It’s fascinating how sometimes life experiences can be so similar… Last weekend, my husband and I met some dear friends for dinner at a local restaurant. We hadn’t seen each other for several months, so it was the perfect opportunity to catch up.
We all are part of that “sandwich generation” where we’ve just pushed the kids out of the nest, only to find similar responsibilities or time commitments to our elderly parents. Mike and Katherine actually gave up their own home and moved in with Katherine’s near 90-year-old parents about 45 miles away from Mike’s office.
The stress of their situation was evident as they shared the downward spiral for both parent’s health. Frequent falls and bouts of borderline dementia are taking a toll, and just after we ordered dinner, Katherine received a call from her dad that he had fallen and was unable to pick himself up. The restaurant was wonderful in accommodating our request for their dinner to go, and the two hurried off to see to her dad.
Likewise, we also visited with my “second” set of parents, Ben and Rita. I lived with them during a college summer and they’ve become dear family friends. Rita has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and over the last year, the disease has become noticeable. Now her legs are starting to fail, and the two had to cancel a highly-anticipated trip to Europe because it was uncertain that Rita would be able to travel that distance.
Unlike Mike and Katherine’s parents, Ben and Rita downsized into a one-level condo when Rita was diagnosed. But for Rita, it’s not home. She feels as though she was forced into moving, which is true, but she still struggles with what this condo means – it is a constant reminder that her body is failing and she is helpless to do anything about it.
My own parents show no intention of giving up their large home and refuse to move to Florida to retire. It’s not “home.” It’s not where their friends or doctors are. They’d have to find new grocery stores, dentists and the like, and at 80 years old, that’s a bit overwhelming.
Eventually, all of us sandwich generationals will be forced to make difficult decisions. It was evident to Larry and me that Katherine’s parents need to be in an assisted living environment but they don’t want to go, and she doesn’t have the heart to force them. Ben and Rita will face a similar quandary in few years when her body gives out and Ben cannot take care of her. My own mom has begged my father to downsize, but the only way he’ll leave that house is in a pine box…
It’s a tough situation – give up the homes that hold our memories, that are familiar, serve as a grounding force and represent their independence. My 91-year-old aunt finally gave up her home of 40 years last fall. When she asked us about it, my response was, “Why spend your energy taking care of things when you could enjoy time with friends and family?” She is having a ball and doesn’t regret one minute of her move, despite the tough emotional battle to let go.
It appears to be human nature to hold on to what we know or are familiar with when we are uncertain of the past… The French poet Guillaume Apollinaire has a beautiful quote on this, “Come to the edge, he said. They said, we are afraid. Come to the edge, he said. They came. He pushed them…and they flew.”
It is said that home is where the heart is. When the time comes, will you fly?