This blog post was the beginning of my realization that the empty nest stage is uniquely challenging and often overwhelming. I cannot walk this path alone, nor can I continue pretending that I’m unaffected and that nothing has changed. It’s time to embrace optimism, but it’s also time to be honest.
Nothing could have prepared me for this. I’m glad I didn’t see it coming. Ignorance wasn’t bliss, but it was better than this.
I vaguely remember reading about the Sandwich Generation. Apparently, 1 in 8 Americans over 40 is raising children and caring for aging parents at the same time. Between 7 and 10 million adults are caring for aging parents from a distance. One commentator even divided the Sandwich Generation into categories:
Traditional – caring for children and aging parents
Club Sandwich – caring for children, grandchildren, and aging parents and/or grandparents
Open Faced – caring for anyone who is aging
No mention is made of aging, struggling, or health-challenged siblings, friends, or pets. Neither does anyone acknowledge the crushing stress that comes from knowing help is needed in five different places at once while knowing you’re helpless to provide it.
When it becomes apparent that someone you love is dying on some unknown but certain schedule, the grieving begins at once. And it continues indefinitely beyond the actual loss. An increased sense of helplessness is inevitable, but there’s more to do than ever.
You aren’t the one dying (at least not that you know of), so you try hard not to acknowledge your personal pain or paralysis. Work and kids and barking dogs are just constant reminders that you’re useless to those who need you most and that you can’t alleviate anyone’s suffering, including your own. Not to mention the bad EKG five years ago that you never followed up on. So you continue running in circles, trying to catch snowflakes before they melt. The word “deadline” takes on a whole new meaning. You’re well aware that more of life has slipped away every time you meet one.
This is not a sandwich. It’s a vice grip. My husband and I cling to each other, largely in silence, as the grip tightens. There isn’t much to be said, and it’s hard to breathe anyway. For us, it’s been slowly tightening for about eight years. Every vision of future happiness—weddings, grandchildren, the annual return of spring—is overlaid with the gray of imminent loss.
Maybe it’s frowned upon to acknowledge personal suffering. But God does. Why else would He reveal His future plans so vividly in contrast with current realities?
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Revelation 21.4.
I’m holding out for when a lifetime of current realities become the former things.