Sandwich Generation

my mother in law DeeAs you read this I am probably in transit as part of a 48-hour flurry to cancel appointments, pack-and-grab bags and get up to Fargo from Texas to attend to Dee, my mother-in-law. She is 92, and trying her best to get home to her apartment. The hospital professionals are trying to decide what to do about her broken back, and where she should go next. She wants to continue to live her life alone in an apartment, and have her nightly Manhattan (or two) for the foreseeable future. At this point, that’s a tough call, and somebody’s got to help her consider alternatives. In our family, that’s me.

For those of you who have already worked through the transitions with elderly relatives, I salute you. For those of you still reading this, maybe you’re thinking like I am, that it’s time to take off the training wheels and get ready to face what your own future will look like. Maybe you’re in a helping profession, and wonder why this woman isn’t better prepared. If so, please add your comments below, because I’m looking for all the advice I can get (by the way, this article started in an airport as an ode to WIFI and web-assisted self-help).

I know there are many helpful organizations, such as the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) and thousands of professionals who support elderly care. Unfortunately, we don’t keep all those contact in our address books and they don’t answer phones at midnight. I’ve lived through the diagnosis and painful relocation of relatives for Alzheimer’s care. What I am NOT prepared to do is discuss transitions with a woman who is fully sentient, and has excellent reasons to continue to live independently, and without physical barriers to the rest of the world. It’s kind of like buying a refrigerator – until it breaks down you don’t think about where to get a new one, and then there’s a flurry of research, calling & driving to get it done before everything melts.

I really love Dee, and we have grown quite close over 30 years, including some great explorations. She is a strong woman, a sturdy redwood who has lived through the ravages of depression and hard work. I know she wants to keep enjoying and exploring the world, as do I.

We all know time eventually curtails our options, but we never really know how or when what we know as life will be less. I expect that my sadness has more to do with my own reticence to face these changes than the prospect of what comes next for her. No doubt when we are together tomorrow, she will be the one who guides the other through these dark passages.

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Suz Korbel

Susan Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.

3 Comments
  1. Independence is a myth promulgated by self-centered individuals who are incapable of sharing and caring for others.  While not making preparations for the future may be a consequence of an endemic inability to think ahead, not doing so is to impose on relatives and friends or, if push come to shove, an agency of the state and the courts to make decisions that, because they are rushed, may well be wrong.
    My tolerance for people who “don’t want to be a burden” has grown really thin.  Because what that really boils down to is a reluctance to recognize reciprocal obligations. At some point it’s time to defer to other people’s interests and convenience and 92 seems a good year for that.
    If your mother-in-law has not updated her will and advanced directives for medical care, as well as given  the power of attorney for medical care and financial matters to one or more designees, that would be the place to start.  It will be difficult to get access to medical records and consult with providers unless that is done. Oh, and the documents have to be witnessed and notarized.  Medical providers should have notaries on site, but they have to be asked. 
    Advanced directives are met with ambivalence.  While medical care providers like being relieved of uncertainty and the risk of lawsuits, if they make mistakes, restrictions on the kind of care they can provide will put limits on their bottom line. People hooked up to machines are a clear profit center.

  2. I have no answers. I have elderly parents as well and each day it is a joy to realize I still have my parents. Parents know our full history; they have known us since we were born, and with their passing comes our own. I believe God will bless you and the universe will lead you to the best answers for your family. 

  3. The timing of this article is amazing. My siblings and I are going through this right now. Dad has parkinsons and now is confined to a wheel chair. He has stated in the past he will not sign a dnr and has made my mother promise to never put him in a nursing home. There is no long term care insurance and any savings they have will be sucked up by the home nursing he will eventually need. ( He actually needs it now both both parents refuse to pay for it because it is soooo expensive)   He has put himself and my mother in a dangerous situation and put his children though much emotional turmoil as everytime a fall occurs ( and there have been many) the adult kids are called to come save the day.  Their health is declining from trying to go it without hired help and the adult kids are exhausted trying to convince them to get help and even offering to help pay for it. The adult kids are aslo exhausted physically from having to chronically check on them and run to the rescue when there is an emergency.  To make matters worse my mother wants one of the adult kids to make the medical decisions ( power of attorney) regarding our father. We all feel that is unfair, she should at least voice an opinion and not leave those critical decisions to the kids.   They both resist any help such as houskeeping and or handyman work. The house needs some work and they are so afraid of the money situation they are not maintaining their house. And YES we have offered  to pay for any repairs needed. They will not accept.   We are exhausted, stressed out .

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