors, in the locked down houses, and the locked in minds. If I do, I know I will start to become a statistic myself.
That’s how I’m feeling in general right now.
What I didn’t say on Instagram is what else is going on in my life…
How the Sandwich Generation feels when you get to the end
I say my life, but that feels selfish, because in reality this is affecting someone else way more than me – my mum. My mum has lived on her own for 11 years since my dad died of cancer at 78. She is 89, and apart from a few falls a couple of years ago she has coped well. Recently though she’s been ill with infections, lots of falls, and worse, confusion. She’s become a worry.
This is what people mean when they talk about the Sandwich Generation. We’re middle-aged, we’re still caring for our own families, and now we have to step in with our parents too. I’ve recently hit this phase with my own mum, and I’m sad to say I think we’re nearly at the end. Here’s what I’ve been feeling.
I said on Instagram that I feel overwhelmed, and that’s because it has fallen on me to step in and make sure the right things are done for her, albeit that I live two hours away from her. Albeit that we’re in lockdown and I can’t just ‘pop round’ to pick her up when she’s on the floor.
It’s shocking how much time it takes to admin a vulnerable person’s life. I say admin deliberately because at times I really have felt like a medical secretary with the volume of calls I need to make and respond to. It’s made longer by the amount of Covid announcements I have to listen to before I can go into the call-waiting system, only to be told I need to call another department.
Then I have to call my mum and try to make her understand the messages, and act on them. I frequently fail there.
I said that I feel sad, and I meant the miserable sadness that comes from seeing your mother demise to a state neither she nor you recognise. The things she loved to do are long gone. Her sewing machine has been unused for years, but now her cupboards are filled with synthetic cakes rather than the things she once spent entire Saturdays creating for the joy of baking.
Now she spends complete days slumped in a chair, barely awake. She goes to bed early because she’s pressed so many buttons on her TV remote that she can no longer work out her way back to her favourite soaps. Her phone remains engaged because she tries to use her garage door remote to end a call, and never hangs up. I imagine the joy the local kids could have on her mobility scooter if only they knew.
She repeats herself endlessly and can’t remember the answers to her questions.
I spent yesterday being her carer and saw things you can’t unsee when it’s your mum you’re looking after. I slept fitfully last night, dreaming of bathroom floors, laundry and bleach. I ran through my mental to-do list and wondered if I needed to let the district nurses know she needs more, or different, or just not to be here anymore.
And then I felt guilty.
Because I know I don’t want to be the person who cares for her. Is that selfish? Stupid question really. Of course it’s selfish. Why wouldn’t I want to do everything I can for the person who raised me, irrespective of the things it involves or the time it takes?
And the only answer I have is that I just don’t. I don’t want to see my mum like that, and I don’t think she wants it either. Who would? I ask myself if I’d one day be happy to imagine my children taking care of my own intimate needs, cleaning up after me, and I know the answer. I’d be horrified. But it feels very ungrateful and I’m struggling to reconcile that with my conscience and my sense of duty.
The emotion I despise myself for most is irritation. I’m irritated at how much time this is taking from my own meagre supply. Teenagers may not need you as relentlessly as toddlers but they still need you a LOT even if they don’t think they do. Sure, they can definitely keep themselves alive, but they won’t do a lot of the things they need to to keep healthy without you nagging them. And whilst that’s okay for the odd day, it’s not when it becomes a pattern because you’re not there.
I’m irritable because I’m unable to work as much as I want to. There are things I need to achieve to help keep our finances ticking over, and I’m failing almost daily on that.
I’m irritable about my own health. I have fibromyalgia and the joy of menopause. Normally I’m able to manage all that but it it takes time. I need to exercise, eat well, and prioritise time for myself – both for fun and for my mental state. Yeah, you can imagine how well that’s going right now…
And I’m irritated by my mum’s dog. Three years ago I decided I could just about cope with the responsibility of the dog my kids kept pestering me for, and we got Rocket. He’s adorable, very cute, and most importantly very well-trained and attuned to our lifestyle. He fits in.
My mum’s dog came with her own set of ingrained behaviours and a cup overflowing with the stress of seeing her owner carted off by paramedics after spending all night on the floor. She hasn’t been back there since and has moved in with a much louder family, where people shout frequently and don’t feed her biscuits.
She’s not a bad dog, and I have such sympathy with her. After all, she’s adapted and she only wants to please and be loved. But she is not. Because we are a one dog household and the top spot is already taken. Her stress levels brought a lot more bleach and floor cleaning, and so we’ve found it difficult to accept her.
I’m aware that I’m now sounding selfish and self-indulgent. I know that there are many people out there tutting and wondering why I don’t just stop being such a flake and woman the f**k up. And so I’m back to guilt.
As I ease myself into bed every night, careful of my dodgy knee and my painful shoulders, I wonder if this is how the end will be for me. Will I end my life alone, in constant pain, and unable to get up off the floor when I fall? It feels empty and hopeless, and I’m upset that this is now my mum’s life. I’m scared that it will be mine.
Looking for silver linings
There are bright moments. Today my mum called me by herself to tell me that she’d had her Covid vaccine, and how impressed she was with the setup at the vaccine centre. How wonderful the staff were, and how pleased she feels to have done the right thing and protected herself.
I look back at where this all began in December and realise that I’ve done a lot more than I give myself credit for. It felt like it took forever, but in reality it was only 3 weeks before we managed to get 4 visits a day from lovely carers who make sure she’s safe. (By the way, aren’t carers are amazing?)
She is coming to the end of her life. I realise that sounds terrible, but she hasn’t wanted to live for a long time now. She’s told me this many times. After my dad died her world got smaller and smaller until she was spending her days at the kitchen table and her evenings in front of the TV. Even church became too difficult.
The pandemic has just shrunk it further to the point where there is no point. In her mind or in mine. Again, I realise how terrible that sounds.
It’s just awful. For her. And for me.