Appreciating the Small Gifts in the Sandwich Years
The Sandwich Years of Midlife
I am a 40-something. Mother of three, wife of one, daughter of two—one of which, my mom, has Alzheimer’s Disease.
Looking back on the past year, it was really the time that it started to sink in—I AM in the “sandwich years” that everyone has told me about. I knew it was out there, I just wasn’t planning on it coming home to roost quite so soon. But, here it is.
There are all sorts of emotions that accompany this realization—sadness at the “loss” of my mom as I’ve known her; despair over the times we won’t be able to share in the future; fear that this dreaded disease might hit me in 30 years; overwhelmed and dismayed by the sheer responsibility of caring for a parent that is slowly dying in front of my eyes…. Finally, how do I teach my kids to react and interact with all the changes and sorrow?
To finish out the old year though, I received an unexpected gift at Christmastime: a special trip to the mall.
People who know me well would laugh at this concept—a trip to the mall being a “gift”. I am not a big shopper throughout the normal times of the year. Throw the post-holiday chaos in there and I get exhausted even thinking about it. But, my brother was getting married in April and, naturally, we were all getting excited about it.
Knowing that my mom would want to look appropriate as the mother of the groom, and having her in town for the holiday– plus keeping in mind that my 10-year old daughter would be a flower girl– all added up to the need for a trip to (ugh) the mall. Of course, I was going in to this with an attitude of burden and obligation—but who else other than me would be able to help my mom and daughter find their dresses, after all? So, off we went.
When we got to Macy’s, we went straight to the women’s dress department. I quickly adjusted my attitude when I realized how really critical it was that we were all there together—there was no way my mom could have navigated the racks of different styles and sizes. She needed us for sure. And, then on in to the dressing room…. Helping my mom undress, I noticed how age and disease were destroying her body, the body that had brought me into the world. Sadness
There was some profound heartache about all this at first. But then, there was that magical moment—after 4 dresses that didn’t work– when a woman puts on a dress and she just knows “this is it”! I could see it in her eyes, I could feel it in her energy—she had found the right dress and, at least momentarily, my mom looked 10 years younger. She appeared as the beautiful woman I had known my whole life. A gift.
Next, we headed over to the Juniors department. Same process, different generation this time.
We entered the dressing room. Rather than needing to help her undress, as I had done with my mom, I needed to respect the privacy and modesty of my “tween” daughter. I did glimpse the changes in her “aging” body, too…all part of the natural rhythm and cycle of life. Of the 6 or so dresses she tried on, there were a couple “maybe this one will work” dresses. And, then, it happened again– that breathtaking moment. She had found “the” dress. Her gorgeous blue eyes lighting up against her beaming smile was all it took to know that her choice was made. Another beauty, another gift indeed.
“How blessed am I,” I thought, as I smacked myself upside the head for starting out with a not-so-good attitude. We checked out, got a fro-yo and drove home. Missions accomplished…and more. I was changed.
As I later shared thoughts on the shopping excursion with my husband, I cried small tears of joy at having been given the gift of the moment. I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that this could be an easier year, in spite of all the difficulties that lay ahead. I knew I could survive “life in the sandwich” by appreciating the momentary glimpses of beauty that life sends our way, at all ages and at the most unexpected times.
About Sarah – Sarah Nicoli is owner of Dotmine Day Planners, www.timemine.com, a company she started in 1999 to help her juggle the chaos of raising her 3 kids– all of whom are now 10-to-20.