Have you noticed that the age range of the sandwich generation has increased? It’s not just us; the 30- and 40-something people who have kids as well as aging parents; it’s also our aging parents who still have to take care of their aged parents.
A couple of decades ago, it was the middle generation who were sandwiched between bringing up their young kids and taking care of the needs of their parents. Diaper changing and wiping dribbles went both ways. In India, as in many Asian countries, where professional services are minimal and dubious, it is usually the children who are bound by a sense of love, or at least of duty, to step in. In America too, despite the numerous community services, many adult children opt to take care of their aged parents themselves, eschewing the more dispassionate and costly hired help. The simple reason is, of course, the increased longevity of people down the years.
The Husband’s grandfather, who is a hundred years old, and was living with his daughter, has now moved in with my father-in-law and his family. My parents-in-law, in turn, live with one of my brothers-in-law, who has two kids. Despite the obvious space constraint, there is no question of it being otherwise. My father-in-law gives him a bath early in the morning before his daily prayer session; my mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law attend to his food, while the great-grandkids either chatter with him to keep him occupied or politely stay out his way when he gets tired.
On my side of the family, I previously described the close relationship my grandmother and my mother share, where my now seventy plus parents take the responsibility of taking care of my grandmother, with periodic help from my aunt, who stays in another city. I meant for that post to be lighthearted, but several of you rightly pointed out the tremendous mental and emotional strength needed to take care of someone who values their independence but is, at the same time, helpless in every other way.
Which brings me to the sandwich part of the post. And, why I’m writing all this in the first place. My parents don’t have to take care of me…at least, not as parents of minors do, anyway! And, they’re mainly responsible for pampering, cuddling and cossetting their grandkids for a few weeks in a year, which they do with gay abandon and without any accompanying worry! The keyword here is ‘few weeks in a year’, which is the maximum, actually. They miss us. They miss me. They yearn to be with us and this summer, we had all these plans of visiting. They would stay at our new place; they would go to the beach and the library and the parks and all their favorite spots; they would finally get a chance to put their feet up and relax because I always am determined to make them get their hard-earned rest when they come over.
Unfortunately, my grandmother became ill the very week they were supposed to take their flight here. They postponed their departure until the end of May. It seemed as if my grandmother was recovering but yesterday, Mother’s Day, when I called up, my parents told me that it looked like there was a relapse in the infection that she had been suffering from. It was with a break in his voice that my dad told me that he was sorry, but they may not be able to come. Sorry, for what? I was sorry; sorry for the very first time that I was so far away from them. So sorry that I couldn’t help; couldn’t take away a little bit of their stress and their physical exertions; so sorry that I mentally patted myself that I kept in touch via phonecalls, and smartphone applications; that I thought that was enough. I never aspired to a model child but yesterday, I felt that I had somehow failed them.
And, my grandmother? Who is in pain. Who is being poked and prodded and medicated, and otherwise treated like a child. Again the same conflict and emotional turmoil in my mind. On the one hand, I love her so very much, but I feel like I have been clinging to the shadow of someone who departed from us more than 10 years back when her life partner died. I feel selfish that I wished all this while that she live for ‘just some more time’. As if my wishing or not wishing makes any difference! Now, I wonder how she feels…is she sick of life? Is she just patiently waiting? Or, is she happy and content because she doesn’t retain the mental capacity to quite understand her state? Is living a long life a blessing or a curse; and whatever it is, is it a blessing or a curse just to the person or all around her? And, do I have the right to think the thoughts that are swirling in my head?
What are your thoughts, dear readers?