published in Aging, Boundaries, Family, Life Balance, Motherhood, Mothering Matters, Relationships by Maryanne | May 19, 2016

This is the 4th Mothering Matters blog in the Spring 2016 blog series:

Raising Kids While Caring for Elderly Parents: What is Too Much?

By Joyce van Dijk-George

sandwich generation image

“In the evenings I went over to my parent’s place and looked after Dad, so my Mom could have a break. I had supper with my family and just hoped that my girls would finish their homework. I sure felt sandwiched at this point.”

– Joyce van Dijk-George

The Sandwich Generation

The “Sandwich Generation” is a generation of people, typically in their thirties or forties, responsible for bringing up their own children and for the care of their aging parents.

If you’re in this situation yourself, you may realize just how incredibly stressful and exhausting it can be…and yet, it can also be rewarding.

My name is Joyce van Dijk-George and I am 48 years old. I was adopted into a loving family in Calgary. However, both my parents immigrated from the Netherlands. I spoke Dutch as my first language and started school as an ESL student, but in the 1970’s they never thought of it that way.

I always had to work pretty hard to achieve my goals in life, but I always had the love and support of my parents. I am a daughter, sister, wife, mother and teacher. My life was always pretty good and I always seemed to have friends and family around that cared. Or so I thought.

In 2008, my father, the man that I looked up to and who had helped me my whole life was diagnosed with Dementia. My family had suspected that something was wrong because of his behaviour and the different situations that occurred. As time passed, things were getting tricky at home and Alberta Health Care and doctors became more involved with Dad.

My Mom grew extremely tired and frustrated – taking care of a man that had looked after himself, his wife and family for years. I experienced many HELP telephone calls from my mom. All I could think of was: What can I do? What should I do?

So in the evenings I went over to my parent’s place and looked after Dad, so my Mom could go out and have a break. I had supper with my family and just hoped that my girls would finish their homework. I sure felt sandwiched at this point.

We were involved in many trips to doctors and health care meetings, where they all stated the same thing: “No one can take care of a person with Dementia full time and not experience their own health problems.” 

Then we had another meeting with a different department of Alberta Health Care and we had to make the hardest decision of our lives…we had to place my Father’s name on the Long Term Care list.

All this time, I was using my holiday time or personal days to help my Mom deal with my Father’s Dementia.

Mom and I told our friends and family about this list. Eight months later, I received the dreaded phone call. It was on October 25, 2011 – a date I will never forget. We had 24 hours to place my loving Father into the home.

I called Mom and we both had a good cry. I really wanted to run and make everything better, but I knew that wouldn’t work. So I called some of Dad’s family and broke the sad news…and that’s when our lives changed forever. They did not comprehend the reason of Long Term Care and said many hurtful things. So now our support group was gone, or so I thought.

It turns out that friends can be very supportive and understanding, so that’s who we got our support from.

All this time, I was away from my own family for many days and nights. They would deal with it most of the time, but they also said some hurtful things from time to time, such as, “Mom, you love Oma and Opa more than us.”

For four years and four months, I visited my Dad four nights out of the week and I would meet Mom on my days off or half days. We also had a standard meeting time of 9:30 a.m. on the weekends. I felt that my Dad could not sit alone at his home…that I needed to check up on things. And they knew I would.

My family and I missed out on many family activities. I missed many Ringette games and tournaments. Thankfully, my husband really stepped up for his girls and they are very close.

A quote from my cousin says it all: “My cousin Joyce was a pillar of strength and a daughter that every parent should have. Tirelessly, unconditionally, day after day, she cared for her Dad. She ensured his nursing care… she went to great lengths to make certain her beloved Daddy enjoyed his life to the utmost and fullest for as long as he possibly could. She never once faltered to show her Dad how much she loved him.”

But this came at a cost for my own family, myself, the care of my home, and even my job. No journey is right or wrong…this is just what I did.

Would I change anything? Probably not 🙂

My Dad’s journey is over now. But I am still caring for my Mom.

Joyce and her family for MM blog

Joyce and her family – Joyce is third from left the (leaning forward with her arms on her Dad)

Three Tips to Help You Through the Sandwich Phase:

1. Share the responsibility of caregiving with others.

2. Take care of yourself – if you burn out, you are of no help to anyone else.

3. Know that you cannot be all things to all people. There will be sacrifices, so choose wisely.

Joyce van Dijk-George lives in Calgary, Alberta and is a Grade 1 Teacher. Joyce is a loving daughter, wife and mother of two girls. 

mothering matters logo 2011

For further information about the Mothering Matters blog series, here is the link.

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