Stuck in the middle age: if it’s not the kids, it’s your parents

Ideas

Stuck in the middle age: if it’s not the kids, it’s your parents

But sometimes, as in my case, you have neither children nor parents. It can be a lonely place

Clair Woodward


It’s an age thing.
I send an e-mail to a friend with a job they might be interested in and the reply is: “Sounds great, but I don’t think a full-time gig is on the agenda at the moment because of Mom.” (“Mom” has advanced dementia.)
My Twitter feed is replete with stories along the lines of: “Mom’s been living with us for four years, but it’s got too much and we’re taking her to live in a nursing home.”
If it’s not that, then it’s friends not being able to meet at the weekend as they’re taking their kids back to university after the holidays, or having them home from varsity for a few days, or helping them to move into a flat. Or picking them up from the airport after a holiday.
It’s all classic sandwich generation stuff, with middle-aged folk caught between caring for ailing, elderly parents and children still in their teens or early 20s who still need them, and fuels those 50something “oh, I KNOW!” conversations.
Not for me, though, as I have neither parents nor children. Sandwich generation? I’m part of the filling generation.
I’m sure if you’re 55 and worrying about your son’s student loan and your dad’s dwindling pension funds to pay for his care, you might feel a nanosecond of jealousy, but the lives of us fillings are strange, especially if our parents are long gone.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of both my parents within three months of each other; so long ago that I had to google death certificates to check the exact year.
Mom had cancer and died comparatively fast; Dad had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for several years and died messily from a burst ulcer while he was in a nursing home and his wife of more than 40 years was in a hospice.
I was 29 when they died; they were both in their early 70s. I’d been worrying about it since I was seven and realised they were so much older than other people’s moms and dads.
When the parents of my contemporaries were in their teens, they were twisting the night away in a Mecca ballroom; mine were fighting the Nazis in the Army and ATS.
I spent my teenage years trying not to upset them in case they dropped dead.
And then they did die. Looking back, there were moments when you had to laugh, like when I saw the face of the woman at the funeral directors, which said: “Not you again?” as my sister and I swung by to arrange our mother’s sendoff, or the unknown drunks who turned up at my dad’s funeral, clearly hoping their mournful faces would lead to an invitation back to our house, a sausage roll and half a bottle of Bell’s.
It wasn’t until several years later that I cracked and it all came flooding out.
I was in my 30s then, and it seemed strange to still be processing a bereavement from years before.
I suspect some people thought I should have been “over it” by that point.
And a quarter of a century on? I am over it.
I can advise people about how to help their own ageing parents, but my experience of horrible illnesses in the elderly perhaps makes me sound a bit callous and slightly detached.
I want to tell people that their dad with dementia isn’t going to get better, that power of attorney is your friend and that you should milk your parents for all their stories and ask them difficult questions before it’s too late.
Not having my own family has made me miss that sense of continuity. Without other people to care for, it can be isolating all over again.
I’ve had a large part of 25 years of feeling envious when others are going home for Christmas, wondering what to get their dad for Father’s Day, or simply being on the phone to their mom.
I can only wonder how it would feel to receive a Mother’s Day card myself.
Losing your parents early in life affects you in lots of ways, the most devastating of which is just not having them around for support and a sense of security.
Now I’m quite good at letting most things go and moving on, but also at being a bit too detached, because, hey, who knows how long things are going to last?
There is an upside to this, though. I’ll never again have to deal with nursing homes that smell of cabbage and despair, or hospitals with nurses that break a terminal diagnosis out of the blue, or having to persuade someone to stop driving, or bathing a parent whose body is fading fast.
Just don’t ask me if I’d swap it for 25 years of being loved.
– © The Daily Telegraph

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