Tagged Sandwich Generation

Still have kids at home and now you are caring for your aging parents, too?

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

My First Father’s Day Without Dad

12

Father’s Day is approaching, and it’s a first for me.  The first one without my dad.  I know many of you reading this are in the same boat due to many different storms.  Mine was a surprise attack.  Literally.  A heart attack that no one suspected.  It swooped in, off the radar, no alert or warning, and left me floating here in this sea of life without the man who for many years redirected my sails when they got off course.

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

I’m a teacher, and encountering the fatherless is a daily occurrence for me.  Recently one of my students wrote of his experience adrift in the Dadless Sea.  He told of floating along making frequent stops on islands where he would meet a new man, hoping he and his mom could drop anchor and stay, only to find out that they had only tied temporarily to that shore.  He painted an image he had seen many times as a younger kid of other boys walking to their cars after a football game, dads holding their sweaty shoulder pads, laughing and joking together as they relived the victories and defeats of the game.  There was a visceral yearning coursing through the veins of his essay.  I mourned his loss as I mourned my own.

A couple of days ago my oldest daughter and I were talking about my dad as we drove down the highway to pick up the younger one from cheerleading camp.  I spoke of Father’s Day and wishing there was a way to ship a gift across space and time to heaven.  I chuckled at the thought of all these heavenly dads and granddads receiving ties, coffee mugs, and fishing gear from their earthly kids.  You know how the owls deliver mail in the Harry Potter books?  Well, in my mind’s eye, I could envision doves swooping in on the heavenly host, dropping the gifts, little parachutes deploying, and all those clichéd items finding their recipients.  We laughed.

But in all seriousness, I told her that I was sorry that she had only had a grandfather for a short time in her life.  I think back to hammering, sanding, and sawing in the garage, memories I built with my granddad. I’m sorry she won’t have more of those moments.

This is what she says in response. “Be that as it may, Mom, things are still pretty good.”

And, you know?  She’s right.   This boat I’m floating in isn’t leaky; it was built to withstand the storms.  I had a great sailing instructor.  And, these are some friendly waters.

Thanks to my daughter, I’ve now got a killer idea for a Father’s Day present, or at least, a pretty darn good way to honor Dad.  While I’ve still got time on earth here with my family, we’re not running from life’s harsh realities. We’re not hunkering down in a storm shelter, hands over our heads, ducking the forces of nature. Instead, we’re thanking God for all the grace we’re given and choosing to see and share the good.

My dad had the foresight to write his own obituary about 10 years before his actual death, so we weren’t saddled with that daunting task.  In it, he eschewed the notion of head stones, grave markers, and things of that ilk.  They were fine for others, just not for him.  He hoped that we, his survivors, would be the markers. Listening to the words of my daughter, I think I get it.

So for all of you who are sailing towards this Father’s Day without a dad, my hope for you is that you’re able to say, “Be that as it may, things are still pretty good.”  And for all of you dad-type guys out there, look for the kid walking off the football field with his mom.  Walk over to him, punch him in the shoulder, carry his sweaty shoulder pads and say, “Good game, son.

Helping Kids Cope with Death

Helping Kids Cope with Death

2

Helping Kids Cope with DeathOur family is facing a new parenting challenge – how to talk with our kids about the death of a loved one. This isn’t an uncommon parenting issue, rather just one we haven’t dealt with directly before now.

In the last few months my 88-year-old grandmother’s health has declined precipitously. In the process, my kids have learned a lot about Alzheimer’s, care taking, hospice, and the dying process.

Our general parenting philosophy is based in honesty, compassion and taking cues from our kids. And like most sensitive topics, we have turned to others and to experts to figure out how to talk with our kids about death. We’ve also done a lot of reading lately. I’m certain we haven’t gotten everything right, but so far this is what’s working for our family:

Take advantage of unemotional opportunities to talk about death.

Fortunately, we’ve been doing this since the boys were little and it has looked different at different ages. Mainly we’ve been answering questions that the boys have:

  • Why did the leaf fall off the tree?
  • Did you do something to make that plant die?
  • What happens to the dead bug once it goes in the trash?
  • What happens to my lizard after we bury it?
  • Will I see our dog again in heaven?

