Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Sandwich Generation: Make the Most of the Meal

By Heather Gearhart

Every day, at the retirement community where I work, I see women speeding around in a frenzy. Cell phones are glued to their ears and organized chaos reigns. One is organizing a bake sale for her child’s school. Another is putting the final touches on a marketing proposal for her job. All are coming to visit a loved one who is ill or disabled. These frenzied individuals are part of the sandwich generation where multi-tasking is taken to a whole new level.

The term “sandwich generation” is the name given to those individuals who are caretakers for both the younger and the older generations. The notion of caring for our children comes naturally. However, the thought of caring for our parents or another elderly loved one may not have occurred to us. When you find yourself in this situation know that the Bible gives unmistakable directive. Psalms 71:9 says, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.”

Given the responsibility of caring for two generations of loved ones isn’t an easy task. The “sandwich generation” comes in many different varieties. The elderly person can be cared for at home, in a facility, locally, or even hundreds of miles away. Most care givers are women, over 40, married, employed, raising children or helping with grandchildren, and stressed to the max.

Take a look at what’s on the menu. It’s a lot to swallow.

The bread. The kids are pulling from the top for gas money, tuition and new clothes. The adults are pulling from the bottom. They need supplies, caregivers, products, and equipment.

The cheese and the meat. The care giver is the sustenance. You are now caring for two generations of loved ones. The children need you to shape their lives. They need your guidance and boundaries. The elders need support. They need independence and dignity.

The condiments: ketchup, mustard and pickle. These are the spices of life. Of course there will be ups and downs. Just think about what you will have to look back on in the years to come. When the children are gone and raising kids of their own they will have so many memories to share.

The knife, fork, and napkin. Now, you have the whole meal set in front of you. It seems like a lot to chew on, right?

Here are a few tips to make the most of your sandwich:

* Have those uncomfortable conversations sooner than later. Ask about living wills, advanced directives, do not resuscitate (DNR) orders and funeral arrangements. Chances are your loved one has already made these plans or has ideas about them.

• If you need to draft any of the above documents, know that each state has different rules and some documents are not honored if your loved one moves or even travels across state lines. Be sure to consult with a professional.

• Find out if your elderly loved one is making the most of benefits they are entitled to. A good place to start is Also, obtaining a durable power of attorney will allow you to be able to act on their behalf when and if the time comes.

• Check out support services. If you provide in-home care you need to plan for relief. Most assisted living facilities offer respite services for short-term stays. There are adult day care programs that will care for your loved one while you work. PACE (Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) is a new hybrid that combines in-home care with an adult day program. More information on PACE can be found at

• If you live far from your loved ones, you could enlist the services of a care manager. They are available to coordinate services locally. You can find additional information on care managers at

• Don’t forget about other informal support. Your friends, family and church are there to offer you physical, emotional and spiritual support. Be sure to ask for help. Many times your friends and family are willing. They just don’t know what you need. Tell them.

Do you want fries with that? Don’t forget to save room for rest of the meal. Life can not and should not be a singular event. Life must be enjoyed and appreciated. Be sure to fill your life with side dishes. Take time to take care of you. So, if you need to eat dessert first go ahead. Wash it down with a healthy does of reality. Don’t expect perfection.

Just remember to go slow. Savor it. Enjoy every last bit of it. The sandwich generation portion of your life won’t last forever. Just like that meal eaten too quickly, you will wonder where it went. Chew on each new situation a while. Don’t let problems overwhelm you. Reach out for some assistance. And most of all, remember you are neither a piece of meat caught in the middle, nor are you the sole substance for your family. You are the chef making the whole meal work well together.

Heather Gearhart has a master’s degree in long-term care administration and works for a non-profit retirement community in Blacksburg, Virginia. She enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, extended family and family of friends.