Open Faced Sandwich

By Janie Rosman

Dad calls my name from three rooms away; to me it sounds like a bellow. The dear man is hard of hearing – none of his three hearing aids work, he says – and doesn’t know the volume of his own voice.

It’s a wonderful voice, one that soothed me, comforted me, reprimanded me, advised me and now asks me for help.

At 89 he can’t hear his own voice; my ears know a pin dropped into feathers.

I walk into the kitchen and see him struggling with the can opener, frustrated. He looks up at me helplessly as I gently remove it from his hands and open the tuna fish.

I leave as he says, “Thank you,” allowing him his dignity.

Incidents like these – a lid closed too tightly, an item on a shelf that’s out of reach except by stepstool, bags too heavy to carry – happen often to my octogenarian parents. Now in their beyond-golden years, they’re blessed to have each other.

What to do? Become a filling in the sandwich generation.

Merriam-Webster describes the sandwich generation as “a generation of people who are caring for their aging parents while supporting their own children.”

The Web calls this group of baby-boomers “those who care not only for their own children but also act in a caregiver role for their own parent(s).”

Truth be told, I’m not exactly a filling because being “sandwiched” means being in the middle of whatever. The term “sandwich generation” refers to someone caring for both their parents and their children.

There had to be a logical explanation. Google to the rescue!

Link upon link appeared, and after much investigation I learned I’m an open-faced sandwich. And by this time I’m really curious because anything related to food peaks my interest.

Syndicated columnist Carol Abaya, M.A., says people fall into one of three categories. Traditional sandwiches describe those who raise their own families and also care for their parents.

Club sandwiches are people in their 50s and 60s with aging parents, adult children and grandchildren or folks in their 30s and 40s with kids, aging parents and grandparents. Abaya calls us open-faced sandwich folks “anyone else involved in elder care.”

Some days I feel more like a sardine wedged between my life then and now.

A few years after college – now a distant memory revived by anticipated reunions – I moved out and then moved back only to move out again until job loss and life happened.

Part of life happening was Dad’s stroke in November 2004, which precipitated my decision to work from home. Mom and I alternated responsibilities like driving Dad to and from his physical therapy and medical appointments.

Contrary to what friends told me, living at home is not like living with roommates.

“It’s like being back in college,” said Beryn. Not really. These are my parents, and, frankly, it’s very different.

Who knew from sandwich anything years ago? My parents’ respective families lived within blocks of each other – a subway ride at the most – and saw to the needs of siblings, aunts, uncles and other family members.

Dad took care of his widowed mother when he came home from the war. When he and my uncle married he assumed much of the responsibility for their mother.

Mom supported her parents through their respective illnesses and moved Nana close to us after Papa died.

The only sandwich people they knew worked at the corner deli.

When Dad retired from a successful career in 2002, he got a part-time job, played golf, enjoyed free time with Mom and drove himself in his own car.

A few days past his 82nd birthday, and shortly after Thanksgiving, he woke up and told Mom he was having difficulty swallowing. I called our local pharmacist and asked if his medications were interacting badly.

She said get to the ER right away. “I think he’s having a stroke.”

I believe she saved his life.

Little by little he got stronger. We saw to his appointments, and made sure he took his medications correctly and in time. I put “me” on hold and focused my attention on getting Dad well.

By what definition?

A trip to the eye doctor was telling. One wall of the waiting room had large plastic canisters of assorted sweets. He likes hard candies, so I brought him two and sat down to read a magazine.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Dad attempt to open one candy. He gave it his all while I sat there wanting to help without embarrassing him.

Children want to do things by themselves. My niece, 8, and my nephew, 12, are fiercely independent and ask for help only if strength is required or if something is out of their reach.

“Would you please open this?” Dad asked, his eyes admitting frustration at his physical limitations.

At that moment I felt sorry for him, the once-strapping man who served in the United States Army and who, fatherless at age 20, was emotionally strong for his young widowed mother.

“Thank you,” he said, eyes now showing gratitude.

And although my parents celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary, I worry about them like they used to – and probably still do – worry about me. I’ve made plans to move, yet each time the gods smile and change them. As one friend says, you can get there from here only if you’re happy with your “here.”

So for now I remain an open-faced sandwich.

About this writer

  • Janie Rosman Believing that everyone has a story and needs someone to tell it, Janie Rosman writes about community, lifestyles and business. She has been published in Gannett newspapers, IN Magazine, The Hudson Independent, Westchester Parent and Westchester Commerce Magazine.

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