So that last question was fairly emotional for Davis and Patrick. By the time they lost their dog, they already knew about the biological processes of death. They didn’t know all the specifics, but they understood that life had ceased, their dog wasn’t coming back to them and their dog’s remains would return to the earth and decompose. They didn’t have to worry about learning those things or go through the doubt about death being final. They had learned those things earlier in unemotional ways, leaving them more capacity to deal with the emotions of losing their dog.

Be developmentally appropriate.

Through my reading, I’ve learned that there are 4 main concepts kids need to learn about death:

  1. Death is permanent.
  2. In death, all biologic functioning stops.
  3. Everything and everyone dies.
  4. What causes death?

What kids understand about each, should dictate how you approach death. My kids seem to understand all four of these concepts, but are still mainly occupied with concrete notions of death. They understand why Granny is dying and have not been scared that Rob and I shall die in the near future.

The boys have asked some more abstract questions like – what will happen to her, will she go to heaven, will they see her in heaven someday, does heaven really exist and what is it like? The more existential questions about the meaning of life and having purpose in the life you lead are just beyond their current concerns, so we haven’t broached these.

Be honest.

When we saw my grandmother at Christmas last year, it was clear that her dementia was progressing and her body was beginning to fail her. There was no hiding that from the boys. After we left and went back home, it would have been easy to not mention her progressively worsening health. Her death was happening at a distance and the boys didn’t have to face it daily.

But hiding her failing health and deteriorating mental condition would do nothing to prepare Davis and Patrick for her death. They have loved their great-grandmother fiercely for their entire lives and letting her death come as a surprise would be much harder on them. I’m grateful we have had a chance to prepare them.

Being honest doesn’t mean sharing all the painful details. Instead, for our family it has meant a steady, but slow stream of information that help the boys understand that death is becoming closer. It has meant telling them that she is having trouble talking or remembering people, that she can no longer feed herself or get out of bed much. It has meant explaining what hospice care is and why she is using it.

These have been sad conversations, but not scary ones. We’ve kept them relatively short, but let them ask questions, as they need. Their questions have been good guides for us – helping us pace information based on their needs.

Respect their wishes.

I planned a trip to visit my Granny shortly after she entered hospice care. At this point she barely recognized me on the phone. The trip was more about my need to see her, than her need to see me. We asked the boys if they wanted to join me on the trip. They were both very clear: Davis felt the need to see his Granny; Patrick preferred to not have the memory of her being disoriented, confused and frail.

I don’t know if we made the right decision or not, but we chose to respect their wishes. Davis accompanied me on the trip and Patrick stayed home.

Similarly, Davis wanted more information and wanted to prepare himself. Patrick requested that we only give him sporadic updates. They both seem to be processing her coming death in a healthy way, but their approach is very different. We are doing our best to honor their wishes and let them grieve at their own pace.

Model faithful & compassionate caregiving.

In talking with my boys about what would happen after Granny entered hospice care, we talked about mechanics of hospice care and what may happen to her mind and body over the following weeks and months. That perfunctory conversation took a beautiful turn when they asked what they could do for her and how they could care for their Granny.

We talked about being present, even if she didn’t realize we were with her (in person or on the phone). We talked about how their Mimi stopped working a few years ago, so she could spend time with her mother and care for her.

Like I mentioned earlier, Davis joined me for a quick trip to see their Granny. He was patient and helpful. Helping her get out of bed or changing her socks or pushing her wheelchair. These were the tangible ways he showed his love for her. During the trip, he listened patiently to her incoherent conversations, not pushing her or frustrating her – simply being a calm presence in her life.

Share your religious beliefs.

Whatever your religious beliefs or non-beliefs, you likely have some feelings about what happens after death. Kids, even young kids, will have picked up on some popular notions about the after-life.

We have been open with our kids about our personal beliefs and also exposed them to some other beliefs that are commonly held. They are old enough to realize that none of us really knows what will happen after death and to begin developing their own thoughts.

Preview common emotional reactions.

For kids who have never experienced the death of a close friend or family member, they don’t always know what to expect. The feelings that can creep in may take them by surprise or be more intense than they expected.

We have tried to address this by helping our boys know that feelings of sadness or worry are perfectly normal. That they may cry or see others crying. We’ve also talked about how they won’t feel sad all the time and that it is perfectly normal to not feel emotions about Granny’s health all the time. They shouldn’t feel guilty about being happy, even if others around them are sad at the time.

