Too young to be a sandwich
January 12th, 2012 - by Valerie Roseberryhttp://blog.lungevity.org/2012/01/12/to ... -sandwich/
I was 23 years old and expecting my first baby girl when I got the news that turned my world on its head. Here I’d called just to chat with my folks about the little drama of my own day. My Dad was quiet though. Too quiet. I knew something was wrong. When he told me he didn’t want to tell me the news until my husband could be home with me, I knew it was the worst kind of bad, and when he told me my mom had lung cancer, in a blink the whole world was different.
My folks had been planning on flying back to be with us for the first month of our new baby’s life. Suddenly though what took priority was the fight for my mother’s life. They couldn’t make the trip to Washington when our baby girl made her grand entrance. Instead, I called Mom in an infusion room in Illinois from the Naval hospital in Washington to let her know that her first grand-daughter had been born and that she was named after her.
Two months later, as my husband left for his first round of work-ups and an eventual deployment, my newborn and I flew back to Illinois to spend time with my Mom. By that time we knew she had Stage IV Lung Cancer that was considered terminal. My caregiving role changed dramatically when I could finally be there to help with the demands of doctors’ appointments and med schedules and trying to get ahead of the pain, but I can say it was one of the greatest privileges of my life to be there to care for the woman who had given me life and so lovingly cared for me.
I remember feeling so very alone. None of the rest of my friends who were my age had dealt with anything like this. With one foot I was standing in the beginning of my own adulthood and journey of being a mother. I had been married a short time and was learning, with my husband, the ropes of being a Navy family. I’d just had my very first little girl, and I was a fledgling nervous first-time Mom. With the other foot I was standing at the end of my mother’s life, watching her fight as hard as she could, battling pain that just wouldn’t be controlled, and having matter of fact conversations about what should happen after she died.
I thought many, many times. “I’m too young for this.” I remember reading some articles about “the sandwich generation” at the time and thinking that I was just plain too young to be a sandwich of any kind. That was supposed to be for people who had kids nearing college and who were themselves approaching retirement. I had only just begun to establish an adult relationship with my mother—to get to know her for who she was as a person and not just in the ego-centric way a kid knows their Mom. I had assumed I would be rolling my eyes at her antiquated parenting advice for years to come. I thought there would be more time to learn about the interior life of the woman who was becoming my best friend and not just my mother. Making choices about her care, sitting with her and holding her hand on nights that the pain got bad: that was supposed to come years down the line.
I had always just assumed that my mom, just as my grandmother had done, would grow old slowly… I had envisioned discussions sitting over her kitchen table with her hair silvery and my gaggle of kids playing not far away. I had imagined the end of her life coming much, much later and my role as a primary caregiver to come after I’d accrued a whole lot more wisdom.
Maybe the truth of the matter is, no matter when it happens, when faced with the enormity of losing someone we love so much, we all feel too young. We all ARE too young. There’s never a good time to face those fears and questions. There’s never a time when you are old enough or ready to lose a person who has been your anchor point.
Lung cancer took my Mom just 8 months after her initial diagnosis. My baby was 4 months old. Thanks to LUNGevity and the research going on it is my hope that fewer and fewer daughters and sons who are given the heart-breaking privilege of walking with their parent through a lung cancer battle will have to realize their fears of not having that parent to walk them further into adulthood.
If you feel “too young for this” no matter what stage in the care-giving journey you’re in, you’re not alone. Others have walked this path. It’s a hard path, well-watered with tears, but you can be sure you have company on the journey. Reach out. Join the LUNGevity support forums, find a phone buddy, share your story. You may not have the benefit of the number of years you thought you would have before facing the questions before you.
All the same, you might just find that you aren’t alone on the journey, and sometimes having someone with you on the path can make it a little easier to walk.