Tag Archives: optimism

This Is Not A Sandwich

SandwichsmallThis 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.

The Beginning of Goodbye

Off To Summer CampHow could I have known? The first time I dropped my kids off at summer camp was the beginning of a long goodbye.

I was thankful then for the break—thankful because it was temporary. But when my kids came home, something had changed. They had changed. They were more self-assured and had started talking about independent life goals.

I was proud of them. After all, I’d always wanted them to grow up to live joyful, capable lives without me.

Someday.

But not yet.

I only recognized in retrospect when “someday” actually came. First, my two older daughters went off to college and found boyfriends and started talking about getting married and having kids of their own. Then my son landed a summer camp job, leaving only my youngest daughter at home. She quickly began clamoring to join him. She’s a natural organizer and loves to work almost more than she loves to play. No doubt the camp will soon recognize her talents and snatch her up, too.

That’s where I am today. Perched on the edge of my almost empty nest, looking out at a vast and ever-changing world and wondering what to do next. I feel a deep sense of loss, yet I know I must keep singing and maybe even spread my wings and do a little flying of my own.

That means more than working. I’ve been doing that all along. It means redefining my priorities so that motherhood is on a more even plain with other consequential things.

I will always be a mother—but it’s time to be more.