by Jessica Brewer
Life can get crazy, especially when you find yourself juggling obligations and trying to make time for self-care, sleep and taking care of your family. Imagine being a full-time employee, a parent and a caregiver to your older parents or grandparents. People who find themselves in this stage of life, caring for kids and parents or grandparents, are part of the sandwich generation.
Many people become members of the sandwich generation at one point in their lives. Unlike Millennials or Baby Boomers, people are not born into the sandwich generation. Jody Keltner, Eudora resident and LMH Health obstetrics nurse, is someone who finds herself taking care of her three daughters, her mother and working full-time.
At age 57, Keltner’s father passed away suddenly. Not long after, her mother had a stroke at age 58 causing paralysis on her left side and taking away a lot of her independence. She didn’t have the time to be her mother’s full-time caregiver while also trying to raise her daughters, work and take care of herself. Keltner is fortunate that she is not tackling the load alone, as her husband helps raise her three girls, but she found herself making tough decisions that she had not anticipated making so early on in her life.
“We had a family farm that my parents took care of for years,” she said. “We eventually had to sell the farm because my mom couldn’t tend to it and we needed some way to pay for the price of her assisted living. That was unbelievably hard. How do you tell a parent who has spent their life on this farm that you have to sell it because you have to make sure they have proper care? Caregiving is hard, every day you have to make decisions. There is never a best decision.”
The stroke took away many options. With her mother only being 58, one challenge was access to medical insurance.
“I don’t know how I could have balanced all of this if I wasn’t a nurse and had previous knowledge about caregiving,” Keltner said. “Above all, the hardest part has been my relationship with my mom. We used to be so close, and now it’s a tough role because it can feel like I am her decision maker and I don’t want it to feel that way.”
Keltner said that so much of the stress of being a part of the sandwich generation comes from the emotional weight. She said it is important that many of these conversations about care be had as early as possible to help make these decisions before something unexpected happens.
“Talk with your children and tell them your wishes,” Keltner said. “This way the child doesn’t have to make these tough decisions alone. The parent and child can then navigate the situation together.”
Keltner also emphasizes the importance of community. Her family and co-workers have been incredible and she says without their constant support she would not be able to be a caregiver. Keltner’s self-care outlet is running. She gets up early in the morning to run with her neighbor who has been a great support for her.
Molly Wood, a Lawrence attorney specializing in elder law, knows firsthand the stress associated with taking care of a parent. Wood’s father became sick and her mother died suddenly. Though her siblings were supportive and helpful, they lived far away. She took her father into her home and cared for him until his death.
“I look back now and of course it was worth it,” Wood said. “But at the time, it could be stressful. Trying to be an adult with a time-consuming job, and being a friend and a caretaker for my father was a lot to handle all at once.”
Adults in the sandwich generation span a large age range, with members generally from their 40s to their 60s. When Wood’s mother passed away and her father fell ill, she was in her 60s. Though she had some flexibility in her schedule, it was tough for her to juggle working, caregiving and coordinating in-home care providers.
“We were lucky that he had some money come in from social security. We also had some money from his house that we sold in order to pay for his care,” Wood said. “Since I wasn’t able to be home with him 24/7, it was important that those we hired for his care were good at their job. That was a challenge itself because we had some fabulous people and some who were not great.”
Despite the sometimes-tough reality of caring for her father while also trying to work a full-time job and take care of herself, Wood said it had its benefits.
“Though there were three years of struggle, they had their rewards,” she said. “It was tough at times and could be very emotionally draining to watch someone you love slowly die in front of your eyes, but I would not have traded helping care for him for anything.”
If you find yourself as a member of the sandwich generation, it is important that you make time for self-care, even though it may seem like there isn’t any. Make a plan and do not hesitate to ask for help when help is needed.
“My situation was far from miserable,” Wood said. “But there were days that were overwhelming and I went to bed thinking ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ But there are places all around Lawrence that offer assistance and for those who sometimes feel like they’re drowning, there are people who want to help.”
Jessica Brewer is social media and digital communication specialist at LMH Health.
If you live in Lawrence or Douglas County, there places that can help you and your family during the busy times in your life.
Douglas County Senior Resource Center: Visit the Douglas County Senior Resource Center at http://yoursrc.org/ to learn more about community events, care, housing, health, services, classes, support groups and transportation.
Midland Care: Midland Care can help in your journey of caring for an aging loved one. They provide services such as adult daycare, home health care, grief and end-of-life care. For more information, visit https://www.midlandcareconnection.org/.
Trinity In-Home Care: Trinity provides in-home care, from mobility assistance to housekeeping and meal preparation. To learn more, visit http://www.tihc.org.