It all started last Sunday morning, with my husband tentatively telling me that he’d had a disturbing dream the night before. “I don’t know if I should tell you this, ” he said (as I got that queasy feeling in my stomach), “but I had a dream last night that your dad died.” Not the way you really want your Sunday morning to start…or any other morning, for that matter. However, since he has not been known to have prophetic visions before, and does often have unusual dreams, I didn’t think too much more about it.
Until Tuesday night.
My phone rang and my mom’s shaky voice on the other end was telling me that Dad was on the road somewhere about an hour from home and that the last people he saw noticed he was slurring his words before he left. The conversation I had had with my husband came back to mind with gut-wrenching horror – it couldn’t really have been true, could it? And why would anyone let someone who was obviously having difficulties get in their car and drive home?
Oh, yeah. We’re talking about my dad here – one of the last of the Marlboro Man I can do anything and nothing can stop me generation.
For forty- five painful minutes I had visions of my dad’s car wrapped around a tree somewhere on a rural road as he lay helpless. But against the odds, he showed up at home, still not sure he needed to go to the hospital, but no longer protesting as my mom quickly drove him there.
Miraculously, he emerged with only a mild stroke affecting his speech and no paralysis, and is getting more of his words back every day. We expect a nearly complete recovery, but things will still never be the same. We have come face to face with the frailty of life, and that even our seemingly invincible dad is getting a few chinks in his armor as he ages. I have watched my mom struggle to handle the monumental tasks that suddenly dropped with a crushing force on her shoulders. And I wonder…how much can I do when I live 10 hours away?
Because I have a wonderfully supportive husband and terrific local in-laws who adore my children, I was able to escape my mom duties to come home and help my parents. But, I’m only here for a week, and the need is much greater than I had realized. I am beginning to feel the pull of the sandwich generation – people torn between raising their own family and helping their parents as they age.
How do you find the balance between pouring your efforts into raising the children God has blessed you with and giving back to the people who gave unselfishly to you as you grew up ? Particularly when you don’t live nearby? According to the Pew Research Center, there are over 10 million people in the US juggling this load every day. So, I am certainly not alone. And I do have a sister, who lives only four hours from my parents, but she has four young children and a job, so it’s not any easier for her to be here on short notice.
I find myself re-evaluating the life decisions I made years ago – should I ask my husband to leave a job he enjoys, uproot my kids, and move closer to home? But then we leave my husband’s parents behind, and his only sibling does not live in town.
There are no easy answers in a culture that prides itself on independence and freedom of choice. If I had understood in my early 20’s the choices that I would face 20 years later, would it have made a difference in the path I chose? I don’t know. Experience is the best teacher, and wisdom is rarely bestowed upon the young.
But of this much I am sure – life is precious and can be snuffed out without warning. We were granted a reprieve this time, and it will make every day together that much sweeter.