Letters of Compassion: Parenting Your Children and Aging Parents

{Second in this month's series of stories of Mothering}

My dear friend, Lisa,  just spoke to me about the term “Sandwich Parenting”, which is the act of raising your own children, while taking care of your ill or aging parents. The challenges in this act of giving are often overwhelming, causing the caretaker/parent to lose themselves in all the to-dos of the day.

Last week, I spoke about cherishing and valuing the small moments we encounter on a daily basis. This becomes seemingly impossible when caring for your parents, especially when they might suffer from a terminal illness.

From my own personal experience and stories from friends, I know the toll that is taken both physically and emotionally on the caregiver. 

I’m going to share a story about the deepest love and commitment I’ve witnessed in years.

Three and a half years ago, my best friend’s mother began to decline in health due to living with Multiple Sclerosis. Sharon was not one to let her illness keep her from living: international travel, off-roading, cruises, and creating beautiful connections with family and friends. I always marveled at how she lived every moment to its fullest and with such love and care. 

Sharon was always quick with a smile and welcoming hug, asking about the kids, work, life’s challenges and adventures; no matter how she felt, you were always what was most important. I believe that her genuine love and connection with others made caring for her a joy, rather than a frustration. Not everyone can say this when taking over the role of parenting your own parents, but Lisa, her father, Bob, and her village surely felt this with their whole beings.

Sharon was a fighter: strong beyond comprehension, coming back from trials that were seemingly impossible, surprising even her doctors. Numerous bouts of bacterial infections and staph were not going to keep her down! We cheered when a text would come through that Sharon had requested her curling iron (personal care and looking her best were not to be ignored, even if hospitalized). The hospital staff loved Sharon; her quick wit, banter, and ferocious intellect kept everyone on their toes. 

Through these years, Lisa balanced homeschooling, raising two young children, being a partner, a daughter, and researcher - looking for answers and best practices when she felt there was more than what was being offered- a friend, and a human. 

Yes, a human who struggled with living day-to-day with the unknown of how long her mom would be in her midst. So she sacrificed her own comforts, travel passions, and often the self-care she so needed. While her heart and mind were always with her mom, her husband and village were there to hold her up, to give refuge in the storm of uncertainty. She was able to let her own needs slide because she was cared for so deeply by those around her.

Lisa’s relationship with her mom was one of deep compassion, thoughtfulness, and genuine friendship and we were all blessed to witness the journey. Each moment was cherished. Family was celebrated and relationships were strengthened through touch, cuddles, and time. 

Thankfully, Lisa took the time to document the relationship between her girls and her mom. These simple moments are now a vivid and poignant reminder of the love that Sharon held in each fiber of her being for her family, especially her grand-daughters. 

Sharon passed away recently, leaving a continuous ripple in the lives of those who knew and loved her. Lisa told me that she finds herself not knowing exactly what to do with her time and herself now that her life has changed so drastically. There is no more searching for minutes to do tasks, no scheduling or being present at appointments. The focus has shifted back to who she is and what she needs to do for herself and family. 

This brings us full circle. Our lives are interconnected and an imbalance in one creates a bit of chaos in all. We are a village lifting one another up so that we may celebrate and remember ourselves through challenges, tragedies, and blessings alike.

This Mother’s Day, I hope you find space to celebrate your mother, yourself, and your presence in this world.

With love to all those who nurture,