The following is a fictional story based on the real-life experiences of our clients. At Sunways, we are passionate about the sandwich generation, the group of people who are sandwiched in between caring for their young children and elderly parents.
It’s 4 am, and I hear my mobile buzzing. Jolted out of sleep, I check the caller id and see it is my mother calling.
“Molly, it’s mom. Dad has had another one of ‘his issues’ and decided to go for walk about a half an hour ago. I tried to follow him in the car, but he got furious with me and ran off down a pedestrian trail. I can’t follow him and it’s too dark to walk alone after him. I’m worried. What should I do?”
Leaving to go for a walk at 4 am is odd, and speeding away from someone trying to make sure you are safe is also odd or rather even demented, but my dad has dementia, so this is our new normal. My mom calls these situations my dad having one of ‘his issues,’ but the truth of the matter is she just can’t face it that these issues are only going to get worse.
“I’ll be right over, Mom. We will find him together.”
I quietly sneak out of bed as to not wake my sleeping three-year-old daughter and my husband. You see, my three-year-old is also having ‘issues’ sleeping and last night was a real doozy. After fighting with her until about midnight, my husband and I both gave in and let her crawl into bed with us. She has been sleeping soundly in a horizontal position- head to dad, toes to mom. I finally fell asleep to her digging her baby toe into my side at about 1:30 am.
I hop into the car and head to my parent’s home which is conveniently and purposefully only one mile away. When my dad was diagnosed with early-onset dementia 8 months ago at the young age of 68, we decided it would be best to have them relocate to be closer to us. We moved them into their new home six months ago, and since then my dad has rapidly declined. I find myself stopping by their home multiple times a week (sometimes a day), to check on them both. You see, even though my dad has dementia, it is my mom who I worry about. Her stamina to care for my dad is diminishing, and I find I am her sole source of emotional support.
Just as I am about to turn into my parent’s driveway, I spot him. My dad, the man I have looked up to for my whole life, is sitting on the curb talking to himself. As I approach him I can hear him saying, “I was just going out for my early morning run.”
“Dad, you stopped running years ago after you had your knee surgery,” I respond.
“Oh,” he says. I help him up and take him inside. There, we find my mother crying and looking out the window to the night sky. It is now almost 5 am, and it’s still dark. She turns to see us walk in, and when my dad sees her filled up with tears, he starts to get angry. That’s one thing no one told us about dementia, it changes you. My dad never would get angry at my mom, now he does. My mom never would get frustrated with my dad, but now she does. Again, our new normal.
I do my best to settle them both down, and leave them just as the sun comes up. I need to get home, showered, ready for work, get my three-year-old to daycare, and my kindergartener on the bus. I am emotionally and physically spent, but I know I have to get through the day. I have a big day at work, and I need to be on! Thankfully my husband works from home and can help with the morning routine. This around-the-clock caregiving is eventually going to break me down.
Do you find Molly’s story to be like something you are experiencing? If so, you are part of the sandwich generation. At Sunways, we are sandwich advocates. We care for the caregivers and offer free resources to them and their loved ones. Learn More: sunwaysseniorliving.com