I got the e-mail Wednesday morning, just after I had taken Oldest Daughter to school: My father was in the hospital after suffering chest pains.
The diagnosis came swiftly, and treatment even more swiftly. My dad's heart was schematic, meaning it wasn't getting enough oxygen. His arteries were obstructed, and some form of angioplasty would be needed to correct the difficulty. My dad elected to get stents, and the procedure, which took place Friday afternoon, was done in half the time that had been expected, with no complications.
"You realize," my mother told me tonight, some twelve hours after my father's discharge from the hospital, "this is just the beginning."
Alas, I do realize it. I am in the sandwich generation. My brothers and I have arrived at that age where our own identities have been subsumed into our children's. I am "Evangeline's Dad," not David; my sister-in-law is "Morgan's mom," not Tammy. Our own dreams, goals, and wants increasingly are subordinated to what our children need. Sure, I could use a new pair of shoes, but if Rachel needs a pair too, I know who's going to wear old shoes a little while longer. Herb might have plans for the weekend, but they take a back seat immediately to his son's schedule and activities.
And now, while we bear the onus of raising our children so that they are multilingial, socially well-adjusted, academically gifted and physically fit boys and girls ready for the challenges of the emerging global economy in the 21st century, we are becoming more aware of the needs of our own parents.
This is what it's like to be a part of the sandwich generation, supporting our children on the one hand and our parents on the other. The one was our lot from the moment they were born; the second, from the moment we were born. In both cases, it feels rather like the load was dropped into our laps without much time to prepare.
My folks have always been good parents. We've had our moments of difference, and our points of dissonance, but I suppose the truth is that, like every other person who has walked the earth before me, I've always held my parents in some measure of regard and even awe. The moments of my greatest frustration with them have been when they remind me of how prone they are to the same human weaknesses that bedevil me, those daily niggling reminders that for all their vaunted authority and wisdom in the years of my childhood, they are made of the same sullied flesh as I, and if they inspire me to believe that I can rise to the same heights that they have, still they perplex and confound me by falling to the same depths that I do.
And worst of all, like me, they are mortal.
It's been my privilege to walk the same earth as my mother and my father for 40 years so far, and by God's grace, I hope to walk it with them for many more. But they are not as young as they once were, and they are reaching an age where even eating right, getting good exercise and having enough sleep will not be sufficient to ward off the progress of time and the slow humiliation of the flesh.
We're all getting older. I looked at my brothers today, and saw less hair and more of it gray than was once there. The lines are clearer on our faces than they once were, and while we're all feeling the pull on our lives from our children, we also all felt the first pull from our parents. We're in the middle of the sandwich.
God grant us grace in the years to come.
Copyright © 2010 by David Learn. Used with permission.