I Am The Jelly
The ash blond wig had been hastily tossed on top of the dressing table. Next to it were various make-up supplies. Deep blue eye shadow, a charcoal eyeliner pencil, a tube of lipstick and a pair of reading glasses with smudged lenses.
On the other side of the small bedroom of my sister’s home in a ray of muted, morning sunlight, Dad was anxiously gathering assorted papers, credit cards, pens, pencils, and anything that would assist him in a makeshift traveling office. He was preparing for a short solo trip to his winter home in Florida to check on the packages and mail that had been previously sent in anticipation of their seasonal arrival.
Five minutes away, Mom was resting in a hospital bed like a wounded bird that had fallen out of its nest without any pinfeathers. Four days prior, she suffered a series of unexplained seizures. As each one of us re-grouped in our own way, collectively we tried to make sense of the tragic situation. My two younger sisters, who lived in the area, had been expertly attending to all of Mom’s needs in my absence. For the two days after my arrival, I visited my mother each morning and afternoon in the critical care unit, waiting and hoping for good news. At night we returned to my sister’s home and gathered around the dinner table, slipping back into our traditional family roles. Seated on a hard backed chair, Dad reminisced about the old days with a glass of wine while the daughters dutifully set the table. In Mom’s absence, we prepared and served the meal, adopting her style of colorful cloth napkins and assorted lit candles.
“Dad, I have to leave now,” I said quietly as I reached to embrace his hunched, thin, elderly body.
He started to tremble and in a weak voice said, “Thank you for everything”.
As the warm tears fogged up his glasses, he reached for his frayed handkerchief to quickly wipe away the salty sadness before I noticed. It was too late.
I understood all too well his fear and his anguish. Twenty year ago, his arms, then stronger and more powerful, embraced me when I was facing my personal darkness. As he tried to comfort me, the tears freely came down my face and my own faint words of gratitude got stuck in my throat like a piece of dry toast. I fully understood his panic at the thought of loosing his partner and the uncertainty of the future. At that moment our roles had suddenly switched. The tide shifted and I was the one comforting him. It felt familiar in an odd way as its force pounded on the closed door of my grief.
They call us the “sandwich generation”. Modern medicine has given us the gift of more years with our parents, but with that reward, comes responsibility. For some of us, we become the caregivers while still being active parents ourselves. Separated by decades, we are “book-ended” by those who have come to rely upon us and need our love.
I am now the thick, sweet jelly in the middle that binds the generations together.
But I am new at this and I am frankly uncomfortable offering guidance and help to the one side that brought me into the world and provided so well for me. The shift has not been reconciled in my head yet, maybe because I still want to be the daughter. Happy childhood memories are always in the forefront of my mind and I feel vibrant and joyful each day.
On the other side, I still relish my role as mom and I love to nurture and care for my children, even though they are adults with partners of their own
But I understand that the cycle of life cannot be interrupted. Its force has propelled me to a new position now and I need to share my love and support liberally on each side.
I have faced tough challenges before and I know that I can probably do it again. But the geographical distance is testing me. I guess I just need to open up my heart a little wider and keep spreading the love.
I am so sorry to hear about your Mom’s recent illness and hospitalization. Your whole family are in my prayers. Your writing was so poignant to how it now feels with the role reversal and concerns for our parents. One day at a time and remembering to breathe deeply every now and then helps me cope. Take good care.