by Melinda Viergever Inman
When I was a younger woman, I read about the Sandwich Generation. I knew it awaited me out there on the horizon, the experience of being squashed between the needs of my own family and the pressing concerns of my aged parents, my family of origin.
What I didn’t know was that we would reach our period of being sandwiched during a global pandemic with a deadly virus threatening us all. So, squeeze me as tightly as you can between the needs of one generation and the other. I’m right there.
The week the mysterious SARS-CoV-2 invaded our coasts, two of our adult children, each on opposite sides of the country, faced tragedies of enormous proportion. Tragedies that spurred us to put on face shields and face masks, pack plenty of germ-killing wipes in plastic bags, pray for the Lord to preserve us, and then board airplanes containing nine other travelers after journeying through airports devoid of people.
My husband took the first trip on his own, for I’m immunocompromised, and we didn’t know enough about the virus in March of 2020 to discern if I could safely travel or not. So, he did reconnaissance. Off he went by himself, texting back pictures of beloved family, disastrous images, and empty airports.
Simultaneously, my father’s slow decline resulted in a diagnosis of dementia. My mother decided to care for him on her own. As the months passed, however, my nearby sister’s assistance was soon required daily. We then had to determine how she was going to avoid burnout and I was going to help.
A window of opportunity opened when none of our children had pressing needs. My husband and I were able to assist my parents several times in the winter of 2020-2021. We traveled through one variant after another, and one surge followed by the next. Yet still, we flew.
However, no matter what we did, it never felt like enough. When I was young and energetic, I had assumed that I would be the go-to person. That was before the autoimmune diseases and the simultaneous needs of my own family. I felt as if I was letting down my sister and my parents.
I yearned for our situation to be something other than what it was, yet we were squeezed between two generations of loved ones, each with pressing needs, each a plane ride distance away. We longed to be in both places at once, which is, of course, impossible.
How many parts of our lives have been impacted by this pandemic? In early 2020, we never could have imagined. As COVID-19 began, all of us seemed mostly worried about toilet paper.
And yet now, from our daily routines to our church attendance, to how we simply walk out the door to go anywhere, all of life has been altered in some way. And so, of course, the pandemic would impact our tenure in the Sandwich Generation.
One lesson the simultaneous pull of two generations, coupled with a pandemic, has taught me is that I’m not as strong as I thought I was. I wasn’t prepared for the tragedies. Are we ever? I never could have imagined that these calamities would ever impact my children and that this would occur during a worldwide pandemic. This wasn’t on my radar, and probably not on yours.
Being with any of them as much as we were needed proved to be impossible except for a week here and a week there, maybe two weeks at once, no matter our desires.
We aren’t what we thought we were, formidable, tireless, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and yet, when we were young, we thought we were invincible. We couldn’t imagine otherwise, for we were conquerors.
During 2020, after the tragedies, my dad’s dementia, and the immunocompromised nightmare had collided, I cried myself to sleep every night.
The longer we live, the more difficulties we face, the more we realize how dear Jesus is to us. He doesn’t mind if we sob on his shoulder nightly in the darkness. He loves our parents, our siblings, our children, and our grandchildren even more than we do. And so, Jesus is the only one we can trust with the safekeeping of our beloved families. I pray, giving our people into his care.
Maybe this is the lesson our tenure in the Sandwich Generation is meant to teach us. Maybe there’s no other way this can be learned. I wouldn’t have chosen any of this, but I’m glad the Lord has used these unexpected challenges to draw me closer to him.
May the peace of the Lord be with you if you’re also living through such a time.