Allow room for ongoing grief.

Grief will be on ongoing process for the foreseeable future in our family. I don’t know what it will look like or how long it will last. I do expect it to come in waves and be different for all of us.

It is important that our kids continue with their normal lives and maintain their routine, but also have room to be sad or worried and know that we’ll help them cope as needed.

We expect our kids to follow a fairly normal grieving process, but will be aware of signs that suggest they need more help than we can provide.

 

We certainly aren’t experts on helping kids cope with death, but so far this approach seems to be working for us. If you’ve helped your child cope with the death of a loved one, what has worked for you?

 

Resources:

National Association of School Psychologists

The Child Mind Institute

Hospice Net

 

 

Parenting is Learning to Let Go

Parenting Is Learning How to Let Go

2

Learn to let goI stand in the Narthex of the century old church, red velvety plush carpet cushioning my white satin heeled feet.  The penny is in my shoe.  I have something borrowed and something blue.  I look at him and he at me, and we know.  This is the last time we’ll stand in this spot together.  This is not a walk we’ll take again.  We savor it, drink it in, flood our memory banks as insurance against any future drought.

We link arms, and as the last echo of Pachelbel’s Canon fades into the rafters, the double doors swing open and our walk begins.  Down the aisle we travel together.  We pass the neighbors we’ve had since I was five, the ones who give a cursory knock at our garage door and holler, “Hey neighbor!” as they make their way through the laundry room into the kitchen.  Further down the aisle we travel together.  We pass my high school chemistry teacher, the one who greeted me at 7:30 a.m. when organic chemistry gave me fits.  We continue down the aisle together, approaching the altar.  I look left and right, scanning the pews and see the faces of my own personal geology layered like a stratified rock formation exposed in a canyon wall.  They each made deposits during their era, shaping, molding, marring, building me.

We arrive.

We arrive at a place we always knew we’d reach, but didn’t know it’d be June 17, 2000.

We arrive.

We’re here in the presence of our friends, family, God.  He releases my arm, pats my hand, and nods at the pastor.

“Who gives this bride in holy matrimony?”

“Her mother and I do.”

And with that, I let go of my dad.

Throughout the course of our lives, we take many different walks with our kids.  Some are simple, some laden with significance.  Whether a mundane walk to the mailbox or one of life’s rites of passage, the walks mean something.  It’s how we first entice them to move toward us, arms outstretching, toddler feet plodding.  It’s how we come alongside them when confusion creeps in and together we put one foot in front of the other.  It’s the road, the trail, the car ride, the journey that provides us with little daily opportunities to coach and guide.  It’s intriguing to conceptualize parenting in this way: We travel together, you and me, until our paths diverge. For now, I lead.  I navigate this part of the journey.  But as the old adage goes, I prepare you for the path, not the other way around.

Return with me to the Narthex of that old church.  Again, I travel down the aisle, only this time it’s somber maroon leather heeled feet walking a lonely road.  I move forward in a single file line, arms and hands empty.  The drought has come and I’m immediately reminded of the day we walked this aisle filling our memory reservoirs.  Again, I pass the faces of my bedrock.  They sit in the same layered formation.

I arrive.

I arrive at a place I always knew I’d reach, but I didn’t know it’d be October 8, 2014.

I arrive.

I’m here in the presence of our friends, family, God.  I take my seat, place my hand on my grandmother’s shoulder, and smile at the pastor.

“We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the life of Raymond Payne Jones.”

And with that, I let go of my dad.
Death of a parent

One day our kids will let go of us.  The day will come when we’re not listening at the other end of the baby monitor.  We’re not just down the hall.  We’re not peeking out the window into the front yard.  We’re not reachable by phone or text.  They will face a path that they must navigate alone.

So for now, we build.  We build skills, endurance, capacity.  We introduce them to people, ideas, and beliefs that will outlive us. We engage their minds, ignite their imaginations, inspire their hearts.  We plant the seeds of love, compassion, and grace.  When we mess up, we try again.  When we hurt, we repair.  We empower them to be the heroes of their life stories.  We believe in them and their unique contribution to our world.  And, we walk, thankful to be on this road.