On Becoming the Other Side of the Sandwich

When your time in the “middle” of the sandwich generation is running out

We lost my father-in-law in October. His passing, although challenging, was expected. It was a slow process that really began 6 years ago when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. We watched helplessly as the disease robbed pieces of him from us bit by bit. In his final months, he required around-the-clock care, including toileting, which required the assistance of two people. 

The end wasn’t as peaceful as obituaries always claim. “Mr. Smith died peacefully with family by his side.” Blah. There’s nothing truly peaceful about the process of dying.

I had hoped that my family would get a break from dealing with loss, at least for now, but the universe had other plans. 

The day after Christmas, I had just sat down to relax after a long day of work, grocery shopping, and cooking and cleaning up from dinner, when the phone rang. It was my mother. She was in the ER with my dad. 

My dad has had his own medical issues since the pandemic began, starting dialysis to augment the job that his failing kidneys could no longer do. I think that because his reasons for kidney failure didn’t include diabetes, he thought that his odds for life beyond the average time one survives when you depend on machines to filter your blood were pretty good. 

Well, he had a few rough days, and the day after Christmas was especially tough. He spent most of the day in bed. My mom described the syncopal episode and fall that led to his ambulance ride to the hospital. By the time she called me around 7:30, he was essentially non-responsive. I made the journey from Richmond to the hospital in Tidewater. 

I was aghast at what I saw when I entered his room. He looked so much like my father-in-law did in the last week of his life. His breathing was labored, shallow, and rapid. His color was off. The only way I could describe it is a yellowish grey.

I forgot my glasses in the car. I was honestly a little relieved that I had an excuse to get my emotions in check before returning. On my way to get them, I called my husband and told him I didn’t think my dad would make it out alive. This was it. 

Unfortunately, I was right. He was intubated in the ER. He had a room in the ICU by the time we left. It was 4:30 in the morning, and my mom and I had not slept. He seemed stable enough to go home and get a little rest. In that hour at home, he coded. They were able to resuscitate him.

We swiftly returned to the hospital. When the doctor came in to talk to us, sitting down to see us at our level, I knew where the conversation was headed. 

My dad had often said during our conversations that if he were to die today, he would be satisfied. No regrets. He had lived a good life. But a good life does not include time on a ventilator, on multiple medications to raise your blood pressure, his body struggling to maintain homeostasis. His medical team offered little hope for a meaningful recovery. We made the choice, per his advance directive, to let him go.

Knowing that sometimes people need permission to leave, my mom and I both told him that he didn’t have to fight anymore. It was ok to go home. 

It became a numbers game as we waited. I knew what the consistently lower blood pressure readings and decline in his heart rate meant. They stopped checking his blood pressure. The crash cart was quietly removed. The alarms were silenced on the monitors. The door was shut. We were left to help escort my dad to his next life. I watched as his heart rhythm changed, gradually adjusting to a flat line. Heart rate zero. 8:26 AM. 

___________

In writing about the passing of my father-in-law, I posed the question: is it worse to lose your person gradually or suddenly? I still don’t really have the answer. Maybe after having some time to process the loss of my own father, I can better resolve this internal debate. One thing is certain, though. There are no winners in this discussion. Both ways are unequivocally terrible. 

Now the planning of honoring another important life gone has begun. My dad, just like my father-in-law, had no desire to discuss his wishes with his spouse. My mom needed to make choices for him, just as my mother-in-law had to do for my father-in-law. And these decisions had to be made quickly. But asking critical questions helped my mom make some of these tough choices on the fly, and their pastor helped as well. 

We’re looking through old pictures, reminiscing on early memories, looking at framed awards through his career and framed degrees, and planning music for his memorial service. Music was such a big part of his life, especially gospel hymns. 

I have many a memory of long drives to Florida to visit family, with the Tennessee Ernie Ford gospel album as our soundtrack, my dad singing along to pass the time. He was the Signin’ Man, after all, as was his social media handle. 

I took inventory of his office, which also serves as the guest room in my parents’ home. He did leave a clue on his desk. I found a notepad with the names of two hymns: Great is thy Faithfulness and It Is Well With my Soul. Knowing that he had made some end-of-life statements to my mother, this made sense. 

I never expected to lose my dad so soon. I simply thought I would have more time. I had resolved to try to visit more often, as much of my time had been tied up with caring for my father-in-law. And now I’m another step closer to becoming the other side of the sandwich. I wish I were still safely tucked in the middle. It still doesn’t seem real. 

___________

Please discuss end-of-life wishes with your loved ones. It really helps ease decision-making when these desires are clear and understood. 

My husband had some excellent advice for us in planning for mom’s protection and future based on his recent experience and his extensive expertise in the financial world. Things I never would have considered, like putting another family member on bank accounts and obtaining multiple copies of the death certificate. Unpleasantries that have to be worked through, but are so very necessary. He helped my brother and me begin to have these tough conversations with our mom.  

“Great is thy faithfulness. Great is thy faithfulness. Morning by morning new mercies I see. All I have needed, Thy hand hath provided. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.”

This hymn is my current internal soundtrack.

As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy. 

__________

Lead photo is from Pexels for WordPress: Alaska, my dad’s favorite place. Second photo I took; the notepad with hymn titles that I found on his desk.

Published by annecreates

I am a physical therapist, wife, mom, runner, artist, and vegan. I'm passionate about helping others find wellness, speaking about the human experience, and in fighting for social justice. Assistant Coach for the Sports Backers Marathon Training Team. Current ambassador for: Boco Gear, SaltStick, SPIbelt, and Noxgear.

11 thoughts on “On Becoming the Other Side of the Sandwich

  1. My condolences on your sad loss. I think of it more as an escalator than a sandwich – there are folks getting on at the bottom as we older ones get towards the top (I’m just hoping that my escalator is a particularly long one).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My thoughts are with you! You are a thoughtful and kind person and it’s good you got to be there at the end. Please take care of yourself in the tough days ahead. Self-care is never more important than now!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing those last moments with your Dad! He was a good friend to me and we shared many discussions about our faith! I shall miss him . Grateful for the times we had together.

    Liked by 1 person

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